Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lansing Snapshots: From Sepia to Selfies

We need your photos. The Historical Society of Greater Lansing and the Library of Michigan are sponsoring “Lansing Snapshots: from Sepia to Selfies” which will cover 150 years of Lansing’s photographic history.

The concept of the exhibit is to show both iconic photographs, but also what are called vernacular photos or everyday photos of Lansing and its people, said Valerie Marvin, president of the Historical Society.

“We want to showcase photographs that will surprise you and that you haven’t seen before in addition to some photographs that have become icons like the 1975 flood photos”, she said.

Marvin said the Society is especially looking for photographs from all eras that include famous Lansing citizens such as R.E. Olds, Malcolm X, Earvin Johnson, and the Stratosphere Man. She also said the Society is searching for photographs of weather calamities such as floods and snowstorms along with celebrations ranging from family events to holiday events.

The exhibit which will be on display in the Library from September through December will feature photographs, including their context in the history of the photographic processes from daguerreotypes to selfies.  Also featured is a major exhibit on loan from the Clark Library at Central Michigan University which focuses on the history of photography as seen through its many photographic processes.

The exhibit will be broken down by a historical timeline, but will include images representing the MSU campus, lost Lansing, recreation, entertainment, sports and city and family celebrations.
One segment of the exhibit will include a look at Lansing’s professional photographers across time and their contributions to the history of Lansing.

Since it is important to include all aspects of Lansing society we are looking for photographs from African American, Hispanics, Asians and other racial and ethnic groups that represent their place in Lansing history, Marvin said.

The exhibit will also include rare photographic equipment and cameras on loan from area residents.
Original photographs and photographic equipment can be loaned or will be scanned for inclusion in the exhibit. All original photographs and photo equipment will be in locked cases.

So who out there has the best photograph of Lake Lansing amusement park or the long gone R.E. Olds Mansion, the Michigan Theatre, the original city hall, a family Christmas tradition or even early horse racing in Lansing?

To loan us a photo, e-mail info@lansinghistory.org or call 517-282-0671.

HSGL reserves the right to reject or accept photography on the basis of content and suitability to overall exhibit.  

Friday, June 19, 2015

Holling C. Holling June 25 Event Canceled!

We regret to inform you that our program scheduled for Thursday, June 25, at Lansing City Hall about author and illustrator Holling C. Holling has been canceled.  We hope to reschedule for sometime in the fall.

Please remember that our current exhibit, Lansing Goes to War, will close on June 30!  Stop by Lansing City Hall anytime Monday - Friday between 7:30 am and 5:30 pm to see the exhibit before it closes.

Monday, June 15, 2015

East Side Walking Tour This Thursday, June 18

Growing Eastward on Michigan Avenue Walking Tour
Thursday, June 18, 7:00 pm
Tour Starts at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ, 125 S. Pennsylvania
Tour Free, Open to the Public

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing hosts the second of eight summer walking tours of Lansing 7 p.m., Thursday, June 18 on East Michigan Avenue. The tour starts at the Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ, 125 S. Pennsylvania Ave. where walkers will be able to go inside. Parking is available at the Church and the tour is free. The first 50 walkers will get a free treat from Fabiano’s candy store.

The summer’s second tour explores the history of Lansing’s movement east on Michigan Ave and includes several of the byway’s churches including Resurrection (walkers will have access to the Church,) Christ Lutheran Church, Sparrow Hospital and Fabiano’s. The tour will be led by John Folkers who served as minister of several area churches including East Lansing’ People’s Church. He is currently a tour guide at the State Capitol, an on-call chaplain for Sparrow Hospital and a member of the city of Lansing’s Board of Ethics.

Michigan Ave is perfect place to explore Lansing’s immigrant history from the Italians to the Irish to the more recent “lost boys of Sudan” Marvin said. Integral in that development, Marvin said, was the involvement of the various churches along the Avenue.

President of the Historical Society Valerie Marvin said the walking tours, in their third year, have proven to be a popular attraction during the summer and early fall months.

“There is no better way to learn about Lansing than to walk and talk,” she said.

“This year’s tours are all new and include visits to the Ingham and Eaton County Courthouses, a walk through Lansing’s African American West Side, the Historic Homes in Downtown Lansing and a tour that will explore some of Lansing’s Favorite Old Restaurants,” Marvin said.

She said the Society is also hosting a walking tour of MSU’s Historic West Circle Drive which will take walkers back in time to the days of MSC and MAC on the campus of Michigan State University. Stephen Terry who is author of the award-winning “Michigan Agricultural College Campus Life 1900-1925: A Postcard Tour will cohost the MSU tour.

All tours are free. For more information on the Historical Society go www.lansinghistory.org

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Lansing's Forgotten Novelist, John Herrmann

Thursday, June 11, 6:00 Meet the Author, 7:00 Lecture
Library of Michigan
702 W. Kalamazoo St.

John Herrmann may be both Lansing’s most notable and most forgotten author. That is about to change thanks to the dogged efforts of Alabama’s Troy University English Professor Sara Kosiba.
Kosiba said she ran across Herrmann’s name while doing research for her dissertation on Midwestern writers and was fascinated by Herrmann who was a member of the “lost generation” in Paris. What tugged at her the most was that he wrote a book, “What Happens,” that was banned in the United States in 1926 for obscenity, the same year Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” was published.
“The minute I saw “banned book” and read about his scandalous past I was hooked,” she said.

More about the scandals in a moment, but Herrmann who was born in 1900 was a scion of the wealthy John T. Herrmann family which had built a family tailoring business in downtown Lansing catering to politicians, including governors, and the state’s business elite. The likes of W. F. Kellogg sought out the bespoke suits from John Herrmann’s Sons. The company, the largest tailor in Michigan, employed 35 tailors; some travelling the state for trunk shows.

It’s likely John Herrmann, as one of the oldest grandsons, would have taken over the helm of the family business, but after graduating from Lansing High School in 1919 his lifelong wanderlust first took him to Washington D.C. for law school. While there he worked with his high school classmate Paul Mixter as a news correspondent which becomes part of the storyline in his first novel.

Herrmann would then move to the University of Michigan where he studied drama appearing as the lead in Pygmalion. A full page article in the Detroit Free Press showing Herrmann as Professor Higgins likely gave his family bragging rights back home in Lansing. He was then off to Germany in 1922 where he studied art for two years. His next leap was to Paris in 1924 where he would serendipitously meet another aspiring novelist Josephine Herbst while having a post-hangover coffee at the legendary Café du Dome. Herbst and Herrmann would become a couple, later marrying and then divorcing.

Herbst would be his entrance into the “lost generation” where he would meet and become friends with the likes of William Carlos Williams, Isadora Duncan, John dos Passos, Nathan Asch, Gertrude Stein and scores of other ex-patriots.

The affable, handsome six foot three Hermann would also meet up with the group’s alpha dog Ernest Hemingway and through their “up north” Michigan connection they would become close pals. Both the Hemingway and Herrmann families had cottages at Walloon Lake and Hermann’s younger brothers, the twins, Robert and Richard, were friends with Hemingway’s younger sister, Sunny.

Kosiba said most what was previously known about Herrmann was seen through the eyes of Josephine Herbst in her biography.

“Herrmann and his writing became an asterisk, a huge asterisk,” she said.

She said that is in part due to not being able to read his first book. His second books aren’t readily available either. That will soon change. Kosiba has championed the publication of “What Happens” by Hastings College’s small press in Nebraska and has written a new foreword for the book to put Hermann and his writing in context.

Kosiba said she stumbled across Herrmann while researching Midwestern writers and wanted to know “Who is this guy?”

She said much of what has been written about Herrmann is misinformation.

“Some of the core texts are a little bit off,” she said, citing one that has Herrmann only writing one novel and another which has him meeting Herbst in New York.

Even after the bitter disappointment of having his first book banned Herrmann penned two additional novels “Summer is Ended” and “The Salesman” in addition to becoming a formidable short story writer. His 1932 short story “The Big Short Trip” shared the prestigious Scribner’s Best Short Novel Award in 1932 with Thomas Wolfe.

Now back to the scandals. In 1930, Herbst and Herrmann, by then married, travelled to the Soviet Union to attend a proletariat writers’ conference. There they became radicalized about the plight of American farmers and began working for reforms back home.

Herrmann would become involved in the Communist Party and was recruited by another noted communist Hal Ware and although the jury is still out on the depth of Herrmann’s involvement he was named in several House Un-American Committee (HUAC) hearings especially one where prominent Communist Whittaker Chambers named him as the go between and courier for passing on state secrets to communists.

Despite these claims, Herrmann enlisted in the U.S. Coastguard serving through WW II, later moving to Mexico with his new wife Ruth Tate. There he would attend college studying drama and would meet up with a loose collection of “beat writers,” including William Burroughs.

Kosiba has yet to see extensive FBI interview records since they are unavailable, as yet, so she won’t definitively say what Herrmann’s role was during that time..

One characterization, Kosiba decries is that Herrmann was a deadbeat.

“That’s definitely not true whenever he and Josie needed money he would return to what he did best working as a travelling salesman selling seeds as a teenager to later in life selling books and jewelry,” Kosiba said.

However, Kosiba said that Herrmann lived what we describe now as “in the moment” working until he had enough money saved for his next venture. As an example, Herrmann worked in 1927 until he saved enough money to buy a sailboat which the couple christened Josy. They spent that summer sailing.

Kosiba has visited three major university archives putting together the life of Herrmann and has discovered numerous letters to and from Herrmann, mostly from other authors, from which she has started to piece together his life.

The letters include the friendly letters between Herrmann and Hemingway where they go back and forth bantering about writing and their friends.

Kosiba, who initially researched Herrmann and the Hemingway connection for a paper she delivered at the International Hemingway Society in 2012 in Petoskey is now planning on an extended biographical paper or a full- blown biography of Herrmann.

While in Lansing for the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature this week Kosiba plans to spend time in Capital Area District Library’s Local History Collection pouring through newspapers.

She hopes to identify characters and places that Herrmann used in his novels.

“They were very autobiographical,” she said. Kosiba knows this since Herrmann would use actual Lansing characters in his novels without changing their names. In her archival research she discovered a letter from Paul Mixter chiding Herrmann for using his real name.

Another letter she discovered between Hemingway and Herrmann has Hemingway thanking Herrmann for sending him one of his suits.

“The suit is fine,” Hemingway wrote in his usual sparse prose.

Hemingway did write he had to have the pants altered, likely because Herrmann was six foot three while Hemingway stood at six foot.

One letter Kosiba hadn’t seen until recently was provided by Herrmann’s niece Susan Brewster of Okemos. The letter was from his later days in Mexico and sent from a hospital bed. After thanking Susan for sending presents for his son Juanito, Herrmann wrote “Please tell your old man (Richard, one of the twins) to speak to some of my old classmates at LHS and let them know I was ill or I would’ve written a humdinger of a letter on the occasion of the class reunion.”
“I bet the punch was spiked,” he wrote.

It’s good to have Herrmann home again and the Historical Society of Greater Lansing in cooperation with the Library of Michigan is hosting a book release party for What Happens, 6 p.m.- 9 p.m., Thursday June 11 at the Library of Michigan,  702 West Kalamazoo St. where Kosiba will speak on Herrmann and will discuss his Hemingway connection along with his life in Lansing. The event is free and books will be available for sale-- the first time in 89 years.

Monday, June 8, 2015

John Herrmann Book Banned 89 Year Ago to be Republished

Thursday, June 11, 6:00 Meet the Author, 7:00 Lecture
Library of Michigan
702 W. Kalamazoo St.

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing and the Library of Michigan will honor Lansing’s “most forgotten” author, John Herrmann, with an event celebrating the release of his 1926 banned book “What Happens” 6 p.m. Thursday, June 11 at the Library of Michigan Forum Room, 702 West Kalamazoo. The event is free, books will be for sale. Meet Sara Kosiba, the author of the book’s new foreword, at 6 p.m. with the presentation following at 7 p.m.

Historical Society President Valerie Marvin said that Herrmann was an intimate member of the “lost generation”, friends with Ernest Hemingway and a noted radical writer of the 1930s.

“Herrmann went on to write two other novels and numerous short stories drawing liberally from his experiences growing up in Lansing and using his friends and acquaintances as characters in his writing,” Marvin said.

Herrmann was the scion of a successful Lansing family which owned John Herrmann’s Sons, the largest bespoke tailor in the state which at one time employed 35 tailors in downtown Lansing.
State Librarian Randy Riley said that the confiscation of “What Happens” and the resulting obscenity trial is an important part of Michigan literary history.

“The obscenity trial was one of the first major tests of community standards and what’s obscene. “What Happens” was defended by Morris Ernst who would become a noted free speech expert and one of the founders of ACLU,” Riley said.

 “What Happens”, a classic coming-of-age story set in a fictional Lansing, was first published in Paris in 1926 by an avant-garde publisher, but was deemed obscene and confiscated when a shipment of books arrived in the United States and copies were destroyed in New York City following a controversial trial. The book tells the story of Winfield Payne, a young man from a wealthy Michigan family, who struggles with his awakening sexuality and fickle affections.

Now, Hastings College Press of Nebraska, has put the book in print for the first time in 89 years. Learn more about this remarkable author who went on to write two more novels and numerous short stories including “The Big Short Trip” which shared the $5000 prize for Scribner’s Magazine Best Short Novel of the Year Award in 1932 with a story by Thomas Wolfe.

Herrmann is noted for his radical writing and his close association with the U.S. Communist Party figures including Hal Ware, Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. He later moved to Mexico where he connected with beat writers including William Burroughs. He died in 1959.

Dr. Sara Kosiba, a biographer and English professor at Troy University in Montgomery, Alabama, has written a new introduction for “What Happens” placing it in its proper context in literary history and achievement. Kosiba will present a lecture on Lansing’s most famous and forgotten writer along with his close association with Ernest Hemingway and other prominent Twentieth Century writers and his tumultuous marriage to novelist Josephine Herbst whose novel “Rope of Gold” is semi-autobiographical and partially set in Lansing. The lecture is sponsored jointly by the Library of Michigan and the Historical Society of Greater Lansing.

John Herrmann’s work is important, according to Kosiba, for “the way it adds to our understanding of American literature and history.  John Herrmann was a participant in several significant movements in the Twentieth Century, from the famed expatriate literary circle in Paris in the 1920s to the social and political efforts of the 1930s to the Communist hysteria of the late 1940s and 1950s.  Herrmann’s life and career provide additional understanding and nuance to these moments and show how a boy from Lansing eventually ended up involved in some of the most interesting and continually debated moments in American history.”

On December 17, 1924 Herrmann presented a talk to Michigan State Library Association in Lansing on books, reviews, and writers with special attention to James Joyce and H.L. Mencken. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Society to Host Annual Meeting and Walking Tour of Lansing Community College

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing is holding its annual meeting 11:45 a.m., Saturday, June 6 in Room 104 and 105 of the Arts & Sciences Building on the campus of Lansing Community College. Lunch will be provided by reservation only at 11:45, and a walking tour of the Campus will follow at 1 p.m. Call 517-282-0671 to reserve lunch.  Reservations must be made by June 1.

Lansing Community College (LCC) opened in downtown Lansing in 1957 and 50 years ago a millage was passed which provided funding for the expansion of the downtown campus. Since then the downtown campus has grown to encompass more than 40 acres spanning seven city blocks. In a typical year more than 18,000 students attend Lansing Community College.

Valerie Marvin, president of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing, said LCC has become an important bookend at the north end of downtown as well as an integral part of our community’s advanced learning network.

She said LCC has also saved and maintained several historically significant buildings on the campus including the Carnegie Library, The Herrmann House and the Carrier Dodge House.

This past year the College began a major sculpture installation to beautify campus resulting in more than 25 sculptures on display; most of them either designed and or executed by current or former students and faculty.

“The campus has added significantly to the beautification of downtown Lansing while creating numerous quiet areas for reflection such as the Japanese Garden and koi pond,” Marvin said.

“The campus is very walkable and you will be able to immerse yourself in the history of LCC while taking in some wonderful art,” the Historical Society President said.