January 13, 2013 by Amy Elliott Bragg
Drunk History is tonight, Mon. Jan. 14: Dan Austin shares Detroit’s forgotten landmarks
TONIGHT: The Detroit Drunken Historical Society welcomes Dan Austin! FINALLY!
You may know Dan from his first book, Lost Detroit, a history of 12 abandoned buildings in Detroit. The gorgeous glossy photos (by Sean Doerr) have fooled some into shuffling this book into the “ruin porn” bin, but make no mistake: Dan’s work is the antidote to ruin porn. Through his books and his website HistoricDetroit.org, Dan creates historical context for Detroit’s gawked-at gap-toothed structures (as well as many that are still occupied and in great shape). Ruin porn doesn’t ask: When was that building built? What public impression did it make when it opened? Does anyone remember what it used to be like? What are its best hopes for the future? Dan asks those questions, and tries to answer them, every single day.
His new book, Forgotten Landmarks of Detroit, tell stories of buildings we’ve lost: Old City Hall (demolished 1961), Union Depot (demolished 1974), the Water Works Park Tower (demolished 1960), even a big old steamboat (the City of Detroit III, pictured above, scrapped 1956).
Detroit has a great tradition of passionate people with day jobs creating rich, extraordinary, encyclopedic works of history in their free time. Silas Farmer, a publisher and mapmaker, did not need to write a 1,000-plus page book of Detroit history. He did anyway, and we are all still using A History of Detroit and Wayne County as our first, best reference for local historical questions. Clarence Burton, a title lawyer, could have called it a day after donating his massive collection of papers to the Detroit Public Library. But he also left us, in several volumes, The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, because why not do as much as you possibly can? Dan seems to me spiritually related to these love-laborers, especially in his work with HistoricDetroit.org. Because why tell the story of one building when you can collect the stories of all of them? We’re lucky to have him, is what I’m saying. (Dan is also close personal friend of mine, without whom I would not, and could not, have written my own book.)
What I’m saying is, Come see Dan! We’ll be at McShane’s, on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, starting around 7:00 p.m. for drinks and mingling. (Talks tend to start around 7:30.) Dan will sell & sign books afterward and we’ll all have a ball.
Hope to see some of you there!