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July 30, 1974 - Image 4

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1974-07-30

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Michiga n Daily
Edited and manoged by Students atfthe
University af Michigan
Tuesday, July 30, 1974
News Phone: 764-0552

Greenfield Village enters
Golden Age of Convenience

"when we are through, we shal have reproduced
American life as lived; and that, I think, is the
best way of preserving at least a part of our
history and tradition."
-Henry Ford, cirta 1929
Marriott Money accepted here.
-Greenield Village, 1974
DEARBORN - "And this is our natural wilder-
ness," announces with pleasure the deep-voiced
engineer of the Greenfield Village Railroad
as his 106-year-old steam locomotive winds its
way past a swamp adjoining the Rouge River.
"Many species of wild animals live here'
Still, the construction equipment has arrived.
The train passes a long, thin mound of fresh sand
rising up from the lush swamp - evidently the
roadbed for a new, additional spur of the Village's
little railway. Indeed, Greenfield Village, Mich-
igan's foremost tourist attraction, is growing
like never before - and not even nature's fickle
ways seem able to slow it down.
The Village is, of course, that hodgepodge mon-
ument to early Americana assembled in the late
'20's by auto pioneer Henry Ford. Ford took
a basically worthless 260 acre plot of land immed-
iately north of what was then his company's pri-
vate airport and spent fifteen years filling it by
convincing small towns worldwide to let him
dismantle their most historic buildings and re-
locate them along the banks of the Rouge.
And thus the Village acquired an almost un-
believable collection of antique structures, includ-
ing the birthplace of the Wright brothers, the
home of Southern songwriter Stephen Foster, the
Illinois courthouse in which Abraham Lincoln
practiced law, and - courtesy Phoenixville, Mass.
- the oldest continuously operated post office in
Ford's zeal for the project became so intense
that at one point he even offered to purchase
Independence Hall from the city of Philadelphia.
The Philly city fathers politely refused; Ford had
to settle for an exact replica worked out by his
team of architects.
By the time Ford died in 1948, the Village
and its accompanying museum had developed in-
to a nationally respected center of interest in
colonial and 19th century studies. But more im-
portantly, perhaps, the Village had evolved into
the only calm oasis of the pre-assembly-line days
in the midst of the sprawling Dearborn empire
of the Ford Motor Company.
It would remain that way for about another 20
years. But in the ed, the very business which
had created the Village would bring it to the
brink of utter ruin.
The mass manufacturing techniques originated
by Henry Ford had made it nossible by the '30s
to market automobiles at a price well within the
reach of most American families. The resulting
increase in car population precipitated the de-
velopment of the Interstate Defense Highway
System in the '50s. And that, in turn, lead to the
rise of a new breed of traveler: the motoring
The Village was a natural magnet for these new
vacationing families for several reasons. First,
the relatively low admission price covered an
entire day's worth of activities that both parents
and kids could easily enjoy. Second, on-site park-
ing was free and extremely plentiful.
But most crucially, when the highway construc-
tion dust cleared, the Village found itself border-
ing on a north-south freeway that intersected in
a matter of a few miles with all three Detroit-
area Interstates. Suddenly, the Village had be-
come "accessible", and quite rapidly pushed
aside all competition to become the premier
tourist attraction of the state.
That was the beginning of the end. Like any
good business organization (and the Village-Mu-
seum complex is incorporated as The Edison In-
stitute, a non-profit group), the Village soon
realized that there was gold in them thar tourists
-and has now struck out to mine as much of
is as it can, hence starting the new "commer-
cial" era of Greenfield Village.
Touring families have, of course, a well-known
failing: weak bladders. So to help ease the situa-
tion along, the Village built a shiny new "com-
fort station" directly across the street from one
of the buildings in the Thomas Edison Memorial
compound. Somehow, it doesn't quite fit in.
Having duly relieved themselves, there's noth-

ing those touring families like more than a cheap
hot dog on a stale bun. Again, the all new Village
seemed happy to comply. It erected a mammoth
lunch wagon facility - complete with wire tables

and beach umbrellas - just east of its legendary
1840 covered bridge.
The biggest anachronism of all, however,-is the
attempt at a pseudo-Disneyland called "Suwanee
One of the Village's proudest possessions for
years has been the old Florida steamboat, the
'Suwanee", that Ford bought, reconditioned, and
placed in a specially dug circular canal to sail
away the rest of its days.
Well, the small little wooden boat has now
been joined by a host of glass-and-steel structures
that have drastically - if not irrevocable -
changed the skyline of the Village's northeast
side, the home of Noah Webster's house, the Swiss
Watchmakers' Chalet, and Luther Burbank's
The largest of the "Suwanee Park" intruders is
a series of four hexagonal buildings that contain
another new restaurant for the hungry hoardes.
The two food counters of the 'Riverfront" concen-
trate on what the Village calls "open-hearth spec-
ialties" - read that fast food.
Also ready to fill visitor's tummies is the new
ice cream parlor, a gleaming edifice that contains
an old wooden counter imported from New Eng-
land to supply the one necesary "link" with the
past. Kids can take their cones and head right
around the corner to the Village's huge new
merry-go-round while Mom and Dad settle the
Another money-grabbing addition is the "pen-
ny arcade", a would-be pinball operation that
contains a few old test-your-strength-and-win-a-
marble machines outfitted for quarter-a-shot ser-
. Last of the new lively gimmicks is the "raft"
that -- for a dime round-trip - will transport
visitors to the recently completed picnic area and
nature trail. It isn't an actual raft, naturally;
the Village's technical wizards created an electric
outboard boat to whiz across the muddy waters of
the Suwanee Lagoon. Unfortunately, it has to be
plugged in and recharged after every crossing.
Meanwhile, the white paint slowly peels off the
majestic columns of the old Clinton Inn, the car-
pet frays in the Wright Brother's birthplace, and
the chalked graffiti rises higher and higher on the
venerable timbers of the covered bridge.
The Village is still a fun place to visit, of
:ourse - but these days that's all it now is.
At one time the Village was an incomparble edu-
cational experience - a chance to pretend for
a few moments that time had reversed itself and
that the quiet days of yesteryear had, if only
briefly, returned.
Today that is no longer possible. The jingle of
coins in the Village gatehouse - and its bright
new gift shop-souvenir complex - is just simply
too loud.
First aid blues
tI'YPICAL SUMMER concert. While the crowd
playfully soaks up the sun, the chords of the
Muskadine Blues Band, and gallons of Boones
Farm, Drug Help watches them apprehensively.
Their first-aid team awaits repeats of last
week's motorcycle gang tussles or thunderstorms
toppling ponderous speakers; yet the afternoon
proves relatively uneventful as the usual beercan
top victims and their salt tablet-hoarding com-
trades wander into the inconspicuous Drug Help
"When was the last time you had your tetanus
shot?" inquire the Drug Help workers.
While Pun Plamondon exhorts the masses to
vote the GOP out of office (because City Council
banned this year's Blues and Jazz Fest.) a man
from the Upper Peninsula displays his Saturday
'light fight welts proudly, but refuses aid. Next,
a woman whose foot "stings like a bitch" from
a cigarette burn grimaces as an antiseptic is ap-
plied. Finally, a bewildered fellow asks directions
to "the gravel pits."
A possible appendicitis case quickly banshes
the concert's balmy effect on Drug Help's panor-
amic hillside spot. Rushing the stretchered victim
to their blue and white van, the first-aiders hope
for a speedy getaway, but living obstacles con-
front them. After the roar of the van's exhaust
sends several dogs scurring for safer shelter, daz-
ed onlookers and their ice chests still block their

exit. What seems ages later, the path clears.
Typical concerts ends. Loitering drunks are
consoled; refuse from the festivities canned; and
the tarp is neatly folded. One of the last to leave
Otis Spann Memorial Field is someone's pet snake
named Herman.

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