High Island Mystery

In the Cranbrook Archives Digital Collections, there are images labeled “Cranbrook Institute of Science: House of David Colony. ” I always wondered what they were all about and finally investigated. It all starts with a little island four miles west of Beaver Island in Lake Michigan: High Island.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, “[High] island has an array of Michigan shoreline features and associated ecosystems that support a number of rare, threatened and endangered plant and bird species.” These include the endangered piping plover and the tern.

Robert T. Hatt (Cranbrook Institute of Science Director), Josselyn Van Tyne (University of Michigan / Cranbrook Institute of Science Trustee), and Ralph E. Morrill (University of Michigan) were on High Island on June 23, 1938, conducting bird and animal surveys. While there, they encountered the remnants of a once-thriving settlement. Hatt must have found it curious because he captured these images:

In a nutshell, High Island was home to a timber-cutting and potato farm operation run in 1912-1927 by the House of David, a religious sect based in Benton Harbor, Michigan. High Island was also home to several families of Odawa fishermen. Since 1940, the island has been uninhabited.

I checked Robert T. Hatt’s “Island life: a study of the land vertebrates of the islands of eastern Lake Michigan” (Bulletin No. 27, Cranbrook Institute of Science, 1948) which details the extensive study of the animals and birds of the island, but also remarks on the island’s history:

High Island is said to have been settled by the Mormons at the time Strang’s colony flourished on adjacent Beaver Island. More recently (1912-1928), the House of David . . . established a colony . . . here and developed the agricultural and forest resources. Most of the dwelling date from this period. At the time of our visit there were three Indian families in residence, and the men operated a commercial fishing boat. A Roman Catholic chapel was on the island and was in good condition, with the alter decorated . . .

Another interesting, and unexpected, find in Cranbrook Archives!

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Note: The House of David has a storied history, one better written by others:

Michigan ’s Siberia: The House of David on High Island” by Clare E. Adkin Jr.

The Last Days of the House of David” by Adam Langer

The House of David by Christopher Siriano

Summer Blockbuster

With the melodies of John Williams’ score in my mind, the image below conjures up the 1981 summer blockbuster, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Stunt doubles and special effects aside – the photograph is actually of the Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS) Director, Robert T. Hatt, in the caves of Calcehtok on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Dr. Hatt conducted a ten-day expedition in the Yucatan in 1947, spending most of his time at Hacienda Calcehtok.

Dr. Hatt in the caves at Calcehtok, 1947.

While in the Yucatan, Hatt worked with two other scientists, Sr. Bernardo Villa, chief of Mastozoology at the University of Mexico’s Institute of Biology, and Dr. Helmuth Wagner an ornithologist with expertise in Mexico and the Malayan region. For ten days the trio conducted excavations of four caves and sunk eleven trenches. They also trapped and netted vertebrates to compare them to bones found in the caves. Of this team, Dr. Hatt said, “it is rare for three men to work together in the field in the perfect harmony we enjoyed.”

Dr. Hatt’s travel diary includes a drawing of one of the trenches, Nov 1947.

The principal focus of the expedition was the Actun Spukil cave (the Mayan equivalent of Cave of the Mice). A series of tunnels lies within the cave, and here Hatt and his fellow scientists uncovered bones, shards of pottery, and stone hammers. Glyphs were spotted on the cave walls, as well as rock carvings depicting a monkey’s head and a man’s head.

Dr. Hatt at the cave entrance, 1947.

In the year following his return from Calcehtok, Hatt wrote about his discoveries and gave several lectures. His expertise in the Yucatan region is well-documented, and he was asked by several institutions, including the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the University of Michigan, to identify specimens in their respective collections. More than half of the photographs from this expedition are of the people Hatt interacted with in Calcehtok. In an article in the February 1948 CIS Newsletter, Hatt wrote, “we were quickly accepted as friends by the little community. They collected for us, sang for us, dedicated a dance to us, and a few children and a grown boy shed a tear when we left. Bless the good people of Calcehtok.”

Friends made in Calcehtok, 1947.

Although I enjoy the adventure and suspense of an Indiana Jones expedition, the reality and humanity in Dr. Hatt’s reports was an exceptional find in the Archives this week.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

 

 

A New Identity

In May 1930, the Cranbrook Foundation voted to appoint a board to oversee the development of the Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS) and to design a building for the Institute’s programs. Initially, CIS was a department within the Foundation, but by Dec 1931, George Gough Booth concluded that it had proven itself such an important unit in the Cranbrook educational group, that it should no longer be an activity of the Foundation. It became a separately organized trust which held title to the land and buildings and operated its programs independently.

In Dec 1935, then-CIS Director, Robert T. Hatt, wrote to well-known painter and illustrator, Rockwell Kent. Hatt had been drawn to a volume of Kent’s bookplates that he had in his collection, and asked him if he would create a new seal for the Institute. By Feb 1936 Kent submitted his final design to Hatt, stating, “it is entirely unlike both what you originally suggested and the sketch that I submitted.”

Rockwell Kent's final design for the CIS emblem, 1936.

Rockwell Kent’s final design for the CIS emblem, 1936.

In the CIS sixth annual report, Hatt described the new seal: “the triangle is the basic geometrical figure. The two figures looking respectively upwards at the stars and downwards at the earth represent the field of Science as both extensive and intensive.”

Rockwell Kent created bookplates for the Rochester (NY) Public Library, Joseph Kennedy, the Library of Congress, and many others. Kent was also a prolific illustrator. His work includes well-known editions of Moby Dick, Candide, Leaves of Grass, the Canterbury Tales, and Beowulf (among others). In addition to Kent’s enduring design legacy at CIS, his gift of archaeological relics from Greenland in 1937 was the first material from that area to be accessioned into the Institute’s collection.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

 

Edison House: A Modern Icon

Approaching the Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS), one easily overlooks the low-set modern structure built into the eastern hillside. Shaded by trees and obscured by a brick courtyard wall, Edison House assumes a low profile much like its Modernist predecessors.

The 1960’s was a decade where modern conveniences flourished. Electric appliances began appearing in households across the country which made the lives of working families easier and more efficient. Backed by CIS’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, James Beresford, Director Robert T. Hatt and Detroit Edison’s Edwin O. George began plans for an innovative, all-electric residence that would suit their needs equally. Cranbrook would house scientists as part of the Distinguished Scholar Program, while Detroit Edison would have a showcase for their newest and greatest electrical equipment. The architect, William P. Smith Jr., was commissioned by Detroit Edison, and construction began in 1965. National and local firms contributed products, services, time, and funding to complete the house. Once construction was completed Detroit Edison turned Edison House over to CIS in a dedication ceremony held on June 1, 1966.

Thomas Edison's son, Charles Edison, visits Edison House Courtesy Detroit News, June 1966

Thomas Edison’s son, Charles Edison, visits Edison House
Courtesy Detroit News, June 1966

The finished product was a functionally efficient piece of art and an “outstanding demonstration of the application of science to everyday living.” Not only did it have the best and most innovative appliances, it was aesthetically advanced as well. The architectural style melds aspects of late Modernism and Art & Crafts. The broad eaves and natural material selection are reminiscent of the American Craftsman style home, while the clean-lines and mechanical innovations evolved from the Modernist International Style.

Also referred to as “Cranbrook’s New Idea Home,” a 1965 Detroit Free Press article described it as “organic contemporary in design.” Expansive windows run floor to ceiling which opened up the back face of the house to the surrounding natural landscape. Constructed of laminated redwood, extruded brick, and masonry, the home blends with its neighbors – the trees, grass and rocks. Broad overhanging eaves provide a feeling of shelter and enclosure. The natural backdrop contrasted with the interior’s modernist chrome and leather furnishings, and in true modernist style, linen drapes graced the windows in order to soften the hard surfaces. In addition to traditional living space, the open floor plan also accommodated conference rooms for faculty needs.

Dr. Robert Hatt in Edison House  living room, August 1966. Harvey Croze, photographer  Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Dr. Robert Hatt in Edison House living room, August 1966. Harvey Croze, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Every aspect of the 3,500 square foot house was intended to promote electronic living. Snow melting heating coils were laid under the pavement and built into the eaves and gutter system which trace the perimeter of the copper roof. Snow sensors were installed to automatically switch on the melting equipment. Electronically heated windows, state of the art at the time, line the lower-level family room. An invisible metallic coating spans the interior glass surface and is warmed by an electric current in order to remit just enough heat to reduce the cold.

The garage boasted automatic radio-operated door openers. In the master bedroom dressing room a sun lamp was mounted in the ceiling with a timer for automatic shut-off. A built-in toaster was installed adjacent to the breakfast table for easy access. The kitchen also held the control panel for the intercom system that reached every room in the house as well as the front door and terrace. Speakers on the terrace doubled as microphones so the residents could “pick up sounds of birds and other wildlife.”

After a summer as a demonstration house open to the public, Edison House was occupied by notable botanist and geneticist Karl Sax, the first Distinguished Scholar. Farrington Daniels, Denis L. Fox, and V. Elliott Smith followed. The last Edison House resident was mineralogist and CIS Director, Daniel E. Appleman, who was instrumental in the Earth Exhibit housed in the Institute’s 1996 addition designed by Steven Holl.

Over the past twenty years, Edison House has been used for a variety of purposes including office space for Events Planning and a staging area for IT infrastructure technicians. And although the once innovative electrical equipment is outdated and certainly not modern by contemporary standards, Edison House remains an icon of Michigan Modernist architecture. Edison House will celebrate its 60th anniversary in June 2016.

Originally authored by Stephanie White (2011); updated in July 2015

Cranbrook’s Tenuous Connection to “Crime of the Century”

Birdwatcher. It sounds so benign, doesn’t it? And difficult to reconcile with the infamous names of Leopold and Loeb, perpetrators of the “Crime of the Century” in 1924.

While refiling some material in the Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS) Director’s Papers recently, I came across a folder labeled “Leopold, Nathan F., correspondence, 1924-1974.” Imagine my surprise—the name leapt out at me! Leopold was half of an infamous pair of murderers in the early 1920s. The correspondence file deals with Leopold’s experience as an amateur ornithologist. While a student at the University of Chicago he authored a monograph called “The Kirtland’s Warbler in its Summer Home,” published in the now defunct The Auk (Jan. 1924). The Kirtland’s warbler is considered a rare bird because in the summer, the only place in the world that it nests is a few counties in northern Michigan (upper and lower peninsulas), in Wisconsin and in Ontario.

Jan. 1924 issue of The Auk. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Jan. 1924 issue of The Auk. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Leopold’s explorations in ornithology were cut short when he followed his friend Richard Loeb’s challenge to commit a murder, to “see how it felt.” The two boys, from wealthy Chicago families, thought they could commit the perfect crime. On Loeb’s initiative they kidnapped the 14-year old son of a Chicago millionaire, murdered him and dumped the body. The pair were quickly apprehended and prosecuted, and faced the death penalty. Their rich parents were able to hire Clarence Darrow who won them life in prison.

Nathan Leopold was released in 1958, moving to Puerto Rico where he worked in medical research until his death in 1971. He contacted CIS director Dr. Robert Hatt in 1964 to see if the Institute was interested in receiving his diorama of a family of Kirtland’s warbler. “The birds were collected by me with a 16 gauge, double-barreled shotgun … in the late morning of June 20, 1923 … timed [for] the arrival in Oscoda of the only daily train south as would allow for preparing the birds for shipment to Chicago,” he explained in a letter to Hatt. Leopold chose Cranbrook, over the Smithsonian or the New York Museum of Natural History because “ … I believe that this typical Michigan bird should remain in Michigan …” He also donated correspondence with another birder, Douglas S. Middleton, started when he was in prison, and with a friend, Kate Friedman.

leopold postcard2

Postcard sent to Leopold friend upon finding Kirkland's warbler. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Postcard Leopold sent to friend upon finding Kirtland’s warbler. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

In a book called Life Plus 99 Years, Leopold explained that he was already in prison by the time the taxidermist completed the exhibit of the warbler. However, the warden allowed the Leopold family chauffeur to drive the exhibit to the prison for Leopold to view.

The diorama was part of a CIS exhibit called One Does Not Live Alone, under a section called “Conflict,” in June 19, 1967.

– Cheri Y. Gay, Archivist

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