Lights! Camera! Action! Light Up the Land! A University of Detroit 1952 Musical Production

The University of Detroit Mercy is one of the sponsors for the “Light Up Livernois” being held Friday, May 31 and Saturday June 1, 2013. The event is to celebrate local businesses and culture on Detroit’s Avenue of Fashion. Activities include a fashion show, music, and art from the neighborhood. On Saturday there will be a theater performance by the Extra Mile Playwrights. Back in 1952, the University of Detroit had a similar theme in the theatrical production entitled “Light up the Land”. Written, produced and directed by Fr. Daniel A. Lord to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the university, the play traces the history of education and emphasizes its importance in American democracy. More than a thousand singers, dancers and actors appeared on the stage set up in Memorial Building, now known as Calihan Hall. In eleven performances from November 15 to 25, more than 42,000 persons attended the evening and matinee productions. The play received some glowing reviews of some thirty songs and fifteen dances from all the local papers.

At a production cost of some $125,000, the ticket sales did not cover all the expenses, but Fr. Steiner, president of UD, said,”Direct income did not nearly meet direct expenditures. This was not unexpected. “Light Up The Land” was an integral part of our education program and service to Detroit. Education does not make money…True art can never be evaluated in money. In fact, it ceases to be art if it makes money. I am convinced that “Light Up The Land” was one of the best investments our University has ever made.”

After the eleven day run, the Ford Motor Company provided the funds to have the production filmed in color. The two and a half hour pageant had to be cut down to less than two hours, so many of the scenes from the original play ended up on the cutting room floor. I did view the film, and all I can say is that I guess you had to see the live production to appreciate all the work that went into it.

Aces Wild 1927 University of Detroit Student Opera Musical Comedy

In an alphabetical browse through the theatre files of the University of Detroit, the first file that shows up is “Aces Wild”.  It was the second production by the Student Union Opera group and with the established success of theatrical director of London and New York, John Harwood and musical dance director Max Scheck, there was no doubt that it would be a critical success.

James S.. Pooler, a student in the College of Arts and Sciences wrote the book for the program. The plot as described in the Varsity News, November 9, 1927: “The musical comedy draws its name from the town of Aces Wild just across the Rio Grande in Mexico. A theatrical producer who has just left Broadway opens a resort in this town and to furnish the excitement necessary to draw trade to his establishment he stages a revolution every noon for his patrons. He hires two groups of bandits and they engage in bloody feuds each day with blank cartridges. Real bandits arriving on the scene complicate matters. Intrigue over Aztec jewels and the discovery of oil on a nearby ranch finally brings the play to a happy ending with an abundance of snappy music and dancing along the line.”

Even though women had been enrolled at the university since 1918, all the female roles in the musical were played by male students! I suspect it was more a traditional rule and not for lack women trying out for the roles. Not too sure the audience was aware of the all male chorus line. A writer of the Varsity News overheard one young lady say to her escort between acts: “I’m beginning to believe that some of the those chorus girls are boys.” 

Check out these high stepping “ladies” for yourself! Maybe its hard to tell from if you are in the back rows.

By all indications, the show was a resounding success. About 20,000 persons attended the nineteen performances over the two week run at the Shubert-Lafayette theater. The critics of the Detroit newspapers rated it as the best collegiate production of the year.  Don’t know if anything outside of what we have in our files have survived through the years. According to the Varsity News, the works of James S. Porter and Fred Bergin in forming the words and music of “Aces Wild” were published at the larger music houses of the country. Among the hits of the show are “Dorora”, “Two Little Guitars” and “Mexico”. If anyone should happen to come across copies of the music, would love to hear from you.

Golden Memories for the Class of 1963, University of Detroit and Mercy College of Detroit

The good old days in 1963–gas was 29 cents a gallon, a new car cost $3,200, undergraduate tuition at University of Detroit for full 16 hour credit load was $768.

1963 UD Commencement Ceremony

In music the Beatles were just starting to take off with their first album “Please, please me” and some of the popular TV shows included: The Flintstones, Mr. Ed, The Avengers, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. At the 35th Academy Awards, the Oscar went to Lawrence of Arabia for Best Picture, Gregory Peck for Best Actor in To Kill a Mocking Bird and Anne Bancroft for Best Actress in The Miracle Worker.

UD 1963 Commencement Ceremony

On the local scene: Robert Frost gave one of his last lectures at Calihan Hall (back then called Memorial Building) in November of 1962. Johnny Mathis was the featured performer at the UD 1963 Spring Carnival and the Lourdes Shrine (now the Honors House) was dedicated.

In the spring of 1963, at the special request of the President (Sister Mary Lucille Middleton), the Board of Trustees acquiesced to a name change: from Mercy College to Mercy College of Detroit. Thus, the Detroit institution became differentiated from institutions of similar name in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Providence, Rhode Island; Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Dobb’s Ferry, New York (Risk & Hope: An early history of Mercy College of Detroit, 1941-1966)

For the saying “You can’t go home again” is literally true for Mercy College students. The campus was sold to Wayne County Community College and the Administration building was torn down.

To take a trip down memory lane, Alumni can go online and see the yearbooks, commencement programs and Varsity News (Mercy College student newspaper coming soon).

To all the UDMercy 2013 graduates: CONGRATULATIONS!

Marian Day to Honor the Mother of God, 1931-1965

The first Marian Day celebration at the University of Detroit Stadium was held May 17, 1931, sponsored by the Detroit Catholic Students Conference. Nearly 16,000 people heard the Reverend John P. McNichols, S.J., President of the University of Detroit, deliver the principal address. One of the more notable speakers  to address the Sodalists in 1935 was the Reverend Charles E. Coughlin, pastor of the Shrine of the Little Flower, and noted radio speaker on the subject of “Religion as the Basis of Patriotism.” The pamphlet from the 1935 celebration indicates that after the program at the UD stadium there was a procession to Marygrove College for special Benediction in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Marygrove College is not that far from UD (less than a mile), but that is still a pretty good hike for many people.

In the early years the ceremonies began with a 45-minute parade down Livernois Ave. into the stadium but was discontinued after three years of rainy Sundays.

Pope Pius XII declared a Marion Year for 1954, the first in church history. Services were held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Special services were also held at Mercy College to pay homage to the Blessed Mother. Mercy College, Mercy High School, St. Scholastica’s grade school and Bertha Fisher home for the aged all joined in the tribute. The day ended with benediction at the grotto on Mercy College’s campus.

His Eminence Edward Cardinal Mooney, Archbishop of Detroit, announced May 23, 1954 as a day for the city-wide observance of Marion Year at the University of Detroit. An estimated 100,00 Catholics packed the University of Detroit football stadium in a Marian Year celebration. The UD stadium had a seating capacity of  20,000, so most of the participates were seated on the field. A special outdoor altar was erected, and some fences and bushes had to be removed to accommodated the crowd.

Over the years, attendance at Marian Day services declined. By 1965 only about 7,000 Catholics attended the ceremony. Due to an increasingly crowded calendar of events both at the parish and diocesan level in the month of May, it was decided by Fr. Raymond S. Skoney, spiritual director of the Detroit Archdioscesan Federation of Sodality Unions. to postpone Marian Day until the fall in 1966. A search through the Varsity News did not list any Marian Day service in 1966.

Marian Day May 1961

Since the 1954 Marian Year celebration, the only other time I can think that the Detroit area had a 100,000 Catholics gather would be for the visit by Pope John Paul II at the Pontiac Silverdome in September 1987. Does anyone know of another occasion?

James T. Callow Folklore Archive-Some Unexpected Finds

Many times when I am looking for something in the archives, I come across something that is just too good to be left hidden in some file cabinet, such is the case with these pictures. There is no indication as to who drew these, but they have notes on the back to indicate they are examples of the use of geometric designs and shapes in a culture.

Can’t help it, but this mask reminds me of the helmet for the Boba Fett character in the Star Wars movies. Maybe it is just the “Bobo”  label.

They are not listed in the Folklore Archive, but there are tons of other interesting stories to browse through.



Next time you are having a bad day at the poker table: IF, IN PLAYING CARDS, YOU HAVE BAD LUCK, A WALK AROUND THE CHAIR WILL BRING GOOD LUCK.

Whether you are looking for something specific or just want to randomly plug in a keyword, you could spend hours reading some of the beliefs and customs from around the world. Check out the site-you won’t be disappointed.

Finals: The Beginning of the End or Start of Something New?

My initial thought for this blog was to see how students handled the stress of final exams. As I was browsing through some old Varsity News to see how students handled finals at the University of Detroit in the past, I began to notice other things that were not necessarily about taking final exams. In 1965-66 year,  UD changed the academic calendar to tri-semester so class would run September-December, January-April and May-August. Up until 1966, UD commencement ceremonies were held in June instead of in May like they are now. Mercy College started to have their commencement ceremonies in May 1967. This meant that up until the late 60′s campus activities lasted well into the month of May.

1965 seems to be sort of a year of transition for student activities. Since the Varsity football program ended in 1964, this would have been the first year no football games would be held. No football games, no homecoming activities. Club football was started in 1967 and revived homecoming activities for the fall for a couple of years. I have not yet come across when homecoming activities became associated with the basketball team.

1963 Spring Carnival

There would be no spring carnival in May and it would have been too soon to have a Fall Carnival in 1965 with the ’65 Spring Carnival just held a few months earlier, so it was put off until the next academic year. They held Fall Carnivals in 1966, 1967 and 1968, but they were poorly attended so they tried again to have a Spring Carnival in 1969 and 1970 which would have been in place of the Mardi Gras celebration that was held each year on campus. Even  concerts by Bob Seger for both the 1969 and 1970 Spring Carnivals did not help and the carnival activity died for lack of interest and financial profitability. All the past carnivals had made some money, not very much in the later years, but the 1970 carnival lost $3000.

Anyways, just for a moment to get back to my original theme:Not exactly sure in all my browsing through the volumes of Varsity News what years this was true, but it seems that when students registered for their courses, they did not know when their final exams would be scheduled. It would get posted later and it was also posted in the Varsity News. Also when the academic year got shortened, there was a temporary stay on finals for graduating seniors for one year. The following year, there was a very vocal protest via Varsity News that this practice did not continue for a second year. Poor things! They were not expecting to have to take a final exam and now they had to cram like crazy!

Good luck on your finals!

Author! Author! Joyce Carol Oates (Smith), Instructor and Elmore Leonard, Alumni at UDMercy

At the University of Detroit Mercy you never know if the instructor in front of you or the scrawny kid sitting next to you could be a future famous writer. That was the case at the University of Detroit.

Elmore Leonard, Sophmore

Elmore Leonard earned a degree from the University of Detroit in 1950 and has written many novels, some have been made into movies that include: Get Shorty, Mr. Majestyk and 3:10 to Yuma . His most recent work includes working as the executive producer for the television show “Justified”, which is based on his novel “Fire in the Hole. He must of been buried in his studies while at the university because I can’t find much while he was here except for a few pictures in the University of Detroit Tower Yearbook.

Joyce Carol Oates taught at the University of Detroit from about 1963 to 1966. Students at the time would have known her under her married name Joyce O. Smith.

While at the university, she had a number of articles published in such publications as Atlantic Monthly, Shakespeare Quarterly and Transatlantic Review. Her short story book “By the North Gate” (1963) and novel “With Shuddering Fall” (1965) received favorable reviews, but her attempt at an off-Broadway play “The Sweet Enemy” 1965 was bombed by the critics.

So the next time you go to class, look around-you could be sitting next to the next Nobel prize winner or future President of the United States!

Take me out to the ball game: University of Detroit baseball team 1895-2004

The first team to officially represent the college was in baseball in 1895. Detroit won the first game against the Polish Seminarians of Orchard Lake on May 23, 1895. Browsing through a series of articles “The Story of the University” in the Varsity News 1927-1928, some of the early games were played against the High School. Back in those days the Detroit College and the High School were under the same institutional umbrella.The games were not always played under ideal circumstances. One report in the Detroit College Diary noted “in a game with Mt. Clemens the field was “like a lake. No boats allowed-so the game was short.” (from The University of Detroit 1877-1977: A Centennial History) College baseball was not without its own controversy as in this report in the Varsity News, May 23, 1928, for the 1902 season: 

1943 UD Baseball Team

Even though the lack of manpower and resources prevented a varsity football schedule during World War II, they were still able to hold baseball games. Perhaps as a sign of the times the Varsity News, May 10, 1944 reported on a game with the Military Police. The game was won by the Military Police 2 to 1, but it was called at the end of 4 1/2 innings because of rain.

Through the years the baseball program produced a few players that went on to play in the major leagues. Dave Debusschere played both basketball and baseball at the university. He was one of the few players who also played both basketball (Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks) and baseball (Chicago White Sox) professionally. Bob Miller played for the University of Detroit for two years and pitched in the 1950 World Series for the Philadelphia Phillies. After ten years in the major leagues, he returned to the university as coach of the Titan team from 1965-2000.

1978 UD Baseball Team

The university ended the baseball program in 2004 as a result of budget cuts. Like the football program, there is always the hope that the baseball program will be revived and once again be a part of the University of Detroit Mercy Athletic Department.


Read all about it! Varsity News is now available on line!

Perhaps one of the things that I have been most looking forward to is seeing past issues of the University of Detroit student newspaper “Varsity News” on line. You can now see from the comfort of you own home, every available issue from the very beginning, Vol.1, No. 1, dated January 30, 1918 to April 4, 2012. Check out what made the news on campus from the world events of World War I to the results of a university sporting event. In addition to the news, there are also  plenty of old advertisements to ponder over.

Just pick a year-check out what was happening the year you were born!

There is plenty there for alumni to reminisce about. Remember when….

Between the Varsity News and the Tower Yearbook, there should be plenty for alumni and children of past U of D students to browse and remember.

Off to the Races! International Intercollegiate Turtle Derby

There are races like the Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500 and Tour de France-but the University of Detroit had the excitement of the Turtle Derby! Turtle racing began at the University of Detroit tracks in 1935 under the auspices of  Delta Pi Kappa, journalism fraternity as a local event, but within a few years grew nationwide, drawing more than 200 entries.

A shortage of materials suspended the annual classic during World War II, but it was revived by the fraternity in 1946.

After the war it was held in conjunction with the University of Detroit Spring Carnival. It also expanded to include not only other colleges in the United States, but other countries as well. Some of the countries that sent turtles included: Australia, Scotland, Taiwan, Germany, Canada, England and Sweden. One year the University of Moscow politely refused to enter a turtle and challenged U of D students to a chess match instead.

There were some interesting sidelights to some of the turtles that were entered in the race. In 1939 the University of Tennessee entered a snapping turtle named Waddles. He was left in a case at the University of Detroit’s biology laboratory over the weekend. A biology student left 10 frogs in the case so Waddles would have some company. When the students returned they only found Waddles in the case. Waddles apparently enjoyed the frogs for Sunday dinner and lay in the corner, too stuffed to move-and the race was only five days away. Another entry for the 1939 turtle race was scratched from the races unless the owner changed his name, “Hitler”. Check out his picture-that was one big turtle! An almost insignificant item to the 1939 “Turtle Trudge”, as it was called back then, is a note that “Radio Comedian Bob Hope was to award a trophy to the winner.” This would have been a time just before Bob Hope’s fame really took off with his “Road ” movies.

The biggest problem was getting rid of the turtles after the race. Most of the owners specify that they don’t want them back. Students raffled them off to new homes and added the funds to the Spring Carnival  Student Union Building fund. There is one turtle that might be missing on a trip back to its owner. There is a letter in the file from Los Angeles State College in 1961 looking for their turtle. It was apparently the pet turtle of a ten-year-old boy and he wanted it back. Nothing in the file to indicate if it ever made it back. I sure hope so-that would be an awful long trip even for a racing turtle to walk from Detroit to Los Angeles!

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