Thursday, April 28, 2011

Author D. E. Johnson Speaks at the Library

By Frank Boles

On April 11, 2011 D. E. Johnson spoke at the library.  Author of The Detroit Electric Scheme: A Mystery (New York Minotaur Books, 2010), Mr. Johnson was among those honored this year by the Library of Michigan as a recipient of the Michigan Notable Book Award.

Mr. Johnson’s presentation began with a short reading from his book in which he swiftly and surely dispatched the novel’s victim inside of the Detroit Electric Company, and framed the chief suspect. Having set the stage for his mystery, Mr. Johnson then shared with the audience the background to his book.

Although the murder and many of the characters are fiction, the book is rooted in extensive research done by Mr. Johnson about the auto industry and the city of Detroit around 1910.  As Mr. Johnson noted, in 1910 Detroit’s leading industry was not automobiles but the manufacture of cooking stoves. Somehow, though, publishers doubted that contemporary readers would be much interested by a murder set in the city’s then booming “oven industry.”  Automobiles had more cache.

The Detroit Electric was a real car made in Detroit. It began production in 1907. In 1910, the year in which Mr. Johnson sets his book, electric, steam, and gas powered automobiles were all still all being made and sold. The vehicle was the product of a successful Detroit carriage manufacturing firm which understood that the future lay in automobiles and which was seeking to diversify its products. The Detroit Electric reflected the refined tastes of firm’s top-of-the-line opera carriage. The car featured beautiful interior leather work and amenities such as a bud vase as standard equipment. 

Mr. Johnson’s book benefited not only from his research about the Detroit automotive industry and the Detroit Electric but also the city’s personalities and character. Johnson’s research revealed that one of the Detroit Electric’s most devoted customers was Mrs. Henry Ford.  She owned three Detroit Electrics, a fact that likely did not much please her husband as he worked to perfect his gasoline-powered Ford. Then again, Mr. Johnson suggested that Mrs. Ford’s choice of cars many may have been a bit of payback for her husband’s treatment of his family. Ford was a brutal competitor who knew few if any bounds. He went so far as to exploit his and Clara’s only son to obtain his business goals.

At the age of twenty-five, Edsel Ford became president of the car company his father had founded. Rather than a vote of confidence in his son, the promotion was part of Henry’s nefarious business plan to buy out minority stockholders in the firm. Henry Ford wanted sole control of the company. However, the stockholders, to whom he had sold stock in the early days when he desperately needed money and who were now profiting handsomely from Henry’s genius, were not willing to sell.

To change their opinion, Henry put the inexperienced Edsel in charge, knowing that rumors would circulate that the young man wasn’t up to the job and that profits would fall. Henry then added fuel to the fire by suggesting that he was so unhappy with the arrangement he planned to abandon the firm and start a new company.  Stockholders aware of this readily-leaked “inside information” were happy to sell what they “knew” would soon be worthless paper while they could still make a profit. 

Edsel would remain part of the firm for the rest of his relatively short life.  Henry, who outlived Edsel and personally held the firm’s real power regardless of what title his son might have had, would often ignore his son’s often very sound advice and occasionally publicly humiliate him.

Vito Adamo, Detroit’s early mob boss, also finds his way into Mr. Johnson’s  book. Adamo was an enterprising fellow who took Detroit’s turn-of-the-century protection racket to new heights. The “Black Hand” regularly circulated among small businessmen and offered, for a fee, to “protect” the business from “accidents” such as arson or some other calamity. Adamo and his “White Hand” also made the rounds, offering protection to the same businessmen for an additional fee, but including in their list of guarantees that they would prevent the Black Hand from causing trouble.  This, it turned out, was not the beginning of a mob war but a clever marketing scheme -- Adamo controlled both organizations and was twice shaking down the same businesses.

It was a fascinating evening that discussed a dynamic Detroit, where in 1910 only ten percent of its approximately 450,000 residents had been born in Michigan, in which entrepreneurs were on the verge of inventing a new national industry, and in which there were just enough low-lifes to populate an intriguing murder mystery novel. The presentation was made possible in part the Michigan Notable Books Author tour, sponsored by the Library of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Education, Cooley Law School, the Library of Michigan Foundation, Auto-Owners Insurance, the Michigan Center for the Book and the Michigan Humanities Council. Media sponsors include WKAR, City Pulse and Queue Advertising and Gennara Photography.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

CMU Vocal Ensemble Discovers Great Acoustics in the Clarke Exhibit Area

By Susan Powers

Pictured are Chelsea Sigler, Emily Gardner, Kristen Klenke, Director Alan Gumm, Charlie Williams, Jon Yuhasz-Pratt, and Becky Snell.
Yesterday, the Clarke was happily treated to an impromptu performance in the exhibit area by the CMU Vocal Ensemble. The group is directed by Alan Gumm of the CMU Music Department. The ensemble will be touring Europe from May 9th through the 24th.  While in Europe, the group will perform in historical churches and community halls in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands, and will take a sight-seeing side trip to Prague. Some members of the CMU Women’s Chorus will also be going on the tour.

We wish them a safe and fun-filled adventure, and hope they return to the Clarke to sing again soon!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Michigan Historical Review Spring, 2011 Issue Preview

By Mary Graham

The Michigan Historical Review’s spring issue will include the winning essay in our 2010 student essay prize contest, “‘They all sort of disappeared’: The Early Cohort of UAW Women Leaders,” by Amy Bromsen; “Michigan’s War With Mammals: Bounties, Hunters, and Trappers Against Unwanted Species,” by Le Roy Barnett; “State Citizenship as a Tool of Indian Persistence: A Case Study of the Anishinaabeg of Michigan,” by Theodore J. Karamanski;  and “From Fallen Timbers to the British Evacuation of Detroit: The Roman Catholic Priest Who Was a British Agent,” by Patrick M. Tucker. In addition, the Review will include numerous book reviews. Looking ahead to 2012, the spring issue will be a special issue about the War of 1812.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Charles Hyde Speaks at the Library

By Frank Boles

Charles Hyde spoke about his book, Storied Independent Automakers: Nash, Hudson, and American Motors (Detroit :Wayne State University Press, 2009) on March 29. A leading historian of Detroit’s automotive industry, Dr. Hyde focused his talk on the history of the Hudson Motor Car Company. Like so many auto firms, Hudson was a Detroit company. The firm’s name came from the founder of Detroit’s leading department store, J. L. Hudson.  J. L wasn’t much interested in the auto industry, but his niece had married one of the firm’s founders. With money running short, she pleaded with her very rich uncle to invest in the firm.  J. L. did, and the car was named in his honor.

Dr. Hyde used the firm to demonstrate how small, independent automobile manufacturers competed with the “Big Three” through creative engineering and imaginative marketing. Hudson was among the first companies to produce a low-cost automobile. In 1916 Hudson introduced the first “balanced” crankshaft, which allowed for a much smoother operation of the powertrain and made it possible to get better overall performance using smaller engines.  Hudson was an early adapter of the idea of an inexpensive, closed-cab car; the Essex.  In 1932 Hudson hired world-renowned aviator Amelia Earhart to introduce the Terraplane, its low-cost successor to the Essex.

Pluck, luck, and good engineering, however could only take a small automobile company so far. Hudson eventually faltered. It merged in 1954 with Nash-Kelvinator, another failing firm, to form American Motors. In 1954 the last Michigan-made Hudson was produced. In 1957 the last car bearing the Hudson nameplate rolled of a former Nash-Kelvinator assembly line in Wisconsin.  Dr. Hyde pointed to the company’s long years of engineering smarts, shoestring financing, and marketing savvy as examples of how the firm made automotive history.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Do You Catch On?

By Kim Hagerty
What do you think of when you hear the question: Do You Catch On? This is actually a title of a newspaper article from The Clare Sentinel, dated February 10, 1911. The article explains that "catching on" is a term used to refer to the practice of catching on a moving sleigh. The reason for the article was to warn against the dangers of this activity. There had been a "catch on" related fatality in Clare, Michigan, and they were urging parents and teachers to discourage children from this practice since they could be seriously or fatally injured.

Is that what you thought of when you heard that question? It sure makes you wonder how some terms we use today will have a completely different meaning in the future. Interesting how our language is forever changing. The Clare Sentinel is being digitized and put up online for everyone to use on CONDOR, CMU's online digital repository. To read articles from 1911, click the Clarke Historical Library Newspaper Collection.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners

By Tanya Fox

Sometimes a book’s title is so intriguing it draws the reader into the pages immediately. Such is the case with a recent donation to the children’s collection of the Clarke called Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners written by Lucille Recht Penner and published by Scholastic, Inc. (1991). Chapter titles reveal more of the delights found in the book and include “Bugs for Dinner,” “We All Scream for Pudding,”  and “Don’t Throw Your Bones on the Floor.” 

Eating the Plates describes what the passage across the ocean was like for the pilgrims. It relates historical information on the daily life of the pilgrims. The book explains the hardships the pilgrims faced on the trip and after their arrival.  Can you imagine a journey of many weeks with no means of bathing? How about eating moldy or bug infested food? Imagine the difficulties of building shelters from scratch as the cold weather arrived. Do you know what a betty lamp is? How about a burgoo? Or a lug pole? And of course, what does the title mean? Eating the Plates will answer these questions and many others.

A nice addition to the book is a small collection of recipes found at the end of the book. Try your culinary talents by preparing fresh corn soup, red pickled eggs, whole baked pumpkin stuffed with apples, or bearberry jelly. 

Though the book is written for children, adults will find it interesting, too. Visit the Clarke Historical Library and find Eating the Plates as well as other wonderful, fun, unusual, and intriguing books.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine

By Janet Danek, Coordinator of Exhibits and Special Projects, CMU Libraries

Park Library's new exhibit, Harry Potter's World: Renaissance Science, Magic and Medicine, explores Harry Potter’s world, its roots in Renaissance science and the ethical questions that affected not only the wizards and witches of Harry Potter, but also the historical thinkers featured in the series.

The exhibit is only a foundation for a month of events at the Park Library.  There will panel discussions and presentations with a variety of Harry Potter-inspired themes such as ethics and the soul, social justice and the cultural reach of the series. There is also an art exhibit – Imagining the Fantastic - by well-known artists who focus in mythic and magical themes. Two children’s programs, Tea & Fortune Telling with Professor Trelawney, and Potions and Tinctures will be held on Sundays. The on-stage Harry Potter Jeopardy Game will serve as a finale for the Month of Magic at the Park Library.

The grand opening for the exhibit is set for Sunday, April 10 from 2-5pm in the Baber Room, Park Library, Central Michigan University. Click here to see the event calendar for the entire month. 

If you have a CMU global id, you can participate in the Harry Potter Jeopardy Game and win prizes! Questions will be posted daily. Test your Harry Potter knowledge! Respondents with the highest number of correct answers win the chance to compete at the live Harry Potter Jeopardy Game in the Park Library Auditorium on April 28, 2011. Click here for the log in page, then submit your daily answer on the page that follows.

All events are free and open to the public.

We hope to see you here!