Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | June 9, 2014

A Drive-By Shooting in Detroit

 

I was born in The Motor City.   I graduated from U of M, and headed West to seek my fortune. I’ve lived in Seattle for over thirty years.  It was love at first sight, it’s the home of my heart, and where my children were born…

 

 

…but I still feel unexpected tugs on my Midwestern roots.

Detroit is where my parents and grandparents are buried.

In French ‘Detroit’ means ‘channel or strait connecting two bodies of water.’  That would be the Detroit River that connects Lake Erie and Lake Huron.

That would also be my Aunt Loena, who connects me to my mother–through memories, blood ties, and love.  Last spring I returned to the river that spawned me.

My Aunt Loena and sister Lee are still in Michigan, and are always ready for a visit.

We did a drive-by shooting of the old neighborhood…with a camera.  We took shots of the little house I grew up in.

Many other houses were already pretty well shot.

Across from Newton School, a woman kept cranky geese in her yard, but the geese were long gone, and so was the house.


My high school was for sale.  It was named for Thomas M. Cooley ( 1824-1898), a local boy done good.  He started out with a small law business and ended up on the Michigan Supreme Court.  In The Cooley Doctrine, he wrote “local government is a matter of absolute right; and the state cannot…take it away.”  Cooley must be spinning in his grave since Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder gave himself the power to take over cities, remove locally elected officials, install puppet governments, and destroy labor unions.  Not in Russia.  Not in North Korea.  This is happening in the United States of America.

Yes, there are financial woes, and the economy and tax base of the area were dependent upon the auto industry.  Highland Park, a town engulfed by Detroit, managed to stay independent despite efforts to incorporate it.  Ford closed its Highland Park factory in the 1950s and Chrysler pulled out in 1993.  The population, once over 45, 000, has decreased to 11,000.  Now it’s ‘The Detroit of Detroit’, so poor Detroit doesn’t even want it anymore. My grandparents’ Highland Park house was gone.  So was the school across the street.


If not for this sign, I wouldn’t have known Highland Park still existed.

But there must be better ways than total dictatorship to save the city.  We went to Belle Isle, an island park in the Detroit River, halfway between Canada and the United States.  It became a city park in 1904, and in 2014 it became a state park to avoid operation costs to the city.

 There used to be an elephant house, a bandstand, and a boathouse.  I learned to canoe in its waterways.

Honey Buckets are probably cheaper to maintain than the elegant brick restrooms…

…a compromise so the park might be used and enjoyed.

There was still beauty.

And history.

The Belle Isle Aquarium was built in 1904.  As kids we watched the electric eel touch an underwater wire in its tank to light up electric light bulbs.  It was the longest continually operating aquarium until 2005 when, after 101 years, it closed its doors due to lack of funding.

But in 2012 the aquarium was reopened–Saturdays only–and is run completely by volunteers from the Belle Isle Conservancy.  Admission free.

 

Next door is the Whitcomb Conservatory.

My folks used to turn seven kids loose in there; we played Tarzan, and our Johnny Weissmuller jungle calls bounced off that glass ceiling.

At the Detroit Institute of Art we found culture, art, and history.

 photo 14ceae3b-e762-40d1-b045-89c23581fdc4_zps21d717ba.jpg

As kids we loved the shiny suits of armor in the great hall.

As adults, we admired the Diego Rivera mural, a powerful statement about Detroit Industries.  In 1932 it was scandalous that workers with black, white, and brown skin were depicted working side by side.  But Edsel Ford, who paid the bill, said he thought Rivera captured the Spirit of Detroit.

“Watson and the Shark,” my favorite painting from childhood visits to the museum, told a true story.  Copley portrayed a multiracial crew rescuing their shipmate from a shark.  Painted in 1777, a time of revolution against tyranny, artists began to depict common people as heroes. At least in Michigan, where the sharks are still circling, it is still a relevant message.

 

I was saddened to read so many hateful bigoted comments when researching this sculpture honoring Detroit boxer Joe Lewis.

In Detroit there was and is despair and poverty, racism and anger.

But I also saw positive action, innovative ideas for bringing life and art back into the city.  Are you a writer?  Want a free house?   Check out Write-a-House.  This organization buys abandoned houses, renovates them, and gives them to artists willing to come live in them, practice their art, enrich their community.  There are pea patches growing where, on my last visit, I saw burned out houses.

L-O-O-K.

The Spirit of Detroit is still strong.

I saw soul.

And hope.

 

Sweetness.

Pride.

I saw the future in a city park, where kids were playing.

 At the conservatory I saw cactus blooming in the desert, a public park taken over by volunteers who made it available to the public.

I saw open hearts.

In the most unexpected places.

 Detroit still has plenty of room to grow, room for hope.

Please watch this two minute video for another look at Detroit. 

 All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Unexpected.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Room.

About these ads

Responses

  1. A very moving tribute to roots and connections.

    • Dear Cathryn,
      Thank you so much. I have enjoyed reading your reflections on your past lives in your blog.

  2. Amazing post… Thank you dear Naomi, love, nia

    • Thank you for your visit, Nia. It’s always good to hear from you.

  3. Naomi, what a tricky title you used! :-) I’m sad for Detroit as for other cities experiencing so much difficulty. As you say, there are sign of life and hope, though, and I pray those continue to grow and come to fruition.

    There’s too much power in government these days. The federal has stepped outside the scope of the Constitution and is trying to run every aspect of our lives. The state tries to do as much on a smaller scale and too often both state and local are deprived of what they really should be doing by the federal.

    One thing we were just talking about this weekend was how cool it would be if Detroit used the abandoned areas for urban farming. It would be a not-so-small but very useful step in reclaiming land that is wasted now.

    So much in your post!

    janet

    • Hi Janet,
      Thank you so much for a really thoughtful and thought-provoking reply.

  4. What a poignant post. Recently I read “Detroit – An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff, another Detroit native, and I have to admit it was the bleakest book I’ve read since “The Road.”
    But LeDuff’s book is not a work of fiction, which made it even more heartbreaking.
    It’s painful to have your past erased behind you, even more so when what’s left in its place seems to be mostly misery. I’m glad you found hope and beauty there too. What happened in Detroit could happen almost anywhere in America; I’m glad to see the city’s spirit is still alive.

    • Hi Kathy,
      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts–you are such a fine writer! I would like to read LeDuff’s book. Thank you for the visit.

  5. It is so sad what has happened to Detroit, I do hope it comes back to life sooner rather than later.

    • I hope so too. There is too much history and life in the city to let it go. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment.

  6. Lovely, Naomi.
    As usual.
    best,
    Mary

    • Dear Mary,
      Thanks so much for the visit. It is always good to hear from you. I hope you are well!
      Warmly,
      Naomi

  7. I love how you paint words, Naomi. My friend told me that when he lived in Detroit, he used to stand on the balcony and watch the various fires throughout the city. I’m sure he was joking. Your post made me want to visit sometime.

    • Hi Millie,
      Thanks for the visit, and for your very kind words. I am not so sure that your friend was joking. One of the reasons they are tearing down old buildings is because they are sometimes set on fire. It must be a response to helplessness, anger, and frustration. But there is SO much in the city worth seeing and saving.

  8. Thank you for the tour of your hometown. I am happy to see there is still beauty, art, play, and hope. It is nice to remember and to focus on the good things that are happening, rather than what’s not. I love the photo of the tree in the park!

    • Thank you, Naomi! Every time I go back, I expect to see only decay, but there is life, and where there is life there is hope.

  9. I like how you laid out the background first, a personal connection, then put the city under a microscope showing it today. I heard hope in your words, hope this city may once again grow and prosper. As always, I enjoyed our walk through the story of your roots with your words and pictures. :-) :-) :-)

    • Thanks so much, Tess! You are always so kind with your comments!

      • NO, never! I says it as I sees it :-P :o

  10. Naomi, I knew it was bad, but not that bad … nor the beauty of little collective initiatives, or once again ART being used to heal. My very best wishes to every one of those courageous efforts. Shockingly beautiful piece dear :)

    • Dear Meredith,
      Thank you so much for your very generous response! It touched me deeply.
      Warmly,
      Naomi

  11. Thank you for posting this very hope-filled description of the city where my father & his father were born. I was so moved by a recent gallery of Google Maps before and after pictures of houses left to decay and be re-claimed by vegetation in the last 5 years. I am no champion of development, really, so I don’t mind city streets green with weeds. I do mind a loss of purpose, autonomy, and good living, however. For any living creature. I did a street map search of my dad’s neighborhood, and it seems to be intact. Despite Eminem’s claim, my dad did know luxury in Detroit. His grandfather is listed as one of the founding businessmen of the WWI era in that town.

    • Wow! I had no idea that you had such deep roots in Detroit. I would love to know more about that. What kind of business did your great grandfather own or run?
      I do think a pea patch in place of a burnt out building is not a bad thing. There is talk of building big organic farms in the city where acres of houses have been razed, and that is a positive development.
      Thank you, as always, for your intelligent and thoughtful comment.

      • I think when you and I first encountered each other, I did tell you that my father’s family held a place in Detroit history through the Calvert Lithographing Company, where my great grandfather worked and later assumed presidency. George William Heigho I is my great granddad, and GWH II is my dad. You can read about GWH I here: http://www.historicbostonedison.org/history/people_man.shtml

  12. The rise and fall of Detroit is stunning. The residents standing by this great city is an inspiration, beautifully captured in a feature I’ve watched more than once, by Anthony Bourdain. History is a cycle and I believe Detroit will rise again, and a good deal of that hope is based on the roots planted by people like your family. Wonderful post, Naomi.

    • Dear Elisa,
      Thank you so much for articulating so eloquently your thoughts on this post. I believe you are right–the downward spiral cannot continue, and we are seeing signs of continuing life and new growth that give me hope.

  13. Enjoyed this post very much. At first because of the focus on your origins, which was moving. And then, your inspired view of the rebirth and flowering of a city that had suffered from a great financial collapse. It’s very encouraging to see the colorful beautification of the city, and to hear of the volunteer work. I’m sure that this spirit will attract many positive people to offer their talents too.

    • Dear Shimon,
      Thank you for your thoughtful response to this post. It is always so good to hear from you.
      Warmly,
      Naomi

  14. Excellent post Naomi and educational. I knew Detroit had fallen on hard times but this tells the story perfectly. That’s the cutest little house you grew up in, but sad that other childhood haunts have gone.

    You point out many examples of where the city and people are surviving and even fighting back. Maybe adversity brings out the best in us once we realise that it is all down to us.

    Yes I’d like to think there is rebirth and great hope for the future. I wonder though if Detroit is actually pointing to a future world in regression – a modern world that is no longer sustainable?

    Thought-provoking and wonderfully presented, thank you.

    • Dear Roy,

      I don’t know if I had ever considered what would happen if Detroit could NOT make a recovery. To my knowledge, short of ancient civilizations, such as the Aztecs or Ancient Pueblo People, I have no knowledge of a modern city of its size falling to ruins.
      I have wondered about cities like Phoenix or Los Angeles or Las Vegas, that burgeon up in places where there are so few natural resources, even just for those creatures adapted to the environment. In deserts, the cities are desperate for water, not just for drinking but for fountains and to keep lawns green and to fill swimming pools for tourists. They need electricity to power air conditioning in a place too inhospitable for people to live without such artificial support. The need ridiculous amounts of power to light up the city with neon to draw more tourists who will want to be kept cool, clean, and pampered. While Detroit falls into a different category, I can certainly see it as a metaphor for a whole world in regression.
      Thank you so much for an incredibly thought-provoking comment.

  15. Sad and beautiful at the same time. Thanks for the drive-by. We have roots in Detroit too–hope better things are ahead.

    • Thank you for your visit and for your good wishes, Suzanne. I am discovering that there are more people with connections to Detroit than I ever suspected!

  16. Where there is despair, there will be hope? Hope that those whose history and hearts are in the city can bring it back to life.

    • Dear Carol,
      Thank goodness there are still many good people there who have not given up hope! And thank you for your kind wishes and thoughts.

  17. Dear Naomi, what a beautiful and poignant tribute to your hometown, that highlights your sense of loss along with real hope for the future. I add my best wishes to all the creative regeneration efforts.

    • Dear Madhu,
      Thank you so much for your visit, your thoughtful comment, and your good wishes.

  18. Thank you for this account, Naomi. Wonderful. Meaningful. Beautiful. Sad, but hopeful.

    • Thank you, Richard, for your visit and for taking the time to share your thoughts about this post and your hometown as well.

  19. a poignant history Naomi! I had heard about the troubles of Detroit awhile back. You really gave it a voice here.

    • Dear Cybele,
      Thank you so much for your visit, and for taking the time to share a thoughtful comment.

  20. I’ve never been to Detroit, so thanks for the memories and pics, Naomi. One thing’s for certain; nothing ever stays the same. Good to see the spirit is still strong, and how wonderful that there are volunteers who give of their time to encourage those youngsters in the park. The beautiful cactus flower is the cherry on the top. :)

    • Dear Sylvia,
      I appreciate your visit, and your thoughts on this post. You are surely right–nothing ever does stay the same, but I hope that change will bring better times for the city of Detroit and its people.

  21. I’m sorry to say that I assumed you would be talking about another type of shooting when I read your blog title. Lovely post.

  22. Beautiful post, Naomi! We never made it out to Detroit when we were living in Milwaukee, though we certainly wanted to go. So many tragic decades have weakened a phenomenal city boasting unparalleled American history and culture. I have hope for the city though.

    • Thank you, Britt. You are absolutely right. What a pounding that city has taken over the decades. There is so much more to Detroit than what you read.

  23. Great post Naomi! I saw some deserted parts of New Jersey once and I can still remember so vividly how sad it made me feel. When I saw the news about Detroit those memories came back to me. I wish there was more people could do to revive these communities.

    • You’re right, it isn’t just in Detroit. I do see positive changes. It is such slow progress, but I can see it happening baby step by baby step.
      Thanks so much for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.

  24. I did not know that Detroit meant channel in French, that’s so interesting to know. Thank you for your tour of Detroit. You are a wonderful tour guide. :)

    • Hi Iris,
      Thank you so much for dropping by and taking the time to comment. It is always good to hear from you!

  25. Well, there you have it, Naomi: did you know that Eminem is one of my guilty secrets? That commercial has a real punch to it.

    I always feel a bit like a time traveller experiencing what Stephen King once described as slippage, if I return to a place many years later.

    Thanks for the tour.

    • Hi Sarah,
      Thank you for sharing! In truth, I didn’t know much about Eminem until I saw that commercial, but it was a great introduction. I love the idea of “slippage” in reference to my own time travel.
      Thanks so much for coming along for the ride.
      Warmly,
      Naomi

  26. well Naomi = I love your play on words with the drive by shooting. You got me. I was expecting some kind of write up and pics about a gun topic. seriously. and as I read, I was moved! I was inspired by your simple way with words – yet succinct – and what a tribute to your city and the way our roots stay imbedded into our being.

    The basketball player, windows, and large tire and other shots are ones I will take with me, but I am actually coming back later to enjoy again – because you also gave us little personal snippets that are such a warm share. I know awards are cheesy and in the blog world they have weird chain letter things – but if there were posts awards – I’d give this one a documentary award for well roundedness and for highlighting a city. just sooooo good – and you even give us a little video to watch –

    enjoyed this very much –
    take care
    ~y.

    • Thank you so much for your very thoughtful, very kind response to this post!

      • you are so welcome – and I even told my hubs about it – well we recently had an incident locally where there was a shooting with a bee-bee gun (thankfully nobody was majorly hurt and it is all working out – but I guess that is why this was awesome. And I apologize – but Gosh, I guess I was just conditioned to think of a gun shooting with the name Detroit – or was it the local incident on the mind. hmmm
        and then your fantastic variety of looking up and down and all around – with sweetness and pride – again- you know I loved it. take care and I ma getting read to pause for summer – so if I am not back for a while – I will be connecting later this year…. <3

      • Looking forward to it. Stay in touch! Best wishes for the summer. Remember my motto: don’t get killed.

      • oh wow – LMAO with the motto – especially in the post with this title – whew – hysterical – and that is also just so true…. ha! have a nice summer too – <3

      • :)

  27. Ha. Fun twist on the title words. You had me hooked. I couldn’t imagine what you had a to say about a drive-by shooting. I’m glad it was a nostalgic experience instead of a tragedy.

  28. Not much is heard about the good news in Detroit. Thanks for sharing a different side of the story.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,388 other followers

%d bloggers like this: