Stuff In Town That I Won’t See


Last week around these parts I mentioned this huge lump of coal. It was dropped off a train in Lansing over a century ago. It was around in 1976 to take school bus tour groups to. Now it isn’t there. As far as I can tell. I want to give a full report about the spot where it’s supposed to be, so I can say what’s there now. Maybe the coal was gone but it had been replaced with a heaping pile of bauxite, for example, or perhaps potash. Maybe jute or some naval supplies. But I didn’t have the chance to get over there. Well, I got in the area, since it’s near the pet store. But I had to go over to the pet store under emergency circumstances. They didn’t allow for a side trip to go looking for deposits of cinnabar or whatever. But I looked at the place on Google Maps Streetview and I didn’t see anything. I think.

But lumps of missing coal aren’t all the interesting stuff described in Helen E Grainger’s 1976 book Pictorial Lansing: Great City On The Grand. I think there’s supposed to be a colon there. The cover isn’t quite clear. I’m sure it’s not Pictorial Lansing Great City On The Grand That Changed The World. The book’s got, for example, a picture of Ransom Olds’s mansion. He’s the person who invented the Oldsmobile. Just like you might guess if you were bluffing your way through the question “Who invented the Oldsmobile?” and you rejected “Biddle Jehoshaphat Mobile” for no good reason. The Olds mansion was torn down in 1966 to make way for an Interstate, which is a wee bit on-the-nose, people. The mansion had an Aeolian organ that was “sold and delivered to Oregon”. So if anyone in Oregon’s seen an Aeolian organ and doesn’t know where it’s come from, here’s a lead.

Then there’s the Lions Den. It’s also known as “The Lawrence Mansion”, “Squire Haven’s 1861 House”, and “Brauer’s 1861 House”. It is “now, in 1976, the oldest building in Michigan that has a restaurant in it”. Somehow the phrasing of that sentence makes me doubt my conceptual model of restaurants. It shouldn’t. There’s nothing revolutionary about the idea of a restaurant that doesn’t take up a whole building. Or a building that doesn’t have a restaurant. The phrasing just fills me with doubts. I don’t know. Anyway, a neat feature of the 1861 Lawrence Brauer Squire Haven 1861 Mansion House is a glass on top. The book says “the day [construction workers] finished it, all the working crew had a drink from a wine glass and then one of the workers climbed up and put this little wine glass upside down on top of the spire that goes up in the sky from the cupola”. The next page has a picture of the glass on the cupola on the spire on the building on whatnot.

It’s also gone. My love did some research and found that the glass was replaced at least once. And it was painted over and paint-welded to the spire at least once. And sometime last decade the building got declared architecturally unsound. It was down before it could slide downriver and crash into an Interstate. They were planning to build condos there, if I have it right, and then noticed it was 2008 so they decided to instead not build condos.

Now for something that is still there. I know it is because I keep seeing it along Michigan Avenue. But never up close because it’s on the median and there’s not anywhere nearby enough to park without looking weird. I’m glad the book tells me what it is so I don’t have to go experience it myself. It’s a blurry copper-I-guess plaque on a stone that doesn’t look at all like coal and if the book is right it reads:

This block of concrete represents the efforts of Lansing’s pioneer residents in the laying of one of the first and longest stretches of concrete pavement in the world, between Lansing and East Lansing.

That’s like four miles, downtown-to-downtown. Grainger didn’t know when the plaque was put up. The Highway Commissioner named took office in 1933, so, probably it wasn’t 1931, but otherwise who knows? Can we rule out 1954 in its entirety? But that’s all right, because Grainger didn’t know when the concrete pavement was put down either. She guessed not later than 1914. So I want you to appreciate all this. It’s a plaque I technically speaking have not read, put up sometime we do not know, commemorating an event that happened at some time we do not know. I’m not saying this is the funniest thing in the world. I’m saying this is one of the more giggle-worthy things I’ve run across in easily twenty-two days.

So in all, I would like to say that here in mid-Michigan, there are things, or used to be, and that isn’t so bad an arrangement.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

2 thoughts on “Stuff In Town That I Won’t See”

  1. Wasn’t Olds also responsible for the Reo company? As in Ransom E. Olds but also Reo Speedwagon (which might have been a truck). And a band, if memory serves me, but I fairly sure the car/truck company came first.

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    1. Yes, Olds is the same fellow for the Reo company. After getting kicked out of the Oldsmobile company he established the Reo Motor Car Company, of the Speed Wagon and other less famous cars. And the part of town around where the Reo Motor Car Company works had been is still called Reo Town. As the local shibboleths have it, it’s pronounced as one word, like you were going on to say “de Janeiro” afterwards.

      I do have a biography of Olds, written in the late 70s, that mentions the band as part of his cultural influence without apparently knowing anything about the musicians or what any of their songs sound like. Or that their name treats the letters as individual sounds, R-E-O.

      Liked by 2 people

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