Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Lupus Homo: The Man-Wolf of Windsor

Detroit Free Press, April 8, 1871
To state the fact that Windsor, Canada is not a part of Detroit is to discount the lyrical prowess of Steve Perry and even the Nain Rouge would be inclined to hex your dismissal of our sister city to the south as anything except a geographical equal. Likewise, location and mutual respect were not in a favorable orbit for the Man-Wolf of Windsor. The lunatic with wild eyes and a physical appearance to match his temperament was more-or-less a kept beast.

The Windsor of 1871 was still la Petite Côte (the little coast) in both population and land mass in contrast to Detroit's burgeoning transformation into a major city. A fire in October of that same year kept the town of less than 5,000 a stopping point at the fringe of the wilderness frontier. So the fact that the Man-Wolf was living in the woods would be of no particular concern to the sociologist or psychologist. The fact that the scraggly-bearded, long-haired man with severe physical deformities lived in a small shed and was bound with chains caused alarm with some of the citizenry and especially the Detroit Free Press, though their motives might be questioned in lieu of the sensational article above.

It was said that his screams and howls often pierced through the relative silence of the night. During the day he was left to the mercy of probing eyes and the cruelty of neighbors who were allowed to taunt and prod the pitiful creature. His public display in both the town centers of Windsor and Detroit were no less injurious and there was even talk of making the Man-Wolf the main attraction in a traveling freak show.

Several theories abounded at the time that he was an escaped lunatic. One story claimed he was a man named Roscommon who had been exchanged between family members in Montreal and Sarnia. Having been kept in a chamber room his violent reaction to his bondage forced the family to erect a small building on the property where the man was often chained.

The farmers of the area, who were subjected to his sorrowful groans, either helped in his escape or aided in harboring the man after his own jailbreak. Either way he was said to have been found near a swamp eating roots and tree bark where he put up a ferocious battle against both man and dog in ensuring his escape. Facts which don't gibe with the newspaper reports of his extreme physical deformities. Obviously, the wilderness injects its own truth into reality and men's minds follow suit.

Similarly, a story that he was an escaped lunatic from the Malden Asylum clashed with facts of that case where an equally healthy and robust man forcibly made his way to freedom.

Detroit Free Press, March 12, 1871
Whomever he may have been he was the captive of a man named Edward Clark. Not much is to be ascertained about Mr. Clark through newspapers though he was known to have been incarcerated in the House of Corrections in Detroit for a brawl that he was part of in March of that same year. He was subsequently released a few days later.

Detroit Free Press, April 11, 1871
Clark denied the charges and welcomed an investigation into the matter. The nameless Lupus Homo, minus a voice in the matter, was likely lost to history and redemption.

Detroit Free Press, April 14, 1871
Not that his suffering ended there because nary a week after the initial horrifying reports of his bedraggled existence emerged he was attacked by several drunken men. The sots broke into his quarters on Michigan Avenue, roughed him up, unchained his shackles and were in the process of freeing him into the streets when the police intervened to disperse the ne'er-do-wells and their captive audience.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Virgie Longs to Be a Boy

Detroit Free Press, November 3, 1907 (enlarge)
I was going to write out a synopsis for this interesting article but since there's really no preface or follow-up that can be gleaned from the realm of the written page I should probably leave the original document to speak for itself.

In the spirit of page hits I will add that this is an early foray into transgenderism in Detroit. I won't espouse an opinion on the matter because this is an historical account and not a matter of debate. Not that the Free Press hasn't been fraught with errors in fact since its inception but this is their version of the events leading up to Alice Virginia Marsh's transformation into a boy for a week.

Also, as a matter of aesthetics and utility, the article has been formatted into two columns. It was originally one long strip of text which formats horribly on Blogspot.

Monday, January 2, 2017

All Around Detroit: Tea Leaf Lane

The Owosso Argus-Press, August 27, 1930 (enlarge)
The Detroit of 1893 was at the cusp of the new industrial revolution while still mired in the superstitions of the past. An economic crisis and a steady influx of immigrants would exacerbate both trends.

Tea-leaf readings were a fashionable trend at that time but would grow into a burgeoning industry. With it came public and internal scrutiny from the Spiritualist ranks.

By the 1930s tea shops featuring free readings were numerous and coming under attack by law enforcement. So popular were the renderings that the theatrical production of Tea for Two had live readings during its dates at the Paramount.

The crackdowns were unsuccessful as the courts ruled that since the service being provided was free of charge the unlawful act of "fortune-telling" for profit could not be forbidden.

The top article above by William H. Beatty focuses on the area east of Woodward in Detroit on Broadway in the early 1930s which encompassed seven tea shops in one block dubbed "Tea Leaf Lane".

Several of these are anonymously profiled. They entail some interesting facts and characters. One such person was "a turbaned, dark-skinned gentleman" from Ann Arbor who graduated from the University of Michigan and set up shop in Detroit to start his business career. Catering to intellectuals his shop floundered. Bring on the tea leaf readers and voila! his enterprise became a hit and more importantly, financially tenable.

Who were these readers and willing specimens of his fortune-telling? The best seers were Scottish bred. Far outweighing the stereotypical gypsy these Scots answered to mainly women thrill and curiosity-seekers and sob sisters with the earnestly-inclined accounting for a small portion of their business. Of course, these were only gratis side-amusements that accompanied a ham on rye or a cup of tea and surely not a serious portent of the future. At least that's what the proprietor's right hand man was claiming to the fourth estate.