April 13th, 2014

krazy koati

When I escorted Mamie round the sidewalks of New York

The pinball league's been good for many things, one of them being, it encourages us to walk around the neighborhood more, since the hipster bar with the pinball machines is too ridiculously close to drive unless there's compelling circumstance like rain or bitter cold. This means it's easier to notice things around the area. For example ...

Our neighborhood dates to the mid-to-late 20s, and that's the vintage of our house. So our neighborhood has had its sidewalks generally chewed up and replaced on about the normal pace for this sort of thing. The replacement sidewalk tiles, often, have the name of the paver and the date of paving embedded in them. In the blocks around us it looks like there were major waves of sidewalk repair in the 1950s and 1980s, with a handful of repairs being done in other decades. We can form a couple ideas why there should be so much repair in the 50s --- for one, the sidewalks would have been three decades old by then, and Lansing was at a relative economic peak then --- although why the 80s should have been so lush with repair budgets we don't know. We found a number of sidewalks repaired in 1988 but marked with a template that clearly said 1987, because an extra curl to turn the 7 into an 8 is added consistently in them.

And then we found a real anomaly: a faded, very old-looking tile whose text appears to read ``B F Churchill'' and ``19[?]8''. The [?] is very hard to make out, and badly worn, but it looks much more like a 0 than it does any other letter. The thing is, this is about two decades earlier than the oldest houses we're aware of. It's possible the city paved the sidewalks anticipating development, but, 1908 seems like an improbable year to build infrastructure on spec, what with the Panic of 1907 and all that.

Searching for information about B F Churchill brought us to a 1912 edition of what would become Michigan State University's newspaper, which lists a B F Churchill as drayman for the campus (he has ``purchased a new Cass auto truck for his Lansing-College trade, and plans to make the machine do the work of his five horses''). It's not unthinkable to go from local cement magnate to transportation in four years, but it feels like there's some pieces missing. We can't find another B F Churchill in the Lansing area, though, not without getting into serious archives.

There does seem to be one really old sidewalk tile in front of our house, but, we couldn't make out the date. It'd be great to think we have any sidewalk from the house's original construction there but we just don't have good evidence of it.

Trivia: Freelance newsreel photographers of the 1920s would typically earn between 50 cents and $2.00 per foot of footage; the average rate was about $1.25. Unusually rare or newsworthy footage could achieve as much as $100 a foot. Source: The American Newsreel, 1911 - 1967, Raymond Fielding.

Currently Reading: The President Is A Sick Man: How The Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives A Secret Surgery At Sea And Vilifies The Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose The Truth, Matthew Algeo.