Calendar

May
20
Mon
1835 : Detroit Common Council Votes for Progress, Approves First Underground Sewer for Detroit
May 20 all-day

A committee of the Detroit Common Council recommended that a stone-and-brick “grand sewer” be built to replace an unsightly and unsanitary series of open ditches that ran through the city. The full council agreed, and a year later, Michigan’s first underground sewer was built at a cost of $22,607.

Source : Michigan History

1927 : Charles Lindbergh, First Nonstop Solo Transatlantic Flight
May 20 all-day


 

Detroit native Charles Lindbergh became the first person to successfully complete a nonstop solo transatlantic flight when he landed the Spirit of St. Louis in Paris on May 21, 1927.

He left the Roosevelt Field airstrip on New York’s Long Island, 33.5 hours before. By the time he landed about 3,600 miles later (1,000 of it through snow and sleet), Lucky Lindy was a worldwide celebrity.

Tens of thousands of people greeted the 25-year-old when he touched down at the Le Bourget air field at 10:22 p.m.

Source : Zlati Meyer, “Lindbergh soars to aviation mark”, Today In Michigan History, Detroit Free Press, May 19, 2013.

1927 : The First Mac Wood Dune Scooter Ride
May 20 all-day

According to Mable Wood, Malcolm “Mac” Wood took her on her first dune scooting ride in a Model A Ford on May 20, 1927 following a torrential 3-day downpour that packed down the sand over on the Silver Lake sand dunes.

She remembers the date well because it was the same date that the newspapers announced that Lone Eagle Lindbergh had conquered the Atlantic, flying nonstop to Paris. And she clipped the article to add to one of her scrapbooks. However, it was also the date that her husband took her on a spin noticed by the neighbors on the other side of Silver Lake, who came over to investigate. In his excitement, Mac took them for free rides as well.

Well since automobiles normally get stuck in the loose sand on the dunes, Mac had some figuring to do before he actually started his business of providing dune scooter rides for paying customers. By the early thirties, a business had been born, a welcome addition for all the tourists that visit the sand dunes along Lake Michigan….

The rest of the story:

Way before modern dune buggies, the only way to cruise Michigan’s sand dunes in style was to board a hunk of metal at the Flora-Dale Resort near Mears, Michigan (located between Ludington and Muskegon on Silver Lake).  By 1930, resort owner Mac Wood designed and perfected the first of his famous “dune scooters”, converting a Ford Model A into a four-seat dune buggy.  Rides cost a whopping 25 cents.

The scooters were eventually upgraded in the 1960s to a much sturdier model based on a Studebaker Champ pickup truck, and then again in recent years to the current incarnation: a 20-person, four-wheel drive “Dune Cruiser” sporting aircraft tires.

Both the 1930s- and 1960s-era scooters are now housed in a museum at Mac Wood’s Dune Rides. 

Yours truly had the pleasure of catching a Mac Woods Dune Cruiser ride from the Flora-Dale Resort (Ed and Dolores Bauer purchased the Flora-Dale Resort in 1960 and ran it until 1996) for a picnic and an excursion on the dunes  years ago.  Sadly, since 1996, Flora-Dale has been sold off and subdivided for vacation cabin lots, but Mac Woods Dune Rides are still going strong.

Spotted in Found Michigan, July 6, 2012.

Emily Rose Bennett, “A vintage look at Mac Wood’s 87 years of riding the Michigan dunes“, MLive, July 12, 2017.

Also see The Story of Mac Wood

Mac Woods Facebook Page

Scooterville, U. S. A. / by Mable C. Wood as told to Douglas J. Ingells. Grand Rapids : Eerdmans, [1962]

Dune rides are also available in Saugatuck.

1942: Glenn Miller Song Immortalizes Kalamazoo
May 20 all-day

Glenn Miller recorded “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” on May 20, 1942.

The song would resonate with women — as well as swing dancers of both genders — far beyond southwestern Michigan.

Since 1996, the song has been a regular pregame offering of the Western Michigan University Bronco Marching Band, according to Cheryl Roland, a spokeswoman for the school, which is based in Kalamazoo.

And when the marching band releases a CD of its classics or performs in a season-concluding concert, the tune is always one of the highlights.

Source : “This week in Michigan history … ‘I’ve Got a Gal’ got its rhythm from Kalamazoo”, Detroit Free Press, May 20, 2012.

Glenn Miller and His Orchestra Perform I’ve Got A Gal in Kalamazoo via YouTube

1951 : Olivia Davis Letts, Lansing’s First Black Elementary Teacher
May 20 all-day

Olivia Davis Letts was the first black elementary teacher in the Lansing Public Schools.  Already with three years’ experience teaching in the Chicago schools, she was hired in Lansing on May 20, 1951 with the help of a community movement.  Her first assignment was at Lincoln School, where she ultimately became principal. In 1965, she became principal at Post Oak Elementary.  Over the years, she attended classes at Michigan State University to earn a doctorate. She retired in 1985 as the city’s director of elementary schools.  In 2016, she was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.

The rest of the story:

Letts was living in Chicago and dating her future husband Richard “Dick” Letts when she received a letter from the Lansing Schools saying “they had never made a practice of hiring anyone of her race but they would keep her under consideration”, according to an oral history project sponsored by the Lansing Public Library.

Richard had been living in Lansing and trying to get Olivia to marry him.  The rejection was a setback.

“She sent me a letter in rebuttal to my request for her hand that she would never come to Lansing if she couldn’t get a job”.  Richard shared a copy of the district’s letter with local leaders and that the school board asked her to reapply.  The district hired her the same year she married Richard.

Letts died in Chicago on February 1, 2021.

Sources :

MIIngham-L Archives (2009), courtesy of RootsWeb.

Stacey Range. “Lansing’s First Black Teacher Recalls Integration.” Lansing State Journal, February 18, 2006.

Sarah Lehr, “Lansing’s 1st Black teacher dies at 93”, Lansing State Journal, February 3, 2021.

1970 : Michigan State University Students Strike Over Vietnam
May 20 all-day

When Michigan State University students decided to skip classes and strike over the war in Vietnam (May 7-20, 1970), MSU President Clifton Wharton and Governor Milliken did their best to avoid a repeat of the Kent State University fiasco when four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard. Although the students occupied many buildings on campus, and at one point it was estimated that 15% of the student body was skipping classes, as long as other students were allowed to attend classes, there were no repercussions until May 20th, when President Wharton called in State Police to arrest 127 students, ending the strike.

Sources :

Michigan Every Day

MSU Library Special Collections American Radicalism Vertical File

Anti-Vietnam War Sentiments at MSU, From On the Banks of the Red Cedar

2005 : First Highway Accident Ever on M185
May 20 all-day

It took 107 years, but it happened. In 2005, a fire truck utility door was damaged when it maneuvered too closely to the open door of an ambulance and clipped it. Nobody was hurt, as long as you don’t consider the collective human spirit, which surely was crestfallen when people managed to defeat absurdly massive odds and engender the least likely car crash in history. If you enjoy mangling statistics for sensationalist results, one could consider Mackinac one of the most dangerous places in the country to drive, when you consider how many accidents have occurred per vehicle on the island.

Sources:

M-185 wikipedia entry.

John Serba, “A guide to Michigan’s M-185, the only U.S. highway where cars are banned“, MLive, March 30, 2018.

While responding to the accident, a “pretty minor incident” occurred between a Mackinac Island ambulance and a Mackinac Island fire truck, according to Fire Chief Dennis Bradley. When maneuvering around the parked ambulance, which had one of its doors open, one of the fire truck’s utility doors hit the open door of the ambulance, causing minor damage to the door of the fire truck.

Cause of Ferry Injuries Under Investigation“, Mackinac Island Town Crier, May 20, 2005.

2020 : Tittabawassee and Rifle River Flooding
May 20 all-day

Above: An aerial view of floodwaters flowing from the Tittabawassee River into the lower part of downtown Midland on May 20, 2020 in Midland, Michigan.

Heavy rains over the last few days doused Michigan, prompting flood warnings along rivers across the state and forcing some residents to evacuate their homes and navigate waterlogged roads.

At least two rivers in mid-Michigan — the Tittabawassee River in Midland and the Rifle River near Sterling — had reached their major flood stage Tuesday afternoon. Moderate flooding has been observed at a handful of other rivers in mid-Michigan as well as the west and southwest portions of the state, according to the National Weather Service.

Two overflowing dams — Edenville and Sanford — in the center of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula amid days of rain has forced the evacuation of about 10,000 and caused massive flooding, which the governor said could put Midland under 9 feet of water.

As of Wednesday morning, the Tittabawasse River hit a historic high, rising above its previous record in 1986, and reaching 34.6 feet. Major flood stage is 28 feet. By the end of the day, the National Weather Service forecasted it would be at 38 feet.

As many as 10,000 people have been forced to evacuate.

Media reports had called Midland’s flooding in 1986, which caused extensive damage to agriculture and destroyed homes, “the worst natural disaster in the state’s modern history.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has declared a state of emergency for Midland County, saying parts of the city of Midland, the village of Sanford, Edenville Township, and Dow Chemical had been or were being evacuated.

Sources:

Frank Witsil, “Mid-Michigan flooding after Edenville, Sanford dam failures: Everything we know“, Detroit Free Press, May 20, 2020.

Frank Witsil, “Mid-Michigan flooding tops 1986 disaster, the state’s worst in modern history“, Detroit Free Press, May 20, 2020.

 

May
21
Tue
1834 : Detroit Installs First Streetlights
May 21 all-day

On May 21st, 1834 Detroit’s first streetlights were introduced lighting up Jefferson from Cass Ave. to Randolph st. The estimated cost as follows:

20 lamps including posts: $5
3 quarts of sperm whale oil per night: $.75
Total cost per year: $262.50

Source: Detroit History Tours and Detroit History Club Facebook Page

1891 : Dickinson County Established
May 21 all-day

On May 21, 1891, Michigan’s final county was established in the Upper Peninsula.

Dickinson County was established by an act of the legislature and was named after Donald Dickinson, a Detroiter who served as postmaster general in the President Grover Cleveland administration.

Source: Michigan Every Day