Night at the Museum

August, 2010.

I had heard rumors of what lay within this unsuspecting storehouse; that it contained old airplanes, tanks, classic cars, not to mention some ancient artifacts found in the Detroit area, or that related to the city's own past. Such as Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac's own diary, or junk along those lines. Nowadays, with the city's contrived municipal "bankruptcy" putting its contents on the auction block and in the newspapers, it is simply known to most people as "the building with the cars in the bubbles."

The deceptively bland exterior belies the reality of its interior. It is truly a different world. It is like stepping into Willy Wonka's factory for the Detroit history buff. Normally this facility is not accessible to the public.

It had been decked out with red carpet and tableclothed tables full of hors d'oeurves and other such frilly froo-froo things for an event (the red car is a 1924 Huppmobile roadster):

But within this hall were not only crates, but rows and rows of climate-controlled bubbles, containing rare and antique artifacts relating to Detroit's history, mostly cars--many of which belonged to famous personages. For instance, this is Henry M. Leland's personal car, a 1905 Cadillac "Osceola":

If you know your history, you will remember Leland as the president of Leland & Faulconer Mfg. Co., who built engines for Olds (the first successful production automobile), and brought the concept of interchangeable parts to the auto industry. Leland formed the Cadillac Motor Co. out of Henry Ford's failed 2nd attempt at creating a car company (Leland was a financial backer). He renamed the company after Detroit's French founder and turned it into an industry leader. In 1909 he sold Cadillac to Durant's GM for $4.5 million, but remained as its executive.

Leland was also responsible for the publicity stunt in which three Cadillacs were disassembled and their parts all mixed up in a pile...then reassembled by three mechanics, and all three cars started & ran fine. It was a demonstration to the Europeans that the Detroit style of manufacturing and interchangeability of parts was the most sound and economical method of car making. He also asked Charles Kettering to invent an electric starter motor for the Cadillac engine, another industry first. Leland left GM over a dispute over war production (Durant was a pacifist), and founded Lincoln Motors to build the Liberty V-12 aircraft engines. After the war he built luxury Lincolns, but became insolvent in 1922, at which time Henry Ford bought the marque, exacting his revenge on Leland for the creation of Cadillac, by lowballing the sale price at $8 million. Leland eventually resigned.

The '05 Osceola was Cadillac's first enclosed-body car, designed under the supervision of Fred Fisher; Leland had it made to explore the idea of a vehicle closed to the weather. It ran on white gas, and was donated to the museum in the '50s by his niece, Miss Miriam Woodbridge. Henry Leland also invented electric barber's shears. I am not sure what the story is on the motorcycle.

The white car seen below is a 1973 Lincoln Mark IV, built at the Wixom Assembly Plant (which I explored in another post). It is a modified production car built especially for Lee Iacocca, who was president of Ford Motor Co. at the time:

Behind it sits a 1948 Packard Deluxe Model 8.

There was even some architectural treasure in here:

This was a hand-carved wooden hearse from the 1800s.

Ford XD Cobra prototype, built on a Shelby chassis and designed by Eugene Bourdaint...sans trunk compartment:

For more info on the XD, go HERE

The lifeboat to the Dodge brothers' famous yacht, the Delphine:

The luxurious Delphine was donated to the U.S. Navy during WWI, and seen commonly in the Detroit River and Great Lakes for decades, often tied up near Grayhaven Island (which I've also explored in another post).

Archaic firefighting apparatus:

There is also an extensive maritime element to the collection:

One of the ultra-rare Cadillac station-wagon bodies, custom built at the Fleetwood Body Plant:

Bits and pieces of old Tiger Stadium:

Decayed wheel of a sailing ship likely recovered from the bottom of the Detroit River:

Daddy took the T-bird away:

...It's a 1957.

A 1987 Cadillac hearse, custom built at Fleetwood Body:

A remnant of Boblo Island's flume ride, and a complete driveline from one of Lee Iacocca's Chrysler Turbine-Drive cars: about a mish-mash of random historical items.

Old primitive traffic signals from Detroit streets...recall that the Detroit Police Department pioneered the use of the streetlight:

Pewabic tile fountain, and some farm implementia in the background:

An official Detroit Civil Defense Jeep!

Lid to a time capsule...?:

Cannons, some pulled from the River:

Loot from a Chrysler plant:

Another Caddy station-wagon:

This Hudson's delivery wagon was used to make home deliveries back in the 1800s if I remember, and then was later used as a fixture in all the Hudson's Thanksgiving Day Parades until the downtown Hudson's closed:

These are the statues that were found haphazardly strewn about in the woods behind the glacis of Fort Wayne a couple years ago--remnants of old Detroit City Hall:

In about 2001, some do-gooder threw a fit because the statues were sitting outside, exposed to the elements, and if I recall, he threatened to bring the media into it or something. Eventually the Detroit Historical Museum was coerced into bringing them into the warehouse. Perhaps someone should have informed this person that the statues were stone, and designed to be outside; furthermore, they had been exposed to the elements since about the Civil War. Now they're stuck in a warehouse, where no one can see them. Nice work.

In a seperate section of the CRC was a huge climate-controlled room packed full of shelves from floor to ceiling, everything covered in white sheets. This is where the smaller artifacts are housed, and also where the photo cataloguing is done.

Here is the clock mechanism to old City Hall if I recall correctly (the bell resides elsewhere at the fort):

There is an astounding collection of WWII "support the war effort" posters here at the CRC:

A Grinnell Bros. phonograph:

A real Packard pedal-car:

Vintage DFD regalia:

These are firebuckets:

In the 1800s, before modern firefighting, each household was required to have on hand a fire bucket in case fire should break out nearby in the city, and they would be expected to join in a bucket brigade to put out the fire. Of course, the rich had larger, fancier fire buckets than the average citizen, and had their name emblazoned upon it. This was not only to show their supposed largesse and community mindedness, but also as a status symbol as well. Look close and you may recognize a couple ancestral family names from deep in Detroit's past...The one on the left says "Larned."

Vintage Detroit Fire Extinguisher Company...they are still in business, on 14th Street:

Dentist's chair:

More medical apparatus:

Any fans of early techno? This was Derrick May's mixing board:

Derrick May and his high school buddies Juan Atkins, and Kevin Saunderson (aka, the "Belleville Three") are credited with the creation of what Atkins eventually dubbed "techno" music. It formed as Detroit's take on Chicago's "house" music, but with the distinct Detroit influences of mechanical noises, inspired by the robotic repetition of an automotive assembly line.

Note the cases of Stroh's Beer and Vernor's Ginger Ale:

A Hudsons' memory for many:

Chairs saved from the original Mayan-Art-Deco interior of the Fisher Theater:

WWJ was the first commercial radio station in America, and partnered early with the conservative-leaning Detroit News paper:

This seat was intended for use by Abraham Lincoln aboard some ship...perhaps the USS Yantic (see my thread about the Brodhead Naval Armory, sixth paragraph from the end). Unfortunately he was assassinated before it was ever used or installed. Ironically, the chair in which Lincoln was assassinated (at the Ford Theater) now reposes in Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn (as does the Lincoln limousine in which President Kennedy was assassinated).

Now here's an ancient relic! This pedestal was the base of the flagpole from Fort Pontchartrain that flew the first American flag in Michigan, an act that took place on July 11, 1796:

If this flagpole base is from the original Fort Pontchartrain, it could be much older (the first fort was built in 1701). I find it amazing that something like this still survives into modern times, and this was in my opinion perhaps the most interesting item to be found in the whole building. The plaque's inscriptions chronicle important events in Detroit's history starting with the first visit to the Straits by the French in the year 1610, up to the retaking of Detroit from the British in 1813.

Ironically enough, the reason only the base of the flagpole survives is allegedly because when the Detroit Fire Department was being formed, they were scouring the area for any long, straight pieces of wood they could get for the building of ladders. This story has some gaps however, because the DFD was not officially formed until 1860. Even though there were independent fire companies operating in the city prior to that time who might have been on the lookout for good wood, Fort Pontchartrain no longer existed; in 1779 that fort was abandoned when the British garrison moved into the newly built Fort Lernoult (and the entire city burned down in 1805), though it is likely the old flagpole from Fort Pontchartrain was moved to the new fort. Coincidentally enough, the location of Fort Pontchartrain was in the same area where the DFD's c.1920s headquarters now stands.

How Detroit Became the Motor City, by Robert Szudarek
Automobiles in Storage at the Collections Resource Center, by Adam Lovell / Detroit Historical Society

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