October 28, 2010 by Amy Elliott Bragg
Scenes from Stevens T. Mason’s reburial
A small crowd gathered in Capitol Park yesterday to honor Stevens T. Mason, Michigan’s first and America’s youngest governor, who was reburied in a crypt there after his remains were temporarily removed during the Park’s restoration.
It was also Governor Mason’s 199th birthday.
A swoop of pigeons was circling, distracting the attention of several photographers.
Before the ceremony started, Eno (who told me earlier this week to keep an eye out for a guy that looked like Hazen Pingree) passed out “I Dig Boy Gov” shirts. They are fantastic. You will want one and I will let you know when they are on sale.
Don Faber, author of The Toledo War, gave a captivating speech about Young Hotspur (a name bestowed upon Mason, Faber said, by President Jackson. President Jackson, you’ll remember, had Governor Mason forcibly removed from office during the Toledo War). The “right man at the right time for Michigan,” Faber said, Mason was “like a comet.”
Kerri Chartkoff, the Michigan Capitol historian, spoke about the first time Stevens T. Mason was buried in Michigan, in 1905 (he had originally been buried in New York when he died of pneumonia in 1843). Governor Fred Warner greeted the train. Thousands of people crowded the sidewalks along the processional and thronged the memorial ceremony in Capitol Park.
Dan Janssen of the Detroit Historical Society discussed Governor Mason’s far less grand disinterment in the 1950s, when Mason’s remains made way for a transit station. Whether Governor Mason should be kept in Detroit at all was a matter of debate, although he was ultimately restored to his crypt in Capitol Park.
Janssen described a Detroit that perceived its thundering march toward progress as somehow at odds with its past. In some ways, this seemed the timeliest lesson of the day: a community can stand on its history (300-odd years, Detroiters!) and use that momentum to move forward.
That’s why the Michigan Historical Society recruited a contingent of young Detroit leaders to serve as the Governor’s honorary pallbearers, including Sandra Yu of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice and Phil Cooley of Slows Bar-B-Q, who was just profiled in The New York Times (to some chagrin from people who, although they love Phil, and of course Slows, wonder if NYT knows that there are restaurants in Detroit that are not Slows and interesting people who live here who are not Phil. Still, I found myself enjoying the gentle absurdity that one of Phil’s many town-trotting events included, on this day, being a pallbearer for Stevens T. Mason. OF COURSE).
An honor guard did the physical honors of delivering the Governor to rest.
Governor Mason’s metal coffin was placed in an above-ground crypt beneath a life-size bronze statue that had been spruced up for the park’s re-opening. One wonders if there was a problem removing the graffiti tags, however, on the concrete memorial slab.
But we trifle. It was a pitch-perfect ceremony on a clear October day, and the crowd was quiet and, if I may project, a little bit awed. I was.
Maybe I am just sentimental, but it felt wonderful to witness this peculiar occasion in city history first-hand. Even if Governor Mason is doomed to be disinterred and re-interred once a generation, but that’s still a rare moment in a lifetime.
Thanks for everything,
The Night Train