16 Days of Jackson – Day 6 – The Grand River, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow…

Community Engagement

by Kenny Price

Some people in Jackson travel by the Grand River every day and never give it a thought. Other people look at the Grand River flowing through Jackson on its 220-mile journey to Lake Michigan, and see its beauty and the great asset that it is or could be.

The last Ice Age ended 13,000 years ago leaving behind the rivers and lakes of Michigan.  Before the 1800s, Indians and a few stray Frenchmen were the only people to roam the land we now call Michigan.  The Potawatomie Indians lived in the southwest part of Michigan and called the Grand River “Washtenong-sepe”.  After the War of 1812 the new “Northwest Passage” of the United States was opening for settlers.  Michigan was a territory with thoughts of becoming a state. A New Yorker Horace Blackman heard there was free land west of Ann Arbor soon to be opened for settlers.  On June 29, 1829, he along with Alex Laverty and guide Pe-wy-tum traveled to an area where twelve Indian trails crossed the Grand River.  A marker at Jackson Street and Trail Street marks the spot where Blackman wanted to homestead.

Horace Blackman Historical Marker

Horace Blackman Historical Marker

Between 1829 and 1900, Jackson became a major industrial city and a major railroad hub. Commercial buildings and industries were built along and over the Grand River.  All of the waste and trash of this “Civilization” was dumped into the Grand River. Businesses believed that the trash and waste they dumped into the river would not be in Jackson long, that it would simply and easily just float on down the river.  By the 1890s citizens of Jackson started complaining about how filthy and smelly the river was.  The citizens started demanding that something be done to clean the river and to take away the awful smell.

The old Grand River pre-Cap, Downtown Jackson

The old Grand River pre-Cap, Downtown Jackson

Around 1910, a study was undertaken to solve the problems with the Grand River. In 1914 a plan was developed to get the filthy and stinky water out of Jackson quicker, to appease the citizens.  The plan was to take the oxbows out of the river from North Street to Berry Road. The study believed making that section of river a straight channel would get the dirty river out of Jackson quicker and make everyone happier.  So between 1914 and 1920 all of the river oxbows from North Street and Berry Road were taken out. The river was straight as an arrow thru that stretch, but the water in the downtown Jackson area still stunk, and was a dirty filthy looking mess.

Nobody was happy, not the citizens, not the government, not the businesses, and especially not the visitors to Jackson. A new study was commissioned and another new plan was developed in 1925.  If nothing would get the dirty, filthy, stinking water out of Jackson, well then maybe the solution was to just cover up the river with concrete.  If nobody saw the dirty filthy river then the problem would be solved.  There was only one problem with the new plan.  How would it be financed?  In 1925 the government of Jackson did not have the money to cover the Grand River.  It was not until 1936 that money was found.  In stepped President Roosevelt and the Federal government to save the day.  President Roosevelt and the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) had money and they wanted to put Americans to work during the Great Depression.  So the federal government built “The Cap” to cover the river.

The Cap

The Cap

“The Cap” was 2,580-feet long, starting north of Liberty Street (behind now DPW on Water Street) to just south of Louis Glick (where the Toy House is located).  A ten-foot wide and five-feet deep concrete channel was made for the river to flow. Then the area was concreted over to completely hide the river during normal flow times.  The only time the river was visible was during flood times.  The public was appeased; they did not see the filthy river and many families in the Jackson area made money during the Great Depression.

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In 1977, the Clean Water Act was enacted and businesses and governments were forced to clean up the river, creeks, and waterways of the United States.  Businesses and Governments in Jackson County were forced to start cleaning the Grand River.  Since 1977 the Grand River has become a lot cleaner. The river today is not as clean as it was before 1829, but the bottom can now be seen and fish are now swimming in the river again. Local business and local governments have made great strides in getting the river cleaner and keeping it clean.

Grand View downtown I

Grand View Downtown I

G.R.E.A.T (the Grand River Environmental Action Team) was founded in 1991 to protect and promote the Grand River.  Since 1991, G.R.E.A.T. has had an annual clean-up of the river.  Almost everything imaginable has been pulled out of the river.  The last five years, G.R.E.A.T has been helped by the J.R.O.T.C. at the Career Center.  A record number of 137 people came out in 2013 to clean the Grand River. G.R.E.A.T. along with its board, members, and friends will continue to clean the river, trying to make it a great asset to the citizens of Jackson County.

Grand View Downtown II

Grand View Downtown II

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16 Days of Jackson – Local Artist Creates New Wave of Inspiring Recycled Art – Day 5

Community Engagement

[This post includes collaboration from local Jackson writer, Ann Green.  Ann’s piece on Jackson artist Steampunk Eddie appears after the Little Acorns art image. Thank you, Ann.  Thank you, Eddie.]

Jackson’s artistic talent ranges far and wide throughout Jackson County.  With less than a year’s exposure, I have been amazed and impressed with local art — local scenic photographs of autumn leaves on glorious trees or majestic sunsets over Clark or Vandercook Lake; talented painters mixing realism with surrealism; young artists creating mixed media masterpieces in Dahlem’s Little Acorns program.

But recycled art has a special place in my love for art.  Especially recycled metals art.  In Tampa, FL and Fairfield, CA, I have benefited from the work of talented artists Steven Taylor and Phillip Glashoff.  Gilbert R. an artist in Vacaville, CA has created some of the most incredible recycled art I have ever seen, I’ll never forget the person or his art.

Steampunk Eddie and his Clock at Grand River Marketplace

Steampunk Eddie and his Clock at Grand River Marketplace

 

Little Acorns fall harvest art

Little Acorns fall harvest art

Ann Green’s Steampunk Eddie story

Ed Thayer, the artist known as Steampunk Eddie, creates 3-D artwork that is mostly from recycled parts, often whimsical, and always functional. One of his larger and more public art works is the vintage-looking clock on display at the Grand River Marketplace. Called “A Matter of Time,” it features a large clock face resting on a base that is copper-covered and clear-coated with various decorative pieces.  The clock hands which swing wildly and a steadily-moving pendulum are powered by a microwave motor and a rotisserie motor.

The Steampunk aesthetic has been around for a while but right now it is hot. It’s an artistic style that brings together fashions and technology of the 19th century Victorian era. For Ed, it’s an art form that is interesting and fun, that creates something cool or functional out of junk, that is usable, and that you can’t help but look at. That’s the wow factor he always goes for.

Ed gathers gears, motors, metal and wood scraps, discarded things. Then he lets them speak to him until he gets an idea and starts assembling. He says an artwork seems to come together by itself. He looks at a piece of what we might call junk, sees something cool in it that sparks an idea and one thing leads to another. He says, “It’s kind of crazy, but it’s cool.” He doesn’t usually end up creating what he first envisioned and that’s part of the fun.

 

Creating a Steampunk masterpiece

Creating a Steampunk masterpiece

Steampunk art is relatively new for Ed. He had a long and successful career as an airbrush artist. You’d recognize his work when you see the flameouts alongside the tow trucks from Phelps or Jimmy’s. He’s worked for Ted Nugent and Roger Penske and even airbrushed the tour bus for the cast of Jersey Shore.  But when he discovered Steampunk a year ago, it combined all the skills he had into one art. He says, “This is so me. I can weld. I’m mechanically-inclined. I worked on custom-built cars. I was always an artist.” Now he’s the godfather of Steampunk in the area. And he adds, “The best is yet to come.” Find Steampunk Eddie on Facebook.

Clock art construction

Clock art construction

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Steampunk Eddie and his Clock work at Grand River Marketplace

 

16 Days of Jackson Day Four – Jackson Pastor Planted Seeds for Nelson Mandela’s Life of Influential Peacemaking

Community Engagement

Nelson Mandela forged peace and renewal in a divided nation, breaking down racial walls and healing his homeland.  Four generations of Jacksonians watched from afar, Builders, Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Yers, each with their own take on this wonderful man’s life and influence.  Builders laid the groundwork by serving in WWII, Korea, even Vietnam.  Their civic clubs helped strengthen international peacekeeping endeavors and their ideas created NATO, the United Nations and numerous NGOs.  Boomers opened the doors wide with domestic cultural reforms and breakthroughs, passing the torch to Gen Xers who had their worldviews built around the true heroes of our world, most notably Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa and Madiba (Nelson Mandela’s intimate family name).

That brings us to Gen Yers and Millennials, the Facebook and Twitter generation that killed MySpace and gravitated en masse to post tributes to Mandela this past week.  They loved the abundant joy exhibited at Mandela’s funeral.  They celebrated when President Obama shook hands with Cuba’s President Raul Castro and dreamed of a future defined by peace.

But a century before Kennedy’s assassination, a century before the loss of Martin Luther King, Jr., a century before the walls came down in Berlin — a simple man, a Jackson pastor by the name of Jabez Fox, showed cultural reform courage 100 years before his time.  His activism laid the seeds for the elimination of racial persecution, breakthrough prison reform and exemplary conviction rooted in spiritual understanding similar to Martin Luther centuries earlier.

The Hart Brothers profiled Reverend Jabez Fox in their Burgh strip which appears here:

Jackson Pastor Jabez Fox learns of Jackson's prison practices and racial profiling.

Jackson Pastor Jabez Fox learns of Jackson’s prison practices and racial profiling.

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 Madiba & Jabez Fox – Hope for the Future, Inspired by Two Heroes Centuries Apart

All week this week, I have tried to understand my two personal interactions with Bishop Desmond Tutu.  I’ve composed a short poem and twice delivered a Mandela tribute speech. Here is my Jackson Rotary Holiday Fun Bash speech:

For me, Rotary International stands for peace and prosperity.  Peace because of Rotary international endeavors bringing together leaders to forge peace, a great success that has continued for generations. Prosperity because of opportunities given to young people, millions delivered from the threat of polio, thousands who have gone to college or experienced other cultures through Rotary Exchange.

I’m grateful today for the life and inspiration of Nelson Mandela.

I’m grateful today for the legacy carried on by my friend and hero, Bishop Desmond Tutu.

I’m grateful today for four years of a top-rated liberal arts education, thanks to Rotary.

I’m grateful today for friends and fellowship, fun and laughs, the kind that only our Club provides.

Jackson is the greatest community in the world.

Look around you.  Look at the people, the leaders who have served this community so well, so faithfully and passionately for decades.  Look at the entrepreneurial spirit present in each and every detail of this beautiful restaurant and brewery, Grand River Marketplace.

Tonight, we’re here to celebrate Rotary and have fun with one another.

I encourage you all to mingle, greet guests and enjoy the musical experience that is Steve Trosin.

Before I turn it over to Steve I wanted to share this 16 Days of Jackson Rotary Holiday Fun Bash poem with you:

Here we are, years later

Another Christmas season,

snowflakes floating gently down to our city streets

What could be better

Nothing could be better than what we have here

Smiles, Laughter, Friends and Festive Libations

Here we are, years later

Another Christmas season,

We catch a glimpse of hope and feel the cool breeze of peace

What could be better

Nothing could be better than what we have here

Memories of Lou Reed’s velvety voice

Memories of Nelson Mandela’s courageous smile

Many people who heard the speech asked me:  “who’s Lou Reed?”

I couldn’t believe the question, since Reed’s band the Velvet Underground is recognized as one of the greatest of a generation.  Rolling Stone considers the “Velvet Underground” album with the Andy Warhol banana album cover art as the #13 greatest album of all time.  http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/500-greatest-albums-of-all-time-20120531/the-velvet-underground-and-nico-the-velvet-underground-20120524

Since this is the 16 Days of Jackson, here’s the link to the #16 greatest album of all time on the Rolling Stone list, Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks”  http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/500-greatest-albums-of-all-time-20120531/bob-dylan-blood-on-the-tracks-20120524

Lou Reed also joined Emily Haines and her band Metric for the duet “The Wanderlust” on Metric’s latest album Synthetica.  Reed joined Metric onstage to perform the song in this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7gg2LbHAco

Two Canadian bands — both among my current favorites — commented on Reed’s passing in this article:

http://globalnews.ca/news/929266/canadian-bands-metric-cowboy-junkies-react-to-death-of-lou-reed/

With all those tributes to Reed, I’ll close this post as I closed my Mandela speeches; with a quote from Bishop Desmond Tutu, whom I met at a church service in Connecticut as a teenager and then again at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco 18 months ago.

“Like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the earth,

the Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless.”

16 Days of Jackson Day Three – Summer Night Tree: Beauty at Night, Dark Knight by Day

Community Engagement

On this third day of 16 Days of Jackson, the focus turns to a multi-million-dollar piece of art prominently displayed in downtown Jackson:  Louise Nevelson’s Summer Night Tree dedicated in the spring of 1978.  On the night of December 4, 2013 a cool evening air called me to take a walk in downtown Jackson after my first visit to Nostalgia Ink.  https://www.facebook.com/NOS.Ink

I felt a cleansing and healing taking place inside of me as I took deep breaths of the beautiful night air.  Early in my walk, I stumbled upon Summer Night Tree.  At first glance, my breath was taken away.  Where was the black exploding chicken I was used to seeing in daylight?  In front of me was a majestic, multi-faceted gigantic wonder with iridescent silver tones caused by its spotlights.  I slowly circled the Summer Night Tree, soaking in each angle and coming to full realization for the first time why Louise named it the “night” tree.  It springs to life at night.  I was blown away.

The hook

The hook

The Steps

The Steps

Thunderbird

Thunderbird

Thunderbird close-up

Thunderbird close-up

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Looking at these images today, I realize they don’t do the masterpiece justice.  I remember taking each image clearly, as I savored the refreshing air and wondered at the scope and beauty of the sculpture.  My Toastmaster friend Grant Bauman researched and published this excellent piece on Summer Night Tree:

SummerNightTree

http://blog.mlive.com/bradosphere/2011/08/brad_flory_column_summer_night.html

Fellow Exchange Club member, the Honorable Richard LaFlamme reminded me of a favorite Seinfeld episode when I shared my evening Summer Night Tree experience with him.  The legendary “Festivus” episode included the “two faced” Gwen, Jerry’s girlfriend who looked great in full lighting but scary in poor lighting, somewhat like my day/night experiences with Summer Night Tree. The episode entitled “The Strike” was the tenth episode of the final season of Seinfeld.  The two-faced girlfriend segments are here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFeUrC2gR30

The Festivus segments are here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8g4Ztf7hIM

Two memorable Seinfeld story lines, all in one big episode.

Special thanks to Grant for his collaboration on this Day Three post and for Judge LaFlamme’s inspiration.

Summer Night Tree during the day

Day time

Day time

artnet Galleries: Maquette for Summer-Night Tree by Louise Nevelson from Hollis Taggart Galleries

Louise Nevelson, Maquette for Summer-Night Tree

 

16 Days of Jackson – Day Two

Community Engagement

Oh No, Not the Livestock by Jon Hart

In the 1850s all across the country, slavery was causing a division that would only be fully addressed by the spilling of blood in the Civil War.  It was no different in Jackson where abolition and populism crossed.  Enter the figure of Abel Fitch who led an insurrection of local farmers and was also a loyal abolitionist.

Fitch gave the last full measure and over my years of residency in Jackson and researching history, his actions put Jackson in focus for the rest of the nation.  While some of his methods were questionable, Fitch’s commitment begs the questions: what can we do to make Jackson a better place and what is our passion?

Setting the stage for the Freedom Organization

Setting the stage for the Freedom Organization

The one and only Abel Fitch, Jackson's own John Brown

The one and only Abel Fitch, Jackson’s own John Brown

Abel's death leads to the creation of Freedom Organization

Abel’s death leads to the creation of Freedom Organization

Rod’s view on Day Two

So what can we do today, remembering Abel Fitch, John Brown and Sojourner Truth?

Perhaps, by visiting nearby Battle Creek and paying tribute to Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth memorial in Battle Creek

Sojourner Truth memorial in Battle Creek

Or perhaps, simply by experiencing the 11 acres of beauty at Mount Evergreen Cemetery and recognizing the lives of Jackson’s founders, heroes and leaders.

View of Downtown Jackson from Mount Evergreen Cemetery

View of Downtown Jackson from Mount Evergreen Cemetery

Or if your hungry or shopping for the holidays, shop at one of the local stores owned by Jackson residents.  Today’s favorite of mine, thanks to an incredible meeting with new friends and a great conversation with Evan Farmer, visit Cuppa:  http://jacksoncuppa.com/

 

16 Days of Jackson – Day ONE

Community Engagement

16 Days of Jackson

From day one, my experiences in Jackson, Michigan have been full of small world confirmation connections; wonderful natural nourishment in the form of outdoor experiences, music, art and Jackson culture; true stories of innovative service unique to the Cool City in South Central Michigan; and everyday people who have survived, thrived and creatively derived aspects of the best community in the world.

Over 16 Days in December, a small group of Jackson residents will share stories, images and personal passions to state the case for our great community. This social media experiment sprouted from the “How Jackson of You” movement.

You can find my “How Jackson of You” message at http://www.dahlemcenter.org/about-us/pawprints-newsletter/

Cool Color

Today, I watched the Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison documentary. I have listened to his music for most of my life, but his work has been central in my experiences throughout 2013. My move from Northern California to Jackson — just ahead of the turbulent weather that triggered the May 20th devastating EF5 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma — included six CDs loaded and looped for the whole 2,259-mile road trip. After hours of white-knuckle driving, I finally approached Jackson County. Just after Spring Arbor, for what was probably the 20th time of the car journey, this song and these lyrics sung by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash welcomed me to Jackson, Michigan:

“Jackson”

We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout,
We’ve been talkin’ ’bout Jackson, ever since the fire went out.
I’m goin’ to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around,
Yeah, I’m goin’ to Jackson,
Look out Jackson town.

Well, go on down to Jackson; go ahead and wreck your health.
Go play your hand you big-talkin’ man, make a big fool of yourself,
You’re goin’ to Jackson; go comb your hair!
Honey, I’m gonna snowball Jackson.
See if I care.

When I breeze into that city, people gonna stoop and bow. (Hah!)
All them women gonna make me, teach ’em what they don’t know how,
I’m goin’ to Jackson, you turn-a loose-a my coat.
‘Cos I’m goin’ to Jackson.
“Goodbye,” that’s all she wrote.

But they’ll laugh at you in Jackson, and I’ll be dancin’ on a Pony Keg.
They’ll lead you ’round town like a scalded hound,
With your tail tucked between your legs,
You’re goin’ to Jackson, you big-talkin’ man.
And I’ll be waitin’ in Jackson, behind my Jaypan Fan,

Well now, we got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper Sprout,
We’ve been talkin’ ’bout Jackson, ever since the fire went out.
I’m goin’ to Jackson, and that’s a fact.
Yeah, we’re goin’ to Jackson, ain’t never comin’ back.

Well, we got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout’
And we’ve been talkin’ ’bout Jackson, ever since the fire went…

The song “Jackson” has risen in prominence right alongside “Ring of Fire” and “Man in Black” in my music adoration.  Earlier this year, I visited Folsom Prison and spent an afternoon as a special guest of the Youth Diversion Prisoner’s Outreach Program sponsored by Robyn Cole at California State Prison (CSP) Solano in Vacaville, California.

http://www.dailyrepublic.com/news/solanocounty/wake-up-call-from-prison-program-aims-to-keep-children-teens-from-incarceration/

In the same documentary, Johnny greets Glen Sherley on the day of Sherley’s release from CSP Solano.  Here’s the moment when Johnny and Glen met during the Folsom Prison concert prior to Cash’s performance of Sherley’s song “Greystone Chapel”.

Johnny Cash shakes Glen Sherley's hand before performing Sherley's "Greystone Chapel"

Johnny Cash shakes Glen Sherley’s hand before performing Sherley’s “Greystone Chapel”

Johnny’s “Folsom Prison Blues”, “25 Minutes to Go” and “Greystone Chapel” are powerful prison messages for inmates worldwide, including those at Cooper Street Correctional Facility.

The California Medical Facility (CMF), neighbor to CSP Solano, has an active inmate artist program. An original painting by one of the inmates was gifted to me by my friend Laura. It hangs between the two windows in my downtown Jackson apartment looking out over Schupbach’s Sporting Goods http://www.schupbachs.com/ and the Grand River.

Beauty out of Ashes: Original art from inmate at California Medical Facility in Vacaville, CA

Beauty out of Ashes: Original art from inmate at California Medical Facility in Vacaville, CA

The 15 subsequent stories in the 16 Days of Jackson will include storytelling involving Jackson institutions, Jackson legends and Jackson masterpieces. The art, nature and intrigue of Day One will continue throughout this community experience.  Watch as it unfolds on your favorite social media outlet.