Ypsilanti Citizen Opinions Sidetrack

Thank you Ypsilanti
By Dan DuChene & Christine Laughren
Jun. 23, 2010   ·   5:07 p.m.

Christine Laughren and Dan DuChene, co-owners of the Ypsilanti Citizen, pose in front of their company's banner at Frenchie's during the Citizen's one-year anniversary party.

The Ypsilanti Citizen was launched in November 2008 to inform the Ypsilanti community about the news and events that were happening in their area.

Since our launch,...read more

Crossroads Summer Festival; rockin’ ladies night
By Dave Heikkinen and Frank Wright
Jun. 23, 2010   ·   4:37 p.m.

Barbara Payton and the Big Boss Trio rock Washington Street.

A special Ladies Night was held Friday at the 2010 Ypsilanti Crossroads Summer Festival in conjunction with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Just...read more

Crossroads to hold Ladies Night for Relay for Life
By Dave Heikkinen and Frank Wright
Jun. 16, 2010   ·   9:13 a.m.

On June 11, the 2010 Ypsilanti Crossroads Summer Festival featured a rousing opening set from roots and blue grass band Dragon Wagon.

Dragon Wagon was joined on...read more

Electric rail pollution leads to dirty laundry
By Laura Bien
Jun. 15, 2010   ·   11:42 a.m.

From the approximate vantage point of the present-day Materials Unlimited, the interurban car barn and powerhouse on Michigan Avenue loomed large.

Maggie Smith was not looking forward to a forenoon of sewing pleats.

She put down her newest customer’s summer dress. Downstairs, she offered to get potatoes...read more

EMU students in wartime
By Laura Bien
Jun. 1, 2010   ·   10:32 a.m.

The 1942 Aurora yearbook, the 50th
anniversary edition, included images that contrasted modern and
old-time students.

Leroy Grindle was an Ypsilantian soldier who lost his life in WWII. He was a member of the Michigan Normal (EMU) class of ’41, and is memorialized with a black...read more

The Ypsi Janitor and Empress Josephine

Bombadill's

To the Archives

By Laura Bien
Nov. 3, 2009    ·    8:32 a.m.


Many Eastern Michigan University buildings are named for former professors and administrators. But there is no named building, plaque, bench, or even a memorial tree to honor EMU’s first janitor, whose kindness towards students got him fired.

“Michigan State Normal College [EMU] students never have erected a marker to perpetuate appropriately the memory of the martyrdom of Isaac Kimball in their cause,” notes an April 24, 1937 Ypsilanti Press story. “It was his duty to ring the college bell for five minutes to announce the opening of classes. Students were supposed to be in the classroom before the bell stopped tolling.”

The story continues, “But Kimball was a kindly man. If he saw a student approaching as the five minutes was expiring, he continued tolling. Students became aware of this and depended more and more upon Kimball’s generosity.”

One day, things had lapsed too far.

“One morning, Principal A. S. Welch determined to time the bell. When 15 minutes had passed and Kimball continued his tolling and students continued to arrive, he armed himself with a book, threw it at the gentle-souled janitor, and chased him from the school grounds.

“A new janitor with a heart of flint was on the job next morning.”

Kimball came to Ypsilanti from his birthplace of Seneca County, N.Y., in 1828 at age 14. He worked as a shoemaker for downtown dry goods storekeeper Walter Hewitt, and later as a clerk for grocer Philander Stevens. One day in 1835, Kimball and Harry Gilbert were digging up clay for a house foundation. They dug on the east bank of the Huron River, just south of Michigan Avenue, at the north end of the present-day Water Street site.

“Those men had not progressed far with their labors when their spades struck timber,” says Charles Chapman in his 1881 book “History of Washtenaw County.” “They were not a little surprised, and growing curious, determined to explore this new formation. In the course of their research they discovered a net-work of new timbers; removing one plank they beheld a cave.”

The young men carefully lowered themselves into this hidden chamber, and found “a room 10 feet square and 8 feet in height; and finally a furnace, half a metal shell filled with a peculiar greasy substance, in which was a wick partly consumed. Presently Kimball and Gilbert discovered the exit, a burrow, 100 feet in length, running south into the ravine, and having its outlet in a dense shrubbery near Dr. Davis' present residence.

“This den of infamy had its subterranean location 20 rods [110 yards] south of Congress Street [Michigan Avenue], on the slope of the eastern plateau, and was doubtless the hiding place of a gang of counterfeiters, if not of more terrible enemies of human happiness,” said Chapman. “The date of its construction cannot be even guessed at. Its builders have passed away, leaving that home of their secret works to relate the story of their infamy and their fall. There is a strange fact in this connection, and that is that great numbers of the pioneers fail to remember anything regarding such a subterranean establishment; however, they acknowledge the existence of a counterfeiters' workshop, south by east of Shad's Hotel.”

Likely sometime between this mysterious discovery and 1840, Isaac married Eliza. They soon had a daughter, Frances, born in 1840, followed by Veliria in 1843, James the next year and John in 1846. In 1846, Eliza was 26 years old with four children no older than six years old. The family eventually moved to a 5-acre farm just south of town, off Harriet Street and west of Hamilton.

Eliza, however, was more than a wife, mother, and housekeeper, with farm chores, Monday washdays, and three meals to fix from scratch daily. She was also a gardener and experimental botanist. In 1869 she tried to create a new apple variety by cross-pollinating two apple types on one tree. The cross didn’t catch.

She died ten years afterwards, in 1879.

After her death, her experimental tree started producing apples.

The next year, it produced even more, and more after that. The fruit was an entirely new apple. The tree was bearing heavily by the time Isaac visited the downtown newspaper office in the spring of 1885, at age 70, to show the newspapermen Eliza’s apple.

"Mr. Isaac B. Kimball brought a couple of specimens of a new apple to the office,” said the April 18, 1885 Ypsilanti Commercial. “Some sixteen years ago, Mrs. Kimball was in the garden. She was a natural horticulturalist and made many experiments. She shook the pollen of a Talman Sweeting on a Rhode Island Greening, only got one apple from that branch. This was saved until next spring and the seed planted, when three years old set out in the orchard. All but one came to nothing bearing miserable fruit.”

Eliza died shortly thereafter.

“At the end of thirteen years this one that bore the new apple produced a bushel,” continued the paper. “The next year three bushels and last fall seventeen bushels of a uniform, fine size and now the middle of April, sound and healthy. It is fine grained and juicy, a sweet apple and very pleasant tasting. It fills a gap long desired. Mr. Kimball is advanced in years, but would like some nurseryman to take hold of this fruit and so bless the coming generations.”

The Ann Arbor Pomological Society examined the apple that year, and praised its juicy, firm flesh. They named it the Josephine, after Napoleon’s wife, Empress Josephine, herself an amateur botanist.

The Josephine still exists today, blessing our generation. It is known for its longevity in storage, where it stays fresh and sweet all winter, just as memories of Eliza must have remained thus with Isaac, so many years after he watched her experiment with her miraculous, now memorial, tree.

Laura Bien is the author of "Stud Bunnies and the Underwear Club:
Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives," to be published this winter. She
also writes the historical blog "Dusty Diary" and may be contacted at
ypsidixit@gmail.com.

Ypsilanti Historical Society
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