Hole in the Clouds
Nov 8, 2009
Since the 1950s, the city of Detroit has lost half its population, which now stands at about 900,000. Entire inner-city neighborhoods have been abandoned, often burned out, and eventually bulldozed; Google Earth shows the downtown ringed by hundreds of blocks of grass and trees.
The blight has spread now to neighborhoods far from the city center. First one family, then another, leaves town in hope of finding work. They cannot sell their homes, but they leave anyway. Soon, their neighbors are leaving also, because semi-abandoned neighborhoods are dangerous and unpleasant places to live. Here is a picture from last summer of a Detroit neighborhood with just a few homes still occupied. By next summer, there will be fewer still.
Jun 1, 2011
Recently, Newsweek magazine singled out the three rustiest, dying-est dying rust belt cities in America; coming in at number three, behind Detroit and Flint, Michigan, was Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Grand Rapids–hometown of President Gerald Ford, corporate headquarters of Amway, hub of western Michigan's peach orchards and blueberry farms–didn't take that kind of ranking sitting down. Thousands of city residents stood up and took to the streets, lip-synching Don McLean's anthem all over town, producing the anti–rusty-dying video shown below.
Roger Ebert dubbed it the greatest music video ever. And Newsweek apologized, even going so far as to declare the published rustiness ranking to be methodologically flawed.
The picture above is Tranquilitea, a mosaic by Grand Rapids artist Peggy Kerwan made from thousands of tea bags. The bright colors are from tags and paper wrappers on the tea bags; the subtler shadings are from the translucent tea bags themselves.
(Art by Peggy Kerwan)
Aug 9, 2011
In 1910, most of the excavation work for the new Michigan Central railroad station in Detroit was still being done with the loathesome short-handled shovels. In the background of this photo, however, we can glimpse the excavators of the future: smoke-belching job-killers, aka steam shovels.
The men are wearing hats, but not hard hats.
The Michigan Central Station survives today, I'm told, "if just barely." Short-handled shovels, too, are still around, in real life but more spectacularly in the blues.
Michigan Central Station
(Image credit: Detroit Publishing Company via Shorpy)
Aug 23, 2011
One evening in 1910, this man got off the train at the station in Ann Arbor, Michigan, picked up his coat and his briefcase, put on his hat, and headed up the hill toward home. It is possible, of course that what I referred to as the man's briefcase may actually be a salesman's sample case or a traveler's overnight case–but overall, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
(Image credit: Detroit Publishing Co. via Shorpy)
Sep 3, 2011
On June 30, 2011, rhe cloud at the righthand side of the sky in this picture cast a big shadow over the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay, near Traverse City, Michigan. That's because the sun had already set, and its last rays were hitting the cloud from a very low angle, well below the horizon.
The top of the shadow looks curved, I'm told, because of the extremely wide angle of vision here. It's a perspective thing–we think of the horizon line off in the distance as a straight line, but in a wide-angled scene like this we can see that it's actually a curved arc. For a few minutes, the shadow darkens a wedge of the celestial sphere; then this part of the world turns away and the scene is in serious earth shadow, not just cloud shadow, till morning.
Grand Traverse Bay
(Image credit: Ken Scott)
Feb 15, 2012
Even back in 1905, most towns didn't put nearly as much Disney into their post offices as did Saginaw, Michigan.
The building survives today, though now it's a museum, officially the Castle of Saginaw County History. The current Saginaw post office, shown below per Google Maps, is just a post office.
(Image credit: Detroit Publishing Co. via Shorpy)
Mar 27, 2016
The tulips aren't here yet, but May is close now, just a wing and a prayer and a hop and a skip and a whiff and a shrug away.
(Image credit: Little Fuji; h/t Edie Kieffer)
Mar 26, 2017
The truth is not hard to believe: these guys were in fact trying for a world record in 1893 when they loaded the sled with more than 36,000 board feet of virgin white pine logs from Ontanagon County in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
How did they pile up the load so high? The horses actually did much of the work. The men would lay each log on the ground longside the sled and affix ropes to it that went up and over the load and then back down to the ground on the other side of the sled. That's where the horses were waiting; they would be harnessed to the ropes, and as they were led away from their side of the sled, the ropes would pull the new log up to the top of the heap, guided up the side by angled tracks made from small logs. When the new log reached the top, the men would snag it into place.
How come the sled didn't just sink down in the snow? An ice road had been specially prepared, with the snow sprayed repeatedly with water and allowed to freeze rock-hard. The horses had special shoes with crampons that bit into the ice surface.
Usually, logs hauled this way were taken to a frozen river, awaiting spring, when they'd be floated downstream to a sawmill. But this particular load was pulled for just half a mile by these two horses, to a railroad siding, where the logs and the sled were loaded onto freight cars and shipped to Chicago.
There, at the Michigan pavilion of the 1893 Columbia Exhibition, the load was reassembled, sled and all, treating fairgoers to a glimpse of logging activity in what was then the world's busiest lumber region.
Did they make it into the Guinness Book of Records? We have no idea, but they did claim this was the largest load of lumber in the history of the world.
Note that most of the men here had no gloves, and of course none of them had hard hats.
(Image credit: Detroit Publishing Co via Shorpy)
Mar 28, 2018
Ticket sales stopped about a week ago, but we're still looking forward to the main event: the Iron Mountain Car Plunge, when the ice on the water in the East Chapin mine pit finally gives way and the orange car sinks into the depths. At that moment, it can truly be said: spring has begun on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Tickets were three for $10–three chances to guess the day, hour, and minute of the ice-out; whoever guesses closest to the actual sinking of the car, as determined by video evidence from a webcam trained on the car on the ice, wins $1,500. The local Rotary club uses the rest of the money from ticket sales to support local organizations and events.
Ice-out raffles like this one are an old Upper Peninsula tradition, popular into the 1950s. The Iron Mountain Car Plunge was revived four years ago, using a donated 1998 Saturn stripped of its engine, battery, fluids, and anything else that might be environmentally hazardous. Students at the local technical school scrubbed the car inside and out to remove all traces of road salt and grime, and then painted it orange to attract attention. A chain on its rear axle allows it to eventually be hauled up out of the water and stored till the ice comes back next year.
The East Chapin pit looks like a good-sized lake but is actually an abandoned underground mine that collapsed in on itself and flooded.
As of this writing, the ice is still looking solid. Last year, the car did its plunge thing at 4:07 PM on April 2, 2017; in 2016, it sank in mid-April, and in 2015 in late March. For those who may be thinking about buying some chances on next year's plunge: data clearly show that the car always goes down in the late afternoon.
Below is a webcam image from right around the moment of last year's plunge.
East Chapin Pit
(Image credits: Iron Mountain–Kingston Rotary)