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Childhood Memories of Frog Island from the 1970’s

Childhood Memories of Frog Island from the 1970’s image Childhood Memories of Frog Island from the 1970’s image
Robert and Eric Anschuetz
Rights Held By
Ypsilanti Historical Society
OCR Text

Twins Robert and Eric Anschuetz spent much of their childhood hanging out at the Huron River while growing up in Ypsilanti during the 1970’s. They knew almost every foot of the river from the Peninsular Paper Company dam on Leforge Road, past the Highland Cemetery, along the area known as “Greenland” behind Railroad Street, near the Forest Avenue railroad and street bridges, along the stretch bordering Frog Island, through Riverside Park, past the hobo camps across from Waterworks Park, leading up to Gilbert Park, along the stretch near Grove Street, past the Ford plant, and emptying out to Ford Lake. Robert and Eric were never the most avid fishermen, but they did enjoy going fishing at the river when they were children. Their two favorite spots to fish were on top of the drainage culvert that fed into the river next to the railroad bridge at Forest Avenue, and on the bank of the river at the Forest Avenue and Rice Street entrance to Frog Island. They would typically go fishing by themselves, with their brother Kurt, or with other friends. One of their fishing buddies was a kid about five years older than them named Eugene who lived a block away on Dwight Street. Eugene used to stop by Robert and Eric’s house on the way to the river and ask if they wanted to go fishing. They would usually oblige and go along with him. At the end of the day, they would bring home a string of fish and sell them to some of the families who lived on River Street, between Forest Avenue and Norris Street, in houses that have since been torn down. In those days, it seemed that there were only four kinds of fish in the Huron River: bluegill, catfish, suckers and carp. Bluegill and catfish were plentiful. The catfish were a beautiful variety with long whiskers, stinging gills, a bright white under-body, yellow coloring on the sides, and a dark green back. Suckers were bigger and pretty rare. They were called suckers because their mouth had a distinctive shape that looked like a suction cup. Carp were also pretty rare but they were a prized catch. At least once a year, a local kid fishing in the river would land a huge carp up to 30 or 40 pounds. Sometimes Robert and Eric would find a huge carp on the side of the shore rotting away. One day Robert, Eric, and Eugene decided to set a lofty goal of catching 100 fish in a single day. If the families on River Street did not buy the fish, Robert and Eric’s mother (frequent Gleanings contributor, Jan Anschuetz) would bury them in her garden as fertilizer, taking a hint from the Indians who also taught that technique to the Pilgrims. This was way before the time of “catch and release” fishing that is much more humane. Robert, Eric and Eugene spent the whole day fishing, and sure enough, at the end of the day, they had their 100 fish. They remember taking them back home to show their mother, who took a picture that has since faded, but still captures the monumental achievement. It was a day of fishing that the twins will never forget. Fishing wasn’t the only activity that Robert and Eric enjoyed at Frog Island during their childhood. Warm spring days with westerly winds always meant one thing to Robert and Eric – kite flying weather! In those days, Frog Island was a rarely-used park that provided a vast expanse of open space to fly kites. When Robert and Eric first started flying kites, they tried to construct a “box kite” out of sticks of balsa wood and newspaper. Their box kite never really flew too well, so they changed their strategy to buying plastic kites – usually from Weber’s Drugs on Cross Street in Depot Town or from the Hobby Shop on Prospect Road near Prospect Park. Their favorite model of plastic kite was called the “baby bat” kite. The “baby bat” was a black kite in the shape of a delta-winged bat that had two stickers for eyes. This type of kite didn’t come with any string, so Robert and Eric had to buy a spool of string separately. Just as all kids do, they would try to launch the kite in the air by running along the field with about 10 feet of string leading to the kite. The kites would invariably get a couple feet off the ground, do a couple twists, and then crash down to the ground with a thump. The spines of the kites were constructed out of plastic sticks, which sometimes bent, or even broke, if the kite crashed too hard. If the wind was really blowing steadily, Robert and Eric would be able to get their kites in the sky and slowly let out more string. They would put their index fingers on either side of the spool of string and let the wind carry the kite further and further into the sky. Sometimes the string would burn the twins’ fingers if they tried to grab it when it was unwinding too fast. On rare occasions, they used up an entire ball of string. When the kite eventually came crashing to the earth when the wind died down, it would always be a huge mess to roll the string back onto the cardboard tube which held the string. There would always be small sticks and grass entangled with the string, and it would become so full of knots that it would basically be unusable ever again. One year, Robert and Eric bought a plastic kite crank-handle that was attached to a spool of string. This allowed the string to be let out while flying the kites, and then it could be easily reeled back in after the day of kite flying was over. This made the hassle of flying kites go away, and the twins went more and more often to Frog Island to fly their kites. On one particular fine spring day in the mid 1970’s, the wind was blowing from the west directly over the Huron River and across Frog Island toward the railroad tracks. Robert and Eric got one of their kites so far up in the sky that they had to use two rolls of string connected together on their crank-handle system. They still remember looking far off in the distance seeing the little spec in the sky dancing above the railroad tracks near the Michigan Ladder Company. Suddenly the kite string became entangled in the power lines running along the railroad tracks and that ended a great day of kite flying. Ah, those were the days, long before video games, high-def televisions, smart phones, and laptops would provide the modern generation of kids with all of their entertainment that keeps them mostly confined indoors. They don’t know what they’re missing! (Robert and Eric Anschuetz grew up on River Street and are regular contributors to the Gleanings.)

Photo 1: Site on the Huron River at Frog Island where Robert and Eric Anschuetz once caught 100 fish in a single day.

Photo 2: Eric, Eugene, an unknown friend, and Robert with a portion of their haul of 100 fish. These strung-up fish were the unfortunate leftovers destined for the garden after the kids made some sales on River Street.