Alfred Street in Detroit

Alfred street 002

Five cents put us on a south-bound Woodward street car and a free transfer, at the corner of Jefferson Avenue, took us to the Belle Isle Bridge.  We walked across the bridge to the incomparable island-park, and straightway sought the magical place called the bath-house, whose precincts we entered for a dime. 

Thus, with 15 cents expended, we were ready for a long, lazy morning in the water; swimming and floating and lying at the river’s edge.  That was the most heavenly thing that ever happened to the McLauchlin boy, from earliest infancy down to this present moment.  But the day’s splendor did not entirely end, when the factory whistles proclaimed the noon and we left the water.

Back across the bridge we walked and there, just east of the intersection, was the only place in the city where one could purchase a strawberry sundae-fresh fruit-for a nickel.  Having eaten that delectable concoction with vast natural appetites, quickened by a morning of swimming, we reversed the street car journey and got home for the final five cents of the quarter.

That sort of adventure was  possible for a well-earned 25 cents, when this dreadful century was just beginning.

from ALFRED STREET by Russell McLauchlin c 1946 (published by Conjure House.Detroit) page 57 the Illustrations are by Wm. A. Bostick ( including, the one shown above).

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Recently, I ran across this charming little book.   Many of its stories could have taken place anywhere in America, back when cars were new and horses still ruled the streets.  That would place it between 100 to 110 years ago.

Author Russell McLauchlin was a prominent writer for The Detroit News.  Illustrator William A. Bostick later became an administrator at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

It’s an idyllic set of anecdotes or an account of paradise lost.

McLauchlin was a self-described “fat boy” in the neighborhood.  He had interesting stories about his neighbors, his fellow kids and of old Detroit.   He mentions some street names and other Detroit details, here and there.

My favorite Detroit story is the one quoted above.  My other favorite passage follows:

“I wish you could have seen their bathroom,” Miss Van Horn would say.  “It looked like a Hurrah’s Nest.”

My youthful imagination immediately went to work on that.  Was the Hurrah a beast or a bird, I wondered; probably a bird, since it had a nest.  Certainly it must be the most disorderly bird known to natural history.

I had seen a bathroom thus depreciated; and I would reason backward from the room to the nest that and decide that  the Hurrah, was probably a large creature with a scrawny neck and ruffled feathers, and  enjoyed a nest equipped with a zinc bathtub.

Having a normal capacity for disorder myself, I cultivated a sympathy with the Hurrah and somewhat envied it, for expressing a confused personality without interference. 

And I have often thought, in the past quarter-century, that Miss Van Horn’s favorite disparagement may say the final word about the affairs of humankind.  Has not man managed to turn his beautiful world into a Hurrah’s nest?

from ALFRED STREET by Russell McLauchlin c 1946 (published by Conjure House.Detroit)  page 41

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I found this statement from John McCabe here.  The author seemed unsure whether or not the poetry here was written by McLauchlin:

http://mpoets.org/McLauchlin.htm

“I have the vague idea that I might have mentioned my good friend to you — a great drama critic, Russell McLauchlin. Russ was the dean of Detroit drama critics, having been one for over 40 years for The Detroit News. In the fullness of time, Russ and I became fast friends. We had the same sense of humor, liked the same foods, etc. and palled around a very great deal; indeed we even wrote a play together which was produced at The Lambs Club in New York. After Russ died, his widow, Grace, gave me all of Russ’s papers because they had no children and because I was as close to being a son as Russ would ever have. Now has come the time for me to dispose of those papers because there just is no one around that has the same interests and background Russ and I shared.”

John McCabe, Mackinac Island, MI, March 16, 2002 (McCabe died in 2004)

This site also included this information:

“Russell McLauchlin was born in Detroit in 1894. He grew up in Detroit, and in 1946 published a book of his columns reminiscing about growing up on Alfred Street. As the “Talk of the Town” columnist for the Detroit News, he was music and drama critic for more than 30 years, until his retirement in 1955.

Russell was a dedicated Sherlock Holmes fan, and founder of The Amateur Mendicant Society of Detroit, a scion of the Baker Street Irregulars; he wrote articles and at least one pastich short story of Sherlock Holmes, “Tea Time At Baker Street.”

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This is a PDF of the article “O.G. the Incomparable”: Memories of Ossip Gabrilowitsch By Russell McLauchlin.   McLauchlin was the Music and Drama Critic For The Detroit News until his retirement in 1955).  There are also comment’s by John McCabe:

www.twainweb.net/filelist/Og.pdf
The interesting University of Detroit alumnus John McCabe:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_McCabe_%28writer%29
I hope to write more on McCabe someday.  I know some stories about him and I’m sure that I could find more.  Here’s some information on the illustrator William Allison Bostick:
http://www.askart.com/AskART/artists/biography.aspx?artist=126381
On more recent doings on Alfred Street and  the Ransom Gillis House:
http://www.63alfred.com/index.htm
Also, two film’s come to mind.  They both bring a similar era and a similar America to life.  First The Strawberry Blonde, starring John McCabe’s friend James Cagney:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Strawberry_Blonde
Then too,  the Orson Welles film The Magnificent Ambersons, based on Booth Tarkington’s novel.  It’s a damaged classic:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magnificent_Ambersons_(film)
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