December 17, 2009 by Amy Elliott Bragg
Detroit History Tour, Part II: Grand Circus Park
On our last Detroit history tour — following an itinerary from the 1933 schoolbook History of Detroit for Young People — your heroes visited Campus Martius Park, Cadillac Square and points west of Woodward that we just sort of aimlessly happened upon.
Yesterday, aimlessly driving up and down Woodward looking for something to do (before stopping in at City Bird to do some Christmas shopping), I realized I had never actually taken a walk across Grand Circus Park, which was looking especially lovely in the frigid late winter sunset. So I parked. And I walked. And I followed along in HD4YP, probably looking like a total jerk.
GRAND CIRCUS PARK
1. East side of Woodward Avenue:
a. Statue of Honorable William C. Maybury
I love that Grand Circus Park is gated by two former Detroit mayors, political rivals and polar personalities, seated in giant chairs. The Maybury monument was unveiled in 1912 and depicts a temperance-minded mayor who “despised demon rum and once banned a performance by English showgirl Lily Langtry as too salacious for Detroit audiences” (source). He also oversaw the building of the bridge from the city of Detroit to Belle Isle and “successfully” (?) celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Chevalier de Cadillac’s founding of the city of Detroit. The French made Maybury a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, as if to say, “Hey! You don’t work for us anymore, but don’t be sad; you can be a Chevalier, too!”
Here, Maybury is pictured in front of the extravagantly Gothic Central United Methodist church, built in 1867. Adams Street in general looks a lot like old Europe, especially from this view (if you cover your right eye to obscure the view of Comerica Park):
b. Fountain dedicated to General Russell A. Alger
Everybody loved Russel Alger in Russell Alger’s day, but the real historical sticking point of this fountain is that it was done by Daniel Chester French, the famous sculptor best known for the seated figure of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial. The fountain is his only work in the state.
c. Site of early Detroit tollgate. Find tablet near Adams avenue and read inscription.
I didn’t find this. I don’t think it’s there anymore, although frankly, it was really damn cold outside, so I guess I could’ve missed it. Does anybody know if this is still around?
2. West side of Woodward Avenue:
a. Statue of Governor Hazen Pingree
THIS GUY! Hazen Pingree! Someone told me that Hazen Pingree is enjoying a “cult revival” right now, which seems evidenced in part by this piece of greatness pasted on the base of the statue:
And why not? Pingree improved streetcar transit and reduced streetcar fares, nailed tax evaders, rooted out corruption in city contracts and on the school board, used vacant city land to grow food for the city’s hungry, endorsed the eight-hour workday, built new schools and expanded public welfare programs in his four remarkable terms.
Plus, this guy — THIS GUY! — a former Union soldier and a cobbler, was a character. When he threw a party to inaugurate the 20th century, Teddy Roosevelt showed up in Rough Riders. He once arrested the entire Detroit Board of Education. He died on an African safari.
Even the colorful Fred Warner — that cheese-making, bicycle champion son of a gun, and a Hazen supporter — didn’t hold the Michigan governorship with quite so much flair.
b. Look at the electric fountain, erected in honor of Edison’s Golden Jubilee.
Boy, this was a missed opportunity. Why isn’t this fountain — commemorating the 50th anniversary of Edison’s invention of the lightbulb — made out of thousands of FLASHING ELECTRIC LIGHTBULBS?
Still, I think the stone birds eternally hanging out underneath the bowl of the fountain are a nice touch.
Here’s a charming 1929 article in Time describing the six-month-long nationwide party on the occasion of the lightbulb’s 50th anniversary. Edison himself was still alive, 82 years old and working hard to invent rubber that didn’t come from rubber trees before he died.
c. Bust of Christopher Columbus, facing the Grand Circus, erected on Washington Boulevard by citizens of Italian birth.
The Columbus bust is now at Jefferson and Randolph, appropriately gazing at the water.