In 2024, Ann Arbor will celebrate its bicentennial year, the 200th anniversary of its founding. To mark this occasion, the Ann Arbor District Library is undertaking a project called Ann Arbor 200.
Over the course of 2024, there will be 200 digital content releases that explore topics from Ann Arbor's history. Some created by Library staff, some commissioned from artists and filmmakers and writers around the community, and some (we hope) created through partnerships with organizations throughout the city. Some will be informative, some will be whimsical, some will be experimental. The ways we explore these topics—articles, documentaries, podcasts, illustrations, music recordings, animations—will hopefully be as varied as the topics we explore.
Ann Arbor 200 could never be a complete portrait of the city, but we can attempt to tell some of the stories and explore some of the histories that are meaningful to us, the people who are here at Ann Arbor's 200th. Hopefully we can create something about who we were for our own time and something about who we are for those in the future looking back.
Steve Adams was born, raised -- and still lives -- in Ann Arbor, and he can trace his family's local roots back to the Civil War. In this episode, Steve recalls growing up in the historic Black neighborhood near Mack Elementary School, and a progressive teacher at that time, Allene Green, whom he credits with having a major influence on his life. Steve recounts his connection to several iconic Ann Arbor institutions: Pioneer High School during the school's division into Ann Arbor's second high school, Huron High; the Del Rio restaurant and other local music clubs and venues; the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festivals; and, in particular, Border's Book Shop, where he worked for 32 years, from 1974-2006.
Turn of the century newspaper accounts paint a vibrant portrait of Charles Henry Shoeman: "utopian high class entertainer", "colored poet of Ann Arbor", "barber", "the youngest Afro-American writer in Michigan", "photographer", "the excellency of his verses", "student", "humorist", "assisted by his colored boys quartette", "author of an interesting books of poems", "lecturer", "elocutionary entertainment".
His anthology A Dream And Other Poems was published in Ann Arbor in 1899. The following year, a second edition was published. His writing made national news and he toured the United States and Europe, entertaining crowds with his words. By 1910, he had disappeared.
Charles Henry Shoeman appears in various lists of African American authors, anthologies of Black American writers, and collections of African American poetry, but biographical information is always missing. In February 1970, Ann Arbor News writer/photographer Doug Fulton highlighted the obscure poet with his article "Negro History Week Query: Who Was Charles Shoeman?". Frustrated with few answers, Fulton closed his article by declaring "The mystery cries out for solution, but we can only ask the question."
Revisiting the mystery in February 2024 has unearthed more of this unique young man's story. Assisted by the digitization of countless old newspapers and primary documents, a narrative of great talent and tragedy has emerged.
Charles James (C. J.) Shoeman, his father, was born around 1849 near Palmyra, Missouri. C. J.'s mother was an enslaved person but his father a free man. C. J.'s sister, Lydia, was sold and taken to New Orleans. C. J.'s father connected himself with the Underground Railroad and led many enslaved people to freedom in Canada, including his own family. C. J., his mother, and remaining siblings were ferried across the Mississippi River by rowboat. C. J.'s father carried him all the way to Canada on his back. After the end of the Civil War, C. J. moved to Goshen, Indiana where he opened a barber shop.
Epsie Lewis, his mother, was born July 1851 in Kentucky. By 1870 she had relocated to Porter Township, Van Buren County, Michigan, with her parents and several of her siblings.
In November 1875, C. J. Shoeman married Epsie Lewis in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
EARLY LIFE - INDIANA
Charles Henry Shoeman's story began in Goshen, Indiana. He was born May 29, 1876 to C. J. & Epsie Shoeman. His middle name honored his maternal grandfather, Henry Lewis.
When Charles Henry Shoeman was less than a year old, his father, C. J. Shoeman, moved his barber shop into a space on the Kindig Block of Main Street in Goshen.
Lewis H., a second son, was born to Epsie & C. J. Shoeman in Goshen, April 1879. In the early 1880s, C. J. began studying the practice of law. He moved his family north to New Carlisle, St. Joseph County, Indiana, where he worked as both an attorney and a barber. In November 1889, C. J. owned a building in New Carlisle, and had a barber business in the basement.
STUDENT, BARBER, POET - ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN
Around 1894 the Shoeman family relocated to Washtenaw County, Michigan. C. J. worked in the barber shop of Homer Fish in Saline until 1897. In 1896, Epsie opened a business of her own, which was the first beauty parlor for women and children in Saline.
In 1898, the Shoeman family surfaced in the Ann Arbor City Directory. They lived in a home on Main Street, between Felch Street & Summit Street. C. J. had a barber shop listed on East Huron, between Main Street and 4th Avenue.
Charles Henry Shoeman stepped into the limelight when he was 23 years old. In 1899, local bookstore owner & publisher George Wahr published Shoeman's A Dream And Other Poems. The following year a second edition was published, with an additional 22 poems included.
An April 1900 review in the Detroit News-Tribune shed light on the young author: "Young Shoeman was born in Goshen, Ind., and has lived in Ann Arbor about six years. Here he attends high school and supports himself by working in a barber shop during his spare hours. In appearance he is of medium height, with a frank, pleasant face and easy bearing. He says that the reason he began to write rhymes was because he couldn't help it, and adds that his aim is to do something for his own race by means of his verse."
Inside the first pages of his anthology, a photo of Charles Henry Shoeman greets the reader. A sharply dressed young black man sports a crisp white high collar, his signature below with an elegant flourish. This image, along with his poetry, quickly spread across the United States. Reviews were positive, and the Detroit Informer went as far to offer a copy of Shoeman's book to new subscribers of their newspaper: "Do not fail to get a copy of this book, which is from the pen of the youngest Afro-American writer in Michigan."
A DREAM AND OTHER POEMS
The poems in this anthology are traditional narratives written in Standard American English, along with looser, more lyrical verses, written in African-American Vernacular English. One piece, simply titled 'Lydia', is the true story of his aunt, taken by an enslaver to New Orleans. Shoeman vividly describes the grief felt by his family, and their lifelong, fruitless search for Lydia.
I am hunting with this poem
Hoping that she may still read,
That she's not forgotten, Lydia,
May it to her loved ones lead.
One of the most popular poems in Shoeman's book was an ode to American orator Robert Green Ingersoll. Nicknamed 'The Great Agnostic,' Ingersoll was, among other things, friends with Frederick Douglass and an outspoken abolitionist. Scathing criticism of slavery could be found in many of his speeches, and Shoeman's own works echoed the sentiments of Ingersoll.
AN ODE TO INGERSOLL
O'er a life we could not fathom
O'er a soul far more obscure,
Dropped life's curtain, vaguely leaving
All behind still dark, secure.
Though a skeptic in his teaching,
With beliefs not like our own,
Let us judge not, lest a failure -
All shall reap as they have sown.
Though expounders grave with wisdom
Judge and think they know the heart,
We are mortals, often skeptic,
With beliefs too far apart.
And our lives in world; in secret,
Tell two tales to each unknown,
But our Judge, with mighty wisdom,
Holds them safely, all His own.
Mortal man is weak and wayward,
No one knows all truths within,
And in thinking, speak not harshly,
Lest with you there be the sin.
Far behind death's gloomy shadow,
Down that way we all must go.
Speak not harshly, speak not harshly,
We do not know, we do not know.
Included in both editions of his book was 'Keeps A-Sawin' Wood', written in African American Vernacular English.
KEEPS A SAWIN' WOOD
Ef day calls yo' cracked and crazy,
Keep right on a-sawin' wood,
Kos day nebber does git je'lous,
When yo' haint no good.
Ef day says yo' is big headed,
Kos yo' acts a gentleman,
Show dem dat yo' would befrien' 'um,
But keep sawin' all yo' can.
Some will try to take your woodpile,
When yo's sawed a lot ob wood.
Try toe lie an' get position
In de berry place yo's stood.
Some will try to 'buse a neighbor,
Kos he's sawed mo' wood dan day,
An' day allus git de hoo do,
An' despisin' fo' dar pay.
When day sees dat yo' is sawin',
An' how folks respect yo' name,
Day will quit dar pesty jawin',
An' will turn an' do de same.
Fo' dis worl' am full ob sawyers,
Men dey nebber can keep down;
Do day smote dem day will rise up,
Mid dar curses an dar frown.
Set a 'zample do yo's crazy,
Keep right on a sawin' wood,
Kos day nebber does git je'lous,
When yo' haint no good.
RISE AND FALL
Charles Henry Shoeman copyrighted a dramatic composition in April 1901, Elixir of Life. 1901 was a high point in Shoeman's career, and he was actively touring, lecturing, and entertaining. He spoke at universities, political events, high schools, Black American organizations, major city events, etc. across several states. He was very active in Ann Arbor's newly formed Colored Republican Club, where he served as vice president. On December 5, 1901, an article in The Chelsea Standard reported: "Charles H. Shoeman, Ann Arbor's colored poet, has found an 'angel' who will back him for a tour in England and already eleven engagements have been secured. Mr. Shoeman expects to leave about the first of February." Charles Henry Shoeman gave a final lecture at the University of Michigan's Newberry Hall, and left for England soon after. The identity of Shoeman's "angel" remains unknown.
From 1902 to 1906, he was overseas. It is assumed that he toured, giving performances and readings of his work. During his time away, in October 1905, his mother died of kidney disease. In October 1906, local newspapers reported the return of Charles Henry Shoeman to Ann Arbor. Soon after, Shoeman's life took an unexpected turn when the Ann Arbor Daily Argus published an article titled "A Poet's Finish".
It was reported that Charles "talks and laughs to himself, threatens to kill anyone who offers him meat and takes great delight in burning papers and books. He also says he can talk with his mother, who is dead." Based on this article, and similar accounts, Charles Henry Shoeman was experiencing a mental health crisis. His father filed paperwork to have him declared insane and sent to Pontiac.
Being 'sent to Pontiac' at this time in Michigan's history referred to the Eastern Michigan Asylum for the Insane, later known as Pontiac State Hospital. Details of Charles Henry Shoeman's stay at this facility are unknown, although it must have been brief as he never went missing from the Ann Arbor City Directory.
FROM POETRY TO PHOTOGRAPHY
1908 was a year of change for the Shoeman family. The Ann Arbor city directory shows Charles Henry as 'photographer', living with his father and brother on Main Street.
It was during 1908 that C. J. Shoeman shuttered his barber shop and moved to Canada. Drawn by the offer of free land, he applied for a homestead in Saskatchewan. Doing so included a commitment to become a British citizen, and he never lived in the United States again.
Charles Henry Shoeman moved north and appeared in the 1910 federal census as Charles H. Shuman, living on Main Street in Frankfort, Michigan. He is listed as a photographer employed in a gallery. How he found himself in northern Michigan is unknown. The only other person of color listed in Frankfort in the 1910 census was Lim Bach, a Chinese laundry owner, who happened to live in the same building as Charles Henry.
C. J. Shoeman died in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada on May 2, 1917. His will refers to his children, Lewis living in Detroit, and Charles Henry, living in Traverse City, Michigan.
Efforts to locate Charles Henry Shoeman in the 1920 federal census have not been successful. He reappeared in the 1930 federal census as Charles Schuman, a patient at the State Hospital For The Insane in Traverse City, Michigan.
Charles Henry Shoeman died from pulmonary tuberculosis on November 17, 1939 in the Traverse City State Hospital, Traverse City, Michigan. He was 63 years old. His death certificate, under the name Charles Schuman, notes his 1876 birth in Goshen, Indiana. It shows his home residence as South Frankfort, Michigan, for the past 27 years, 9 months, and 8 days. He is noted as a "single", "colored", "photographer", and that his remains will be sent to Ann Arbor.
Three days later he was buried in the Shoeman family plot in Ann Arbor's Fairview Cemetery with his mother. Lewis, his brother, died in Kalamazoo, Michigan on May 21, 1942. He was also buried in the Shoeman family plot. Neither Charles Henry nor Lewis have individual grave markers. C. J. Shoeman, their father, has an individual grave marker in the family plot with no date of death, a hint to the fact that his body actually rests in Saskatchewan, Canada.
If you find yourself in Ann Arbor's Fairview Cemetery, keep an eye out for the reddish-orange granite Shoeman stone, shaped like a piece of toast. Here, in the city's first racially integrated cemetery, rests Charles Henry Shoeman, with his mother, brother, and many other beloved Black American community members.
FINAL THOUGHTS - THE MICHIGAN DUNBAR?
Examining the life and work of Charles Henry Shoeman, it's difficult to overlook the similarities to the life and work of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Both were Black American men born in the 1870s to formerly enslaved parents. Both were raised in the midwest with natural gifts for writing. Both published work, gained fame as poets, and toured the country to share their thoughts on the hopes and burdens of the Black community. Both had careers that were tragically cut short. Both even died of tuberculosis. A 1901 article in the Grand Rapids Press, titled "The Michigan Dunbar", went so far as to declare Shoeman the Paul Laurence Dunbar of Michigan.
Dunbar's legacy inspired many Black American literary giants - Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, & Zora Neale Hurston, to name a few - and it's hard not to wonder if Charles Henry Shoeman could have reached similar success. The Dunbar Center, a prominent Black community organization in Ann Arbor's history, was named for Paul Laurence Dunbar. Savonia Lewis Carson, Charles Henry Shoeman's aunt, served as the first executive secretary of the Dunbar Center. Did she see the similarities between her nephew and Paul Laurence Dunbar? We can only speculate.
In Theater for All: Here Comes Wild Swan!, Wild Swan Theater co-founders and directors Hilary Cohen and Sandy Ryder take us through the history of the all-ages theater from Ann Arbor that created performances and classes for over 40 years. Director Toko Shiiki uses historical images, articles, and performance films to showcase an organization that was an integral part of the local cultural landscape, performing for over 1 million theatergoers since 1980.
Author and former Ann Arbor policeman Peter Stipe recounts his journey from being a wayward youth growing up in countercultural Ann Arbor to becoming the most decorated member of the Ann Arbor Police Department. Peter shares memories of his time with the AAPD, including harrowing encounters on emergency calls and the many people and events that helped shape his career. Peter also shares his love of local history and discusses the changes he's seen in the city over the years.
Peter's story is detailed in his 2021 memoir, Badge 112.
You can read and view historical photos about Peter Stipe and the Ann Arbor Police Department, or read other histories of the Ann Arbor Police Department.
Single and looking for your soulmate? Ann Arbor's history is full of promised solutions. Throughout the city's two centuries the search for a partner has spurred advice, entrepreneurship, and advertisements. This look back at courtship reflects on how dating has changed and the many ways it has stayed the same.
As part of Ann Arbor 200, the Ann Arbor District Library and 7 Cylinders Studio (7CS) have produced a documentary film about the closing of Ann Arbor's Jones School. In 1965, the Board of Education closed the majority-Black school. Ann Arbor joined a nationwide trend of school desegregation during the Civil Rights Era. But for these young students, the loss of a neighborhood school foreshadowed changes to their close-knit community. Gentrification came to Ann Arbor on the heels of desegregation.
In the making of this film, 7CS filmmakers and AADL archivists interviewed over thirty former Jones students and Black community leaders. They shared memories of Jones School and "The Old Neighborhood"—the areas now known as Kerrytown and Water Hill. A filmed walking tour, studio interviews, and historical photos form the core of the film. Run time is approximately 40 minutes.
The AADL Archives has many additional materials to explore relating to these topics, including a history of Jones School and dozens of Ann Arbor News articles that appear in the film:
In this episode, Karen Jania, president of the Washtenaw County Historical Society (WCHS), discusses her career in archives and museums. In addition to discussing her work at the WCHS, Karen talks about her long career as head of reference at the Bentley Historical Library, including the many changes in archives work that she witnessed during her tenure, the colleagues who nurtured her through her career, and some of the Bentley's unique collections.
In this episode, Dave and Linda Siglin talk about the history of Ann Arbor's beloved folk venue, The Ark, from its humble origins in a house on Hill Street to its thriving location at 316 S. Main Street. Dave and Linda reminisce about some of the famous national and regional talent that has played the venue; the evolution of the business; changes within the folk music industry; and the Ark's signature fundraising event, the Ann Arbor Folk Festival.
In this day and age, when most townies head to Detroit Metro Airport to travel by commercial airplane, it's easy to overlook our own small airfield. In the 1920s--"The Golden Age of Aviation"--Ann Arbor Municipal Airport (ARB/KARB) was front page news. In October of 1928, many well-dressed men and women gathered together on the far edge of our town to celebrate this great achievement. Popping champagne would have been appropriate, if not for prohibition. This was a story of progress, a source of local pride, the scene of many ladies in cloche hats, and a few gentlemen sporting leather aviator caps with large earflaps.
1925 - A Flying Field?
With major advancements in aviation, many airports surfaced across the state of Michigan in the 1920s. On July 2, 1925, an Ann Arbor Times News editorial declared "A flying field, with all the modern conveniences for aviators, is being discussed unofficially in official circles of Ann Arbor...No community of any size will want to be without a landing place within a decade or less." The idea of a local airport was appealing, but ultimately went dormant for a year.
1926 - Steere's Farm Is Suitable
In July of 1926, the Ann Arbor Park Commission launched a serious push for a local airport, and turned their attention to nearly 300 acres in Pittsfield Township. Just south of Ann Arbor, stretched across State Street, this land was already owned by the city. Purchased by Ann Arbor's Water Commission around 1914, the property was farmland, with deep gravel springs supplying much of the city's drinking water. The property also had wetlands, offering the University of Michigan a wide variety of research materials, including venom from resident massasauga rattlesnakes. Formerly owned by retired professor Joseph Beal Steere, the land was still referred to as "Steere's Farm" and "Steere's Swamp". Hackley Butler, park commissioner, and Eli Gallup, park superintendent, collaborated on plans to obtain a portion of the Steere farm property as a site for the flying field. Professor Felix Pawlowski, University of Michigan Aeronautical Engineer, was consulted and gave his stamp of approval. Gallup described Steere's Farm as "lying high, with no obstructions...suitable for the landing of light or heavy planes".
1927 - Airport Site Is Approved
For another year, deliberation swirled around a potential landing field on the Steere's Farm land. Public sentiment toward a local airport shifted in the summer of 1927, when Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight made world history. Both of his parents were University of Michigan alumni, which added to the local interest. Ann Arbor residents, like the rest of the country, were suddenly enamored with aviation, and public interest in flying was high. A new airport was now deemed essential to maintain Ann Arbor's reputation as a prosperous, forward-moving municipality.
'AIRPORT SITE IS APPROVED' was a front page Ann Arbor Times News story on November 26, 1927. City aldermen supported using a portion of the Steere's Farm land, and would recommend transfer of the property from the water commission to the park commission. The Chamber of Commerce and City Council both approved the proposal, with assurance that no harm would result to the wells. In early December 1927, 115 acres of Steere's Farm were transferred between city departments. Ann Arbor City Engineer George H. Sandenburgh, immediately began designing an airfield.
January - April 1928, Leonard Flo & The Ann Arbor Flying Club
Lieutenant Leonard Stanley Flo was a city resident for less than five years, but is a permanent part of the Ann Arbor Airport's history. After graduating from U. S. Army Air Corps training in Texas, he served with the First Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field in Michigan. Flo flew as an air mail pilot in Florida, and was also a pilot for the Wise Birds Club in Detroit. He was living on the edge of West Park, near downtown Ann Arbor, as plans came together for a local airfield.
In January 1928, Lt. Flo submitted a letter to the city, proposing himself as manager of the new airport. He suggested a contract giving him responsibility of operating and maintaining the airfield, and allowing him to conduct a flying school on the property. He asked for no compensation from the city, as he would profit from his business, Flo Flying Services. As an experienced flyer, he had inspected the property and found it excellently located with natural advantages for flying facilities. City officials welcomed his proposal, and began drafting a formal agreement in March 1928.
March 1928 also saw the birth of the Ann Arbor Flying Club, a group of Ann Arbor men who joined together to help establish an airport. The list of charter members was essentially a "who's who" of Ann Arbor businessmen, with many joining simply for networking and the status of being involved in the up-and-coming world of aviation. With annual dues starting at $25, equivalent to over $400 a year in 2023, membership was limited to financially privileged citizens. Within a week of being formed, membership in the club jumped to over 100 individuals.
With support from Leonard Flo, and financial assistance from the Ann Arbor Flying Club, work on the new airfield progressed rapidly. By the middle of April 1928, work crews were busy rolling & leveling the land, and installing cinder drainage tiles.
May 19, 1928 - First Landing, 12:05 p.m.
"Fix the date in your mind, and keep it there, because some day you will want to "remember" the first ship at the first airport, an occasion that marked a progressive step by this community." - Ann Arbor Daily News, Editorial, May 19, 1928
In May 1928, Leonard Flo decided to attempt a flight from the Ford Airport in Dearborn onto the Steere Farm property. He hoped to prove to local citizens that a landing could be made on the prepared runway, even after the ground was soaked with several days of spring rain. The Ann Arbor Flying Club had put nearly $5,000 toward the airport project, and the landing was a success.
Accompanying him in a Waco biplane were Eli Gallup, park superintendent, and Harold 'Charlie' Ristine, local news reporter. Gallup was encouraged by the results, and planned for further improvements on the prepared runway, dragging/rolling/tiling a second runway, lighting, and construction of a hangar.
Despite the fact that it was probably really loud and cold in that biplane, Charlie Ristine published a glowing review of his flight in the Ann Arbor Daily News. An editorial lauding the achievement was also printed. A photographer captured photos of the event at the future airport, and the front page of the paper featured an image of the three men smiling and wearing leather aviator caps.
July 17, 1928 - Ann Arbor Airmail Service Inaugurated
Thompson Aeronautical Corporation (TAC), out of Cleveland, Ohio, was awarded one of the early Contract Air Mail routes (CAM 27) from the U.S. Post Office. CAM 27 connected cities from Chicago, Illinois, to Bay City, Michigan, with service starting July 17, 1928. On that date, postal authorities, the Ann Arbor Flying Club, Chamber of Commerce members, and several hundred excited spectators were on hand at the new airport to welcome TAC pilot Lester F. Bishop as he landed his plane in Ann Arbor and received a sack of more than 2,000 letters from Postmaster Ambrose C. Pack. Yet another complimentary editorial ran in the newspaper: "...the fact that the service has been extended to Ann Arbor should be a source of gratification for every resident. It is something to which he can "point with pride," as the saying goes."
October 9, 1928 - Ann Arbor's New Airport Is Dedicated
On a sunny morning in October 1928, three P-1 army first pursuit planes from Selfridge Field circled over Ann Arbor. Commanded by Col. Charles H. Danforth, they touched down on the runways near a crowd of over 350 people, commencing the dedication ceremony of the completed Ann Arbor Municipal Airport. They parked near a Ford Tri-motor (affectionately known as a Tin Goose), a Hamilton Metalplane, and two Spartan planes, which were the property of Flo Flying Services.
The invitation to the dedication, published in the newspaper, noted that all were invited, "including women". Flo Flying Services brought in visitors from surrounding towns by plane, while local residents made their way to the festivities down the rough gravel State Street. City and Washtenaw County officials, members of the Ann Arbor Flying Club, Exchange, Rotary, and Kiwanis clubs were all present. Noted guests included the president of the Hamilton Aircraft Company (owner of the aircraft parked outside), Ford Motor Company's advertising manager, the general manager of the Detroit-Cleveland airline, the assistant traffic manager of Thompson Aeronautical Corporation, and a handful of distinguished pilots. Michigan Governor Fred W. Green was invited, but unable to attend. Guests gathered in the new hangar for a noon luncheon program, which opened with an invocation by Rev. Allison Ray Heaps, pastor of Ann Arbor Congregational Church.
Mayor Edward Staebler addressed the crowd with "Plans for the Future", followed by "A Word from the Council" made by Alderman Herbert Slauson. Levi Wines spoke on "Keeping Abreast With the Times", and Jerome Sutherin, of the Thompson Aeronautical Corporation, spoke about Ann Arbor's airmail service. Shirley Smith, secretary and business manager of the University of Michigan, outlined the history of the new airport, including praise for Eli Gallup and Hackley Butler who had originally championed the idea of a local airfield. Beyond the boasting and self-praise, spectators were most thrilled after the luncheon, when masterful Selfridge Field pilots entertained with "air antics" over the airport.
See For Yourself: Historical Ann Arbor Airport Footage
Ann Arbor History - Aerial Footage of Ann Arbor in the early 1930s, an eight minute video narrated by Al Gallup (son of Eli Gallup), is available on YouTube. If you'd like a glimpse of Leonard Flo in action at the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport, be sure to give it a watch.