Author Archives: Pat Higo
From August 7 to August 20, 1944, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus used the University of Detroit Stadium for its performances. At the time it was the only facility available in the city of Detroit that could be used. It was an open air performance since the tragic disaster in Hartford, Connecticut, just a month earlier, had destroyed almost everything when the tent and seats caught fire. According to an article in the Detroit Times, August 8, 1944, “The performers say they like playing in the open, for no matter how hot the sun is, it can’t equal the temperatures high under the canvas.” Since there was no tent to limit the heights the Wallendas could go, their high wire act would operate at 130 feet in the air, twice as high as under the big top.
Since World War II was going on, the circus cooperated with the Treasury Department War Finance Committee to stimulate the sale of war bonds. Only purchasers of war bonds were admitted on the opening day and a special section was set aside on all other days for those who purchased war bonds.
I don’t know if the weather held out for the duration of time the circus was scheduled for all its performances. If the show did not go beyond the “fifth inning” (not sure how circus time is divided), rain checks would be issued.
For the citizens in and around the Detroit area, that summer of ’44 was a time when as Mayor Jeffries put it: “it was a good attraction for Detroiters who are spending their vacations, patriotically, at home.”
This is another one of those files that does not have enough information to know what is going on! There are pictures and a very brief description of a photo, but no news article to explain anything. There is just a tantalizing bit of a news press release in one photo, but a search through the student newspaper, Varsity News, comes up with nothing. So here is what information is available:
- “Peanuts project” April, 1963 (label on file folder)
- From the little bit of the news release: “the red peanut in the midst of the…?….message from the students. so just search…?…you find it) and read away.”
- Members of the Regency Heights House of the University of Detroit Shiple Residence Hall writing “U of D” on ten pounds of peanuts
- The students in the picture: (L. to R.) Tom Weisenberger, junior, majoring in accounting; Micky Hellrung, freshman, majoring in mathematics; Dick Hicke, sophomore, majoring in political science; and Bob Douglas, freshman, majoring in accounting
No contact information is available for any of these students if they are still around (its been more than fifty years since this picture was taken!). If anyone knows what this “peanut project” was all about, I would love to hear from you.
Back in the early days of the University of Detroit, Peter Pan Restaurant was a popular place to eat. It was right across from the McNichols campus on Livernois. The original owners were Nick Krametes and Speros Sassalos, better know by students as “Doc” Speros.
The university’s famous undefeated football team of 1928 ate at the Pan at a long table reserved for its use. Doc would claim credit for the winning year. He told the team captain that if they beat everyone that year, he would throw them a banquet and give each lettermen a $5 gold piece. There were 38 lettermen. In 1928, Doc and his partner enlarged the restaurant and built a hotel above it because the university had no dormitory facilities for out-of-town students.
In 1944 Doc’s partner died and the work was too much for Doc, so he sold the Pan. The ownership changed hands a few times, but eventually the place closed and the building torn down. In its location at 16875 Livernois is a vacant lot.
Eastwood Night (which has nothing to do with the actor Clint Eastwood), was an annual dance sponsored by the Student Union, marking the end of the school year and was usually held at a place called Eastwood Gardens. Some of the bands that played at this occasion included Louis Prima, Woody Herman and Skitch Henderson (well known dance bands back in those days!).
For one year, 1948, the dance was held at the State Fair Grounds when Eastwood officials refused to admit African Americans to the dance hall. The ban caused a campus uproar and the Union board voted to cancel the dance at the amusement park and reserved the State Fair grounds instead. They returned to Eastwood in 1949 when the management agreed to dispense with its policy in regard to African Americans. In 1949, pre-sale tickets were $2.50 and $3.00 at the gate. Management’s policy was to limit reservations to 2,000.
However, the following year, 1950, The”Eastwood Night” had to be held at Jefferson Beach when Eastwood closed because of licensing difficulties. In 1951, Jefferson Beach was not available and no other site was suitable for the dance, so the dance was cancelled. Nothing else was planned to take its place, but browsing through the Varsity News during that period, it does not look like it was missed. There were plenty of other end of year activities for students by other student organizations.
There are several letters in the archives file about changing the name of “Livernois” to something else. In 1925, UD President Rev. John McNichols, inquired the City Council of City of Detroit that since the University of Detroit would be erecting a number of buildings potentially worth more than $15,000,000, that Livernois Ave. could be renamed as “Varsity Road”. In addition to the considerable amount of money being invested in the property, he listed a couple more reasons for the name change:
- “The west boundary of the property is Livernois Avenue, ordinarily pronounced “Liver” “noise”. As Mr. McGinnis, a prominent Boston architect, remarked some years ago, after pronouncing the name several times, “this is an utterable unmentionable name.” In the ordinary language of the day, it is an expression of undesirable meat.”
- “As this name seems to bear no particular meaning in the history of the city of Detroit, I would respectfully submit that it be changed to Varsity Road. I believe the substitution will give us a name of better flavor. I believe further that the substitution of the name I have suggested is not a greater concession than should be made to an institution of our standing, especially when for such a change we have the precedent of the change of Bag St. to Temple Avenue.”
In a follow-up to this request, the City Planner replied that such a name change is not easily done for a number of reasons. Livernois Avenue is an old historic name representing early settlers and the street goes beyond the limits of the City of Detroit into Oakland County. There is also a concern that the business and property owners would incur considerable expense to change their stationery as well as confusion in the delivery of mail.
There is additional correspondence with Clarence Burton of the Burton Abstract and Title Co. for information about the Livernois family name. Turns out Livernois had a large family with branches all over the city and state. In his letter to Fr. McNichols he writes: “The people have been generally law abiding and honorable members of society, filling neither places of great importance nor the jails and penitentaries (sic). They were and are just the plain people. They represent the farmers and country people of the two centuries of our existence.” In addition, he felt if the authorities were to change the street name, he suggested that “University Place” or Avenue or Boulevard would be more appropriate. “Varsity is not a name, (i)t is not even a word. It is slang and has no business in our street nomenclature.”
Rev. McNichols thanked Mr. Burton for his information, but still was not convinced that the Livernois name should be kept. “But to have the insinuation of decayed meat cast into your face every time the place of your residence is mentioned is really hard, even for a humble and unassuming University President.” He also contended that “Varsity” was a valid word and had a more English flavor than “University” and since he was Irish, would like a name with an English flavor. So then he asked if “Pere Richard Highway” as the name would work. Mr. Burton replied that Father Richard had already been honored by the city by placing his name on a branch library.
The discussion about changing Livernois to a different name comes up again in 1932. Rev. John McNichols had retired from active presidency on April 7, 1932 to enter Ann Arbor Hospital. A few weeks later a cold developed which further undermined his health and he passed away April 26, 1932 at the age of 57. This time the request was made to change Livernois to McNichols Road. There are letters of protest from some of the businesses on the expense and confusion that would be created by changing the street name. There is one letter, however, from a representative of the Livernois family that suggests that instead of changing the Livernois name to McNichols, that it would be better to rename Six Mile Road to McNichols Road in memory of Rev. McNichols. Although I have not been able to find when that name change became official, no one seemed to have any objection to calling it McNichols Road instead of Six Mile Road. So maybe Rev. McNichols can rest in peace that the official address of the the University of Detroit Mercy is 4001 W. MCNICHOLS Road to mitigate his distaste of a “Livernois” street name.
Over the past few weeks, as part of a grant, I have been sitting in on interviews with some of the Sisters of Mercy who were connected in some way with Mercy College of Detroit. In the early days, Mercy College of Detroit was not only a school for all young women to receive a liberal arts education for nursing or education, it was also a place where women would begin their education to enter the order of the Sisters of Mercy. The stories have been inspiring, touching, humorous, and for me a realization of just how unselfish and service oriented the Sisters of Mercy are to helping the poor, sick, and those in need of a good education. After the interviewing sessions have been completed, the stories will be posted (video/audio and/or text) for anyone to see on the library page.
One of the things that gets mentioned a lot by the sisters is how they felt about the change from the traditional habit to the modified habit (which the sisters used for only a short time) to the secular fashion that is worn today. So far its been pretty unanimous that they were glad to see the old habit go away. The changes started in the mid 1960′s, not long after Vatican II. Those habits were made from black serge material (about 9 yards worth!) and it gets very hot to wear during Michigan summers which can get pretty brutal, especially at a time when not a lot of buildings had air conditioning. You have to admire those nuns wearing those heavy black habits; they would just hitch them up and get right down on the ground with the kids and play marbles or whatever activity they participated in where all that extra material would be a problem.
All the sisters were asked: “Why chose to join the Sisters of Mercy over another order?” The common response, aside from having them as teachers in grade school; they saw a lot of joy and humor in the group. As one who has not had a lot of contact with religious communities, I had a very stereotypical view of nuns and any form of the term “fun” is not something I would have associated with the Catholic church. After listening to the stories from the sisters, if I were trying to decide which order to join, I would have gone for the Sisters of Mercy too.
I am looking forward to sharing the many stories we have recorded so the public will get to know these amazing Sisters of Mercy. Their commitment to the mission started by Catherine McAuley is something that I think gets overlooked and needs to be recognized. Our project to archive and preserve these memories will make sure that the Sisters of Mercy associated with Mercy College of Detroit will never be forgotten.
The University of Detroit had a debate program almost from the beginning of the university’s establishment. It started out under the Philomathic Society until 1924 when the debating team was organized under the Department of Public Speaking. One of the longest running contest was for the Skinner medal. The Skinner Debate was founded in 1897 by Henry W. Skinner, a resident and citizen of Detroit, who donated $1,000 to the University of Detroit Philomathic Society, a group fostering the reading and appreciation of good literature, and encouraging proficiency in eloquence.
The Skinner Debate format: “The debate [was] conducted in the Parliamentary style, similar to that employed by the Oxford Union and other debating societies. Speakers appear as individuals, not as members of teams. Contestants are allowed to choose their positions. Each one will make a 10-minute constructive speech and a 3-minute rebuttal.
Members of the audience [were] invited to indicate their stand on the Question before the House by their selection of seats on the affirmative side, or negative of the House (which they may change, should their convictions [change], during the evening of debate)”
Initially the Skinner competition was just for UD students, but in 1966 it changed to an intercollegiate competition with other universities.
Here is a sample of some of the debate topics, many that are just as interesting now as it was back in the days when it was presented:
- That the United States should adopt a program of compulsory health insurance for all citizens (1961)
- That the nations of the western hemisphere should enter into a permanent alliance (1941)
- That the U.S. remain aloof from all entangling alliances and adhere to its former policy of isolation (1919) (I guess they wanted to to avoid another world war!)
- That the Non-communist nations of the world should establish an economic community (1963)
- That the United States should discontinue direct economic aid to foreign countries. (1957)
- That law enforcement agencies should be given greater freedom in the investigation and prosecution of crime. (1966)
- Should the United States adopt a guaranteed annual cash income for all U.S. citizens? (1968)
- That Congress should be given the power to reverse decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. (1960)
- That the immigration laws of the United States should be made more stringent. (1898)
- That the National Labor Relations Board be empowered to enforce arbitration of all industrial disputes. (1938)
- That the requirement of membership in labor organization as a condition of employment should be illegal. (1958)
- That greater controls should be imposed on the gathering and utilization of information about U.S. citizens by government agencies (1972) (What would they think of NSA today!)
- That the powers of the presidency should be significantly decreased. (1974)
To the great disappointment of many, the debate program as part of the Speech Department was downsized in 1971 because the university was undergoing some financial problems. Initially, many people thought the entire Speech Department was being eliminated and there are a few letters in the file expressing their concern that such a drastic action was being taken given the success of the debate program. The university continued the Speech Department, but its participation in various debate contests at the intercollegiate level seems to have ended around the 1975-76 academic year.
Although there is no debate contests at UDM currently, there is now in a similar activity, the Ethics Bowl-but I will leave that for another blog.