Local History Blog

Posts of interest to local history buffs, written by local history buffs!

Solar Eclipses

A total solar eclipse will be visible in North America on Monday, August 21. Although in Ann Arbor only a partial eclipse will be visible, it will still be an exciting event! In honor of this event, we have gathered some articles and pictures from past solar eclipses as seen in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor News' photographer, Cecil Lockard, captured the 1970 eclipse in time lapse. Examples of how to view the event include an Ann Arbor resident's pin hole box created for the 1963 solar eclipse, and the use of paper to project an image as seen in this picture from the 1994 eclipse. See additional photos and articles from the News pertaining to solar eclipses here.

In The Path of Amelia Earhart

Aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan departed Oakland, Calif., on May 29, 1937, in a second attempt to circumnavigate the earth by airplane. About three-fourths of the way, Earhart, Noonan and their plane disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

In 1967, 30-year-old former Saline schoolteacher and aviator Ann Pellegreno made news by tracking and completing Earhart’s historic flight in a duplicate of Earhart’s Lockheed 10 Elektra. Pellegreno was a graduate of the University of Michigan with two education degrees. At the time of the flight, she and her husband, Donald Pellegreno, were living in Saline.

She became interested in aviation when she helped her husband and brother-in-law build a small biplane and was encouraged to try flying it. She and Donald joined an aeronautical club in Ann Arbor and began a lifetime of flying. While working as an English teacher, she was also involved working as a flight instructor and working for Gordon Aviation at the Ann Arbor Airport.

Lee Koepke told Pellegreno he was rebuilding a plane similar to the one flown by Earhart. Koepke’s encouragement and a book on Earhart’s flight convinced Pellegreno to make the attempt in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Earhart’s flight. The Lockheed plane used in the flight was owned by Koepke, who accompanied her on the flight as a mechanic. Two additional crew members participated, navigator William Polhemus and co-pilot William Payne. The plane was prepared for flight at Willow Run Airport. The plane flew from Willow Run to Oakland, Calif,, to officially begin the world-circling flight at the same place as Earhart.

National news services tracked Pellegreno’s flight as she and her crew sky-hopped around the globe and dubbed her Michigan’s flying housewife. Back at home, the News kept up with Don Pellegreno as he “kept the home fires burning.

In Saline, the excitement was building around Pellegreno’s return and plans were made for a big parade. Pellegreno touched down at Willow Run Airport in mid-July. Saline held a ticker-tape parade for Pellegreno and her crew on July 16. A large crowd of enthusiastic fans held up signs, cheered and wrapped themselves in ticker-tape while Pellegreno and her crew smiled their appreciation for the strong local support.

Pellegreno wrote an award-winning book on her flight, World Flight; The Earhart Trail, in 1971. She and her husband left Michigan for teaching positions in Iowa. In 1990, Ms. Pellegreno was inducted into the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame.

Pellegreno, 80, still lives in Iowa and still flying.

Nickels Arcade Celebrates 100 Years

By Grace Shackman

Nickels Arcade celebrates its Centennial this year and the Arcade and AADL are commemorating the milestone with exhibits, receptions and a digital history of the Arcade. AADL will host an exhibit at the Downtown Library beginning June 1, 2017, featuring photos, articles, and artifacts that tell the story of the first 100 years of Nickels Arcade. The Arcade "family" will have ongoing exhibits throughout the Arcade and a gala reception in July.

When Tom Nickels inherited his father’s State Street meat market, he decided to tear it down and build the elegant European-style Nickels Arcade that is still there one hundred years later. He bought the land all the way down to Maynard from his siblings and then hired local architect Herman Pipp to design. The section on the southeast corner, then Farmers and Mechanics Bank and now Bivouac, was finished in 1915, but the rest was not ready for occupancy until 1917 due to shortage of materials during World War I.

Soon the Arcade filled with up-scale businesses of the kind that European arcades aimed to attract. The oldest business is the barber shop, which opened in 1917 and, although changing owners periodically, has stayed in the same location offering the same service. The oldest store to stay in the same family is VanBoven Clothing, which opened in 1927 where the meat market had been located. The Caravan Shop opened the same year but has, like the barber shop, had different owners. Tom Nickels’ sister, Bee Nickels, opened a store that specialized in fine children’s clothing imported from Europe.

Many of the other stores that opened in the first decade stayed for years, including a post office substation (until 1998), Bay's Jewelry (three generations until 1992), and Betsy Ross Restaurant (closed in 1975). Women’s undergarments were sold at the Van Buren shop, owned by Mae Van Buren, who had managed that department at Mack’s Department Store and knew how to do perfect fittings. From 1932 to 1982, a mainstay of the Arcade was the Arcade Newsstand at the State Street entrance.

As the economy picked up after World War II, a crop of new stores opened that followed the pattern of pre-war tenants of staying for many years. Milford Boersma, who opened his travel business in 1945, was a pioneer in many phases of travel. Jessie Winchell Forsythe opened Forsythe Gallery, the first art gallery in Ann Arbor, in 1954. In 1956 University Flower Shop moved into space that had been Aunt Bees and has been a flower shop ever since. In 1987 the Arcade was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, the Arcade is a mix of old-time stores, such as the tobacco shop that opened in 1964 and Arcadian Antiques, which dates back to 1983, with very “now” concerns such as Babo Juice and Food and Comet Coffee, keeping the European feel.

Civil Rights History Comes To Ann Arbor

On March 25, 1965, civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo, 39, of Detroit was driving back to Mongomery, Ala., after a voting rights march in Selma with a black man, Leroy Moten, 19, one of the Selma demonstrators. A car carrying four Ku Klux Klan members began a high-speed chase down Alabama Highway 80. When they caught up with Liuzzo, the men opened fire, killing Liuzzo. Her passenger was uninjured.

In 1983, five of Liuzzo’s children filed suit against the U.S. government and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for negligence, cover-up and violation of the their mother’s civil rights. The $2 million lawsuit was brought before a federal court because one of the four men arrested in the murder was an FBI informant. The non-jury trial was heard by U.S. District Judge Charles W. Joiner in Ann Arbor.

The four Klansmen were arrested hours after the incident and charged with conspiring to violate the civil rights of the victim, but one of them, Gary Thomas Rowe Jr. was later dropped from a state grand jury’s murder indictment because he was an undercover FBI informant. An 1975 investigation by the Senate Select Committee to Study Government relations began an investigation. Rowe testified that he has participated in acts of violence that were known and approved by the FBI. Rowe was indicted in the Liuzzo murder in 1978 by an Alabama grand jury but had not been tried because of legal complications.

The trial in Ann Arbor opened on March 21. The five Liuzzo chidren –Anthony, Thomas, Penny, Mary and Sally – allege that Rowe killed their mother or failed to prevent the slaying as an agent of a law enforcement agency. The other three men in the pursuit car were tried for murder in Alabama but acquitted.

Ann Arbor News Photographs from Spring & Summer in Ann Arbor, 1937

Media Player

To find out more about the photographs in the slideshow and for dozens more from 80 years ago, check out our Spring in Ann Arbor, 1937 and Summer in Ann Arbor, 1937 collections.

A History of Welcoming

They came for a new life, better opportunities and a promise of freedom. They also came to escape war, political oppression, hunger and natural disasters. Whatever the reason, Ann Arbor has long put out the welcome mat for immigrants and refugees, and those who came left their mark on their new home.

Every year new citizens of the United States have pledged their allegiance to the United States at swearing in ceremonies in District Court in Ann Arbor. Each year the Ann Arbor News recorded the names of new citizens from every corner of the world. They were students, carpenters, nurses, engineers, barbers, homemakers, lexicographers, medical technologists and scholars. They were Ethiopian, Chinese, Haitian, Syrian, British, French, Greek, immigrants from more than 100 others nations of the world. The news ran photos showing new patriots beaming with anticipation, waving little American flags and, sometimes, shedding tears to have finally made that final step in the long road to citizenship. The names of former immigrants can be seen all over town in historic buildings, park names, long thriving businesses.

Some came to Ann Arbor as refugees. In 1957, Joseph Kovacs celebrated his 12th birthday with two birthday cakes and his new classmates at Eberwhite School. Joseph and his family had fled Hungary after Soviet troops drove tanks into Budapest. They found a warm welcome in Ann Arbor. In 1940, children from Britain found a safe haven from German bombs. Others from France, Germany and other countries found their way from the ravages of Nazism and World War II. Refugees were later welcomed in 1964 from Castro’s Cuba, in 1980 from Vietnam, in 1982 from Haiti and from many other human and natural situations. Local churches found a place for displaced persons, local charitable groups gave shelter, clothes, food and opportunities.

Their stories are became part of Ann Arbor’s story, a town where people from every walk of life and every corner of the world made a contribution to the community.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church Celebrates 190th Anniversary

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church marks 190 years in Ann Arbor in 2017. Old News has digitized hundreds of photos and articles beginning with the appointment of Rev. Gillispie to the rectorship in 1861 to a 2009 story of Svea Gray, mainstay of St. Andrew's Breakfast program. Grace Shackman's Then & Now article provides a great overview of the history of the church. The recommendation of Rev. Tatlock in 1895 to provide free pews so that all were welcome at the church foretold the mission of St. Andrew's to be inclusive, supportive and most importantly, a force in the community at large. The 39-year rectorship of Henry Lewis, from 1922 to 1961, embodied this spirit and became a model for all St. Andrew's rectors to follow.

St. Andrew's was a social center for Ann Arborites as well. Their Easter Ball was the "society highlight" of the year, followed closely by their Guild Ball in December. The annual Christmas and Easter fairs raised money for the Church and for their charitable programs. Music remains one of the most noted aspects of St. Andrew's Church. Their choirs, organists, concerts and plays by the St. Andrew's Players remain not-to-be-missed events. The Canterbury House was a place for performance and poetry and protest.

And of course, the building. From any view, inside and outside, whether chapel or vestry, details that have a history of their own. Be sure to include St. Andrew's, 306 N. Division St., on your next walking tour of Ann Arbor. You can also read about the history of St. Andrew's in books at AADL.

Civil Defense and Disaster Preparedness

In 1951, President Harry S. Truman created the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA). This was the Homeland Security Department of its day and it churned out films, brochures, and other propaganda materials purporting to protect Americans from nuclear bombs (as well as other fallout from the Cold War) in the name of national security.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, Americans turned away from the more practical civilian endeavors of the WWII era such as scrap collecting and bond drives to build fallout shelters and stockpile supplies or engage in atomic air raid and other civil defense drills. They even staged mock disasters.

In retrospect, some of this emergency preparedness seems a bit silly, but at least it gave Americans something to do in a time of international uncertainty - and Ann Arbor was no exception. Here is the Ann Arbor News“Civil Defense” photo negative collection for your viewing pleasure.

Celebrating Our Own Thing

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Our Own Thing organization here in Ann Arbor. With Black History Month upon us, now is a great time to acknowledge the work of this incredible group started in 1968 by Dr. Willis C. Patterson, Singer A. "Bucky" Buchanan, Jon Lockard, and Vera Embree. Countless African-American students in the area have benefited from the cultural arts instruction provided by Our Own Thing, as well as their scholarship program which has sent numerous young artists and musicians to Interlochen Arts Academy. Watch the interview of Dr. Patterson from the AACHM (African American Cultural & Historical Museum) Living Oral History Project for a deeper look into the organization and the amazing man behind the scene.

Old Folk: The Ark's Ann Arbor Folk Festival turns 40

Ann Arbor Folk Festival

Leo Kottke's forehead graced the poster for the 18th edition of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival.

History is a mystery, even when you have direct access to media coverage of an event.

The first Ann Arbor Folk Festival was held June 13, 1976, headlined by John Prine and Leon Redbone. The show was hosted by the Power Center and, as always, it was to benefit The Ark, which was just 11 years old at that point and still in its original location, a house at 1421 Hill St.

Doug Fulton’s June 14, 1976, Ann Arbor News review of that first fest really only covers the early part of the evening -- newspaper print deadlines, you know -- and Prine and Redbone are mentioned with no commentary.

But Fulton did write a sentence that would reappear -- in slightly altered forms -- through much of The Ark’s existence: “The occasion was a benefit for the Ark, one of the few remaining 'coffee-houses' in the country still specializing in folk music of all kinds, and lately in financial trouble.”

In fact, The Ark could have just changed its name to Financial Trouble since the venue was constantly in jeopardy through the mid-'80s until this 1986 article declared otherwise: "The Ark No Longer Needs The Festival To Stay Afloat".

Since that first festival, and two moves later, The Ark is one of the most respected and well-oiled folk- and roots-music concert venues in the country, though the nonprofit still counts on the Ann Arbor Folk Festival for part of its operating revenue. This year’s edition, held January 27 and 28 at Hill Auditorium, has one of the festival’s biggest lineups yet, featuring headliners Kacey Musgraves and Jenny Lewis on Friday and the Indigo Girls, Margo Price, and Kiefer Sutherland (yes, him) on Saturday. (If you're somehow still undecided about going, The Ark has also compiled playlists for night one and night two of the fest.

But if the festival started in 1976, why is this weekend’s celebration its 40th, instead of the 42nd?

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