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Ann Arbor 200
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AADL Talks To: Bev Willis

Bev Willis
Bev Willis

Bev Willis is an Ann Arbor historian who has worked with several historical organizations, including the African American Cultural and Historical Museum, the city’s Historic District Commission, and the Washtenaw County Historical Society’s Museum on Main Street. Bev talks with us about her passion for local history and the mentors, family members, and cultural influences that helped chart the course of her career.

Washtenaw County Historical Society's Museum on Main Street

African American Cultural and Historical Museum

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Huron Valley Ad-Visor

Huron Valley Ad-Visor Masthead

The Huron Valley Ad-Visor was a pennysaver (also called an advertising shopper or just a shopper) published in Washtenaw County in the 1960s and 1970s.  The Ad-Visor was started in October 1963 by Wayne Alber (previously in the Ann Arbor News display advertising department), Dale Suckstorff (previously an assistant manager at the Arborland Montgomery Ward), and Dick Emmons (previously the city editor of the Ann Arbor News).  It consisted primarily of advertisements for local businesses, but each issue also featured a variety of community updates, articles on local history, profiles of residents, and humorous pieces by Emmons.  The Huron Valley Ad-Visor became the Advisor of Washtenaw County in 1972 and published under this title until ceasing publication in 1974.

AADL has digitized issues of the Ad-Visor from bound volumes of the original newspaper covering the period October 1963 through December 1967.


October 16
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January 01
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January 06
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December 01
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January 05
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December 07
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January 04
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February 01
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November 01
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The Ann Arbor Ozone Homecoming Parade

In 1972, the University of Michigan decided to cancel their homecoming parade due to lack of interest and dwindling attendance.  Into that vacuum stepped counterculture artists, musicians, filmmakers, and performers to create the Ozone Parade, a free-for-all that showcased the wild creativity of Ann Arbor in the 1970s.  In The Ann Arbor Ozone Homecoming Parade, filmmaker Terri Sarris takes us through the life of the parade through archival footage and the voices of participants and creators.  

And for more stories about the Ozone Parade, check out the 75-minute director's cut.

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The Hunt For Ann Arbor’s First Killer

True crime lovers, this is for you.

History of Washtenaw County, Michigan, published back in 1881, includes CHAPTER IX, DARK DEEDS. This summary of Ann Arbor’s earliest murders is fairly gruesome and disturbing. If gruesome and disturbing murder is your thing, grab your favorite snack and click the above link to read at your leisure. For more creepy details, local author James Mann revisited some of these crimes in his 2010 book Wicked Washtenaw County: Strange Tales of the Grisly and Unexplained. Both of these books discuss our city's first recorded killer, how he escaped his punishment, and disappeared. However, the digitization of old Ann Arbor newspapers offered up the whereabouts of our missing murderer. Let me update you on The Death Of Patrick Dunn.

Ann Arbor’s first murder was a feature story in The Ann Arbor Observer's January 1987 edition. (Disclaimer: This was the first documented murder in Ann Arbor’s history. Was it really the first murder? Maybe? Probably?) There are lots of sordid details, including the victim himself dramatically yelling, "MURDER!", and you can read all about it if you're curious.

The quick version: 

It was the early 1840s, and football traffic was not an issue in Ann Arbor. Patrick Dunn was known for being a bully. One summer, during an argument, he hit a neighbor named Charles Chorr over the head with a club. Charles was bedridden for at least a month, and suffered lasting head trauma. Patrick was indicted for assault, but never charged with anything. Patrick's bullying of Charles escalated. Charles wanted revenge. The following spring, April 1843, Patrick walked past the home of Charles on his way to work. Charles stepped outside with a rifle and shot Patrick through his torso. Patrick died the next day. Charles was put in jail to await a trial. Both men were of Irish descent, living with spouses and children in Ann Arbor's fourth ward.

Signal of Liberty, May 01, 1843 

In November of 1843, the case finally went to trial. The Michigan State Journal ran the details of the proceedings on their front page. For each and every little detail of the trial, go read it for yourself. Multiple witnesses were called to the stand. Chorr's lawyers argued insanity, based on his head injury inflicted by Dunn. It was clear that Patrick Dunn wasn't very popular in town, but now he was dead. When all was said and done, Charles Chorr was found guilty of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to death by hanging.

Hanging For Chorr
Signal of Liberty, December 25, 1843

Yes, you read that correctly. Ann Arbor's first convicted murderer was going to be hung for his crime. Charles Chorr was Ann Arbor's first (and last!) instance of anyone being sentenced to death. Fortunately for Charles, his execution never came to fruition. Under mysterious circumstances, it was reported that he escaped from his jail cell and was never seen or heard from again.

All published accounts of the murder of Patrick Dunn end this way, with Chorr disappearing into thin air. Sheriff's Deputy Thomas Leonard reported visiting the jail cell of Charles Chorr, to bring him breakfast, and finding the cell empty. Suspicion circulated around Ann Arbor that Leonard had let Chorr go free, following the orders of Sheriff Peter Slingerland. Slingerland, who faced a looming election to maintain his role as sheriff, needed to appease local citizens who were upset by Chorr's death sentence. The hunt for the killer was not pursued, and the case went cold. So what happened to Charles Chorr?

Case closed?

Forty-two years later, an article randomly appeared on the front page of the Ann Arbor Register, which held answers to our city's first murder. The author of the article made mention of the story as the only known death sentence in Washtenaw County, and supported the theory of Chorr escaping with the help of law enforcement. It ended by declaring "Chorr was harbored in Northfield by Irish friends and finally reached Oakland county. He subsequently went to Galena, Ill., where he eventually met retribution, being murdered in cold blood by some railroad employes." How a local 1885 reporter got this information on Chorr's demise, we will never know. Searching for a death record in Illinois yielded no results. The accuracy remains up for debate but, perhaps, this is the way Ann Arbor's first case of murder came to a close.

Washtenaw's First Death Sentence
Ann Arbor Register, August 6, 1885
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AADL Talks To: Janis Bobrin

Janis Bobrin
Janis Bobrin

Janis Bobrin came to the University of Michigan in 1969 to study urban planning and quickly became politically active in environmental issues with a particular interest in water resource management. She eventually served six terms as Washtenaw County Drain Commissioner. Since retiring as Drain Commissioner in 2012, Janis has served on numerous regional boards including the Huron River Watershed Council, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and Dawn Farm. Janis talks with us about some of the projects she undertook as Drain Commissioner and the many challenges she and her staff faced over the years. She also talks with us about Ann Arbor's ongoing efforts to address the Pall-Gelman dioxane spill and issues surrounding urban planning and density.

Read more about Janis Bobrin in historical articles from the Ann Arbor News and Ann Arbor Observer.


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AADL Talks To: Peter Andrews

Peter Andrews, photo by Leni Sinclair
Peter Andrews, circa 1971. Photo by Leni Sinclair.

In this wide-ranging interview from 2010, Peter Andrews recalls his varied career producing and managing local and regional music talent — from managing the Scot Richard Case (SRC) band and bringing bands like The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and the Yardbirds to Ann Arbor’s Fifth Dimension club, to booking national acts for University of Michigan student groups. He also discusses his role in Ann Arbor’s legendary Blues and Jazz Festivals, producing the John Sinclair Freedom Rally at Crisler Arena in 1971, and bringing John Lennon and Yoko Ono to town.

Articles and photos about Peter Andrews

Ann Arbor 200

The First Fictional Ann Arbor

“New Padua is a university town. But let not any one be deceived by the name into fancying that New Padua is anything like Oxford, or Bonn, or even for that matter like Cambridge in Massachusetts, where the University of Harvard is situated. New Padua is the seat of what people in England would call a great popular college rather than a university; a college founded by the State, of which it is the educational centre, with special reference to the needs of the somewhat rough and vigorous Western youth who are likely to pour in there. The city of New Padua belongs to a State which not very long ago used to be described as Western, but which the rapid upspringing of communities lying far nearer to the setting sun has converted into a middle State now.

The town is very small and very quiet; remarkably intelligent and pleasant. The society, and indeed almost the population, is composed of the professors and officials of the college, with their wives and daughters; the judges and magistrates; the railway authorities; the Federal officials; the students; and the editors of the newspapers. It is a sort of professional population all throughout.”

Students all wearing suits with bowlers or top hats, sit on ivy covered ground reading books. Pine trees are seen in the background and the ornate University Hall with a steeple
Students in front of University Hall in Ann Arbor, circa 1875. Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.
Illustration of a woman with gray hair and a shawl wrapped around her looking out at the sea from a porch
Miss Dione Lyle, who invites Christmas to stay with her in Durewoods. Courtesy of HathiTrust.

Sound familiar? Published in 1875, Justin McCarthy’s Dear Lady Disdain is the first novel known to be set in Ann Arbor, albeit thinly veiled with the pseudonym of “New Padua.” Seven years before its release McCarthy had traveled widely in the United States, visiting 35 of the then 37 states, which makes his choice to set part of his novel in Ann Arbor even more remarkable. The town stuck with him and struck his imagination.

Raised in County Cork, Ireland, McCarthy got his start as a writer working for the Cork Examiner. He put in time at a number of newspapers throughout England including the radical Morning Star, which he resigned from before his travels. He still continued to write for several other publications throughout his journey, culminating in the release of his first novel, My Enemy's Daughter, in 1869.

Tales Out of School

Despite its partial Ann Arbor locale, Dear Lady Disdain is largely set in England. Readers meet protagonist Christmas Pembroke shortly after the death of his father. A well-traveled young man, Christmas has spent his brief life in Japan and San Francisco. He only recently returned to his native England, where he must now adjust to the home country he has never called home before. 

Black and white sketch of a four story tall building with windows evenly spaced throughout it, seen from a corner across the street. Signs reading "Franklin House" are on the front and side. Carriages and people are seen on the streets.
Natty's lodgings, Franklin House, in 1856. Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

Shortly after arriving in London, Christmas’ name is briefly mentioned in the papers as the witness to a crime. This leads to a letter from Dione Lyle, an old friend and perhaps former flame of his father, who invites him to stay with her. Christmas visits her in the quiet, seaside town of Durewood where he makes the acquaintance of Marie Challoner, a beautiful, kind, and suitably aged neighbor of wealth, and Nathaniel ‘Natty’ Cramps, a young man dissatisfied with the working class he has been born into and the stratification of society. Natty's displeasure leads him to pridefully boast of his ambition to become a great man and orator, though his ambition seems to outweigh his desire to hone his skill. Both Natty and Christmas seek the attention of Marie, and more competition for her affection is brought by her introduction into London society. Further characters and obstacles are introduced, but you can likely guess the conclusion for Marie and Christmas from here.

Readers are introduced to “New Padua” when Natty Cramps departs for the United States in search of somewhere to start anew. When Natty crosses paths with “Professor Clinton” of the University of New Padua the two become fast friends. Clinton takes Natty under his wing and convinces him to move to New Padua. The real life Professor James Craig Watson of the University of Michigan is almost certainly the model for Professor Clinton, who is similarly a Professor of Astronomy and in charge of the university's Observatory. With Clinton’s help Natty makes modest success working for one of the local newspapers. He finds a home for himself at the real Franklin House, which was located on the NW Corner of Huron and Main.

Unadorned Ann Arbor

The self-concerned Natty is largely unaffected by the natural splendor around him, but he is taken in by New Padua’s beauty in one striking scene. It is clear that McCarthy uses this to channel his own impression of Ann Arbor.

A black and white illustrated panoramic view of Ann Arbor from above
Panoramic view of Ann Arbor in 1880. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

“One memorable day Nathaniel walked from the office of his journal…standing on almost any spot of the university grounds one could look on the river winding between the hills and bluffs, and dotted here and there with little islets, each feathered and tufted with trees. The peculiarity of the scene was that the town was set back from the river and sheltered in between the bluffs which made the river's bank, and an inland range of low and rolling hills. So when you stood upon the university grounds and turned your back upon the university buildings you saw only the river, lonely, with no sign of growing civilisation on its banks…The very soul and spirit of solitude might at certain soft sweet evening hours have seemed to abide there.”

An 1880 Panoramic view of the city of Ann Arbor illustrates this terrain with its bluffs and river about ten years after McCarthy’s own initial visit. As the novel continues, the wealthy Marie Challoner and her father tour the United States and receive a warm welcome at New Padua’s President’s House and University Hall. Marie tells Natty that the town, “is a delightful little place. So full of quiet and simplicity; and people only caring about books and education, and not about making money and getting on in the world.”

This idyllic description is part of why Natty eventually decides to leave. He wants grander fame than New Padua can provide. The small scale success he has found through his local newspaper career has largely been gained through his insinuations that he possesses great connections in England. This ill-begotten popularity could imply that his audience of New Padua residents were naive and fell for his grandiosity. Did McCarthy find Ann Arbor to be simple to the point of unsophistication? This doesn't seem to be the case when it is made clear that Professor Clinton sees right through Natty's posturing. However, Clinton does not begrudge Natty his success and finds entertainment in it. Ultimately, Natty's ability to make a life for himself in New Padua demonstrates the appeal of a place with opportunities available to those who are willing to live without the oversized attention of city society.

Carte-de-visite portrait of Justin McCarthy, seated facing to the left of the camera with a beard, wearing small wire frame glasses, an ascot, best, and coat with hair slicked back.
Portrait of Justin McCarthy taken in the mid-late 1870s. Courtesy the National Portrait Gallery in London. 
Ann Arbor Courier
Ann Arbor Courier, February 2, 1887

More About McCarthy

McCarthy was a powerful politician in his time, eventually being elected to head the Irish Nationalists in 1890. His contradictory abhorrence for ambition and his own success is reflected in the book’s themes. Marie continually questions what she wants out of marriage:  the high rank her father desires for her and power that comes with it, or a more simple life in Durewoods.

Nine years after his first visit, McCarthy again came to Ann Arbor in 1887 at the invitation of the Students’ Lecture Association. His oration, titled “Ireland and Home Rule,” received mixed reviews.

The Ann Arbor Courier described him as “not eloquent, nor even fiery,” noting that it was hard to understand him because of his quiet demeanor and accent. “He gave the audience a complete resume of the Irish cause and its different phases for the past century. Those who were fortunate enough to have good seats, so that they could understand the speaker, learned considerable by the lecture.”

An empty lecture hall, with curved benches facing a stage with a wooden podium and high back chairs behind that.
An empty University Hall in 1887, the site of McCarthy's lecture. Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

McCarthy himself may have been disappointed by his return. His perspective is recorded in Our Book of Memories, Letters of Justin McCarthy to Mrs. Campbell Praed, which was published after his death:

“We have had some poor audiences lately. American chiefly. I spent a night and part of a day at the town of Ann Arbor, the seat of the University of this state– Michigan. Ann Arbor is the New Padua of “Dear Lady Disdain.” Most of the people I knew there are gone – scattered in one way or another. I had some curious reflections of my own as I stood on a little height over the river which I have described in “Dear Lady Disdain.”

Professor James Craig Watson, the presumed basis for Disdain’s Professor Clinton, left Ann Arbor for the University of Wisconsin in 1879 and may be one of the people known by McCarthy who had “scattered.”

Pleasant “New Padua”

Despite his later disappointment, the overall impression of “New Padua” in the novel is as a place of natural beauty that is full of welcoming, intelligent, and unconceited residents. A town where a man can find opportunity to make something of himself. 

“People had pleasant evenings in each other's houses, where they ate ice-creams even in the depth of winter, and apples, and drank tea, and looked at engravings, and had bright, genial conversation—such genuine conversation, fair interchange of ideas on letters and art and things in general, as one only reads of now in England; and they went home early.”

What more could you ask for?

Ann Arbor 200
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AADL Talks To: Steve Adams

Steve Adams, February 2024
Steve Adams, February 2024

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.

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Ann Arbor's Lost Poet: Charles Henry Shoeman

Charles Henry Shoeman

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".

The Freeman
The Freeman, An Illustrated Colored Newspaper, Indianapolis, IN, January 27, 1900

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.


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.

Birth Announcement
Birth Announcement of Charles Henry Shoeman, Goshen Times, June 8, 1876
Kindig Block, Second View
Kindig Block, Street view of the south east corner of Market (later Lincoln Ave) and Main Street, Goshen, IN, 1880 (Courtesy of Elkhart County Historical Society)
Goshen Times, 1877
Goshen Times, April 12, 1877

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.


Mrs. C. J. Shoeman
Advertisement for Epsie Shoeman's New Business, Saline Observer, March 26, 1896

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.

C. J. Shoeman, Barber
As his son's fame grew, C. J. Shoeman advertised his barber shop in Ann Arbor High School's 1900 yearbook.

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."

Detroit Informer
The Detroit Informer, January 13, 1900
The Statesman
The Statesman (Denver, Colorado), January 27, 1900, 'Among The Authors' 


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.

Robert Green Ingersoll
Robert Green Ingersoll c. 1878, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
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,

Detroit News-Tribune
Detroit News-Tribune, April 1, 1900
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.

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.


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.

A Poet's Finish
Ann Arbor Daily Argus, October 12, 1906

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.


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.

Shoeman Family Stone
Shoeman Family Headstone, Fairview Cemetery, Ann Arbor, Michigan

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.


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.

Ann Arbor 200
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Theater for All: Here Comes Wild Swan!

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.