Wednesday, July 06, 2005

It was The first Night of Summer...

I. So I cut on the News before I went to bed like I always do, just to check out the weather and there it is, a five alarm fire. It's the burning of Studebaker Factory downtown, filling my screen, on every channel it is both captivating and frightening. I cut it off walk to the bedroom then find my self back in front of TV in less than a minute later staring looking past the news logos and inane chatter. You see I was here on that firey october night in 1984. I have seen this before. This was history on fire and I wanted to document it. I grab my camera and we're out the Door.

II. As we head downtown and I fumble with tapes, listen to radio's apocalyptic descriptions and watch the hellish red glow of the smoke get larger and larger. Still, this did not prepare me for what I see. It is breathtaking, The specter of this early 20th century structure ablaze reminds me of those old WWII "World at War," reels of London and Dresden I grew up on. The partially collapsed wood interior unfortunately provides plenty of fuel for a fire that had began at the corner of John R and Piquette, and will race to the far end at Brush street in under three hours. Standing here, mouth open, I can see why early man had a separate god for fire.

III. This town is at least 70 yrs older than the country itself and it shows. We're currently still using 19th century beaver pelt factory's as a casino. This wood beam factory was a marvel of its day . It sadden me to watch The Studebaker Piquette Avenue Plant burn, erasing Detroit history and memories in its path.

Just Imagine this was "the cradle" of the automotive industry, the silicon valley of its day. In this neighborhood, this very block, many well known auto giants built their legends. The original ford "Model T" plant is right next door, and at one point during the night to everyones horror, it too will be on fire. Between 1908 and 1962 this was the "heart beat" of Industrial revolution. This is where the industrial revolution perfected its self, mass production, the integrated supply line, the $5 dollar work day. Rarely does the world remember that most of our modern lifestyle, standards, affordability, etc., found its origin right on this hallowed ground.

Today, the building engulfed before me has four major storage and retail sites operating inside the compound including the Piquette Market,as well as several massive empty structures, Nonetheless, the Studebaker history on this site is amazing, renowned for being ahead of its times with its innovative designs. For me, it cemented it place in world History as a vital member of the "Arsenal of Democracy." After all the Studebaker "M Series" trucks were responsible for the bulk of the hauling during construction of the Burma road. These great trucks were also given to aid Russia, in fact tens of thousands served with the Russian army in W.W.II. Studebaker trucks also saw heavy use in building the Alaskan Hi-way. Their heavy duty frames were respected for the punishment they could take. It is a fact that Studebaker trucks were sought out as war prizes by the Germans, as the Studebakers were superior to any German military truck. Should we be surprised?

IV. People gather from at least three counties and two countries to witness this funeral pyre...You know the types, the neighborhood "I seent it, I seent all" folks. The news guy bored, hoping someone would die on camera for ratings, the many suburban "fire tourist", and of course lots of shooters like myself. As I work my way through the neighborhood looking for a better angles I speak with many of them, at industrial lots, in between, modern and post modern structures, under trees, standing on moon like surfaces, always with the ever present flames lighting our faces. The conversations have an eerie end of days feel them. But one woman will stick with me, after all this is said and done...

She walks up to me in tears and asks If "I was the press." Before I can answer she begins her "tale of woe." She catalogues her losses, records, furniture, etc., to this "beast" of a fire. So I Listen quietly and when she finished, the I gently point her toward the "News 4" van. A lady in red, brings her some coffee and walks her, sobbing to the van to be interviewed. I hope things will worked out.

In the end this will be one of those events that will casually come in conversation years from now...I'll smile at the guy across from me and say yeah I remember that night, I was there.

V. Ok, I have to admit to myself, I love watching the community come together.
These 150 Firemen fighting their way towards the buildings, as flames erupt behind them. They seem totally unfazed and keep hard charging forward, "Brave Bastards." Also much respect the cops keeping the crowd away from the crumbling walls and periodic explosion backing them up even Salvation Army backing everyone up, comforting those in sorrow with some much needed coffee food. Heros all... of course, thanks to all them no one will be hurt tonight."


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The devil is just one man with a plan, but evil ... true evil is a collaboration of men which is what we have here today. If I am a guilty man, my crime is in daring to believe that the truth will out ... I believe it still. Much as you try to bury it, the truth is out there. Greater than your lies, the truth wants to be known. ...It'll come to you as it's come to me, faster than the speed of light. -agent Fox Mulder