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February 10, 1974 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1974-02-10

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Sunday, February 10, 1974

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Page Five

Sn day, m F" e r uc 1 , 1 74T E MI H G N A L

PaeFv

_. .

PROFILE

Wystan Stevens: Exploring bits
of" Ann Arbor's hidden history

By LAURA BERMAN
Wystan Stevens opens the door
to the 130-year-old home in which
he lives and from force of habit
launches into a guidebook tour
of the living room antiques. "Peo-
ple think I'm weird because I
live in a museum," he admits.
But the historic Kempf house
on S. Division is hardly an un-
suitable home for the man who
probably knows more about Ann
Arbor history than anyone else.
Stevens will be 31 on Tuesday.
For the last ten years of his life,
he has been possessed by the
history of the city.
As caretaker of the city-owned
Kempf House, Stevens g i v e s
guided tours on weekends and
has the chance to live rent-free
in the perfect setting to burrow
into local history. He's virtually
a full-time Ann Arborphile.
It is an unusual obsession and
people are undoubtedly puzzled
by this young man who has no
steady job, who is unmarried,
and who spends much of his time
digging out the secrets of dead.
eras. Why does he do it?

"It's an interesting addiction
- like a detective story," Stev-
ens says. "What keeps it alive
are the constant discoveries -
finding out things that nobody
else knows."
"My father was worried about
me for a while," Stevens says.
"He wanted me to get a job
that pays a living wage, he want-
ed me to get married and to do
all the things that real people
do."
Stevens is now working on the
Sesquencentennial (Ann Arbor:
1824-1974) and until recently,
wrote a weekly column for t h e
Huron Valley Advisor on local
history ("Doctor Daniel K e 1-
logg: the Clairvoyant Physic-
ian"). Such concessions to t h e
things that "real people do" have'
appeased his father.
"I could give you a tour of this
house with my eyes closed, I
know it so well," Stevens com-
ments. "People envy me, living
here in the midst of these an-
tiques. Actually they're not very
comfortable."
Stevens lives in two rooms of

the home, the den and an up-
stairs bedroom. The den is be-
reft of antiques but cluttered
with books like the "History of
Washtenaw County 1881," a tat-
tered old volume filled with bio-
graphies of prominent citizens
and titillating chapters that tell
of local murders from a moralis-
tic point of view.
The den also contains the
world's largest collection of Ann
Arbor postcards, a complete set
of Pioneer High yearbooks and
an incomplete set of the Michi-
ganensian. "It's easy to get the
old ones," explains Stevens. "But
the new ones are harder to come
by. You have to wait for the
grads to die off." There are also
three bookshelves stacked with
local historical works and also-
a collection of novels that men-
tion Ann Arbor.
It is not a haphazard, grab-bag
group of memorabilia. Stevens
has a reverence for the past and
is committed to seeing the best
of it preserved.

The son of a professor father
and a University alumna moth-
er, Stevens grew up in Ann Ar-
bor with W. H. Auden's first
name and a special feeling for
his hometown. He never felt the
restlessness that sends peopl
running from their towns at the
first opportunity. He always want-
ed to go to the University and
did, for a while.
As a freshman, Stevens lived
in Fletcher Hall and quickly fil-
led twelve notebooks with t h e
history of the dormitory. (H, dis-
covered it had been hastily snu:
down during Prohibition after a
bootleg ring was discovyered to
be operating out of it.) He quick-
ly lost interest in school, while
knowing everything there was to
know about Fletcher Hall only'
whet his appetite for local his-
tory.
"I'm interested in other his-
tory, especially American, ' Stev-
ens says, "but in Ann Aroor I
can do something original I can
make a contribution. Here, I
am on the frontier, discovering
new information all the tirne "
"It is an inexhaustible subject,
the challenge is to learn it all."
An impossible goal, he admits,
but one that he has set for hini-
self. "You can go back and
back, and get deeper and deeper
into the subject. In a way," says

Stevens, "you create a whole
new world, it becomes a fairy
tale that really happened "
Wystan Stevens, local histar-
ian and private escapist, pioneer
and detective. He does odd gobs
to support himself and never
goes out without a camea.
"There is not just one Ann
Arbor," he observes. "There are
layers of this city one over the
other. There are new Mv;i dings
on the foundatins of old 3-ones,
different periods of histiry co-
existing alongside each oter."
Of course there is plenty to
keep a local history buff busy in
Ann Arbor - but is it eno::r I for
a lifetime?
"I don't plan for the cuvure,"
he answers. "I don't know if I
am going to study Ann Arbor all
my life. I do have the desire to
put it all down on paper to
write a thorough history of this
city. And maybe, after I do that,
I will be able to go on «o some-
thing else."
But Stevens is not readv to
spirit- away the ghosts of Ann
Arbor's past. Far the present, he
lives in the "little temple' at 312

FUTURE WORLDS
LECTURE SERIES presents
DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON
.Journalist, Author: "Fear and Loathing on
the Campaign Trail"
TUES., Feb. 12, 3 p.m.-adm. $1
HILL AUDITORIUM, Ann Arbor
TICKETS: Michigan Union Ticket Desk
and at the door
info: 763-1107 (coming Feb. 21 : Margaret Mead)

S. Division - the Greek revival
home marked with a hisoricai
plaque.
"I'm happy here," Stevens
says. "But still, sometimes I
wish the Historizal Commission
would move the furmnure
around."'

PROFESSIONAL THEATRE PROGRAM
CITY CENTER ACTING COMPANY
JOHN HOUSEMAN, Artistic Director
"An outstanding theatre group"-Knickerbocker News
"Wel knit unit of young and proficient players"-Daily
"Outstanding performances"-The New York Times
"Absolutely sparkling"-Cue
presenting John Gay's
THE BEGGAR'S OPERA
Feb. 14-15 at8 Feb. 16at3
and William Shakespeare's
MEASURE FOR MEASURE
Feb. 16 at8/ Feb.1 7at 3 & 8
Mendelssohn Theatre
TICKETS: PTP Ticket Office, Mendelssohn Lobby
764-0450

SUNDAY ONLY

__.---
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FEBRUARY 10
The incredible adventures of
MARiOI

A

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WED. & THUR.
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7, 9, and 11 p.m.

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Marjoe in his new life as a hip young American.
ALSO
a short by D. Pennebaker (Monteray Pop)
Alice Cooper at Toronto
7 and 9 p.m.
Natural Science Aud.

( .7
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