Cemeteries, Kaiser-Frazers, a Japanese Opera and More

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Summer 2010,
Summer 2010
Original Images:

Author: Maureen Kerwin

Have you seen the Ypsilanti Historical Society's Digital Photo Archives? It is an online collection of approximately 400 digitized photographs documenting a wide range of subjects and time periods in Ypsilanti history. If you have browsed it before, the collection was nearly doubled this spring so there is more to see! You can access the collection through the YHS's website on the "Publications" page. Each image has a description, subject terms, and additional information attached to it. The collection can be searched or browsed by key words.

The Digital Photo Archives project started in 2000 and is a collaboration between the Ypsilanti Historical Society and the Digital Library Production Service at the University of Michigan. The photographs are selected from the archives, researched, scanned, and entered into a database by the YHS; the DLPS provides the web infrastructure that makes the collection accessible online.

The collection is very diverse. There are photographs from as early as the 1870s and as late as the 1990s; they are of cemeteries, churches, cars, people, parades, buildings, sports teams, and more. There is even a photograph of a Japanese opera production from circa 1900! Many of the photographs are related to the automobile industry such as the picture showing the first Henry J automobile sold in Ypsilanti to Mellencamp’s Clothing Store.

Other photographs are related to the many civic organizations that have existed in Ypsilanti over the years. According to one photograph the Ypsilanti Knights of Pythias civic organization were “Michigan State Champions” in 1923. We are not certain what the competition involved but it may have involved costumes.
Whatever interests you about Ypsilanti history, there is certain to be something for you in this collection. If you have questions about the Digital Photo Archives project you may contact me (mkkerwin (at) gmail.com) or Al Rudisill (al (at) rudisill.ws).
(Maureen Kerwin is a student at the University of Michigan and served as an Intern in the YHS Archives working on the Photo Archive project.)
Photo Captions:

Photo 1: A photo from 1951 showing the first Henry J automobile sold in Ypsilanti. The vehicle was sold to Mellencamp's Clothing Store (located at 122 West Michigan Avenue from 1907 to 1984) by the Norris Motors Kaiser-Frazer dealership (334 East Michigan Avenue). Pictured are William D. Stevens and Collin F. Bonner, owners of Mellencamp's.

Photo 2: According to this photograph, the members of the Knights of Pythias civic organization were the Michigan State Champions in 1923. Pictured are Hart, Hand, McGraw, van DeWalker, Tripp, Shaibly, Elsworth, Warner, Smith, Geer, Millage, Tenny, Boutell, Burrell, Pierce, Hamond, and Williams.

Museum Advisory Board Report

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Summer 2009,
Summer 2009

Author: Virginia Davis-Brown

Summer is almost here and we are looking forward to some new and exciting exhibits. We hope that you were able to visit the Art Exhibit. There are so many talented people in our area and the artists were willing to share their pictures with us for two weeks.

We were honored to have Boy Scout Troup 290 from the Emanuel Lutheran Church present us with a 48 star flag on June 14, Flag Day. It was a very impressive ceremony with several boys and their leaders taking part. We thank them very much.

A few weeks ago we received a large collection of military uniforms and hats from the estate of Martin Omen. After they have been identified and cataloged we will be putting some on display.

On June 17 we honored our docents with a luncheon. Our docents do a wonderful job taking care of our guests and sharing the history of Ypsilanti. We are always in need of more docents and it only involves three hours per month. In July we will start looking for docents to help us over the Heritage Festival weekend. It involves a two to three hour commitment. We provide each docent with all the information needed. If you are interested, please contact me at 734-484-0080 or 734-482-4990.

The Lost Ypsilanti Exhibit will begin on July 19 and run through Labor Day. This year the theme is “Henry Ford and His Influence on the Ypsilanti Area.” It is hard to believe that he has influenced this area since the early 1900s.

Please come and visit us at the Museum.

Museum Receives Conservation Grant

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Fall 2009,
Fall 2009

Treasured objects and artifacts held by the Ypsilanti Historical Museum will be preserved for future generations with help from the IMLS Connecting to Collections Bookshelf, a core set of conservation books and online resources donated by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). IMLS has now awarded almost 3,000 free sets of the IMLS Bookshelf, in cooperation with the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH).

“When IMLS launched this initiative to improve the dire state of our nation’s collections, we understood that the materials gathered for the Bookshelf would serve as important tools for museums, libraries, and archives nationwide,” said Anne-Imelda Radice, Director of IMLS. “We were both pleased and encouraged by the overwhelming interest of institutions prepared to answer the call to action, and we know that with their dedication, artifacts from our shared history will be preserved for future generations.”

The Ypsilanti Historical Museum received this essential set of resources based on an application describing the needs and plans for the care of its collections. Our successful application was written and submitted by Pamela German and Veronica Robinson, Masters-level students in the Historic Preservation program at Eastern Michigan University. The IMLS Bookshelf focuses on collections typically found in art or history museums and in libraries' special collections. It addresses such topics as the philosophy and ethics of collecting, collections management and planning, emergency preparedness, and culturally specific conservation issues.

YHM is incredibly excited about this initiative and are already putting the resource materials to good use! To learn more about the Institute of Museum and Library Services, visit www.imls.gov.

"Gleanings" Receives State Award

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Winter 2009,
Winter 2009

The Historical Society of Michigan selected the Ypsilanti Historical Society “Gleanings” for their statewide award in the area of “Communications: Newsletters and Web Sites.” The award was presented to Al Rudisill (Editor) and Peg Porter (Assistant Editor) at the Society’s annual conference held on Mackinac Island on October 2-4, 2009. The State History Awards are the highest recognition presented by the states’ official historical society and oldest cultural organization, established in 1828. The “Gleanings” was nominated by George Ridenour, a regular contributor to the newsletter and a volunteer in the Ypsilanti Historical Society Archives.

Thirteen awards were presented at the conference in the following categories: Publications - University and Commercial Press; Publications – Private Printing; Media; Communications; Educational Programs; Restoration & Preservation; Distinguished Volunteer Service; Special Programs and Events; and Lifetime Achievement.

The first “Gleanings” was published in 1973 and features historical articles including the reminiscences of people and places in Ypsilanti and the surrounding area. The newsletter features articles and photographs documenting the history of the area and also includes advertisers and columns of current interest such as history based programs and web sites.

An index of all back issues of the Gleanings is posted on the “publications” section of the YHS web site at “ypsilantihistoricalsociety.org/publications.html” and the Ann Arbor District Library has digitized all past issues and posted them on the Internet. They can be accessed and downloaded at “ypsigleanings.aadl.org.”

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Gleanings is published four times per year and is included with the $10 annual membership fee.

Book Review: Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2010,
Spring 2010
Original Images:


Author: James Mann

We are very pleased to announce the publication of a new book titled “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives: Tripe-mongers, Parker’s Hair Balsam, The Underwear Club & More” written by our own Laura Bien.

The Ypsilanti Archives in the basement of the Museum at 220 North Huron Street is a treasure trove, not of gold, silver or diamonds, but of stories from Ypsilanti’s past. Laura Bien has mined this rich vein in frequent trips to the Archives, and has shared these stories in her Dusty Diary blog, and her columns in The Ypsilanti Courier, The Ypsilanti Citizen, The Ann Arbor Observer and AnnArbor.com. A few of these gems are now collected in one volume.

The book includes stories on many diverse topics from Ypsilanti’s past including: the battle the city waged against standardized time; the history of the Ypsilanti High School colors; and, Inez Graves the Angel of the Depression. Included in the book is the story of Lora Bryant - the Normal College student who disappeared in 1907; Elijah Pilcher - the itinerant Methodist preacher including the travails and hardships of his calling; and John Norton, the Civil War veteran who could not take of himself.

Each story is carefully researched and crafted, giving a glimpse of the rich history that is Ypsilanti. Bien is a talented writer with a gift for words. She conveys a sense of place, whether it is to a 19th Century store or the scene of a murder, the reader has a feel of the setting. Take for example the tale of the Clara Richards, the Flapper Bootlegger, as she tried to save herself from arrest as police raided her home. “Clara was determined that her luck wouldn’t run out. She grabbed a jug of moonshine and ran to the kitchen sink, where she upended the jug. Glug, glug, glug - the incriminating ‘shine was almost gone! The clear liquid spiraled down the drain.” Bien then explains why Clara’s efforts to escape the law were not as successful as she had hoped. “There was only one problem: Clara’s sink wasn’t connected to the water system. The pipe went through her kitchen wall, draining wastewater into her yard. And at the end of that pipe, Clara saw Officer Connors collecting the moonshine as she poured it out. She desperately threw water into the sink, but it was too late. Connors had over a quart of evidence.”

Bien tells of the girls at Harriet School altering old worn out clothing so children would have something to wear during a cold winter of the depression. “Not only were the children sewing usable garments that were going back into the community, but they were also doing it with style - they were hand-sewing on bias tape. This is the colored decorative strip seen around the edges of things like potholders and aprons. It is folded three times and is devilishly difficult to sew by hand. No problem for these ten-year olds.”

This charming volume of Ypsilanti history will be enjoyed for years to come by everyone who has either lived in our great city or had relatives who resided here.

(James Mann is a local historian and author, a volunteer in the YHS Archives, and a regular contributor to the “Gleanings.”)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Laura Bien in the YHS Archives doing research for one of her writing projects.

Photo2: The new book recently authored by Laura Bien.

News from the Fletcher White Archives

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2010,
Spring 2010
Original Images:

Author: Gerry Pety

The YHS Archives advertises itself as “The Collective Memory of Ypsilanti,” and that is truer now than ever. Normally when one grows older, memory begins to fade – but not here. The older the archives get, the more of that “collective memory” is uncovered and exposed as our volunteers research the past and write articles and books for your knowledge and pleasure. The articles appear not only in the “Gleanings” but also on the Internet and in our local papers. Now, one of our own is again turning some of this research about our past into a delightful panoply of recently discovered memories that has slipped into the abyss of time.

Laura Bien, our Friday hostess in the YHS Archives, is a prolific writer and researcher and has written a book titled “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives: Tripe-mongers, Parker’s Hair Balsam, The Underwear Club & More.” The book is available in the YHS Museum gift shop or in the YHS Archives. The Society will be sponsoring a book signing for Laura on April 24 between 2 and 5 p.m. in the Archives. But don’t wait to buy your copy, pick up one now and then bring it back on April 24 for the author’s signature and a little conversation.

A special thanks to Bill Ridenour, who is related to our own George Ridenour - Saturday host in the YHS Archives, for a copy of a book on the Underground Railroad in this area. This book adds to our “collective memory” of this explosive era in our history.

We extend our sincere appreciation to George Ridenour for his efforts in assisting people with research on family members and friends who once lived in Ypsilanti or the surrounding area. In addition to being an outstanding researcher, George is also a prolific author who contributes regularly to the “Gleanings.”

Laura and George are only two of the many people who volunteer time in the Archives and we keep adding to our staff. Recently Amanda Ross, who has experience working at The Henry Ford, has volunteered to serve as a staff member in the Archives on Saturdays. Welcome Amanda! We know that eventually the “researchin” and “writin” bug will infect you too as it has everyone else here in the Archives.

Finds in the Archives

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2010,
Spring 2010
Original Images:

Author: Gerry Pety

One of the fascinating aspects of my position as archivist at the Ypsilanti Historical Society is the possibility of finding overlooked and unusual artifacts which have been donated over the years. Some of the time these artifacts have nothing to do directly with Ypsilanti history, but they are still very interesting! All of the wonderful finds in this article were contributed by Mrs. Jane Schmiedeke. Thanks Jane!!

Excused absence slip for a student, Miss Norma Roehrs, who attended Ypsilanti High School during the Fall semester of her senior year as a member of the graduating class of 1947. As you may note in the 1947 Dixit yearbook, she was very active as a student during her high school career. The only question is why was she excused?

One of the items received was an ink blotter from the Smith Brothers Company, makers of their famous menthol cough drops. This ink blotter was used as an advertising medium for pharmacists who sold these drops to their customers. Originally, cough drops were sold individually and dispensed in small bags from ornate jars in the pharmacy. However, the image of a box on the blotter indicates that this item may date from a later time.

Included also was a train ticket for ½ of one way from Ypsilanti to Saline, dated June 13th, 1896 issued by the Lake Shore and Southern Michigan Railway. This was also known as the Huckleberry Line and ran from the Ypsilanti depot through Michigan State Normal College campus. If you go onto the campus today you can still trace the actual “right-of-way” for the train as it went West on its way to Saline through Fountain Plaza, the Citizens Bank property, across Packard Road, and eventually the Miles of Golf driving range, then known as Carpenter’s Corners.

Scrip is essentially a receipt, or acknowledgement of a debt to be paid at a later time. This rare Ypsilanti 5 cent scrip was payable only when tax receipts were sufficient to cover the amount due or upon notice, or call, by the city government for redemption. In 1933 the United States was experiencing the greatest depression in its history and legal U.S. currency was in critically short supply. In lieu of sufficient money, local governments, states and even companies resorted to the issuance of scrip. It was illegal but due to the conditions of the time most of the scrip remained in circulation without notice by the Secret Service as it filled a necessary monetary need to transact business. This scrip became a trade item, just like goods themselves and was sometimes sold at a discount for genuine U.S. currency. This note was issued by the City of Ypsilanti under the mayoral administration of Matt Max after July 15th 1933.

(Gerry Pety is the Director of the YHS Archives:

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Excuse slip from Ypsilanti High School from 1946.

Photo 2: Norma Roehrs information from the 1947 Dixit Yearbook.

Photo 3: Smith Brothers Cough Drops ink blotter that was used to advertise the product.

Photo 4: Train ticket from the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad.

Photo 5: Time-Script Money issued under the mayoral administration of Matt Max in 1933.

It's a Test

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2010,
Spring 2010
Original Images:


Author: Peter Fletcher

This is the second in a series of tests related to the history of Ypsilanti. Turn to page ___ of this issue to check your answers.

1. Where did the gypsies stay when they came through Ypsilanti from time to time in the 1930's?
2. Who always sat in the front office of the original Cleary College Building in downtown Ypsilanti in the 1920's and 1930's?
3. What former prominent public official lived in room 401 at the Huron Hotel for many years?
4. Name the Ypsilanti auto dealer who served on the Mackinac Island State Park Commission who was such a tightwad he refused to donate to the campaign of the Governor set to reappoint him to this coveted spot so as a result he was bounced?
5. Name the two commercial movie theatres in Ypsilanti prior to World War II and explain how they differed in their cinematic fare?
6. Three downtown Ypsilanti landmarks burned down at different times in the 1960's. Name them and what succeeded them?
7. What other building was built by the Swift family on the site of the Gilbert Residence at 203 South Huron Street?
8. Tell us about the bank robbery at the old National Bank of Ypsilanti when the money never left the bank but the culprit still spent six months in Federal Prison for the crime.
9. Other than being sons of Azro and Elizabeth Fletcher what did William, Harris, Robert & Foster have in common arising from an eerie coincidence at Ypsilanti High School?
10. During World War II Welch Hall on the EMU campus was pressed into emergency use for what educational purpose?
11. The initials "YPS" signifying Ypsilanti, MI gained national prominence for what reason after World War II?
12. Once each year in the 1930's the President of the University of Michigan would make a special visit to a private home on the west side of Ypsilanti for what important task?
13. Who was the last Republican (in 1963) to carry every precinct in the City of Ypsilanti when elected to a state office. Who was it and what office?
14. When voters in the City of Ypsilanti adopted a local option for liquor by the glass it carried in every voting location except one. Where was the exception?
15. At that same election the first attempt to adopt a millage to build a new library was defeated. What observation about the city did this provoke?
16. During World War II the southeast corner of the front yard of the Ypsilanti Public Schools at 210 West Cross Street was covered twice a year with two commodities, collected from all over town by students, badly needed for the war effort. What were they?
17. In 1942 a large billboard was installed next to the downtown Post Office on Michigan Ave. What was put on it?
18. On Sunday morning, November 24, 1963 every Church was crowded in Ypsilanti. Why?
19. Who left the office of Michigan Lt. Governor to become President of Eastern Michigan University and then returned to becoming Lt. Governor four years later?
20. What Ypsilantian was ordered to accept appointment to a state constitutional office he did not want by the Governor with the reminder "I have done things for you I did not wish to do - now you have to do this for me."?

(Peter Fletcher is the President of the Credit Bureau of Ypsilanti and is widely known for his inspirational speeches.)

From the President's Desk

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2010,
Spring 2010
Original Images:

Author: Alvin E. Rudisill

Our next quarterly meeting is Sunday, May 2 from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. We hope you will join us for the meeting and program. Refreshments will be served following the meeting and entertainment.
Also coming is the Annual Art Exhibit which is scheduled for May 9 to 23.

Michael Newberry is the new Eastern Michigan University intern in the Museum. He replaced Veronica Robinson who graduated and moved to Chicago. Veronica is seeking a job in Chicago and is scheduled for a number of interviews in the historical preservation field.

The new expanded and resurfaced parking lot has relieved some of the parking issues we have had over the past several years. Our sincere thanks to all of our members and friends contributed their time or money for this major project. During the next several months we will be focused on getting the front entry steps repaired and installing storm windows on all the windows in the museum.

Make sure you read the book review for the new book authored by our own Laura Bien titled “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives.” The book was released this past month by American Chronicles – A History Press Series. Read the book review on the back page of this issue of the Gleanings and then come in to the Archives and purchase a copy. There is a book signing scheduled in the YHS Archives on April 24 so you can either buy your book now and bring it back for the signing or wait until then to purchase your copy.

The Annual Yard Sale this year is scheduled for June 5. If you have items to donate for the sale please give us a call and we will come to your location and pick them up. Also, items can be dropped off at the Museum from 2 to 5 pm, Tuesday through Sunday. Last year we raised over $5,000 during this event and we hope to duplicate that this year.

We are always looking for volunteers as docents for the Museum or research assistants for the Archives. Both the Museum and Archives are open from 2:00 to 5:00 pm from Tuesday through Sunday. If you are available during that time and are interested in helping us preserve the historical information and artifacts of the area, or educating the general public about our history, please give me a call at 734-476-6658.

Jennings Receives Award

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Winter 2009,
Winter 2009
Original Images:

Jennings Receives “George F. Hixson” Award

On September 23, 2009, Gerald L. Jennings, was awarded the George F. Hixson Fellowship Award by the Kiwanis Club of Ypsilanti. Gerald is a longtime member of the Board of Trustees of the Ypsilanti Historical Society and contributes significantly to a wide variety of programs and projects of the Society. The following information about Gerald was printed in the brochure passed out at the award ceremony and is reproduced here with the permission of the Kiwanis Club.

The Kiwanis Club of Ypsilanti is honored to present Jerry Jennings with the George F. Hixson Fellowship Award for all the dedication and service he has given to the YHS and LHS Key Club, this Kiwanis District and this Kiwanis Club.

Jerry met his wife Mary at Ball State. They have three children, Brent, Vicki and Pamela. Jerry holds the B.S. and M.A. degrees from Ball State and a Ph.D. from Michigan State University. Jerry joined EMU’s Department of Business and Technology Education in 1963 and retired in 1998 receiving emeritus faculty status by the EMU Board of Regents.

Accomplishments: During his years at EMU Jerry served as undergraduate program coordinator and then graduate school coordinator.

Jerry served on a number of professional education councils in the nation and presented technology education papers at state and national meetings. He served as editor of the American Council on Technology Teacher Education Yearbook and received special recognition from that council for his service to technology teacher education.

EMU awarded Jerry the College of Technology Dean’s Outstanding Faculty Member Award in 1987. He was also recognized by the Division of University Marketing and Student Affairs for his service to students.

Jerry is an active community member. He has worked with numerous school districts on school improvement projects. He was a leader in the Boy Scouts of America, and an Ypsilanti Public School Board Trustee. He also served on the Board of Trustees of the Ypsilanti First United Methodist Church and as Chairman of the United Campus Ministries Board of Directors. Jerry is a member of the Ypsilanti Historical Society Board of Directors. He works on Habitat for Humanity construction projects. He teaches classes of middle school students about robotics at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. Jerry has served as Faculty Fellow on the Sigma Phi Michigan Lambda Chapter Corporation Board at EMU.

Jerry has been a vital member of the Kiwanis Club of Ypsilanti since he joined in 1998. The various positions he has held include President and Lt. Governor. Jerry helped establish Key Club in both Ypsilanti High School and Lincoln High School. He continues to be Advisor to both. Jerry continues to use his thorough knowledge of Kiwanis to advise the club. He is always one of the first to arrive and the last to leave.

(Editor’s Note: From time to time the Gleanings will highlight special recognition or awards presented to our officers and members, particularly for service to the community.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Jennings family at the award ceremony. From left to right: Mary (wife), Jerry, Vicki Salemi (daughter), Max (grandson) and Brent (son). Their daughter Pamela lives in Indianapolis and could not be present at the ceremony.

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