Michigan history

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Is there anyone who hasn't scanned the radio dial on a long road trip and endured noisy static,  angry talk shows, and music that disappoints  in a desperate search for a classic rock station?

But who knew the classic rock concept was born in Michigan almost 30 years ago?

Fred Jacobs, an Oakland County-based radio consultant, was part of that birth in 1985. He said WMMQ in Charlotte, Michigan, was the first classic rock station, and the format quickly spread across the country.

Jacobs said he was inspired by complaints from listeners who couldn't find the music they had grown up with and loved. 

Jacobs said classic rock is not the same as "golden oldies." It is about the golden age of rock – music people will still be listening to in 100 years. 

Jacobs said classic rock started with music from the 60s and 70s and musicians like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Eric Clapton. 

But he said it's all about the music of your youth that you never get tired of hearing.  And as generations move on, classic rock has added 80s and even more recent music to its roster.

The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 2000.
Joshua Schwimmer / Flickr

The state of Michigan owns public parks, roads, buildings, and even some historic artifacts. Among those artifacts are the original architectural drawings of the World Trade Center.

This is a story of how the state of Michigan – its taxpayers – came to own the works.

Thousands of people visit the 9-11 Memorial in New York every day.

Children play by the fountain that surrounds the footprint of what once were the world’s tallest buildings. Some people take the time to read at least some of the names of the people who died here on 9-11.

User: Mackinac Island - Mackinac.com / facebook

You just never know what that summer job during college might do. It just might affect the course of your life and send you down a path you'd never expect.

Dennis Cawthorne's summer job in 1960 found him on Mackinac Island. He was a kid who was standing on the street and enticing tourists onto horse-drawn tour wagons and taxis.

That humble summer job led to some 50 years of living and working on Mackinac Island for Cawthorne. He has been a lawyer, a state legislator, the chairman of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission and much more.

Detroit Drunken Historical Society's recent meet-up explored the Belle Isle history
User: UpNorth Memories - Donald (Don) Harrison / Flickr

Some organizations these days are having a hard time getting new people involved. Classical music groups have been struggling to appeal to new fans. And plenty of arts and culture groups have a tough time attracting members.

It turns out, historical societies are also having a tough time. And that’s something that Michigan Radio’s Kyle Norris has been looking into.

Norris says the problem is that these societies tend to be older, and getting new blood is not going so well in general.

But that’s not an issue for Amy Elliott Bragg, a co-organizer for the Detroit Drunken Historical Society.

It's a meet-up group that hosts monthly activities at local bars in Detroit for people to come out and learn about history. Bragg says there's no commitment, the gatherings are easy to attend, and all are welcome.

“We have found that there are people who might not be immersed in the library in their historic text all night, but they enjoy history, they are interested in it. They want to weigh in,” says Bragg.

* Listen to the interview with Amy Elliott Bragg above.

Metro Detroit Ethnic Communities Collection/Walter P. Reuther Library

There’s a joke that historical organizations are stuck in the past when it comes to how they do things. You know, like they don’t have a grasp on using social media, and their museums and events are outdated and uninspiring.

And that joke might extend to the people who run historical organizations – many of whom are senior citizens and have often run their group in the same way for a long time.

Fort Mackinac during the War of 1812
User: PhilFree / Wikimedia Commons

The War of 1812 is famous for the Star Spangled Banner, Admiral Perry’s "We have met the enemy and they are ours.” But, really, not a lot of people know much about that war. Michigan and the Great Lakes were key battle sites between the fledgling United States and the British. The River Raisin near Monroe, Michigan was site of a major battle.

And August 4th marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Mackinac Island.

Craig Wilson is the Museum Historian for the Mackinac State Historic Parks. He joined us to talk about why Mackinac was an important strategic site worth fighting for during the war.

Detroit Historical Society

Detroit turns 313 years old next week. The Detroit Historical Society is celebrating with a week's worth of programming beginning tomorrow. 

July 24th marks the day when the French explorer Antoine Cadillac landed on what would later become the city of Detroit.

Each day the group will host a different event- including storytelling, a classic car show, and film screenings.

Bob Sadler is with the Detroit Historical Society. He said celebrating the city is especially important now.

"And based on Detroit’s history of being a hard-working, very creative and entrepreneurial town, I have every reason to believe that we’re reinventing ourselves again," said Sadler. 

Some of the events include: Arsenal of Democracy, Detroit is America’s Motor City, The Streets of Old Detroit, and one of the newer exhibits, the Gallery of Innovation. 

The Detroit Historical Museum is in Midtown Detroit. All of the week's events are free.

– Reem Nasr, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Wikimedia Commons

When you think of the Underground Railroad, one name you may not recognize is Laura Smith Haviland.

She helped many slaves escape from the South to freedom, and she was from Michigan.

Michigan was a crucial stop on the Underground Railroad.

Before and during the Civil War, many Michiganders helped slaves escape to freedom in Canada by crossing the border in Port Huron or Detroit.

In 1832, Laura Haviland co-founded the Logan Female Anti-Slavery Society and the Raisin Institute, which became a safe space for African American fugitives of slavery and attracted black settlers in Michigan.

In the 1840s and 1850s, Haviland traveled between Michigan, Ohio, and Canada assisting slaves in escapes, teaching African American students, and making public anti-slavery speeches.

Southern slave owners had a $3,000 reward for her capture.

Tiya Miles is chair of the Department of African-American Studies at the University of Michigan and will be a keynote speaker at the National Underground Railroad Conference being held in Detroit this week.

“Laura Haviland was an incredible woman, and she is someone who faced daunting challenges that you and I - I don’t think, could ever imagine,” Miles said.

Miles said that women were not expected to be independent and involved in political issues at this time. There was a lot of criticism of her from her fellow abolitionists. She was seen as someone who outright rejected the conservative gender roles.

The National Parks Service is hosting its annual conference on the Underground Railroad in Detroit from July 16 to July 20. The theme is "Women and the Underground Railroad."

*Listen to the full interview above

Michigan Historical Center

A $1 million grant is going to the Michigan History Foundation.

It's from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and will help the Michigan Historical Museum revamp its 25-year-old exhibits.

But the grant is also meant to focus on racial equity. The money will be used for the museum's "Sharing Michigan's Untold Stories" project. Some of that will include stories of the indigenous tribes who where here before the Europeans came. 

Sandra Clark directs the Michigan Historical Center. She is working to incorporate diverse stories and voices into the museum.

Wikimedia Commons

There are many different auto museums – some dedicated to displaying cars with unique engineering and designs, and others dedicated to displaying the automobile’s impact on society.

Michigan's auto museums have had little success. Flint’s "Autoworld" theme park closed two years after opening, and the Walter P. Chrysler Museum closed its doors recently.

Europe has had a different experience.

Autostadt, which means “auto city” in German, is in Wolfsburg, Germany. It averages about two million visitors per year. BMW and Porsche also have notable museums in Germany.

Why do auto museums in Europe succeed, while those in the auto capital of the world have not?

“Europeans seem to have such a deep bond with their vehicles,” says Paul Eisenstein, publisher of  The Detroit Bureau. “They are seemingly more interested in the mechanicals and what have you. They have a tendency to be drawn to automotive exhibits, museums, parks, and everything at a much greater rate than Americans are.”

*Listen to our interview with Eisenstein at 3 p.m. today. We'll post the audio for that interview here around 4:30 p.m. 

Wikimedia Commons

30 years ago, "Autoworld" opened its doors on July 4, 1984 in Flint, Michigan.

It was an indoor theme park and museum dedicated to preserving and spreading automotive achievements.  

Bill Shea, editor and reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, said that the attraction wasn’t that popular and visitors were confused about what Autoworld was.

Was it supposed to be a museum or a theme park?

This led people to ask why a group of people invested $80 million into the endeavor.

Organizers hoped Autoworld would revitalize the inner city of Flint, develop Michigan’s tourism industry, and preserve the automotive history in the city.

But, in 1987, the attraction closed its doors permanently. Here's a video of them imploding the building from ABC News:

*You can hear our interview with Bill Shea today at 3 p.m. We'll add the interview to this post at 4:30 p.m.

The Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

We've been hearing from the experts that, thanks to the great winter and our friend the polar vortex, this is going to be quite a year for allergy sufferers.

Perhaps it might be time to revive The Ca-Choo Club.

The Ca-Choo Club was a very unique way to attract visitors to Sault Ste. Marie.

Beginning in 1928, it welcomed allergy sufferers who turned up to breathe that clean, cool, pollen-free air that swept in off Lake Superior.

Writer Deidre Stevens dug into the history of this quirky Ca-Choo Club for Michigan History magazine, and she joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Arsenal of Democracy book cover.

There is no question that Detroit and the automobile industry played a major role in the Allied victory over Germany and Japan in World War II. We’ve often heard southeast Michigan described as the “Arsenal of Democracy.”

But not so well known is the struggle it took to turn the auto industry toward war production, particularly as women and African-American workers stepped up to take their places on the assembly lines.

Charles Hyde, professor emeritus of history at Wayne State University, joined us today. His new book is Arsenal of Democracy: The American Automobile Industry in World War II.

Listen to the full interview above.

When it comes to support for emergency care services, the U.S. just barely squeaked by with a passing grade, at least according to a new state-by-state report card put out by the American College of Emergency Physicians.

And how did Michigan measure up, you might ask? Well, it turns out we're failing in access to emergency health care. We heard some recommendations about ways to move forward.

Then, we met a woman who’s trying to help people come together to have some uncomfortable, but enlightening, conversations about race, class and more.

And, we spoke with Daniel Howes about Tom Lewand, Detroit’s job czar.

Also, “Saturday Night Live” just hired its first black female cast member in five years. Will this bring more attention to other black comedians?

And, a Michigan historian gave us a closer look at how Michigan milkweed helped us in World War II.

Also, the Michigan Human Society has a new way to find homes for their animals: social media.

First on the show, how do you best measure the progress of students in Michigan's classrooms and, by extension, the effectiveness of their teachers?

It's one of the thorniest challenges being debated in Michigan education.

For years, the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) and the Michigan Merit Examination (MME) have been the assessment tools. Now, with the move to the Common Core Standards, it's out with the MEAP and MME and in with the what?

Districts around Michigan are gearing up for an online adaptive assessment test in the spring of 2015.

The Michigan Department of Education says the state has only one option for testing students on the Common Core State Standards for the next three years.

And that option is the Smarter Balanced Assessment – the SBA.

But state lawmakers haven't made that official.

We wondered how districts  are preparing for the SBA or whatever test they're told to administer next year.

William Heath is the superintendent of the Morrice Area Schools and principal at Morrice Junior and Senior High School located in Shiawassee County. He joined us today.

Flickr user keithcarver / Flickr

Think about World War II and the ways Michigan helped the war effort: The Arsenal of Democracy, Rosie the Riveter, heavy bombers rolling off the assembly line at Willow Run.

And milkweed.

Yes, the common weed found in the northwest Lower Peninsula went to war.

Gerry Wykes is a historian and freelance author/illustrator who recently wrote about milkweed for Mlive and Michigan History Magazine. He joined us today to explain how this weed helped in the war effort.

Listen to the full interview above.

Credit Goldnpuppy / Wikimedia Commons

As Michigan cities age and populations shrink, some say that demolishing  abandoned buildings is essential to reviving these cities and stabilizing neighborhoods.

Take Detroit, for instance. One estimate puts the number of buildings set to be demolished at 10,000.

But amid the demolition, is there room to preserve historic structures? How do we determine what should be torn down and what's worth rescuing and restoring?

To help answer those questions, Preservation Detroit and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network just completed a survey of six historic areas in Detroit. They're hoping to bring a preservationist's point of view to decisions about blight and demolition.

Emilie Evans is a preservation specialist with the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, and she joined us today.

*Listen to the story above.

The Great recession and the accompanying housing meltdown changed the way many of us think about home-ownership. For decades, owning a home seemed to be part of the American Dream, but that dream has changed. On today’s show -- the rise of renters and what it means for the state’s housing market.Then, this month marks the 100 year anniversary of one of the most painful chapters in Michigan’s labor history. We explored the Copper Country Strike of 1913 later in the hour.

And, the U.S. birth rate is at a record low as more and more married couples choose to remain child free. We spoke with the director of the Childless by Choice Project about what goes behind this choice and what are the future consequences.

First on the show, Back in 2010, the State Board of Education approved the Common Core State Standards for Michigan — a set of math and English goals for K-12 students.

School districts across the state have spent the past three years integrating the standards into their curriculums. At the same time, we've heard a lot of political debate about Common Core, mostly about the involvement of the federal government in our classrooms.

But in October of this year, state lawmakers OK'd funding for Common Core, and now it is becoming a reality in Michigan classrooms.

We wanted to find out: What does this mean — day-in, day-out — for Michigan's students?

What does a school year under Common Core really look like?

Joining us is Naomi Norman, the executive director of Achievement Initiatives at Washtenaw Intermediate School District and Livingston Educational Service Agency.

This month marks the 100 year anniversary of one of the saddest chapters in Michigan history. It’s called The Italian Hall Disaster, a terrible tragedy that happened on Christmas Eve, 1913, in the Upper Peninsula town of Calumet. Someone yelled "Fire!" in a packed hall and the resulting stampede killed 73--60 of them children.

It happened during the Copper Country Strike, one of the most painful chapters in Michigan's labor history.

The Copper Country Strike of 1913 and the Italian Hall Disaster is the subject of new documentary called “Red Metal,” soon to air on PBS. It is drawn from a book about the disaster called Death’s Door, written by Steve Lehto. He’s a historian with ties to the Copper Country that go back to that bitter time.

Steve Lehto joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Flickr user Terry.Tyson / Flickr

 You drive around most neighborhoods these days and there is absolutely no doubt we love Halloween.

Once upon a time, you carved a pumpkin, popped in a candle and put it on your porch to greet trick or treaters.

Now, homes are decked out with giant webs and big spiders, ghouls and witches, and don't forget the lights. Halloween is now second only to Christmas for consumer spending.

Just when and where did this all begin? And how far back does Halloween go here in Michigan?

We turn to historian and contributor to the Detroit News Bill Loomis for the answers. 

Listen to the full interview above.

Ella Sharp Museum

In 1929, Paul and Mae Lewis founded the Lewis Bros. Circus.

The traveling circus was based in Jackson, Michigan and traveled throughout the state. They even went to Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, dazzling small towns with exotic creatures and acrobats.

I sat down with Grace Wolbrink. She’s a professional storyteller who collected memories from the family.

“The circus was a world that was different…they had animals that came from other countries that nobody could see. And so life was around the small towns, but the circus helped them cross into another world and dimension that way,” said Wolbrink.

Paul and Mae’s nieces, Barbara and Winona Stanton, toured with the circus during the summer as young girls. Barbara’s stories helped create a museum exhibit about the Lewis Bros. That exhibit is currently on display at the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, Michigan.

Flickr user uzvards

When it comes to connecting with those who have gone before us -- learning from them, discovering the differences and the similarities between us and great-great-grandma's generation -- you just can't beat a letter.

The words and thoughts that someone puts down on paper can speak clearly through the years and the centuries. And they're worth heeding.

That's the idea behind Michigan In Letters, an online collection. One of the contributors to Michigan In Letters is John Fierst with the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University.

Fierst joined us today to discuss the collection.

Listen to the full interview above.


GRAYLING, Mich. (AP) - Camp Grayling is 100 years old.

Gov. Rick Snyder and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow are participating in events Saturday to celebrate the camp's centennial. There will be military ceremonies, music, food and fireworks. More than 4,000 active Michigan service members are expected to attend.

Camp Grayling covers 230 square miles, primarily in Crawford County in northern Michigan.

Artist Don Troiani

A large number of civil war re-enactors from Michigan are in central Pennsylvania this week to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Michiganders heard the first shots fired at Gettysburg.   And they were there a few days later, as the Confederates launched the ill-fated Pickett’s Charge, which failed to break the Union lines.

Don Everette is among the Michigan civil war re-enactors in Gettysburg this week.

He says he’s been to previous re-enactments of Pickett’s Charge that were highly emotional.


We live in a complex world of technology, of instant communication with just about any spot in the world.

So it is all too easy for us to lose track of our roots, our history.

Who were the first people to call Michigan "home" and what can we learn from those first Michiganders?

Bill Lovis is a professor and curator of anthropology at Michigan State University.

“They came from the South,” Bill said of the first state inhabitants.

Around 12,000 years ago, Michigan was under ice, with several lobes of glaciers covering the state. As the ice receded and melted, people moved up into the state and the Great Lakes began to form.

It was still several thousands of years before Michigan’s terrain began to resemble what it is today. Glaciers left the land very cold, barren, and wet, and it took a long time for forestation to begin. The earliest inhabitants were families who moved across this landscape going from resource to resource.

While these early settlers maybe seem very distant to modern Michiganders, they still touch our lives today.

“Anyone who has a corncob with their braut in the summer is being impacted by Native American society,” said Bill. “The food crops are exceptionally important contributions to the world economy.”

Listen to the full interview above.

The U.S. Senate has passed its 2013 Farm Bill, a huge piece of legislation - totaling almost a trillion dollars. We'll found out just what's in the bill, and why, as Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow likes to say, "Michigan is written into its every page."

And, we got an update on the Detroit mayoral race after one of the front-runners got kicked off the ballot.

First on the show, we continue our look at the Great Lakes. Yesterday, we talked about the state's "blue" economy, using our water resources to create jobs and boost industry here in Michigan.

So, today, let's turn to some encouraging news about our lakes from the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. They've just released an interactive map that pinpoints success stories across the region, efforts to restore the lakes with projects funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

To get an idea of what these success stories are and the challenges to the lakes that still remain, we turned to Andy Buchsbaum, the director of the National Wildlife Federation's regional Great Lakes Office.

On a pleasant spring day in Lansing, exactly 100 years ago today, then-Governor Woodbridge Ferris struck a blow for history. He signed a bill creating the Michigan Historical Commission.

Today, the current commissioners are celebrating the commission’s 100th anniversary. Governor Ferris is long forgotten and the original commissioners are all long dead.

But the commission is still hanging in there, trying to make us conscious of our state’s fascinating past. They are the folks, by the way, behind the Michigan Historical Marker Program. Nearly everyone has seen some of the more than 1,700 green and gold markers in front of buildings from the old Model T plant in Highland Park to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

You might say it‘s been quite a century. When the historical commission first got going, there were still people living who had been alive when Michigan was just a territory.

This story includes historically racist language that some readers may find offensive.

We're in the midst of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

So your great uncle, the war re-enactor, is probably having the time of his life.

But for those who have trouble sitting through all nine episodes of the Ken Burns “Civil War” documentary, now there’s something for us, a new online archive is bringing Michigan’s Civil War letters into the Google Age.

Library of Congress

"Thank God for Michigan."

It’s supposedly what Abraham Lincoln uttered in May of 1861 as 75,000 Michigan volunteers marched into Washington – the first to answer his call for help from what were then the western states in preserving the union.

But there’s no proof Lincoln said that, according to Bob Garrett.

He’s an archivist who researched Lincoln for the Michigan Historical Center in Lansing.

“Who knows? A lot of things like this get passed around and, you know … I don’t know. I would call that apocryphal. Maybe he said it. He might have. He very well might have, but I have not seen any evidence that he said that,” Garret said.

Birg Niagara. The tall ship can be seen during the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 celebration in Detroit Sept. 4-10, 2012. The ship will be outside the GM Ren Cen.
Flagship Niagara League / Facebook

There's a huge party happening right now on Detroit's Riverfront!

It's the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812.

The War of 1812 was when Great Britain and the new United States of America slugged it out over trade, over the British habit of grabbing American ships and sailors and forcing them to serve King George (yes, THAT same King George we beat in the Revolutionary War!!)

The War of 1812 Bicentennial and Navy Week are being celebrated this week with events happening from downtown Detroit to Lake St Clair.

Tom Hayden, co-author of the Port Huron Statement
user KCET Departures / Flickr

A group of university students wrote the Port Huron Statement fifty years ago at a UAW retreat center, north of Port Huron. They called themselves “Students for a Democratic Society.” One of the main participants was political activist Tom Hayden, who was in his early twenties at the time.

The statement begins with these words: "We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit."