Local History Blog

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

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?

John Glenn: 1921-2016

John Glenn, American hero, U. S. senator, WWII and Korean War veteran, and icon of the Space Age, on the day he became the first American to orbit the earth.
Read the article.

Pearl Harbor Day Meets Ann Arbor, July 1943

Today we remember and honor the U. S. citizens who were killed in the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. Here in Ann Arbor, a strange piece of Pearl Harbor history was paraded through our streets in the summer of 1943. Give a listen to the Ann Arbor Stories Podcast, The Suicide Sub Comes to Ann Arbor for the quirky details, and take a look at the newspaper's coverage of the Japanese Suicide Submarine Tour.

 

AADL Talks To: U-M Emeritus Professor of English Bert Hornback

Media Player

February 23, 2016 at Downtown Library

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In this episode, AADL talks to beloved University of Michigan emeritus professor of English Bert Hornback, who stopped by to chat with us during a recent return visit to Ann Arbor from Saarbrücken, Germany. Between 1964 and 1992, Hornback received two university awards for distinguished teaching. He was influential in bringing students and faculty together for literary adventures great and small, and is best remembered for his annual public reading of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In this conversation, Hornback brings back an Ann Arbor when poets were rock stars and students gathered at his Blunderstone Rookery to recite Ulysses through the night. He recalls bringing UK Prime Minister Edward Heath to U-M's campus; the night he ate a pig with former poet laureate, Donald Hall; and gives us his pick for the best Charles Dickens novel to help us navigate these tumultuous current times.

 

Donald Hall reads "Eating the Pig," 1978

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February 23, 2016 at Downtown Library

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eating_a_pig.mp3Audio

Listen to 2006 Poet Laureate of the United States, Donald Hall, read his poem "Eating the Pig" in 1978.

Audio file courtesy of the Woodberry Poetry Room, Harvard University.

You can read "Eating the Pig" here or visit Eating the Pig: A Dinner Party in Poetry, Photography & Painting for more information about the Ann Arbor dinner party that inspired the poem.

Election Day in Ann Arbor ~ 80 Years Ago

80 years ago, on November 3, the News posted this "Electoral Thermometer" on the outside of its new building at 340 E. Huron St. Total electoral votes were then 531, with 266 needed to win. At this point in the day, candidates Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democrat) and Alf Landon (Republican) are neck and neck. The car parked at lower right with ladders sticking out the back is from the Ann Arbor Window Cleaning Co, which is presumably how they adjusted the "thermometer" as returns came in.

(You can click on the image to bring up a slightly bigger version, then click on the image once more and choose the "X" in the lower right-hand corner to enlarge it further.)

Activist, Author and Politican Tom Hayden dies at 76

Tom Hayden in Chicago
Tom Hayden in Chicago, 1971, by Leni Sinclair

Activist, lawmaker, author, and politician Tom Hayden died yesterday at 76. Hayden took the hard route towards politics with his involvement with the University of Michigan's Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and helped write one of the most significant 20th century political manifestos: the Port Huron Statement. His participation in the disruption of the 1968 Democratic convention as one of the fabled "Chicago Seven" made him an international celebrity. Visits to Hanoi during the Vietnam War brought attention to the conflict in ways that were unpredictable at that time, and his marriage to Jane Fonda gave him a celebrity-status he never quite lived down.

Right or wrong, Hayden proved that one voice can make a difference in American politics. Conventionally unsuccessful, he nonetheless served as a model for democratic political participation in ways that more orthodox politicians would never have dared to attempt.

Watch AADL's 2014 video "A Call to Battle Against the Climate Crisis", Hayden's discussion on how Michigan and the Great Lakes region can move the U.S. towards the protections of a clean energy economy.

Deja Vu All Over Again? Record Turnout For 1964 Presidential Election In Ann Arbor

Poll Lines

On November 3, 1964, the voters of Ann Arbor came to the polls to vote for President of the United States . . . and they came and they came. When the City Clerk finished counting, a new voter turnout record was set at 29,409. The Ann Arbor News tallies for Washtenaw County showed a 16,000 vote advantage for President Johnson over Barry Goldwater, a trend that was mirrored nationwide. Ann Arbor and the County also set a record for ticket-splitting, handing Governor Romney a sizable victory over Ann Arbor's Neil Staebler.

In the lead-up to the election, the News published a voter education guide, What You Should Know To Make Your Vote Count In 1964. The Guide featured profiles of the federal candidates and statewide candidates for Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State and Attorney General. You'll see some very familiar names on the page. Included were civics lesson on Courts in Michigan, local elections and general elections. The 1964 election stood out for another reason: for the first time voters would elect the Governor and Lt. Governor as a team from the same political party. There was only one statewide ballot proposal and the question will be very familiar to voters in 2016.

Fast forwarding to 2016, the Michigan League of Women Voters has produced a non-partisan Voter Guide that is available at all AADL branches. The Ann Arbor League of Women Voters has been conducting local candidate forums that are available from the CTN Video On Demand page as well being rerun throughout the election cycle on Channel 19.

The Ann Arbor City Clerk has a web site with all the info you'll need to vote. The last day to register to vote is Tuesday, October 11, 2016. If you're not sure if you're registered or your voter information is up-to-date, check it out on the SOS Michigan Vote site. If you'd like to vote absentee, you can print off the Application for Absentee Ballot directly or stop by one of AADL's branches and we'll be happy to print it out for you.

Ann Arbor Yesterdays ~ How We Got To Here

Lela Duff

On February 12, 1960, Lela Duff launched a column in the Ann Arbor News called Ann Arbor Yesterdays that became so popular with readers that it ran for 75 weeks covering every aspect of local history in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County. Ms. Duff was well known to thousands of Ann Arbor High School students but after 34 years of teaching English she retired and began her "second career" as a local historian.

Ann Arbor Yesterdays began, fittingly, with a discussion of the history of the naming of Ann Arbor. Her research was impeccable, using every available University, City, County and private archive and collection to tell the story of our development. Although historic buildings where a continual topic of the columns, Ms. Duff gave readers a rich tableau that included the immigrants who settled the area, theaterand civic organizations, music and recreation. The story of Lower Town and Downtown, the University and the names that made them possible. Ms. Duff devoted five columns to the early churches of Ann Arbor, from First Presbyterian to St. Thomas.

There were humorous columns on crime and youthful shenanigans. Two of the most heartfelt columns were a remembrance of Armistice Day, 1918 and Albert Warnhoff who made sure Christmas came to all children. Ms. Duff bid Ann Arbor News readers goodbye in July, 1961 and was immediately honored for her columns by the Historical Society of Michigan. And by October the columns became one of the most popular and enduring local history books in Ann Arbor. You'll want to check out a copy of Ann Arbor Yesterdaysfrom AADL to see the added illustrations and photos that bring to life the buildings and people from her columns. Ms. Duff continued to fight the good fight for historic preservation throughout her life. The "Grand Lady" of local history died in 1983 but her legacy lives on in her columns, her books and her commitment to our past.

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