Enroute to downtown Detroit, we were passed by someone who is obviously a supreme egotist.
Today was our chance to discover Detroit … both by bus
and later in the day, from a boat tour on the Detroit River.
Based on the barrage of news reports about Detroit, which has lost 60% of its per-recession population and is still facing serious fiscal challenges, we were prepared for a pretty depressing city.
And, yes, there are extremely blighted properties and areas.
HOWEVER, that is not representative of the overall city we visited.
Our first stop was at Belle Isle Park, a 962 acre island park in the Detroit River, between the U.S. and Canada. It is part of the city of Detroit and accessible via the Macarthur Bridge; and currently under a 30-year management agreement with the state of Michigan.
The island park’s highlight is the John Scott Memorial Fountain
The fountain was named after its benefactor, John Scott. He was left a sizable fortune by his father who invested in Detroit real estate. According to contemporaries, Scott gambled, told off-color stories and was a womanizer. He was described by twentieth-century author W. Hawkins Ferry as vindictive and a misanthrope who attempted to intimidate his business competitors and when this was unsuccessful, he filed suit. Perhaps for these reasons, Scott died in 1910 with no heirs or colleagues and he bequeathed his estate to the City of Detroit with the condition that the fountain include a life-sized statue of him. Some accounts state that the will required that the statue be at the fountain’s pinnacle.
Several community and religious leaders spoke against accepting the bequest saying that a person with Scott’s reputation should not be immortalized in the city.
Mayor Philip Breitmeyer and City Council President David Heineman urged accepting the gift saying that the city shouldn’t insult any of its citizens by refusing such a generous offer. While the debate raged, Scott’s fortune continued to grow and by the time construction commenced it topped $1 million. The final design placed Scott’s statue, without his signature top hot, in an inconspicuous spot behind the fountain.
Our route then took us through Indian Village, which got its name as the result of a former owner of the land who raised horses and gave them Indian names, a tree-lined with some gorgeous homes.
From there we drove through the Heidelberg Project is an outdoor art project in Detroit, Michigan. It was created in 1986 by artist Tyree Guyton and his grandfather Sam Mackey (“Grandpa Sam”) as an outdoor art environment in the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood on the city’s east side, just north of the city’s historically African-American Black Bottom area. The Heidelberg Project is in part a political protest, as Tyree Guyton’s childhood neighborhood began to deteriorate after the 1967 riots. Guyton described coming back to Heidelberg Street after serving in the Army; he was astonished to see that the surrounding neighborhood looked as if “a bomb went off”.
At first, the project consisted of his painting a series of houses on Detroit’s Heidelberg Street with bright dots of many colors and attaching salvaged items to the houses. It was a constantly evolving work that transformed a hard-core inner city neighborhood where people were afraid to walk, even in daytime, into one in which neighbors took pride and where visitors were many and welcomed.
The Mount Elliot Catholic Cemetery
also comes with interesting anecdotes. A committee of leading citizens of the day, including the architect Robert Elliott, an Irish immigrant, founded the cemetery. Tragically, however, Elliott died in a construction accident only 12 days after the property was dedicated, and so it became known as Mt. Elliott Cemetery.
As there were ongoing disputed between local Catholics and Protestants, a fence was erected separating the Protestant and Catholic sections, with their respective entrances several miles apart.
A member of one family whose remains had been interred in the Catholic ended up being excommunicated by the Bishop of Detroit and, therefore could not be buried with his family, even his wife. The solution was for husband and wife to be buried side-by-side on opposing sides of the chain-link fence separating the two adjoining cemeteries.
Given its unique place in Detroit’s history, Mt. Elliott serves as an important final resting place for many generations of both prominent Detroiters and everyday citizens.
We did locate the family’s main plot
which was presently inhabited by new residents.
The woman who would eventually become his wife was also from Ireland. Her first voyage ended in sight of the harbor from which she debarked when it sank. A second attempt to reach America also ended when the ship on which she was sailing also sank just off the west coast of the British Isles. On her third voyage, her ship almost reached America before … you guessed it … going to the bottom. She was one of only six survivors. However, she did out live her husband, Robert, by 37 years and raised their seven children.
We then drove by a group of men waiting outside a soup kitchen
run by a Catholic order which grows a lot of its own food and runs programs to get young people involved in it gardening efforts.
In and around the Eastern Market,
a huge indoor/outdoor food market open just three days a week, there are dozens of creative building wall murals
Our route took us past the Detroit Tigers Comerica Park
as well as the Joe Louis Center, where the Detroit Red Wings play (although a new arena is being built for them).
Then, there was the guy with the “bad hair” day.
We had an opportunity to visit two, very different art deco buildings.
Other sights included:
Cadillac Building – originally General Motor’s worldwide headquarters
Detroit Institute of Art, where the valuable art being sought by secured creditors in the city’s bankruptcy is housed
The Motown Museum and Hitville Recording Studios are located
One of dozens of “orange men” atop building “watching over the city and its people”
Old Wayne County Municipal Building
Michigan Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument
Rogers’ design consists of a series of octagonal sections that rise up from the base of the monument. The lowest sections are topped by eagles with raised wings that guide the eye upward to the next section which is surmounted by four male figures depicting the Navy, Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery branches of the United States Army. Four female allegorical figures, resting on pedestals, are above the male statues and represent Victory, History, Emancipation, and Union were not added to the monument until 1881. Local lore claims Rogers used Sojourner Truth, the famous African-American abolitionist,
as his inspiration for the Emancipation statue, but little evidence exists to document this belief; although the figure is the first to depict an African-American woman on a public monument in the United States.
There are also four plaques containing bas-reliefs of the Union leaders President Lincoln, General Grant, General Sherman, and Admiral Farragut. Capping the monument, the heroic “Amazon figure” Michigania, or Victory, brandishes a sword in her right hand and in her other she raises a shield, prepared for attack.
Nearby in Cadillac Square food vendors are out in force
and people of all description are enjoying a carefree afternoon such as one might see in any other American city.
A White Castle (generally acknowledged to be the first of the fast food restaurants chains) restaurant
Our final stop was in Greektown where we grabbed lunch at Five Guys
and where we were treated to several street entertainers.
Finally, dominating Detroit’s skyline is the GM Renaissance Center which sits on the Detroit River. Curiously, the center was conceived and developed by Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company. Interestingly, although having seen the GM logo on the building when stories about GM or the automotive industry, in general, have appeared on television, we never realized that the logo and even the color of the band below it changes (and can be programmed for company and/or community messages and events) every few minutes.
Walking along the Riverwalk from the Renaissance Center to Rivard Park where we were to board our boat, we enjoyed any number of children frolicking in the wading fountains.
For the two hour cruise along the Detroit River northeast toward Lake St. Clair (between Lakes Erie and Huron) along the US side.
High-end Condos north of Detroit
We passed under the MacArthur Bridge
and headed toward the north end of Belle Isle, spotting lighthouse and a sloop in the mist at the mouth of Lake St. Clair.
Before turning to starboard where the Livingstone Lighthouse on the northern end of Belle Isle.
Edging toward the Canadian shore, we sailed past some incredible waterfront mansions.
We watched as gulls and cormorants take wing at the approach of our tour boat,
passed the Hiram Walker (Canadian Club) Distillery
A memorial to Canadians who died in the Vietnam War
and a lake freighter offloading ore below the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.
After reversing course we headed up-river back toward Detroit.
Detroit City skyline under the Ambassador Bridge
Gateway to Freedom International Memorial celebrating Detroit’s part in the Underground Railroad network which reached from the Deep South to Canada
People of varying nationalities walking along and waving from Riverwalk
Every once in a while, someone catches you in an unusual pose. Well, it happened to me on the rush hour ride back to our campground from Detroit!