June 30, 2010 by Amy Elliott Bragg
Walking with Stevens T. Mason to Capitol Park
Yesterday, of course, the world was rocked by the announcement that Boy Governor Stevens T. Mason‘s remains, originally presumed to be — well, you know, in his grave — were MIA. The situation grew stranger by the hour as reports surfaced that no one even knew if they were looking for a coffin or an urn or what, despite the fact that Mason was disinterred (to make way for a bus station) and then laid back to rest in 1955. The same funeral home that is exhuming him now did that job and yesterday they were all like, “Oh, yeah, well, we don’t have any of those records. Who knows.”
To the collective relief of a frantic and confused nation, Mason’s crypt and casket were found a couple of hours later, about four feet away from where everyone thought they were. MY GOODNESS. This current disinterment is poor Governor Mason’s third — after his death from pneumonia in 1843, he was buried in New York, then dug up and sent back to Detroit with his 92-year-old (living) sister in 1905. So maybe the poor dude was just trying to make himself scarce.
As an expression of our great joy that this all turned out A-OKAY, your friends aboard the Night Train want to share this lovely work of prose with you about the dapper, darling Stevens T. Mason — Michigan’s first, and America’s youngest, governor — taking one of his first strolls around Detroit, happening ultimately upon what is now Capitol Park — his (sort of) final resting place. It’s probably imaginary, but we’re cool with that:
Arrayed in his skin-tight black broadcloth trousers and flowing cloak, jauntily gesturing with an ebony walking stick, Tom Mason sallied forth to explore the town. From the Mansion House he could see nothing on the downriver side but a spreading log citadel and an open farm. The Mansion House happened to be on the extreme western edge of town, at Jefferson Avenue and Cass Street. Sauntering down Jefferson Avenue and observing with satisfaction how people stared at him, he passed rows of cluttered store windows and presently arrived at Woodward Avenue. Three blocks. He saw a huge street, astonishingly wide, cutting the town in two and running straight back from the river toward the distant forest. To his right, still in the middle of lower Woodward, was the ignoble French Market and its rabble of gesticulating French habitants. He continued onward.
Three more blocks eastward on Jefferson, and he was staring at a tumble-down gate in an old pike-pole wall. This, then, was the eastern edge of town. It was just six blocks wide on the river, a compressed slice of city sandwiched between spreading farms … From the river the town marched solidly, row upon row of one- and two-story white frame stores and homes, as far as Congress — four blocks. There it stopped.
… In 1828 the Council was seriously crticized for allowing the Territorial capitol building to be built so far out in the commons that it was far remote from the town and required a long, exhausting walk to get there. There was no road to it, nothing but a pathway continuing where Griswold Street gave up its wrestle with the mud at Congress. It was a good half-mile from downtown.
By the way: until reading this, I’d never made the connection that Capitol Park was where the capitol was. Whoa.
Writing about Capitol Park in 1947, the author continues:
… Hardly anyone in modern Detroit ever heard of such a place. It is a triangular little space at the head of Griswold, a block uptown from Michigan, crisscrossed with wide concrete sidewalks and boasting a couple of conspicuous comfort-station signs. Sunshine rarely reaches it; the towering cliffs of tremendous buildings hide it from all but historical researchers and people who are looking for parking places. How it could have been regarded, a century ago, as remote from the city of Detroit is utterly incomprehensible to today’s Detroiters. Those who can find it realize that the point is in the heart of the sprawling metropolis. Tom Mason and his father, John T., frequently waded in mud over their ankles and exhausted themselves trying to walk there from the town.
He walked the two miles home, flung his homespun jacket across a chair, took a flickering tallow candle and sat down at a table. In the dim yellow light, wavering and dancing before his eyes, he studied. He kept us his classwork as carefully as if he had to recite all those lessons the next day. He wrote comments in the margins of his father’s and grandfather’s works on philosophy. They are preserved to this day, and readable. One says: “This is silly!” The passage, in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, is the famous dictum holding that any nation’s economic resources can be exceeded by the spending of tyrants.
Dear Adam Smith,
Stevens T. Mason