The Local History of Memorial Day

May 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Columnists

Memorial Day was originally known as “Decoration Day,” a time to decorate the graves of soldiers. In 1871 Ypsilanti, the holiday hadn’t yet caught on. The editor of the Ypsilanti Commercial bemoaned the poor turnout to date.

“The day for decorating soldiers’ graves comes next Tuesday, May 30th,” said Commercial editor C. R. Pattison. “It seems a pity that our citizens have been so derelict in observing this day. Have we no soldiers’ graves in our cemeteries?”

The paper continued, “The men, who in their country’s peril, when treason sought to overthrow the government and blot out human liberty forsook their peaceful avocations and buckled on the armor and far away from home and friend, some on the battle field, some in dark and loathsome dungeons died that their country might live and its invaluable institutions be handed down to their children . . . “

He continued, “Though there be no public decoration in Ypsilanti, individuals including the loving mother, the fond sister, the desolate widow, and even families who have lost dear ones will doubtless wend their sad way to our cemeteries and shed the mournful tear and strew the grave with flowers, the emblem of an unfading future.”

By 1883, Decoration Day had evolved into an event that featured speakers. The May 26, 1883 Ypsilanti Commercial headlines announced, “Decoration Day! Wednesday Next, May 30th. Eloquent Speakers Provided. The day will be observed in a manner that will do worthy honor to the martyred dead.”

A follow-up article in the June 2, 1883 Commercial said, “Decoration Day is one of the best features of life in the United States. Because flowers are so fair and perishable they are the tenderest offering to both the living and the dead.”

The paper continued, “At the time when the garden is covered with sweet spring blossoms, and flowers are everywhere plentiful, it is delightful to see them distributed over the mounds to simply say, ‘You are not forgotten.’ It is to be hoped the custom of marking one day memorable with flowers will never die, but will flourish as a faithful reminder of those whose heroic deeds should be sweetly and touchingly remembered.”

By 1891, the day was memorialized in town with a program and parade. The May 28, 1891 Ypsilanti Commercial laid out the plan for the day.

“The 30th of May, dedicated to the memory of the soldier dead and the decoration of their graves with flowers, occurs this year on Saturday. Carpenter Post, G. A. R., and their Auxiliary Relief Corps, will hold their usual observance of the day, and invite all citizens without distinction to unite with them in the beautiful and appropriate ceremonies that have been instituted to perpetuate the patriotic memories of the war.”

“The Post and military will form on Congress Street at 1:30 p.m. and march to the Methodist church, where exercises will be had as follows:” A brief outline of music, prayer, and speeches followed. “Procession will then form and march to Highland Cemetery. . . At the Cemetery, services in accordance with the Ritual will be had, and Miss Carrie Hardy will read a poem.”

Today Memorial Day is a big event in town with a long parade leading to Highland Cemetery and the public honoring of war dead. It is a holiday mingling sadness with patriotism. And it all started with the long-ago custom of leaving spring flowers, soon to wilt and brown–unlike the memories of those left behind–on the graves of soldiers.

Still Cookin’ with Aunt Gerry

May 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Columnists

Aunt Gerry heads north to the family cabin in Kingsley, MI for the Memorial Day Holiday weekend.  However, you won’t find her in the kitchen and Aunt Gerry recommends you don’t spend your day there either.  Here is a menu of recipes that can be prepared early so you can enjoy the parade, your family and the day.

Tasty Pork Ribs

Recipe from “Taste of Home” magazine

“If you’re not going to stand over a hot stove all day, why stand over a hot grill?” – Aunt Gerry

8 bone-in country-style pork ribs (8 ounces each)

1 cup ketchup

1 cup barbecue sauce

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon molasses

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons dried minced onion

1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning

1 teaspoon ground mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Place ribs in a 5-qt. slow cooker. Combine the remaining ingredients; pour over ribs. Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours or until meat is tender. 8 servings.

Home Econ. Potato Salad

“This recipe is from a cookbook of recipes compiled by Home Economics teachers from across the country.

My husband gave it to me early in our marriage.   I’m not sure if it was a nice gift or a subtle hint.” -Aunt Gerry

5 cups potatoes, cooked and peeled

1 ½ teaspoons salt

½ cup onion, thinly sliced

¼ cup celery, chopped

2 tablespoons green pepper, chopped

4 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

1 cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons vinegar

½ teaspoon prepared mustard

For the dressing, combine mayonnaise, vinegar, and mustard.  Quarter potatoes then cut into ¼ inch slices.  Add remaining ingredients.  Gently stir in dressing.  Chill for 4 or 5 hours.

Three Bean Bake

Recipe from “Traverse City Record Eagle”

“Yes, it calls for lima beans.  Before you say ‘ewww’ give ’em a try – they taste great in this dish!” -Aunt Gerry

3 slices bacon

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium green pepper, chopped

2 cans (16 oz. ea.) baked beans

1 can (16 oz.) lima beans, drained

1 can (16 oz.) kidney beans, undrained

½ cup chili sauce

2 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons vinegar

½ teaspoon dry mustard

¼ teaspoon pepper

Cook bacon in a medium skillet, drain, reserving 2 tablespoons drippings in skillet.  Crumble bacon and set aside.  Saute’ onion and green pepper in drippings until tender.  Combine onion mixture, bacon and remaining ingredients;  spoon mixture into a greased 2 ½ quart casserole.  Bake uncovered, in 350 degree oven 1 hour.

Choaptee’s Peanut Butter Cookies

“Renamed this recipe for my granddaughter Haley, who always wanted two cookies;

One for herself and one for her imaginary friend, Choaptee.” -Aunt Gerry

½ cup shortening

½ cup butter

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar (packed)

2 eggs

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

Mix thoroughly shortening, peanut butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and eggs.  Blend in flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Cover and chill.  Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Place 3 inches apart on lightly greased baking sheet.  With fork dipped in flour, flatten in crisscross pattern to 2 inches.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not hard.

Gerry Burns (Aunt Gerry) is an octogenarian & Ypsilantian who has resided with her husband Joe in their Augusta Township home for 43 years. After working 20 years at Eastern Michigan University, she retired in 1992. In addition to knitting and baking, Aunt Gerry enjoys the company of her husband & family which includes three grown children, three grandchildren and Minnie; a large, rambunctious, black Labrador retriever. At 80 years old, Aunt Gerry is happy that she’s “Still Cookin'” You can email Aunt Gerry at [email protected]

Ongoing Summer Events in Ypsilanti


Kids’ Club Storytime 10:30am  Ypsilanti District Library (Michigan Ave.)

Baby Brigade Storytime 10:30am  Ypsilanti District Library (Whittaker Rd.)

Paul Keller Orchestra 8:00pm  Keystone Underground (200 W. Michigan Ave.)

Name That Tune Trivia  10:00pm  Pub13 (13 N. Washington)


Toddler Storytime 10:30am  Ypsilanti District Library (Whittaker Rd.)

Downtown Farmer’s Market 2:00pm – 6:00pm  (Ferris St. between Hamilton & Adams)

Motorcycle Mania 5:00pm – 9:00pm  Depot Town

City Council Meeting 1st & 3rd Tuesdays  7:00pm  City Council Chambers (1 S. Huron)

African American Authors Last Tuesdays 7:00pm  Ypsilanti District Library (Whittaker Rd.)

My Trivia Live 9:00pm  Tap Room (201 W. Michigan Ave.)

Kareoke with Tune in a Bucket 10:00pm  Pub 13 (13 N. Washington)


Toddler Storytime 10:30am  Ypsilanti District Library (Whittaker Rd.)

Preschool Storytime 1:30pm  Ypsilanti District Library (Whittaker Rd.)

Mystery Lovers Book Group Last Wednesdays  2:00pm  Ypsilanti District Library (Whittaker Rd.)

Open Mic & Live Music 8:00pm  Keystone Underground (200 W. Michigan Ave.)

Dueling Pianos 8:00pm  Pub 13 (13 N. Washington)

Open Mic w/ The Martindales 9:00pm – 1:00am  Tap Room (201 W. Michigan Ave.)


Jump Start Storytime 10:30am  Ypsilanti District Library (Whittaker Rd.)

Morning Book Discussion 1st Thursdays  10:30am  Ypsilanti District Library (Whittaker Rd.)

Cruise Nights 5:00pm – 9:00pm  Depot Town

Jazz Night 8:00pm  Keystone Underground (200 W. Michigan Ave.)


T.G.I.F. Storytime 10:30am  Ypsilanti District Library (Whittaker Rd.)

Underground Roots Presents 7:00pm  Keystone Underground (200 W. Michigan Ave.)

Crossroads Summer Festival 7:00pm  Washington St.  (North of Michigan Ave.)


Super Saturday Storytime 10:30am  Ypsilanti District Library (Whittaker Rd.)

Depot Town Farmer’s Market 8:00am – 1:00pm  Freighthouse Market Plaza (Depot Town)

Local DJ’s 8:00pm  Keystone Underground (200 W. Michigan Ave.)


Kareoke w/ Gypsy 10:00pm Pub 13 (13 N. Washington)

Fresh Express Salads Recalled

Fresh Express announced a voluntary recall Monday for some ready-to-eat salads in 26 states because of possible salmonella contamination.  The Romaine-based salads have expiration dates between May 13 and May 16, and the letter “S” in the product code.

The salads were sold in the following states: Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Nebraska, Montana, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota. No other Fresh Express salads were included in the recall.

The recall notification was issued out of caution based on an isolated instance where a single package of Fresh Express Hearts of Romaine Salad was confirmed positive for Salmonella during a random sample test by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to a news release. The salad had a use-by date of May 15.  Company officials said it is “highly unlikely” that any of the potentially affected salads are still on store shelves because of the expired use-by dates, but consumers might still have the product in their refrigerator and should immediately discard it.

The use-by date is found in the upper right hand corner of the package with the product code located immediately underneath. For Fresh Express Gourmet Cafe Salads, the use-by date and product code are located on the bottom of the salad bowl.  Fresh Express said it is working closely with the FDA, and after learning about the positive test, completed a company-wide product traceability review.

Source: PR Newswire

Still Cookin’ with Aunt Gerry

May 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Columnists

For Aunt Gerry, the fresh breezes of spring mean hanging the wash outside on the clothesline, watching Uncle Joe putter in the back yard, and breaking out the recipes for special springtime salads.

Macaroni-Tuna Salad

I found this on a package of “Creamettes” macaroni years ago.

The actual name is “Sea Island Salad” but I can never remember that. – Aunt Gerry

1 ½ cup dry macaroni

1 cup mayonnaise

½ cup dairy sour cream

½ tsp. celery seed

½ tsp. onion salt

Two 5-oz. cans albacore tuna, drained

One 10 pkg. frozen peas, thawed

½ cup diced cheddar cheese

2 tbsp. minced green pepper

1 tbsp. diced pimiento

Cook macaroni according to general package directions.  Drain and chill.  Stir together mayonnaise, sour cream and seasonings.  Fold into chilled macaroni.  Gently stir in remaining ingredients.  Chill thoroughly.

Springtime Strawberry Salad

The recipe states a prep time of 10 minutes.

I think that’s for younger cooks.  What’s your hurry? – Aunt Gerry

1 pkg. (10 0z.) assorted salad greens or 8 cups torn lettuce

1 pkg. (6 oz.) grilled chicken breast strips

1 can (15 oz.) mandarin orange segments, drained

½ medium red onion, sliced

½ cup sliced almonds

2 cups sliced strawberries

½ cup creamy poppy seed dressing

Toss greens, chicken, oranges, strawberries and onions in a large bowl.  Sprinkle with almonds.  Serve with dressing.

Spinach Salad

I got this recipe from a co-worker in the Campus Life office at Eastern Michigan University.

I retired from EMU in 1992 but never retired this recipe! – Aunt Gerry


1 cup oil

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup vinegar

1/3 cup ketchup

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 medium onion, grated

Mix ingredients until sugar is dissolved.  Chill.


1 large pkg. fresh, salad spinach

1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained

4 hard boiled eggs, sliced

10 sliced bacon, fried crisp and crumbled

Toss together salad ingredients.  Pour dressing over salad or serve dressing on the side.

Geraldine Burns (Aunt Gerry) is an octogenarian & Ypsilantian who has resided with her husband Joseph in their Augusta Township home for 43 years.  After working 20 years at Eastern Michigan University, she retired in 1992.  In addition to knitting and baking, Aunt Gerry enjoys the company of her husband & family which includes three grown children, three grandchildren and Minnie; a large, rambunctious, black Labrador retriever.  At 80 years old, Aunt Gerry is happy that she’s “Still Cookin'”. You can email Aunt Gerry at [email protected]

Your Ypsilanti Weekend: May 21-23, 2010

May 20, 2010 by  
Filed under News

Underground Roots Presents

Tracy Kash Thomas

Friday, May 21

Detroit Music Award winner for Outstanding Jazz in 2009, Vocalist Tracy Kash Thomas brings her lush vocals to Ypsilanti’s Key Stone Underground Martini Lounge. (200 West Michigan Avenue)

Live Music at The Elbow Room

“Computer Perfection” (Friday) and “The Ultrasounds” (Saturday)

Friday, May 21  8:00pm;  Saturday, May 22  10:00pm

The Elbow Room (6 South Washington Street) brings the psych-pop sound to Ypsilanti Friday with the appearance of Computer Perfection and then grooves along with indy-rock threesome, The Ultrasounds on Saturday.  The Ultrasounds write pop songs that are upbeat and easy to latch onto.  Their sound is fresh but has a retro vibe.

Dueling Piano’s

Music, Comedy and Sing-a-Long

Friday & Saturday, May 21 & May 22  8:00pm

High-energy music and comedy.  Using song requests, sing-along, on-stage celebrations, props, song battles and more, Dueling Piano’s gets the Ypsilanti audience at Pub 13 (13 North Washington) laughing, dancing and drinking.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Lincoln High School Drama Production

Fri, May 21  7:00pm;  Sat, May 22  7:00pm;  Sun, May 23  1:00pm

William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” portrays the adventures of four young Athenian lovers, a group of amateur actors, their interactions with the Duke of Athens, Theseus, the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta, and with the fairies who inhabit a moonlit forest. The play is one of Shakespeare’s most popular works for the stage and is widely performed across the world.  This weekend, it will be performed at the Lincoln High School Auditorium, 7425 Willis Road, Ypsilanti.

Pastel Art Convention

For Amateur and Professional Artists

Friday – Sunday, May 21 -23

The Great Lakes Pastel Society is holding its first Pastel Convention at Eagle Crest Resort (1275 South Huron Street) in Ypsilanti. Workshops and demonstrations by well-known artists will ensure an informative weekend for all who attend.  The weekend includes a variety of events. For detailed information of this educational event, please visit

“Busses In Depot Town”

Vintage Volkswagon Show & Festival

Saturday & Sunday, May 22 & 23

In Concert: “Seeded Plain”

Saturday, May 22  9:00pm

Seeded Plain is a trio of Bryan Day, Jay Kreimer, and Joseph Jaros.  They perform improvised and composed pieces on homemade instruments, electronics, and custom software.  Avant turntablist and sound manipulator Maria Chavez will be appearing with Seeded Plain at Dreamland Theater, 26 Washington St. Ypsilanti.

Spring Songwriting Showcase

Sunday, May 23  2:00pm – 4:00pm

Inviting all local artists to perform up to 10 minutes of their original material.  Ypsilanti District Library – Whittaker Road.  Call (734) 482-4110 ext. 1359 to sign up.

Broadway and More”

Ypsilanti Community Choir Concert

Sunday, May 23  2:00pm

Riverside Arts Center 76 N. Huron St. Ypsilanti.  Ypsilanti Community Choir presents its First-Ever Benefit Revue!  Elegant desserts by Old World Bakery served at intermission.  Tickets $15.00 in advance $20.00 at the door.  Tickets available at the Mix (130 W. Michigan) and Haab’s Restaurant (18 W. Michigan) Seating is limited, so buy your tickets early.  For more information, visit

Puppet Sundays

Puppet Show Theater

Sunday, May 23  3:30pm

Ypsilanti’s Dreamland Theater (26 South Washington) presents puppet shows for children every Sunday afternoon. These original shows utilize a variety of types of puppetry including marionettes and shadow puppets.  Cost: $5.00 (Free for children 3years and younger)

Indulge Your “Inner Thespian” This Summer (Update1)

May 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Columnists

When alone in the house, you’ve proclaimed “Tomorrow is another day…” just like Vivian Leigh in “Gone With The Wind” or yelled out a Jack Nicholson inspired, “You can’t handle the truth!” from “A Few Good Men.” You might have belted out a song from the latest Broadway musical while in the shower, or perhaps have done a little “old soft shoe” step across the parking lot when nobody was looking.

You’ve done it and there’s no need for embarrassment.  This summer, local theater groups are offering several opportunities for you to take your secret performance fantasies and turn them into reality:

theatreTuesday, May 25th and Thursday, May 27th, 6:30-8:30pm, at Fletcher school at 1055 Cornell in Ypsilanti, the Ypsilanti Youth Theatre will be auditioning young folks ages 8-18 for its July 16-18 production of “No! No! A Million Times No!” (She Was Only The Farmer’s Daughter). The show is an old-time, turn-of-the-century, music-hall style production that will encourage audience participation.  Characters include a chorus of singing milkmaids, “wrasslin'” farm boys,  and a mustache-curling villain.  Those auditioning are encouraged to over-act, be extremely dramatic and create big, wild, characterizations.  Ypsilanti Youth Theatre charges a $40 participation fee per child with a discounted $25 fee for additional children in the same family.  Sponsorships are available.  It is the philosophy of YYT to give every child a role, some behind the scenes. The Ypsilanti Youth Theatre was formed to provide a quality theater experience for youth in the Ypsilanti area.  For more information, visit

PTD Productions is holding auditions for their Sept./Oct. production of “‘Night Mother.” This Pulitzer-Prize winning drama by Marsha Norman is a brutally honest dialogue between a mother and daughter on the evening daughter “Jessie” is contemplating suicide.  Director Amanda Grazioli is looking to cast Jessie as in her late 30’s with a “haunting quality.”  The part of Mama should be portrayed by a sturdy type in her late 50’s.  Auditions will be held at Riverside Arts Center, 76 North Huron Street, Ypsilanti, Sunday, June 20 & Monday, June 21 at 7:00 pm.  Callbacks will be by invitation Tuesday, June 22 at 7:00 pm.  For more information contact Amanda Grazioli (617) 470-1242 or email [email protected]

Dynamic Stage Productions presents “BARE”; a pop-opera, and dramatic story of five high school seniors at a Catholic boarding school. When two of the boys find joy in each others companionship, and their affair becomes public, events spin their lives out of control.  Director Jami Krause and Music Director Paul Clark are looking to fill the following roles:

JASON: Handsome golden child of St. Cecilia’s senior class. (BARITONE)

PETER: Introspective, socially awkward. Jason’s clandestine boyfriend. (TENOR)

IVY: Pretty, popular, insecure. (SOPRANO)

NADIA: Jason’s pudgy, twin sister, describes herself as “Plain-Jane-Fat-A**”. (SOPRANO)

MATT: Studious, pious, Jason’s rival. (TENOR)

LUCAS: The school’s fun-loving “bad boy”. (BARITONE & MUST BE ABLE TO RAP)

CLAIRE: Peter’s mother. (SOPRANO)

SISTER CHANTELLE: African-American nun, wise, no-nonsense. (SOPRANO / GOSPEL)

PRIEST: St. Cecilia’s headmaster. (BARITONE)

TANYA: Lucas’ girlfriend. (BACK-UP SINGER)

KYRA: African-American student,confident & smart. (BACK-UP SINGER)

DIANE: Quiet and innocent.  Not the brightest student, very naive,

RORY: Sarcastic student.

ZACK: Jock-type student.

ALAN: Nerdy student.

The show contains drug references, swearing, and adult themes. Due to the nature of the subject matter, only those 18+ may audition.

Those auditioning should prepare two contrasting songs, a 32 bar up-tempo and 16 bar ballad either from contemporary musical theater or a pop or rock song that best shows off your voice. Accompanist will be provided.  Auditions will also consist of cold readings from the script.  Auditions for “Bare” will be held in the upstairs studio at the Riverside Arts Center located at 76 N. Huron St. Ypsilanti, Sunday, June 20th and Monday, June 21st at 7:00 PM.  Registration begins at 6:30 PM. Callbacks will be Wednesday, June 23rd at 7:30 PM.  Performances August 19-22.  For more information email Jami at [email protected]

Also being held at Riverside Arts Center, auditions for Center Stage Productions’ musical, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” August 3 & 4.  Rehearsals will begin August 22nd with performance dates of October 28-31, 2010.  To be cast, you must be at least 18 years old.  Applicants are instructed to prepare a 16-measure song of their choice.  There will also be a cold reading from the script.   In addition to this adult theater opportunity, Center Stage is offering two youth summer drama camps Mondays through Fridays, 9am to 3pm.  Center Stage Drama Camp is a three-week adventure for actors in grades 9-12, runs July 12-30, and will be presenting “Bye Bye Birdie”.  Drama Camp Jr. is a two-week camp for actors in grades 3-8, runs August 2-13 and will presenting “Aladdin Jr.” There is a cost of $400 per camper ($450 after 6/1) for Drama Camp and $300 per camper ($350 after 7/1) for Drama Camp Jr.  Scholarships are available.  For more information visit

If calling the shots is more your style, PTD Productions has issued a “Call For Directors!” for their 2011 season.  The season will consist of four plays and run from January through December of 2011.  Submissions must be in by June 15, 2010.  To qualify directors must have prior directing experience with any company, or have been an assistant director for a PTD Production.  Visit for application process.

To make your summertime theater experience a family event, keep in mind that most theater organizations are always looking for behind the scenes volunteers.  Helping to build sets, sew costumes or design posters are just a few of the ways to get involved and support the Ypsilanti theater scene.

Update 1: 5/21/10 00:27 Corrected location of Ypsilanti Youth Theater. New location is Fletcher School. The incorrect information is still posted on the YYT website.

The Ypsilantian’s Patented Corncob

May 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Columnists

Food companies’ patenting of plants and seeds is a hot topic these days. Detractors say that patents should not be granted for the stuff of life, and proponents argue that the painstaking and expensive research and development going into allegedly improved crops justifies the patent.

Over a century ago, one Ypsilantian was doing the same. In 1882, painter James H. Davis patented a corncob.

However, he wasn’t patenting a genetic tweak or a resistance to herbicides. He called his device a “fire kindler,” and it was meant to save housewives’ fingers.

Davis’ corncob kindler was a corncob soaked in any one of a variety of flammable petroleum products, coated in varnish, and fitted with a wick. It was a handy firestarter for cold morning cookstoves.

His invention wasn’t new. Corncobs dipped in kerosene were a familiar fire-starting trick.

The 1913 book Audel’s Household Helps, Hints, and Receipts said, “A corn cob dried and soaked in kerosene will kindle a fire as quickly as a fire brick.”

Fiery corncobs were also useful in battling tent caterpillars in trees. “A corn cob soaked in kerosene and placed on a long pole makes a very convenient torch for burning the nests,” notes a 1910 agricultural bulletin from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Care should be taken not to injure the branches of the tree by allowing the blaze to come in contact with them too long.”

The cobs had other uses as well. Corncobs soaked in kerosene attached to a wire connected to a rope dragged by a horse were a good way for Western ranchers to ignite controlled burns on the prairie and encourage new growth.

And you could use one to pep up a cold Model T in winter. “When it refused to start on a subzero morning,” recalls Reynold Wik in his book Henry Ford and Grass-Roots America, “we took a corn cob, stuck it on a wire, dipped the cob into the gas tank, touched a match to provide a torch and heated the manifold.”

With such widespread use of the corncob torch, what distinguished Davis’s corncob?

“Be it known,” said his July 4, 1882 patent application, “that I, James H. Davis of Ypsilanti . . . have invented certain new and useful improvements in Fire-Kindlers . . . my object is to improve kindlers of this kind, first, by inserting in one end of a corn-cob a wooden plug which is adapted to receive and hold firmly in place a wick.” The wick was also dipped in a flammable material, and the cob was coated with varnish to prevent the evaporation of the flammable liquid saturating it.

Davis had made a corncob torch that would not leave a housewife’s fingers smelling of kerosene, or burned from a quickly-igniting cob.

It seems to be the only invention Davis ever made in his career. In the 1860 city directory, James Davis is listed as a drayman, someone who carted goods around town on a wagon for a fee.

By 1873, he had become a sign and carriage painter, living on Michigan Avenue near Hamilton.

In 1883, his occupation changes from painter to traveling salesman, possibly for his new and improved 1882 corncob.

If that is the case, his corncob venture didn’t succeed; in the ’88 directory he is once again listed as a painter, possible at the Beach Carriage Manufacturing Company where his brother Clawson worked as a blacksmith.

Davis appears to have married late in life. Though he was a registered voter in the county as early as 1868, it is not until the 1901 city directory that he is listed as married, to one Sarah J. The couple lived on Michigan Avenue and in ’01 had the telephone number 354-2r.

Their neighbors there were harness-maker George Schaffer, doctor George Hull, traveling salesman Charles Mansfield, the widow Ann Skinner, blacksmith Thomas Hughes, and White Laundry worker Elmer Hayden.

Davis’s invention was created just as the urban need for them was waning. One ad in a city directory of this era says, “Get a Gas Range and Enjoy Life.” Coal and wood kitchen cook stoves were on the way out.

By the 1903 city directory, Sarah is listed as a widow.

Davis is one of the many unsung Ypsilantians who took out patents on devices they thought might catch on, earn some money, and improve the lives of their users. Though his patent never made him rich, it remains in the public record as testimony to the ingenuity and ambition of an ordinary man.

Laura Bien is the author of Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives. Have an interesting story about old-time Ypsi? Reach her at [email protected]

Davis's 1882 patent brought the humble corncob to new heights.

Davis's 1882 patent brought the humble corncob to new heights.

Opening Day of Farmer’s Market is a Sure Sign of Spring

Evidenced by the return of migrating birds, the fragrance of lilacs in bloom, and the season opening of the Farmer’s Market, it would seem that Spring has sprung in Ypsilanti.

The Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers Market will open Tuesday, May 4th but you won’t see the colorful canopies of the vendors in the Key Bank parking lot where they’ve made their seasonal, weekly, home since the DYFM’s start in 2006.  The market has a new location on Ferris Street between Hamilton and Adams streets.  “They outgrew the former space” says Ryan Stedman, who manages the market for the nonprofit organization Growing Hope.  “The new space will accommodate a larger variety of vendors, community groups and entertainment.”

Vendors at the DYFM are farmers, backyard gardeners, greenhouse growers, and community gardeners.  Previous years vendors have included:

  • Living Stones Community; a non-profit organization that offers formerly incarcerated Washtenaw County residents an internship that includes training in urban agriculture and entrepreneurship.
  • Thomason Family Farm; All produced within downtown Ypsilanti, a special variety of cheeses is the delicious offering from the Thomason Family Farm.  Aubrey Thomason, who doubles as a cheese maker for Zingerman’s Creamery in Ann Arbor, has done work with cheese in the states and abroad.
  • Ypsilanti Food Co-op; The Ypsilanti Food Co-op has been around for 36 years. They bake an assortment of artisan breads.  The co-op also provides support and services for the surrounding community.

The Downtown Ypsilanti Farmer’s Market provides the community access to buy fresh, local, products direct. This results in a healthier community, a cleaner environment, support for the local economy and development of Ypsilanti downtown.  Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber will be at the market from 5 to 6 p.m. to greet members of the community.  Local weather forecasts predict temperatures around 70 degrees;  Perfect for a visit to the Farmer’s Market which will operate from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m., and accepts credit cards, bridge cards, and cash.

I Never Knew There Was So Much Dirt in Ypsilanti

May 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Columnists

The horse team clopped north over the cobblestones on Huron Street. They pulled a wagon containing a two-foot-thick layer of leaves, sticks, old newspapers, bottles, and tin cans. The handle of a bent black umbrella stuck out. One man drove the horses and two others walked behind the wagon, carrying pitchforks.

Ypsilanti mayor John Kirk began the tradition today known as Pride Day.

Ypsilanti mayor John Kirk began the tradition today known as Pride Day.

The team pulled up next to a five-foot-high pile of trash next to the street. Broken glass and bits of metal in the pile glinted among a heap of shrub and tree trimmings–and one 1907 calendar. “Whoa, there,” said street commissioner William Lewis. He stopped the horses and the two men began shoveling the pile into the wagon. “This is the biggest one yet,” said one. The other put his pitchfork in the wagon bed and pulled out a shovel to scoop up some broken bricks.

Lewis craned around to look at the filled wagon. “We’re going to have to go dump her out and come back,” he said. “Hop on.”

All the way down Huron, other large piles lay ahead of the wagon team, and the day had just begun.

It was Ypsilanti’s first “Pride Day,” on May 1, 1908.

The city had no municipal trash pickup service. Residents tossed broken dishes or empty whiskey bottles into backyard privies or transported trash themselves to the city dump. Flammable items were burned, either in the kitchen stove or a bonfire. The stream of household waste was small, compared to today. Packaging for fresh items like produce did not exist and plastics, for containers and personal and household items, wouldn’t come along until after WW II.

The idea of a citywide cleanup had come from a statewide group. Organized in 1899, the League of Michigan Municipalities was a union of Michigan cities, towns, and villages.

Its purpose was to provide members with a means of sharing information about how to run a municipality. Members, who were city officials from their respective cities, traded such information as the legal aspects of special tax assessments, or whether street paving was worth the expense, or the going price of sidewalks, so as not to be cheated by a contractor.

“[T]he League of Michigan Municipalities has designated Friday, May 1, 1908 as City Cleaning Day,” said a letter from Ypsilanti mayor John Kirk printed in the May 1, 1908 Ypsilanti Daily Press. “[T]he city of Ypsilanti is desirous of taking such action as will tend to improve its condition; it is hereby proclaimed that Friday, May 1, 1908 be designated as ‘City Cleaning Day for Ypsilanti’.”

The mayor instructed Ypsilantians on what to do. “Bonfires are suggested for the purpose of burning all rubbish that can be burned,” he said, “while other rubbish should be placed in the streets and alleys in convenient piles to be carried away in wagons furnished by the city.”

Kirk added, “Do not forget vacant property, as a few unsightly lots will tend to destroy a good work. Property owners must attend to the carting away of ashes as city wagons will not be furnished for such a purpose.”

He concluded, “As this is the first concerted effort on the part of our city, all citizens are earnestly requested to take such vigorous and practical action as will make the effort a success.”

City schools were closed for half a day so that “children may have an opportunity to take part in the work of cleaning up about their home premises,” said a letter from Ypsilanti school superintendent William Arbaugh, printed in the May 1, 1908 Ypsilanti Daily Press. “The idea is an excellent one, and in closing the schools tomorrow afternoon, our purpose is the inculcation, in a practical way, of a commendable civic pride.”

On May 1, 1908, students, their parents, merchants, and other residents raked, cleaned, tossed, and pruned, in the citywide effort. Smoke from burning trash-piles rose from spots all over town.

The next day’s paper said that the day had been a big success. “Street commissioner Lewis had nine wagons busy all day hauling accumulations of dirt.”

The paper quoted one participant. “‘Well, here goes the accumulation of 10 years and good riddance to rubbish,’ said one woman yesterday when the ‘city cleaning wagon’ backed up to her door. There was everything in one heap from tin cans to a broken down baby cart.”

The paper continued, “‘I never knew there was so much dirt in Ypsilanti,’ said street commissioner Lewis. ‘I was on the go since early in the morning in every ward in the city five or six times—and still there is lots to do.’” Eight other wagons in addition to Lewis’s helped with the effort, said the paper, and the mayor’s phone was ringing all day with requests for a trash wagon.

The response was so enthusiastic that the wagons had to finish up the cleanup the next day.

“In all parts of the city lawns were cut and rolled, alleys cleaned, trees trimmed, and an effort put forth to beautify the surroundings,” said the May 2, 1908 Ypsilanti Daily Press. “Mayor Kirk and the committee expressed themselves as much pleased with the experiment and ‘city cleaning day’ is likely to become a permanent feature in Ypsilanti.”

The event was repeated in 1909 and 1910, and became a tradition.

Over one hundred years later, Ypsilanti Pride day in May pays tribute to Lewis’s hard-working teams of long ago and the civic-minded residents that filled his wagons. That same civic-mindedness is evident today in the local nature of the event.

VG Kids designed cheerful yellow Ypsi Pride T-shirts for this year’s Pride day. Local donors of money, supplies, and food for the event’s lunch and afterparty include Aubree’s, Peninsular Place, Bowerbird Mongo, Bombadill’s, Beezy’s, Domino’s, the Ypsi Food Co-op, and others.

The citizens picking up trash, weeding, and planting flowers in Candy Cane Park, Prospect Park, the Gilbert Residence and about 25 other sites this Saturday, May 15 walk in the now-vanished footsteps of Lewis’s horses pulling the wagon with the bent umbrella 102 years ago.