“A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words”

I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “A picture is worth 1,000 words.” The truth in this saying is evidenced by the variety of photos without text in the later issues of the Tower Yearbook.  The 1973 edition (titled, “The Urban 1973 Almanac and Yearbook, A Guide to the University of Detroit“) is a great example of this.  The title page of this yearbook alone, offered as it is in the curly-ques and leafy design of an actual almanac, is a reflection of the times.  In those days, a return to a simpler time was encouraged: back to the present moment, back to nature, back to the farm, back to the almanac.  And in this urging to slow down the frantic rush to the future, we have the potential bridge between university life and the changing cultural.

The idea behind the focus on simplicity during this time is that the complexity of a growing industrial and technological social structure could be conveyed in one picture. This seems to lead the way to current times when we can recognize direction through the image of a smiley face or simple letter-structured terms like “LOL” (or even the highlighted text on a web page indicating a link)!  In a sense, the icons that populate the electronic devices we’re so attached to now are miniaturized versions of this adage (“An icon is worth any number of words”?).  (This can be quickly recognized in our response to the “X” for close shown in the upper right corner of your browser screen even now!)

In 1973, however, the Tower Yearbook staff were just figuring out the power of the image in its ability to communicate a lot of information. On the beginning page of this yearbook after the Contents, is one line of text announcing the images that follow, “Some things you might have missed”. This is followed by several pages of images without text offering readers a stroll through the year in their own memories of it.

On page 24 of the 1973 Tower, the image of the open gate on part of the tall fence near a campus dorm building illustrates more than one meaning regarding Public Safety as explained in the text next to it .  It seems this fence was both a curse and a blessing: it reduced crime but only worked to do this if the gates were monitored and kept locked.

1973 was a turbulent year, not only for U of D and the city of Detroit, but for the country overall. The changes taking place outside the campus gates were reflected in the protests, crime, and discontent on the campus itself. Campus life became more involved in assisting social change than in parties and festivals. Trying to explain the times, the culture, the turbulence of the year in words would take more than one volume to convey. And while these changes could be complex, the picture heavy edition of this yearbook offered a way of clarifying them.



The Urban 1973 Almanac and Yearbook

Tamarack Collection Overview

This first publication of the Tamarack came after 20 years of discussion about whether or not to start a college newspaper, or so the editor tells his readers in his “Salutatory” introduction (shown below). The college itself had only been around that long. And during those first 20 years, Detroit College was alone the only Catholic college in Michigan. Having its own newspaper was important not only to ensure its place among institutions of higher learning, but as an expression of pride in its knowledgeable and talented student body. And now, at long last, here it was fresh and humble.

Within this issue we discover a page that offers the names of the Editorial Board, those first intrepid few who worked so hard to make this happen.  And on this page we find that for $1.00 a year (10 cents an issue), readers could subscribe to the monthly paper.  Sweet deal; although this amount may have been quite dear for that time. While this first edition encourages students and alumni to help by contributing money (through subscriptions) and/or writing, the quality is already first rate and foreshadows the excellent content of future volumes.

The Tamarack was a strong presence in the lives of Detroit College students between 1897 and most of 1901.  But then it grew silent.  In 1907 it rallied for the publication of an “Athletic Number,” but then returned to silence for another few years.  In December 1913, without much fanfare or explanation, the Tamarack reappeared.  Detroit College had become the University of Detroit by then and maybe this explains the Tamarack’s absence.

The next publication, in April 1914, let readers know that the long silence was over and the Tamarack was back.  From then on, it would be a quarterly publication.  And so it was, for a while.

In June 1918, we see the final Tamarack. The Varsity News had begun publication by this time, and it would soon assume prominence as the University of Detroit newspaper. (Be sure to check out our Varsity News digital archive!)

Changing Seasons

The very first Tamarack (volume 1, number 1) was published in April 1897.  That spring must surely have begun in a similar fashion to the way it begins today: hopeful, bursting with flowers, sunshine, and the unspoken promise of a fresh start.  The students who haunted the hallowed halls of Detroit College back then must have welcomed the end of winter with as much enthusiasm as today’s students.  Spring meant a release from negotiating the icy streets, the snowy treks to campus, the unyielding freezing temperatures, and the general mess of winter.  Back then without the advantages of current cold temperature attire, it must have taken a lot of determination just to get to class.  And how wonderful it must have been to at last know the sun would grace those final days of classes before the end of the semester.

The change in seasons reflected the upcoming change in the century.  The potential for amazing advancement ushered in with the arrival of the 1900s likely weighed on the minds of students in similar fashion to the potential for new life that the warmer season usually seems to promise.  These two major changes surely helped influence the birth of this new publication.  Reading through the first few issues it’s easy to be transported to a time when winter was just a little more difficult to deal with, and spring was just a little more welcome.

One of my favorite essays in the early Tamarack issues is the one published in this particular issue (shown below titled “Etchings on the Way”).  This sort of descriptive work offers a rare glimpse into the world of the early student as he made his way along the streets of Detroit to class. (Keep in mind, this college was a man’s world back then.)  The reader can join the writer as he makes his way along those early streets to his college classroom. His world was slower and quieter and he shares the sights and sounds of an average morning walk through the city.


“Etchings on the Way” by Maurice W. Chawke, class of 1897

Spend some time in this wonderful collection. You’re bound to find something interesting there.

Poetic Express

Creativity is an urge, I believe, and one we’re all born with. This urge can get directed in different ways, from cooking to construction to creating a business. In some people, this urge is expressed through art. Regardless of the way it’s expressed, however, what can’t be denied is its need for expression. Often the form of expression is part of the creativity itself.

Maurice Greenia, Jr. responds to this creative urge in various ways: from writing, to drawing, to music, to performance. Introduce an idea and he’ll give it a try. The urge encourages him to do something different, to change the world in a noticeable way, and to make a positive impact on society as a whole.

In the 1970s, Maurice decided to share his work in a unique way. Although he’d already been creating art for years prior to this, it was at this point that he started typing poetry, manifestos, drawings, and collections of old quotations (usually filling both sides of an 8” x 11” page). He’d make copies of these pages, and hand them out to people he’d run into around town. Sometimes, he’d mail these to various friends throughout the country to be distributed there. This was all done free of charge and in response to an urge to share his work.

In 1985, Maurice decided it was time to do a regular monthly publication. It was at this point that he came up with the name “Poetic Express” for this work. Since the publication would go out on a regular basis, he offered himself incentive with a deadline, thus forcing him to write poetry, draw, and create comic strips for each month. The Poetic Express is a way to connect on a very personal level to people he would never know or even meet. It’s a raw communication that offers his readers a recognition of the creative urge within their own lives.

When asked about his inspiration for this publication, Maurice says, “It’s always been about getting my work out to the people. I’ve had a lot of feedback over the years and the Express does have some sort of ‘underground cult following.’”

The recent Poetic Express (below) is one of Maurice’s favorites since it includes tributes to family and friends, both living and deceased. I hope you’ll spend some time with this section of the Maurice Greenia, Jr. collection. I think you’ll find it inspiring.


1964 U of D Commencement

Here’s a question: What value is there in looking through digitized versions of past Commencement booklets?

Good question! Answers to this range from the obvious historical research benefit to the idea of satisfying curiosity. Suppose, for example, that you are curious about the history of Commencement at the university. When did this ceremony begin for the University of Detroit (or for Detroit College)? Did all schools participate? Were the various schools even established at U of D when Commencement first began?

And what about the deans at the various colleges?  You’ve heard of a few of them. How long did each dean hold the position? Who were these deans and what is their history with U of D?

What if we take a look at the 1964 Commencement booklet? Fifty years ago is a good place to begin. How have things changed since then? Where was the emphasis then as compared to Commencement ceremonies now?

1964 marked the eighty-first annual Commencement at the University of Detroit. It was also the twenty-third annual Commencement at Mercy College (also represented in our Commencement archive). And like every Commencement between 1952 and 1979, this ceremony was held at the Memorial Building. We can read that the Very Reverend, Laurence V. Britt, SJ was president of the university then and had been since 1961 (through 1966). The Invocation for this event was given by William H. Nichols, SJ, and the Honorary Degree recipient on this occasion was Dr. Edward Teller. William Kelly Joyce was the Committee Chairman for this Commencement and had served in this capacity since 1944 (through 1965).

Image 3 (shown here) provides the anniversary date along with the name of the dean from each college. And image eight offers a fine outline of the events of the day. We can almost imagine being there; and we can easily picture the bright and eager faces of those who had accomplished so much and were poised to accomplish so much more.

These little booklets hold a lot of information. All we have to do is spend a little time with them now to realize how valuable they really are and continue to be.

81st Annual Commencement Exercises University of Detroit Memoria


Students Then and Now

Take a look at the photo below.  This is an image of a usual campus scene in 1964.  In this photo, students rush to class or hurry to their parked cars or into the library at the right side of the picture. The day is warm, probably Spring, and students seem distracted by their studies, the change in the seasons, or each other.  One student in the foreground seems to be checking his watch, others seem lost in their own thoughts.  Here is a moment in time, fifty years ago, held forever in this frozen image.

When I see photos like this one, I tend to immediately compare this one scene so long ago with the way things look now.  It’s not that the student him or herself has changed that much, each one still has his or her own thoughts, goals, fears, and hopes.  Each student today is still working toward creating a successful future and maybe questioning the steps it takes to get there. It seems there’s a difference in the “how” part of those steps these days, however.

This same scene today would include not only a difference in fashion (which, to me, would be a lot less uncomfortable looking than the student attire pictured here), but in the inclusion of the technology that has become so much a part of the average student’s life these days. We’d be hard pressed to find a student who would come to class in a suit and tie (for example), but we’d be even more challenged to find a student without a cell phone, laptop, or other similar handy device. Students today would also probably carry their books and supplies in a backpack instead of bundled against their sides or clutched in their arms as this image shows.

Take another look.  Can you imagine yourself in this picture?  How would it be to strive for the same educational success then as it is now?  And how likely is it that if they met on campus, today’s students would have much in common with the students shown here? While students in this photograph likely didn’t worry about their futures, I would wager that today’s students would have a thing or two to teach them about the value of a good education.

1964_tower_yearbookImage 7, 1964 Tower Yearbook

The past is waiting for your presence. Why not spend some time in the Digital Archives? It will be well worth the investment.


The Future of the Moving Pictures

You may have surmised by now that my current favorite archive is the Tamarack.  What a wonderful find this collection is! Opening these dusty pages is like finding hidden treasure. These young student writers, likely only published in this one tome, were the reporting witnesses to an age that valued insight and “letters” (or writing well) over technological witticism.

The Tamarack spans the early years of the university’s history, and mostly the early years of the 20th century.  The first quarter of this new century seemed open to radical change and technological miracles … and they seemed constant: the sad end of the Titanic; the bitter fighting in World War I; the virulent strain of influenza sweeping the planet; societies world wide rocked by revolutions, violent riots, and union strikes. While all this turmoil was going on, Einstein was writing his theory of general relativity and Henry Ford was busy organizing the first assembly line.  Henry Ford’s work alone would make a major change in industry that would affect much of the country’s work force.

Peeking into the pages of the Tamarack issues published during these years, is a way of seeing these events from a particularly focused point of view. In any case, the changes taking place during these troubled years must have been on the minds of the students at U of D as they considered their futures. And, to me, returning to this frame of reference in these mute pages is very valuable.

So while reviewing the June, 1915 issue of the Tamarack the other day, I chanced upon this great essay titled, “The Future of Moving Pictures.” It may have been Henry Ford’s impact on production that inspired the writer’s perspective, or maybe he was just responding to the turbulence of the times. In any case, he saw the potential for this cinematic novelty as a tool for instruction and not just entertainment.  I found this very insightful and wondered why it took so long for the social world to embrace this perspective in the same way this young man had back in the early days of movie history.


Skip ahead to 2014 (just shy of 100 years) and you have youtube! Like a lot of ideas ahead of their time, this one just took off and got crazy effective!

Belle Isle Bridge Fire

Some things get lost to history. At first, dramatic events are passed along from one generation to the next — parents tell parents, friends tell friends. When the world gets busy with major events like wars and economic disasters, however, the smaller ones fade into the dusty lines of historic records. Later, when we stumble across these old social memories, we often react with surprise.  And isn’t that cool?

On April 27, 1915, a fire destroyed the mostly wooden bridge connecting the mainland to Belle Isle.  Those fortunate enough to have a camera with them at the time captured some pretty dramatic images.  Others, like the students at the University of Detroit, relied on their ability to communicate the excitement of the day through the written word.

The page below, taken from the June, 1915 edition of the Tamarack, provides a glimpse into the way the local community responded to what must have been a very tragic afternoon.


The remains of this sad wooden structure were replaced in 1923, renamed to the McArthur Bridge in 1942, and restored in 1986. (source: wikipedia)

Digital History

Looking for an interesting way to spend your time this weekend?  Here’s a suggestion: travel digitally through the history of Detroit and the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM)! Both the city and the university offer a diverse and interesting past just waiting to be shared. Since the end of the 19th century, each has reflected the changes in the other. The successes and growth of both Detroit and UDM are reflections of the people who live, work, and dream here. Be part of something vital by checking this out.

Where to start? Well, how about at the Father Couglin Collection? Many know the story of Father Charles E. Coughlin and his contribution to the history of Detroit, but did you know UDM has a digital collection of his work and recorded influence during his lifetime? This archive includes a short biography, along with his educational materials, primary writings, radio broadcasts, photographs, and much more.

Father Coughlin’s archive includes several publications of the Shrine Herald newspaper that he contributed to during the 1940s and 1950s. To check out the entire digital collection of the Shrine Herald publications, visiting this important collection is just a click away.

To gain an understanding of what was taking place at the University of Detroit and Mercy College during the same period, spend some time with the Commencement, Convocation, Course Catalogs and Bulletins, Mercy College collections (Sisters of Mercy and college newspapers collections), Tamarack, University of Detroit Yearbook Collection, Varsity News, and similar special collections.

Also included in our digital archives are people who have contributed greatly to the enrichment of both the city of Detroit and UDM such as Father Edward J. Dowling (Fr. Edward J. Dowling, S.J. Marine Historical Collection),  Dr. James T. Callow (The James T. Callow Folklore Archive), and Maurice Greenia (Maurice Greenia, Jr. Collections).

There’s nothing more rewarding on these snowy days of winter than gaining a deeper understanding of the history of place. Spending time within these digital pages offers visitors a great way to discover and experience a past that still influences us today.

University of Detroit Mercy Digital Special Collections

Special Collections Page, University of Detroit Mercy Digital Archives

Anthony Burns

Those of you who have visited the Black Abolitionist Archive have likely noticed the photograph of a young man named Anthony Burns in the upper left-hand corner of the main page. There’s an interesting history to this young man’s experience that helped to bring to light the depth of the outrage of slavery, and to change the hearts and minds of the citizens of Boston. Through his own words we learn of his plight.

When Anthony Burns was 19 years old, he mustered enough courage to escape from slavery in Virginia and make his way to Boston. He found a job with a local merchant and kept to himself. He believed he’d found the freedom he so desperately sought in the solitary life he’d chosen for himself in Boston. Then he made a fateful mistake.

Historynet.com fills in the blanks of Burns’ story and describes how he sent a letter to his brother, also a slave held at the same plantation in Virginia, disclosing his whereabouts. The letter was intercepted by the plantation owner who traveled to Boston to retrieve his “property.”

Boston was a good place for Burns to be. The people of this city had long disagreed with the Fugitive Slave laws that now determined Burns’ fate. And at this point, there were opposition forces gathering together to take action in Burns’ defense, radical action association with an underground Vigilance Committee group.  (The Burns’ arrest took place around 1854. In 1859, just five years later, John Brown would shock the country with his raid on Harper’s Ferry.)

The Boston Vigilance Committee (BVC) secured an excellent legal defense for Burns free of charge. But before any legal proceedings could take place, rioters, organized by the BVC stormed the courthouse in an effort to free Burns.

Historynet.com describes it this way:

The BVC organized a huge meeting for the evening of Friday, May 26, at Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall. Some 5,000 irate antislavery protesters attended. Wealthy merchant George Russell, a founding member of the BVC, opened the meeting and immediately set the tone: “The time will come when Slavery will pass away…. I hope to live in a land of liberty — in a land where no slave hunter shall dare pollute with his presence.”

The rioters were turned back; one man was killed; and the trial proceeded. Though his legal defense was impassioned and would prove historic, in the end, Burns was returned to the plantation with his former master. At their parting, the plantation owner jeered at the crowd that could purchase Burns’ freedom for a fair price. And, later, this was done.

Burns returned to Boston, later studied at Ohio’s Oberlin College and then became a Baptist minister. On July 27, 1862, just seven weeks before Lincoln would issue his Emancipation Proclamation, 28-year-old Anthony Burns died in Canada from tuberculosis. As much as anyone, Burns had exposed the gaping divisions between North and South that would lead to disunion and Civil War.

 There are several audio versions included in the Black Abolitionist Archive, and the published speech by Anthony Burns is one of them.  The recorded voice of a volunteer reader of this speech adds depth and another perspective on this important part of history.


In 1854, Emerson wrote: “Ask not, is it constitutional. Ask, is it right?”


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