AADL Productions Podcast: Grace Shackman
Wed, 06/24/2009 - 1:05pm
When: June 24, 2009
AADL talks with local historian, author and teacher, Grace Shackman, about how Ann Arbor has changed over the years. Throughout the discussion, Grace looks back at articles she's written; how she got her start writing about Ann Arbor history; the importance of preserving local landmarks; and her memories of early Ann Arbor art fairs. Over 130 of Grace's articles are featured in Ann Arbor Observer: Then & Now, a new website with full text searching and browsing access to articles on local history from the Ann Arbor Observer.
- [00:00:04.30] AMY: Hi, this is Amy.
- [00:00:05.51] ANDREW: And this is Andrew, and you're listening to the AADL production's podcast.
- [00:00:10.99] AMY: Today we're speaking with writer and Ann Arbor historian Grace Shackman. Grace teaches local history at Washtenaw Community College. She's written articles for the Ann Arbor Observer, the Old West Side News, and other area publications for over 30 years. She's also written several books on local history, including Ann Arbor Observed: Selections From Then and Now, featuring articles from the Observer. These and over 100 other local history articles are now available online at aadl.org/aaobserver.
- [00:00:41.65] ANDREW: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started writing local history articles and writing for the Observer, in particular.?
- [00:00:48.24] GRACE SHACKMAN: Yes I started writing for the Old West Side News just because I was living in The Old West Side and I remember very distinctly a day when I was outside with my kids, when they were the age where you had to be outside when they were outside, and I was telling some friends about the guy across the street telling me that he remembered when he had to get water at the corner of Crest and Liberty, and how the street was a dirt street and there were flowers growing in the middle.
- [00:01:15.76] I just said, isn't this interesting that Mr. Bauer told me this stuff, and they were saying, you should write for the Old West Side News. I went to a meeting, and they got me writing. What was so interesting was, right away, I got so much feedback from young people interested, but also older people calling me up and saying, well, my dad had a dairy. Did you know there used to be a school where they taught in German? Things like that.
- [00:01:47.44] Or younger people saying, well how come Bach school's named Bach school? I mean there was just this tremendous interest, and it seems like from the very first, I never ran out of ideas. Because people were always asking me questions or giving me great lead.
- [00:02:01.60] Then when I got going with this, people were also saying, you should be writing for the Observer. This is the kind of stuff they have. And Mary Hunt, one of the founders if the Observer, was really interested in local history, too. I remember one day getting up all my nerve and calling them up. That's how that's started. I started writing articles for them, and the rest is history, as they say.
- [00:02:30.74] AMY: Over the years you've written about many, many different topics. What stands out as one of that most interesting discoveries that you made?
- [00:02:40.44] GRACE SHACKMAN: Articles that I really, really like are things like, I find I really like architecture. I love the article I was able to write about the -- I mean I think it was a real good experience to be able to write about the Frank Lloyd Wright house. And another thing that stands out is something I really like doing, was the underground railroad. I just learned so much from that. It's so much fun when these things that you know on a national level, discover that it happened right here. And with landmarks that are right around here.
- [00:03:10.23] AMY: I particularly like the underground railroad.
- [00:03:11.29] GRACE SHACKMAN: Yeah, and things that make sense. Like the underground railroad, I noticed that African American people I knew, if they came from Canada, they were proud of it. Our family came from Canada. And it began to make sense that it was because they escaped to Canada. And that was cool.
- [00:03:30.77] ANDREW: Do you still get suggestions from people? Do people still call you up and say, what about this, what about that?
- [00:03:35.44] GRACE SHACKMAN: Yes, I have a list so long you wouldn't believe it.
- [00:03:37.53] ANDREW: Really?
- [00:03:38.30] GRACE SHACKMAN: Oh, yes.
- [00:03:39.57] AMY: So what can we expect to see you write about soon?
- [00:03:41.88] GRACE SHACKMAN: Well, I've got to have a good discussion with John, but yeah, I always have things that I want to do. And my classes, too, feed into it now that I've been teaching at Washtenaw for about 10 years. And my students often have ideas. One time in a class I had Peg Canham, the widow of Canham, Don Canham who was the athletic director, and she was working on cleaning the cemetery where he was buried. And then it turned out Gerald O'Connor was buried in the same cemetery, and Margaret and Peg were friends, so that ended up to be kind of a fun article about how they were restoring the cemetery.
- [00:04:24.19] Everything sort of, the two go together.
- [00:04:28.89] AMY: Right. We're putting together this online version, there's, I think, last count was over 130 articles in total, from the book, Ann Arbor Observed, as well as from older editions of the Ann Arbor Observer. I'm curious, for somebody coming upon all of these articles for the first time, browsing through, or searching through, what do you hope that they'll discover? What do you hope that they'll experience?
- [00:04:58.55] GRACE SHACKMAN: Somebody once said to me at a party, what he liked about my article is it made Ann Arbor seem as interesting as New England, that we had a lot of history.
- [00:05:09.81] AMY: We do, don't we?
- [00:05:10.53] GRACE SHACKMAN: Yeah. We do, it turns out we do. We think of the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Bunker Hill, but yeah, we have our own version of everything.
- [00:05:20.37] ANDREW: How has Ann Arbor's view of its history changed over the time that you've been writing?
- [00:05:25.42] GRACE SHACKMAN: I think people are more aware of the history, and it's gotten to be a much more diverse community. So people are interested in that. Actually, you should ask me the question going further back, because I get the idea of people growing up in Ann Arbor, older people, 80s, 90s, that it used to be a very divided -- west side was working people, the east side was University people, and maybe a few lawyers and doctors.
- [00:06:00.51] And now everybody is more mixed up. I think it's part of the 30 year thing is, after you graduated from U of M, if you didn't get a job at the University, there really wasn't anything for you to do. But now there are all these companies, that are technical companies, at colleges, computer type companies that people get jobs, and there aren't really so many factories at all. The people who are connected to the University have a similar educational level, so everybody gets along. I remember talking to somebody who'd grown up in my neighborhood, in the Old West Side, saying if we went on campus it was like sightseeing. It's much more diverse.
- [00:06:43.57] when I was first here as a young mother and wife, the most exotic restaurants in town were the Old German and Leo Ping, a Chinese restaurant. Now we have this explosion of restaurants. Yeah, it's been a huge change over the last 30 years, and even more 50 or 100.
- [00:07:03.73] ANDREW: Is writing about early Ann Arbor almost like writing about two different towns that were connected, but different places entirely?
- [00:07:11.22] GRACE SHACKMAN: Exactly, it certainly is. Right. When I first started writing in the Old West Side News, it was about the working people, all these Germans who came and were trained in apprenticeships on carpentry and masonry and tanning and all that stuff. When I started writing for the Observer, then I was writing for all the town. When you do stories about people on the other side of town, they were doctors, or they were like wonderful architecture, the Old West Side is more vernacular architecture, but then you go over to the other side and you get these wonderful architect designed houses, real interesting stuff that way. And the University has a fascinating history. I could write a lot more about the University, too.
- [00:07:58.94] AMY: Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the restaurants and the local social hang outs around Courthouse Square.
- [00:08:09.31] GRACE SHACKMAN: That's a trend that's much more than 30 years, but where all the businesses were right around the Courthouse Square, and now they've all moved south. And certainly it's been a big change, all the stores aren't stores anymore, they're all restaurants. I wrote a lot of articles about specific businesses, where they were second and, three and four generations. Like Fiegel's Menswear. It's not there anymore. Or Ehnis & Son, where they started as a harness store, and then when horses went out, then they started just selling farm clothes. Then in the 70s, when hippies started wearing painter pants, they started getting people coming down from the University.
- [00:09:01.92] A real rich source was these people who were in the same business for not just their whole life, and I'd be talking to them when they were fairly old, but their father or grandfather. So they just had enormous history and old pictures and everything. All that's gone. It's feels like I'm glad I caught what I did, but I wish I'd caught even more.
- [00:09:24.51] The Ann Arbor Art Association was a carriage factory.
- [00:09:28.08] AMY: Walker Carriage.
- [00:09:29.74] GRACE SHACKMAN: And then in the 80's, I found the guy who's father had been one of the owners. It was Walker and Braun, the German spelling of Braun, B-R-A-U-N. I found a Braun who remembered it from a childhood, because he'd been in there when he was a kid. He said, oh yeah, they had a carpentry shop where they made the things, and then an upholstery shop where they made the seats, and a blacksmith shop where they did the wheels.
- [00:09:58.25] He knew the whole process and he could tell me from memory. Every time somebody came and ordered a carriage it was done specifically to their specifications, it wasn't a production line thing at all.
- [00:10:13.54] ANDREW: Your articles are really peppered with those people who have memories of specific instances, who remember them. How do you find those people?
- [00:10:22.15] GRACE SHACKMAN: That's the thing, I love it when I find those people. That's my theory, that what makes a good articles is to have it grounded on real facts, dates and stuff. But if you read an article this just those kind of facts, you go to sleep. You gotta have people tell you -- you gotta have the facts to make it authentic and all that, but it's the people that make it meaningful.
- [00:10:47.19] The question you're really asking yourself is not, what year did this store open? You're asking yourself, what was it like to run this kind of store? What was the stuff in it? What was the feeling of people going into that store?
- [00:11:02.12] AMY: One of the articles you wrote was on the little history of the Ann Arbor Art Fairs, and, as you know, their 50th anniversary is coming right up. And I'm just wondering if you have any specific recollections of Art Fairs that you had witnessed?
- [00:11:18.68] GRACE SHACKMAN: Oh I still remember going. I worked at Perry Nursery School, which was then on Washtenaw, so we had this secret parking place. It was hard to park near there, but still you could do it. It was just those couple blocks long and you ran into everybody you knew. Now you don't see anyone you know.
- [00:11:38.61] Then I remember walking with my kids, fast forward when I wasn't working at the nursery school, but I was a young mother, and walking downtown with my kids to do a volunteer thing at one of the political booths. But I remember I was walking with them, and we were noticing all the licenses on the car, something you'll do with your boy, oh look there's Oregon, there's California. Now we're used to that idea, too, that people come from all over the country. Then it was a surprise. Wow, look at all these people coming from so far away.
- [00:12:12.55] AMY: Where you here then, not right when it first started, in the mid-70's then was when you first got here?
- [00:12:19.18] GRACE SHACKMAN: No, I was in school in the 60's. I do remember. I even remember when it started, or early on anyway.
- [00:12:29.50] SPEAKER: What's up with the fish?
- [00:12:31.75] GRACE SHACKMAN: The fish?
- [00:12:32.77] SPEAKER: They're everywhere, and I have no idea what the fish means.
- [00:12:36.66] GRACE SHACKMAN: That's a good example of people thinking I know everything, and I have no idea.
- [00:12:41.16] ANDREW: I actually know the answer to that one.
- [00:12:43.69] SPEAKER: I was looking for an answer, I don't really care who it came from.
- [00:12:44.32] ANDREW: The fish is, when they were first putting on the Art Fair, I can't remember his name, one of the people who was putting on the Art Fair had a whole bunch of these Japanese fish that he just couldn't get rid of. He had nothing to do with them. So he said, we'll hang these all over the place, and we'll make it into our logo.
- [00:13:02.75] AMY: Wasn't it on South U?
- [00:13:06.20] GRACE SHACKMAN: There was a really nice gift shop, it's not coming to me, it was on this side there was John Leidy's, on that side there was that one. It was run by two guys.
- [00:13:18.23] AMY: You mean on Liberty?
- [00:13:19.17] GRACE SHACKMAN: No on South U. And they were the Artisans. And so was he the one that had the fish?
- [00:13:27.37] ANDREW: Yep. Just had to do something with them.
- [00:13:32.37] SPEAKER: Great idea.
- [00:13:33.13] GRACE SHACKMAN: They talked about how they strung cords from parking meters to hang stuff up, and how they put things in the stores at night to keep them safe, so they didn't have to lug them back and forth every day.
- [00:13:48.54] ANDREW: It was a pretty low budget operation.
- [00:13:52.26] AMY: Whatever to get it going.
- [00:13:54.52] SPEAKER: There was just the display downstairs. Everything has fish, whether it be the Japanese fish windsocks, the brochures had fish on them, and I was just talking about it with a historian, this is the chance to get that answer.
- [00:14:08.73] ANDREW: You don't think about Ann Arbor as a fish town.
- [00:14:10.84] GRACE SHACKMAN: We don't fish. We do have a river, but yeah.
- [00:14:17.11] ANDREW: It is bizarre to look at, it's only been 50 years, but where that started and what it is now. I realize 50 years is sort of a long time, but when you consider that it's something that goes up for three or four days, once a year. I mean the number of days that the Art Fair has been open, when you look at that first one compared to what it is, the international thing that it is. It's sort of astounding.
- [00:14:40.71] GRACE SHACKMAN: Two, if you look at the history, it makes sense that it would started at South U, but then it makes sense that it would leave South U, because South U used to be a real cultural center, like that store Artisans is where you'd go for wedding gifts. And there was a campus theatre there, and that was where you lined up to see a Fellini movie or a Bergman movie. And now that's a mall or something.
- [00:15:03.33] AMY: I saw Dune there. Right before it closed, in the 80's.
- [00:15:11.52] GRACE SHACKMAN: But now it's just the student-y sort of stores, right? I mean townsfolk don't even go over there very much.
- [00:15:19.22] ANDREW: Have there been any neighborhoods that have retained a lot of their texture and feel over the last 100 years.
- [00:15:27.27] GRACE SHACKMAN: I think it's really interesting the Old West Side, it's not the German working people. I don't even think there was a time when if there was an old person in the neighborhood, that person would be German. But now it's young families moving in, and it's a whole mix. When we moved in, it seemed like it was changing a bit. There were a lot of public school teachers there, because they can afford to live there. Now we have gas professors and lawyers.
- [00:15:55.68] But they self-select for people who want a down to earth, normal neighborhood. Where can kids can walk to school and all that.
- [00:16:04.03] I think it's really interesting how neighborhoods are important to people in Ann Arbor, the old fourth ward is an attempt to try to be more of a neighborhood, and not just a student ghetto. And I hope they manage with this Germantown area -- there's a developer that wants to do a big development over there, but if they can stop him.
- [00:16:25.04] The nice thing about Ann Arbor is you have this downtown, but then you just go a block away and you get to a nice neighborhood.
- [00:16:34.91] AMY: Along those same lines, being a champion of local history, is there something currently that is being discussed, aside from this that you just mentioned, anything currently being talked about changing that you would like to see stay the same? Or be preserved?
- [00:16:55.69] GRACE SHACKMAN: It's a real interesting dichotomy, that you don't really want to go back to what I said about having only two ethnic restaurants, and the town polarized. That wasn't so good. But there's gotta be some way to keep this such an interesting place, but still down to earth place, that has neighborhoods and has friendships and has a real cohesion to it. So that's sort of the -- what's the word, the frisson.
- [00:17:29.04] I'm not against having some taller buildings downtown, but I don't want them out of downtown.
- [00:17:37.90] ANDREW: I'm a very recent transplant to Ann Arbor, I've lived here under five years, but right now is a very strange time because the things that even new people know as established things in Ann Arbor, some of them are starting to go and some of them are starting to change. You see the condos going up, places like Shaman Drum closing up -- GRACE SHACKMAN: That's so sad.
- [00:17:58.13] ANDREW: It's strange to be in a place -- even the addition that they're putting onto City Hall. It's sort of strange to still consider yourself, in a way, new in a place but then be looking around and saying, things are changing and I'm not crazy about it.
- [00:18:11.45] GRACE SHACKMAN: That's the push there, and people have strong opinions. And they don't seem any better here than anywhere else able to mediate them. I mean, there are things, of course, there's some things where one side wins and one side loses. But there a lot of things like that you could come to an agreement if people would do that.
- [00:18:35.18] ANDREW: I'm sure 100 years ago it wasn't really any different, and that people weren't too happy with the changes that were going on in town.
- [00:18:42.94] GRACE SHACKMAN: I get the feel, even the time when I first was interested in politics and stuff, that there was more like a ruling elite. At least we don't have that anymore, it's a wider discussion and more people feeling empowered. I was in politics for awhile, I was a county commissioner, and older women who were in politics told me when they were in politics, this is maybe the 50's, when women didn't work but they were, of course, just as smart a men. What they would do is they would find some figure head man, like maybe a professor, to run for an office, and then they would do all the work. They would do all the research, write the position papers, write the brochure, tell them what to say at the debates.
- [00:19:28.62] AMY: Have you written about any of these women? C'mon, Grace. We want to know.
- [00:19:32.94] GRACE SHACKMAN: That's why I'll never run out of ideas, because there's always more. The trouble with all of this, it gets more interesting after almost everybody's gone somehow.
- [00:19:42.60] AMY: It's a lot easier.
- [00:19:45.79] GRACE SHACKMAN: You don't think about writing about ranch houses. So pretty soon, everybody who designed ranch houses will soon be gone. That kind of thing. It's not like a decision you make, it just happens.
- [00:20:02.69] AMY: Have you ever written about anything that was a controversial landmark, or something of the sort that your taking a position on it that made a difference, that changed the views?
- [00:20:17.57] GRACE SHACKMAN: I've been told that the writing about things has made people want to save things more. Are more interested in preservation. I did, this wasn't for the Observer, I did an article for Old West Side News, about the student publications building. Because it was designed by a good architect -- two brothers, Pond and Pond. A friend of mine, who was the one who gave me the access, he and his fund raiser got really into fixing it up authentically. They said they probably wouldn't have if I hadn't written about it, so that made me feel good.
- [00:20:56.86] I wrote about Avalon Housing once, and pleased that I could do that because I'm a big fan of Avalon Housing. But I hope, in a general way, not just specific issues, but just a general view I hope comes through, that everything is important or that all ranks of society are important. I like being able to write about some of the working class people who might not think they're making history, but the kind of work they did was real interesting. Not just write about George Washington, or whatever.
- [00:21:34.47] ANDREW: You can read all of Grace's articles on Ann Arbor history from the Ann Arbor Observer online at aadl.org/aaobserver.
- [00:21:43.81] AMY: You've been listening to the AADL production's podcast.
June 24, 2009
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
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