Spooky true story: Detroit’s Eastern Market Sheds are built on top of the old Russell Street Cemetery

Spooky true story: Detroit’s Eastern Market Sheds are built on top of the old Russell Street Cemetery

Graveyard stock photo (courtesy of Unsplash)

*PLEASE NOTE: This paper is not intended to be a scholarly dissertation. It is a true story of Detroit history intended for the general public. This article will be periodically updated as new information crops up. As stated at the end of the article, please fact-check me and feel free to email me at place313 at gmail dot com and let me know if anything needs to be updated for greater accuracy. Thank you! *

 

I first heard this story a few years ago from my friend, Lonni Thomas. Since then, I’ve scoured libraries, old newspapers and online for more information.

Eastern Market, the largest historic public market in the USA, consists of a series of Sheds, essentially a row of large indoor consumer buildings running North to South along the eastside of Russell Street in Detroit, Michigan. The Sheds host vibrant weekly markets and lively annual events like the Detroit Festival of Books, Detroit Fall Beer Festival, Flower Day, etc.

What many people don’t know:

These Sheds are built on top of the old Russell Street Cemetery (1834-1882) and where a portion of the old prison, Detroit House of Corrections, aka: DeHoCo, used to be located (1861-1931).

This is a largely hidden and unknown spooky true tale of Detroit history.

Let’s take a look back into the mysterious pre-Eastern Market history of Old Detroit.

 

Essential Background Details on the creation and dismantling of the Russell Street Cemetery

 

Graveyard stock photo (courtesy of Unsplash)

In the 1800’s, Detroit was not the sprawling cosmopolitan city it is today. It had a more rough-and-tumble frontier town feel to it.

According to Gen. Palmer, there was a town water pump at the foot of Randolph Street and tramps and thieves used to be whipped at the public whipping post on Woodward Avenue.

By 1834, the city had around 5,000 residents when the Russell Street Cemetery was established. Michigan was a vast territory at that time and didn’t even become a state until 1837.

Russell Street Cemetery was open 1834-1882 in what’s now known as the Eastern Market neighborhood of Detroit. It was located along Russell Street roughly from modern day Gratiot to Eliot. It was also known as the Second City Cemetery.

The First City Cemetery, often called Clinton Park Cemetery, was created May 29, 1827, on land the city had purchased from Col. Antoine Beaubien’s ribbon farm. It was a long, narrow, 30-foot wide plot of land stretching from Gratiot Ave and Clinton St down to Jefferson Ave. Supposedly, Gen. Friend Palmer’s father was the first person buried here. The cemetery closed to further interments in 1854 and was officially vacated by November 12, 1869. So, yes, it did exist concurrently for a few decades with Russell.

On May 31, 1834, the city of Detroit purchased 55 acres of farmland from the probate estate of Charles Guoin for the then-handsome sum of $2,010. The Guoin family had farmed this land for almost 100 years, since 1742. Charles Frances Guoin was born February 2, 1755 and died sometime between 1830-32. At some point, Charles had relations with Little Snipe, a local Pottawatomie woman, and they had a daughter named White Feather (Marie LaVoy).

A few months after the purchase, in August 1834, 38 acres became the Russell Street Cemetery. This decision was made by the Detroit Common Council. This area supposedly (although not conclusively) was bound by modern-day Russell Street, Eliot Street, the Freeway, Gratiot Ave, and an undefined eastern boundary. At its peak, supposedly, some 10,000-15,000 graves are estimated to have been here but nobody knows for sure because various records have either been lost or were never kept in the first place.

By August 1834, the burials at Russell Street Cemetery were numerous because Detroit was in the throes of a second cholera epidemic, which killed an eighth of the city’s population. Cholera epidemics hit Detroit hard in 1832 and 1834 and “congested the graveyards,” (Burton, page 969). There were most likely multiple bodies per grave in many instances.

In those days, the City Sexton was the title of the official gravedigger and person in charge of a cemetery. Originally, the City Sexton was tasked with selling plots (half or full) at the Russell Street Cemetery to people, which ranged in cost from five to ten dollars. The city of Detroit created the office of City Sexton on March 17, 1829 and it was abolished in 1879.

The first sexton of Detroit was Israel Noble. He was nominated by the mayor, then appointed by Common Council. He served as Sexton from 1829-32, then 1835-49. Noble, incongruously detached from living up to the meaning of his last name, supposedly sold Russell Street Cemetery lots under the table for some side cash, hence the mysterious lack of “official records”.

Noble was also, at one point, the keeper of the lighthouse in Monroe, Michigan.

Detroit Daily Advertiser (April 3, 1873)

In 1841, Mt. Elliott Cemetery opened, which helped divert burials from Russell Street.

In 1842, Dr. George Russell built a “Contagious Disease Hospital” on the potter’s field area of the Russell Street Cemetery. In reality, it was a small rickety shed. However, it may have been the first building in the Midwest dedicated to treating contagious diseases. The shed didn’t last long.

Then in 1846, the posh new Elmwood Cemetery opened, which served to briefly alleviate the overcrowding of the Russell Street Cemetery.

As the years went by, the city notoriously failed to maintain the Russell Street Cemetery and it became desperately rundown. One report stated that “People would steal tombstones and use them as doorsteps and beer counters,” (Lazar, page 15).

April 10, 1855, the Health Committee advises Detroit Common Council that no more burials should be allowed at Russell Street Cemetery. This was 27 years before the cemetery was officially closed in 1882, so there was definitely a long history of the cemetery being wretched and unkempt.

old Russell Street Cemetery, Detroit map

In 1857, Mayor Ledyard publicly called the cemetery a “disgrace” and wanted it torn down. Also, in May 1857, modern-day Division Street was constructed and cut right through the cemetery.

On July 6, 1861, a prison was built on a part of the cemetery (area roughly bound by Russell, Riopelle, Alfred, and Wilkins) called the Detroit House of Corrections (aka: DeHoCo). It remained there until 1931 when the prison was relocated 30 miles west to the city of Plymouth, Michigan.

original Detroit House of Corrections (DeHoCo) map (1861-1931) possible boundaries

Detroit Advertiser (May 16, 1865)

In 1868, modern-day Winder Street opened through the cemetery.

Fed up with the abysmal conditions of the cemetery, on April 20, 1869, Detroit city council ordered that no more bodies be buried at Russell Street Cemetery. Over the next 13 years, thousands of corpses were periodically transferred to Elmwood, Mt. Elliott, and the new 250-acre “rural cemetery” called Woodmere, which was formally dedicated July 14, 1869.

Woodmere Cemetery was located only a mere 8 miles west of Russell Street Cemetery, but at that time was considered rural countryside. Prior to being a cemetery, Woodmere was a Revolutionary War-era shipyard where several ships were built.

The City Sexton at the time, a German man named Valentine Geist, spearheaded the transfer of bodies from Russell Street Cemetery to Woodmere. He lived 1824-95 and served as Sexton in the years 1864, 1871-74, 1878. He also ran an undertaking business on Monroe Street downtown. He’s buried at Elmwood.

Around about 1870, the first makeshift Hay and Wood Market was built on Russell Street (between Adelaide and Division) and some independent street vendors started selling farm-grown produce from their own carts and wagons in proto-Eastern Market along Russell Street near the cemetery.

However, over the decade (1870-1880), nothing much happened at the Russell Street Cemetery except the tombstones became mossgrown, the cemetery became weedy and neglected, and people used to mess around in the cemetery at all hours of the day and night. A sad trend throughout history is that old, neglected cemeteries tend to become general dumping grounds.

Detroit Daily Advertiser (November 16, 1871)

Then on May 14, 1879, the Circuit Court ordered the cemetery to be officially vacated. Various contracts were issued for the removal and reinternment of the remaining cadavers in other cemeteries: Woodmere, Elmwood, Mt. Elliott, and elsewhere. This task was coordinated by the Board of Public Works. One of the few names mentioned in the newspaper, a man named John Griswold, was reinterred at Woodmere.

One wave, some 1,493 caskets, were removed in 1880 and re-buried at the City Hospital grounds in Grosse Pointe. In 1881, another 1,668 remains were shipped out. Then in early 1882, some 1,357 bodies were relocated. Various numbers are given in the newspapers, but the final destination of the caskets is not always given, thus, it’s impossible to know for sure what bodies went where.

By 1882, all known remains were removed from Russell Street Cemetery.

 

The Unclaimed Dead (or what happened next?)

 

April 22, 1906 (Detroit News) page 21

Conner’s Creek, named for Henry Conner, existed from 1840-1925, according to Dr. Krepps (page 21 of her report). The Algonquin lived here prior to city development.

In 1872, Antoine Dubay owned a farm here. The deed was purchased from him on August 24, 1872 by Frederick Ruehle (sometimes spelled Ruelle). Frederick quickly turned around and sold the 34-acre property to the city of Detroit on October 18, 1872. He purchased the 34 acres for $3,000 and conveniently sold it less than two months later for $6,000.

At the time, this property was in the neighboring city of Grosse Pointe, which is where Detroit wanted to build a City Hospital for smallpox victims (aka: the Grosse Pointe Pest House), but the deal never fully went through. A structure was built here but was never used as a hospital.

Instead, a large corner of the farm became the Conner Creek Cemetery (aka: Third City Cemetery or the City Hospital Grounds, as it was commonly called at the time). It was used to re-bury the unclaimed/unidentified bodies from the Russell Street Cemetery.

The cemetery was dedicated August 27, 1880. It eventually contained around 4,500 bodies, which were (most likely) transferred via wagon some five miles NE up Gratiot Ave to Harper Ave and over to Conner Creek. Between 1880-1882, some 4,500 bodies were taken from Russell Street Cemetery to Conner Creek Cemetery.

Gratiot Avenue, at that time called Fort Gratiot Road, was constructed  between 1829-1833.

Conner Creek Cemetery, Detroit map

In November 1881, the city of Detroit did build a pest house structure on the SW corner of Conner at Olga Street, however, it was never used because Grosse Pointe effectively blocked the construction of a pest house (smallpox hospital) in their town. So, the city rented it to a farmer, whose name is listed sometimes as August Stahlman, other times as August Schultz, and he ended up living inside the 24 x 76 building for a few decades.

The structure burned down in 1923. Currently, the Wayne County Community College Eastern Campus is located where this structure used to be.

Furthermore, a playground called the Conner Playfield (located on Conner, north of Harper) was built over a portion of the cemetery at some point, possibly in the 1930’s or early 1940’s.

The Conner Creek Cemetery was largely forgotten for decades until October 6, 1950 when utility workers accidentally dug up some corpses and a tombstone across from a house at 6020 Gunston. During Virginia Clohset’s discovery interview of Ida and Pasquale Gianfermi (residents of 6020 Gunston St), Ida said she vividly recalled the 1950 dig and said that spectators took bones home as souvenirs.

Then on April 4, 1958, the city of Detroit sells the property containing the Conner Creek Cemetery to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) via quit claim deed. MDOT ends up building a freeway interchange over a portion of the cemetery. The construction of the (Edsel) Ford Freeway, which jaggedly divided the area, facilitated the unearthing of more remains.

Nearly two more decades passed without any press or acknowledgement.

Conner Creek Cemetery boulder-plaque memorial

Then, on October 16, 1976, a boulder-plaque was officially placed at the intersection of Conner St & Hern St to commemorate the Conner Creek Cemetery, which was listed as having 4,518 known graves at the time. “It is the only cemetery belonging to the Michigan State Highway department. Many bodies now rest under the roadbed of Conner Street.” (Detroit Free Press article).

The boulder-plaque was courtesy of the Michigan Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

In April 2013, MDOT archeologists and their Pavement Evaluation Unit performed spot excavations and used ground penetrating radar (GPR) to investigate the subsurface of the Conner Creek Cemetery. They found “clearly defined subsurface anomalies, indicative of dense, solid objects.” However, the soil profile (ie: moist silt) in that particular area makes it essentially impossible to use GPR accurately.

Currently (October 2021), the triangle patch of land with the boulder-marker is still there at Conner and Hern. To get there, plug in the address 6008 Gunston Ave, Detroit. This is the neighborhood where Ravendale meets Chandler Park on the NW side of the Chandler Park Golf Course, which itself has been there since the 1920’s (most likely 1923).

Thanks to the amazing efforts of Dr. Karen Krepps, this area has been designated as an archeology site #20WN383. In 1984, she was commissioned by the Eastern Wayne County Historical Society (EWCHS) to write a report about the cemetery. Her report is fascinating, highly detailed and insightful, and I especially agree with her assertion that “cemeteries are important cultural resources.”

Big Question:

Are the various unclaimed human remains still there? Nobody knows.

However, on page 46 of her report, Dr. Krepps states, “The prime area has enjoyed minimal below ground disturbance and may well contain human remains reinterred from the Russell Street Cemetery.”

What ended up happening with the old Russell Street Cemetery property? Let’s take a look.

Conner Creek Cemetery boulder-plaque memorial

 

Some Eastern Market History

early Easter Market Detroit (DPL Burton Historical Collection)

After the dismantling of the Russell Street Cemetery, Eastern Market gradually came into being and transformed the area.

By 1885, there was a small market and scales for weighing produce at the NE corner of Division and Russell.

Eastern Market was created in 1889 when the Detroit Common Council formally established the boundaries of the Eastern Hay Market, also known as the Hay and Wood Market.

The construction of Eastern Market’s Shed 1 (Russell St, between Winder and High St) by Richard E. Raseman, was completed in September 1890. It was tiny, supposedly only 575 x 208 feet, rickety and was destroyed in a violent storm on December 23, 1890.

Aerial drone photo of Eastern Market Sheds Detroit (courtesy of Josh Garcia at JDG Innovative)

Shed 1 was rebuilt in 1891 and lasted until 1967 when the creation of the Fisher Freeway forced the shed to become a parking lot. In 1898, Raseman built Shed 2.

Shed 3 was built in 1922 as an “all-weather shed”. Shed 4 was constructed in 1938 and Shed 5 in 1939. They are connected by a covered walkway. In the 1950’s, Rosie the Riveter (real name Rose Kurlandsky) ran a produce stand here at Eastern Market. Her stall was located across from the Samuel Brothers Deli.

In 1965, Shed 6 is built. It’s a long, narrow shed with a roof and no walls.

In 1980, the original Shed 5 is demolished and a new Shed 5, along with a 2-story parking structure, are built in 1981. All of the Sheds were majorly renovated in the early 2000’s.

To this day, Eastern Market is a major cultural attraction in the city of Detroit, visited by millions of people annually.

 

 

Final Thoughts

Graveyard stock photo (courtesy of Unsplash)

In 1834, when the Russell Street Cemetery was created, Detroit had a population of around 5,000 people, according to census data. By the time the cemetery officially closed in 1882, Detroit was a rapidly expanding metropolis with a population of around 150,000 people.

Big cities have fascinating histories and trajectories. They tend to expand so rapidly that many of the historical facts and stories are lost to time and never fully recovered.

Detroit’s very first cemetery was located behind St. Anne’s log church at the NW corner of Jefferson and Griswold. This cemetery was functional 1701-1760 and consisted mostly of French Catholics in mostly unmarked graves. The cemetery moved several times after that.

Are some still buried there? The probability is high that there are indeed still human remains there. Such is the case with any large city. All big cities are dotted with random buried corpses from centuries past, hidden under modern-day structures like skyscrapers and apartment buildings.

Is this true of all early cemeteries? Were ALL the graves exhumed and relocated? Or are some still hidden down below, awaiting discovery?

The unclaimed dead from the Russell Street Cemetery. The nameless who were buried, most likely multiple bodies per grave, in the Conner Creek Cemetery, who were they? Where are their bodies at this exact moment?

Whatever may happen or not happen in the future, PLEASE RESPECT the land and the remains.

 

 

Where did you find this information?

Libraries, mostly, and some online repositories. I love libraries. As a lifelong library enthusiast and haunter of book collections, I highly recommend everyone spend more time at these sanctuaries of knowledge. Leave your phone in the car. It’s a good respite from the endless overwhelming digital switch-tasking bombardment perpetually fragmenting your time and sanity.

The bulk of this information was derived from poring over hundreds of vintage Detroit newspapers, along with heavy digging inside the Library of Michigan, the State of Michigan’s main library, in Lansing. Shout out to librarian, Adam Oster, for helping this wayward lad track down some primary source material. I would’ve been at the DPL’s Burton Collection in Detroit talking Mark Bowden’s ear off, but they’ve been closed for a while, first Covid, then flooding. Hope to explore upon their glorious re-opening.

Big thank you to the State Historic Preservation Office (archeologist Michael Hambacher) for providing Dr. Krepps report. And, to MDOT state archeologist James Robertson, for his kindness and alacrity on the FOIA request.

Thank you to Patrick Shaul at the Detroit Society for Genealogical Research for tracking down and scanning the incredibly hard-to-find 5-part article by Detroit archeologist Charles Martinez.

Thanks also to MDOT’s FOIA coordinator Fae Gibson for sending me a disc containing several key documents.

Also, this article is a work-in-progress. Please fact-check me and help me update it. If you have any pertinent and critical information, please email me at place313 at gmail dot com. Thank you!

 

 

Bibliography

Krepps, Dr. Karen Lee. Land Use History of Conner Creek Cemetery (20WN383) Containing as Well Background Studies of Clinton Park and Russell Street Cemeteries in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan. K.L. Krepps, 1984.

Burton, Clarence & Agnes. History of Wayne County & the City of Detroit. Vol 2. SJ Clarke Pub. Co., 1930.

Caitlin, George & Robert Ross. Landmarks of Wayne County and Detroit. Detroit, Evening News Association, 1898.

Clohset, Virginia C. The Detroit City Cemetery in Grosse Pointe. Self-made, 1976. (this detailed 64-page report can be FOIA’ed from MDOT)

Detroit Free Press archives.

Detroit News archives.

Farmer, Silas. History of Detroit and Michigan. Detroit, S. Farmer & Co, 1889.

Fogelman, Randall & Lisa Rush. Detroit’s Historic Eastern Market. Arcadia, 2013.

Hershenzon, Gail. Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery. Arcadia, 2006.

Krepps, Dr. Karen Lee. Land Use History of Conner Creek Cemetery (20WN383) Containing as Well Background Studies of Clinton Park and Russell Street Cemeteries in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan. K.L. Krepps, 1984. (this incredibly difficult-to-obtain report can be located at the State Historic Preservation Office).

Lazar, Pamela. Directory of Cemeteries in Wayne County. Dearborn Genealogical Society, 1982.

Maps (assorted).

Martinez, Charles. “Death Defiled: The Calamity of Russell Street Cemetery.” The Detroit Society for Genealogical Research Magazine, vol. 63-64, Spring 2000-Winter 2001. (this hard to find 5-part article can be purchased via the Detroit Society for Genealogical Research).

Palmer, Gen. Friend. Early Days in Detroit. Hunt & June, 1906.

 

Detroit Free Press newspaper clippings (and some Detroit News clippings):

*These are screenshots of newspapers Detroit Free Press and Detroit News mainly, along with a few other papers. The ones not marked are Detroit Free Press.

January 09, 1838 (entry for James Witherell from the Biographical Directory of American Congress)

May 01, 1870

At this time, the Eastern District hay and wood market was on Hastings Street.

 

November 02, 1870

 

February 02, 1871

 

July 29, 1873

“At a late hour Saturday evening, some boys discovered a man disrobing himself near the Russell Street Cemetery. When they approached, he attacked them vigorously. The next morning he was discovered in the cemetery. He jumped up from behind a tombstone and fired shots from his revolver. He was not wearing any clothes and went running down Russell Street.”

 

September 17, 1874

“A dreary spot. The Russell Street Cemetery is one of the most dreary and neglected spots in Detroit. Scraggy trees, rank weeds, broken tombstones and sunken graves meet the eye everywhere, and the fences are falling down and going to decay.”

 

January 30, 1875

An old horse of an ash collector fell while pulling his wagon. He fell in front of the cemetery and was flogged by the owner so badly that someone came up and shot the horse in the head to put it out of its misery.

 

May 29, 1875

“Condemned as a public nuisance and recommending it’s abatement.”

 

April 15, 1876 (from the Detroit Daily Advertiser)

 

May 02, 1876 (from the Detroit Daily Post)

 

May 04, 1876

“Oscar Davis tries to steal a human skull at the Russell Street Cemetery but is caught and arrested.”

 

November 23, 1876 (from the Detroit Daily Advertiser)

 

 

April 26, 1877

George Moorehouse (9) got his left eye knocked out by a spear while hunting for frogs with a group of boys inside RSC.

 

August 22, 1877

 

1878

Alderman Youngblood states that the city wants to make Russell Street Cemetery the location of Eastern Market.

 

 

October 20, 1878

Proposals for disinterring bodies from Russell Street Cemetery and re-interring them at Woodmere Cemetery are entertained by William Purcell, president of the Board of Public Works.

 

October 03, 1879

In one of the graves, 3 corpses were found, “believed they were victims of cholera and buried in haste”

 

October 29, 1879 (DFP, page 5)

special thanks to Eloise for this article

Capt. John Burtis and John Griswold, Russell Street Cemetery, Detroit (thanks to Eloise for this)

 

 

October 30, 1879

 

 

November 14, 1879

“A pile of old coffins, which were dug up last week, presents a ghastly sight in the old RSC.”

 

November 18, 1879

Germans want to hold Saengerfest (a type of choir singing festival) on the old RSC grounds.

 

November 22, 1879

 

November 12, 1880

Still digging up bodies. Body removal is funded by “collection of city taxes”.

 

October 04, 1881

Bid to disinter bodies and re-inter them is awarded to Hugh Fallon who says he will do it for 93 cents per body and 25 cents per fence.

 

October 31, 1881

“An interesting discovery was made on Saturday in the old RSC, where the work of digging up the dead is in progress. Two bodies were found to be petrified and in a natural state with the exception of the heads, which had crumbled into dust.”

 

November 03, 1881

 

January 11, 1882

 

October 26, 1882

Contract for removing 1400 bodes to the City Hospital in Grosse Pointe. Disinterred at 100 per day, being done under the direction of the Board of Public Works. Reinterred at City Hospital Grounds GP.

 

October 30, 1882

 

November 03, 1882 (Detroit News)

“Some coffins are very primitive. One was made of sidewalk planks. The remains of a very small body were found inside a soap box. The depth at which they’re buried varies greatly. Some are a foot and a half under the surface, others are 6-7 feet. Some bodies are missing (from coffins). Students having snatched them for dissecting purposes.”

 

February 14, 1883

“The remains of 1,357 bodies were removed from the Russell Street Cemetery to the City Cemetery Grounds at Grosse Pointe at an expense of $1,153.10”

 

May 30, 1883

 

September 04, 1887

August Stahlman (Grosse Pointe) farm 36 acres, 2 acres used for bodies from the Russell Street Cemetery, “several thousand skeletons removed from Russell Street Cemetery”.

 

 

June 15, 1898

“Laborers brought up a decayed coffin containing a skeleton while excavating for drainage pipes for the new Eastern Market on the old Russell Street Cemetery”.

 

June 14, 1902

Human bones are found while digging at the old Russell Street Cemetery grounds.

 

 

April 22, 1906 (Detroit News)

The city of Detroit owns 34-acre farm in Grosse Pointe. “The farm is rented by a tenant, August Schultz, who has occupied the property for 20 years. It was bought by the Detroit board of health October 18, 1872 to be used as a site for a pest house, or contagious disease hospital.”

 

 

June 30, 1910

 

 

October 06, 1950 (Detroit News)

“A page of Detroit’s past has been rudely opened by a gang of workmen who have uncovered an ancient cemetery while extending an electric cable pit along the Gunston playground between Harper and Conner avenues.”

 

May 23, 1967 (DFP page 3-A)

special thanks to Frank Castronova for sending this article over

 

 

November 19, 1978

 

 

Assorted Maps and Images

old Detroit cemeteries map (Detroit Free Press)

Map from Dr. Krepps 1984 report Land Use History of Conner Creek Cemetery (20WN383) Containing as Well Background Studies of Clinton Park and Russell Street Cemeteries in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan. K.L. Krepps, 1984.

Map from Dr. Krepps 1984 report Land Use History of Conner Creek Cemetery (20WN383) Containing as Well Background Studies of Clinton Park and Russell Street Cemeteries in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan. K.L. Krepps, 1984.

Map from Dr. Krepps 1984 report Land Use History of Conner Creek Cemetery (20WN383) Containing as Well Background Studies of Clinton Park and Russell Street Cemeteries in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan. K.L. Krepps, 1984.

Map from Dr. Krepps 1984 report Land Use History of Conner Creek Cemetery (20WN383) Containing as Well Background Studies of Clinton Park and Russell Street Cemeteries in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan. K.L. Krepps, 1984.

Virtual Detroit Bookfest (July 16-18, 2021) click here to ENTER

Virtual Detroit Bookfest (July 16-18, 2021) click here to ENTER

In addition to our in-person event on July 18, we are offering our inaugural Virtual Detroit Bookfest all weekend long!

Because of the limited # of in-person vendors we are allowed this year, we are experimenting by creating a geographically boundless Virtual Bookfest open to ANYONE ANYWHERE in the world.

This event is FREE to attend. We encourage you to visit the Virtual Bookfest and help support these amazing vendors!

 

Virtual Detroit Bookfest (July 16-18, 2021)

https://detroitbookfest.com/virtual/

 

Facebook event page

https://www.facebook.com/events/438220427342981

 

Decontaminating Chernobyl, Rebalancing Nature & Saving the Planet: A Conversation with RJ King, Andrew Niemczyk & Frank Muller about RJ’s Biography of Andrew

Decontaminating Chernobyl, Rebalancing Nature & Saving the Planet: A Conversation with RJ King, Andrew Niemczyk & Frank Muller about RJ’s Biography of Andrew

‘Ground for Freedom: Saving Chernobyl’ book by R.J. King

 

Initially, it sounded crazy. Nine out of ten on the crackpot scale.

However, you read the book, view the results, meet the man, and it still seems fantastically wild but plausible and valid. Perhaps Andrew Niemczyk is the real deal, a sort of modern-day Leonardo Da Vinci or Nikola Tesla.

A mystical visionary Polish polymath inventor in Detroit is helping humanity in ways so profound they could be called revolutionary.

His name is Andrew Niemczyk (pronounced neem-chick) and this is his story.

 

What exactly is going on here?

RJ King, Andrew Niemczyk, and Frank Muller at Exlterra in Hazel Park, Michigan (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Detroit author and journalist, R.J. King, has masterfully penned a hot page turner.

Ground for Freedom: Saving Chernobyl,” his non-fiction biography of Andrew Niemczyk, reads like a futuristic espionage thriller novel, except for one important detail: everything in this book is real.

A book about the necessity of balance and sustainability, it is also punctuated by helpful and informative historical asides. This is a wholly unique story and I found it tremendously inspiring and engrossing. Meeting Andrew personally solidified this and further piqued my interest.

The basic, and by basic, I mean very basic gist of this enormous offering is that Andrew was once a prisoner in Communist Poland.

He escaped to Detroit via Rome, Italy, in August 1984 and settled in Hamtramck, Michigan, where he lives to this day.

 

Andrew Niemczyk at Exlterra in Hazel Park, Michigan (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

The reason this was such a profound gain for humanity, and the Detroit area, is that Andrew is not a normal person. He possesses an exceedingly rare brilliance, and once in America he was free to invent unabated, especially now that he’s retired after 24 years from the Rouge Steel Plant in Dearborn.

Currently, Andrew has created over 80 inventions.

Five of those inventions (NEPS, GEPS, NSPS, HAZL, MAZL) are commercially manufactured, and they are revolutionizing entire industries.

NEPS involves better delivery of nutrients to trees and vines by bringing nutrients located deep in the soil to the root systems, GEPS accelerates stormwater infiltration and replaces drainage, NSPS is a ‘de-reactor’ that decontaminates radioactivity, and HAZL and MAZL are highly portable drill rigs.

Furthermore, it should also be noted that once installed, these simple inventions require no further maintenance.

 

Exlterra logo

 

Andrew and his Swiss business partner, Frank Muller, run Exlterra in Hazel Park, Michigan. They also have offices in Geneva, Switzerland, and Tczew in northern Poland.

Andrew is an inventor, not a businessman, and he needs assistance in that regard, which is where Frank comes in.

In 2011, Frank and his family moved from Geneva to Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and soon after he met Andrew they became business partners and launched Exlterra. Plus, Frank’s wife has a Ph.D. in biotechnology and is a native of Warren, Michigan.

Right now, according to the reports, Andrew’s NSPS invention is successfully decontaminating Chernobyl in a rapid timeframe.

In fact, Andrew projects that Chernobyl may be completely clean of radioactivity by the end of 2025 because of his invention.

The 19-mile exclusion zone of Chernobyl, Ukraine, is one of the world’s most polluted areas. A few dozen attempts at decontaminating the site have been unsuccessful until Andrew’s NSPS system was installed in a 2.5-acre (hectare) test site near the No. 4 reactor that exploded on April 26, 1985 (due to human error and a faulty design).

 

 

(Very) Quick Biography of Andrew

Andrew Niemczyk at Exlterra in Hazel Park, Michigan (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Born on Nov. 16, 1960, Andrzej ‘Andrew’ Niemczyk grew up in Kietrz (key-air-itch), in southern Poland.

From 1945-1989, Poland was a Communist country. Andrew’s unique creativity was smothered in this environment.

He spent time in 11 prisons (two were repeat visits), was a coal miner 4,000 feet underground, learned karate, military tactics, and after four escape attempts, finally succeeded in 1984.

Assisted by the Tolstoy Foundation, he worked at an auto supplier until 1990, joined Rouge Steel where he worked until 2014, and co-founded Exlterra with Muller in July 2016.

Exlterra is a 6,000-square foot industrial design and assembly facility in Hazel Park where Andrew is chairman and CTO, while Frank serves as CEO.

 

Exlterra in Hazel Park, Michigan (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Andrew’s various inventions have so far proved successful at hundreds of locations across the world, working with public clients such as cities and municipalities as well as private and commercial clients.

He has a photographic memory combined with unique “out of the box” solutions to large-scale problems.

He also has visions and claims to be able to see at both the subatomic molecular level and macro universe-wide levels.

One more thing about Andrew: he designs everything in his head and then builds it from the schematics he envisions.

Throw in an impressive knowledge of global geography, an ability to chat on everything from quantum mechanics to hydraulics and fluid dynamics, and the claim of utilizing 100 percent of his brain and that’s Andrew.

 

The Conversation

RJ King, Andrew Niemczyk, and Frank Muller at Exlterra in Hazel Park, Michigan (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

This is a transcript of a rousing conversation I had with R.J. King, Andrew Niemczyk, and Frank Muller in the conference room at Exlterra in Hazel Park in early June 2021. Enjoy!

 

R.J. King                Andrew is unlike any person I’ve ever met or heard of. When I started listening to Andrew’s life story, I quickly realized it could be a great book. He grew up in a Polish working-class family under the Communist regime. His escape through Rome in 1984. What he was able to accomplish on the factory floor in terms of inventions and advancements, then Exlterra, everything is just mind-blowing. His perseverance, dedication, and commitment are examples of how you can succeed in life. You can’t do it alone. You have to work as a team instead of constantly competing. And open your mind to possibilities that do not initially seem realistic.

 

Andrew                I’ve been in the Detroit area for almost 40 years. I have four children. I live in Hamtramck where you have closer to a European feel, very neighborly and social. There are more than seven different nationalities living on my street alone. I don’t go to bars or restaurants too often. My wife Jadwiga (Yaad-viga) cooks our food. I typically hang out in garages, that’s where I work on stuff, that’s where I feel free. I have one garage for cars, one for inventions, and I have an extra side lot attached to my house. I do not have any set routines, just make sure I have eight hours of sleep, and try to control my diet. Mostly I drink water or herbal tea with lemon. There are too many chemicals in processed foods, and many drinks are too overly carbonated, and not good for your body. My inspirations come from real life, finding a way to solve problems.

 

Frank Muller       Andrew reduces the complex to a simple solution to the point where it’s impossible to simplify it more. That’s the key element. His unique ability enables him to deliver beautifully simple and workable solutions for the environment.

 

R.J. King                All of his main inventions are novel and unprecedented and really will help the world in terms of widespread applicability.

 

Frank                     Real sustainability is key. To achieve sustainability is the real goal. Not many products can achieve that.

 

Andrew                I want to teach people to understand how nature operates. They don’t see that nature is an entire system and connected to the universe. New thoughts can open new doors. Mathematics is good at approximations, but targeting 100 percent is a difficult to achieve goal. You have to have a positive but can’t forget about the negative, you need to blend and combine them to achieve balance.

 

Frank                     Match negative with positive to create neutral. No side effects. Can’t exist without each other. The duality of the union.

 

R.J.                         Nature always seeks balance.

 

Andrew Niemczyk and RJ King at Exlterra in Hazel Park, Michigan (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Andrew                Yes, balance is key. When I was five years old, I realized I was not an average thinker. I thought how am I going to adapt to this world? To this day, I’m still learning to be normal and fit in. The languages, my relationships, the most important thing for me is to deliver the reality of the product.

 

Frank                     Nature is always hiding its secrets and always fixing its own problems by constantly rebalancing. Very deep but locked up in layers.

 

Andrew                 Nature locked me with an inability to express myself because I’m here for a mission.

 

Frank                     He struggles to accurately express himself.

 

R.J.                         Through the process of writing this book, Andrew provided me with a second education. You start to look at your place on this earth in the context of the solar system and with special insight.

 

Andrew                I can go beyond infinity, bring it to the solar system, earth, go deep, open up under what you cannot see, a different layer. I see this stuff. I am using almost 100 percent of my brain all the time. Because of this I have learned to lock myself. I can store knowledge in bits in my brain and assemble it when I am ready to use it. All the pieces, in seconds. The HAZL rig, for example, was built in my mind in six minutes. I had the entire picture of how it would function, everything, the hydraulics, everything.

 

Frank                     Whenever he invents a product, that’s when he puts everything together in his brain in seconds and minutes.

 

Andrew                Take the past, present, future, fold them together into one. Know the failure rate, the lifespan. I can see it and feel it.

 

Andrew Niemczyk at Exlterra in Hazel Park, Michigan (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Frank                     What Andrew does is he tests everything in his head, so it’s already understood by him. We have faced skepticism until now we have evidence. You must accept the results. Plus, each of these products (NSPS, NEPS, GEPS) are completely different. The only common denominator is they are installed in the ground. This man needs to be helped. His knowledge is for humanity. The whole planet. Most people just see the money. If scientists don’t see a formula on paper, they’re upset. It comes from Andrew’s head, it can’t be written down on paper, this is our struggle.

 

Andrew                The bacteria, the roots, the subatomic world, how everything relates. I told Frank I had 87 inventions in my head, not gadgets, these are just four. Simplicity is important. My visions, this ability to see, I invoke only when I need to use it. I see the entire thing, then zoom in on how each part functions. Not a trance, but a deep focus when developing a product. I transfer myself to the depths to see the whole functioning, which takes a lot of energy.

 

Frank                     There’s no other person like Andrew in the world. We are all unique, yes. He just has a rare ability to understand the extremes of largeness and smallness, the macro and the micro, and put them together. One of the most gifted heart surgeons in Switzerland said of Andrew, “I think he is a mutation.” When Andrew starts talking technical stuff and breaking barriers in physics, it’s an overload of information, and a lot for the listener to process cognitively. Andrew will only open his mouth when he knows. No theories. He’s not into theories or hypotheses, only in demonstrating results, real results now. Andrew has no limitations.

 

Andrew                People want to trash what they don’t understand. My world is yes or no, with nothing in the middle. I hate the word “if.” I look at pictures, sketches, the inventions themselves, that’s how I’m inspired.

 

R.J.                         It doesn’t seem possible but everything he’s done so far has panned out. Sometimes you have to suspend disbelief and be open to understanding new concepts that might initially seem impossible or unfeasible.

 

Frank                     Andrew left school around 13 years old, and yet he can solve big problems in such a simple manner. It’s very difficult to emerge when you know something new. Entire industries will protect established knowledge and try to block new and better ways of doing things. Andrew goes beyond mathematics. It’s about understanding relationships in nature and how to improve and maximize them for the benefit of all.

 

Andrew                We have abundant resources here on earth, that’s not the issue. The issue is the food and water, how we’re managing these resources, they’re currently being mismanaged, that’s the issue. Drainage at houses is good example. Global warming, oceans rising, house rooftops wasting rainwater. Everything is interconnected. Gravity and earth’s magnetic fields play a part. Human population growth is manageable. We have more than enough water. Now, let’s start using everything better. There are nutrients underground, we need to recharge the ground. I want to re-greenify the earth. Make everything green and lush with vegetation, oxygen. Help the chain of the food. We can bring nature back. Give me the tools. Our civilization is the problem. We need to change ourselves, our habits, and recycle more energy and waste to help the planet. We need shorter, real, more practical timeframes for a solution, not thousands or even hundreds of years, we won’t last that long at our current rate. It’s about balancing the system, everything combined correctly.

 

Frank                     Currently, Exlterra has no plans for an IPO or going public. What we have is the IP (intellectual property), the proof of concept across the world and what we do is forge relationships with established companies that we partner with to market our various technologies.

 

Andrew                I have no limit. Infinity on both sides. There’s always positive and negative, you need both. Quantum physics is good example, just because it’s not visible to the average person’s naked eye, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Limitless energy exists all around us and within us and we just need to tap into it. There is life in outer space. We are not alone. I have designed a new spaceship (in my head) that uses a totally different type of energy to go much faster than current ships, we just need money to build it. Mathematics is too restrictive, too limited. Humans invented mathematics, it’s a human invention and too linear. I need support, not questions. You’ll see results. Questions are too cumbersome, counterproductive, slow everything down. Just give me a chance to show results, that’s all I ask.

 

Buy RJ’s book ‘Grounds for Freedom: Saving Chernobyl’

https://www.amazon.com/Grounds-Freedom-Chernobyl-RJ-King/dp/B0933NTYDT

 

Exlterra homepage

https://www.exlterra.com/

 

Contact

[email protected]

Andrew Niemczyk at Exlterra in Hazel Park, Michigan (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Exclusive Interview: Detroit author ROCHELLE RILEY discusses her life, her new book, and a path forward

Exclusive Interview: Detroit author ROCHELLE RILEY discusses her life, her new book, and a path forward

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Dedicated and driven, Rochelle Riley is a talented author and advocate for creatives. She works on behalf of the arts and culture community in Detroit.

Author, journalist, Director of the City of Detroit’s ACE Office (Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship), Ms. Riley functions in several different roles simultaneously.

She also did an amazing job creating the Covid Memorial on Belle Isle, Detroit’s urban island park, to honor those lost during the pandemic. Fifteen funeral processions circled the island past more than 900 large portrait billboards of Detroiters.

Ms. Riley has a B.A. in Journalism from the UNC School of Media & Journalism, and she was a Knight Wallace Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan.

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Locally here in Detroit, she is known for being a columnist at the Detroit Free Press from 2000-2019. Her first day in Detroit was 9-11-2000.

Prior to that she worked for a variety of newspapers, including The Washington Post, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal, The Dallas Morning News and the Greensboro Daily News. Due to her achievements, she has been inducted into the Michigan and North Carolina journalism Halls of Fame.

Her new book “That They Lived: African Americans Who Changed the World,” is an inspiring and uplifting collection of twenty-one African Americans who changed the course of history.

Published by Wayne State University Press in February 2021, this book is the result of Ms. Riley criss-crossing the country in a multi-year journey to put the project together.

Genesis of the Idea for ‘That They Lived’

That They Lived by Rochelle Riley (WSU Press)

Ms. Riley wrote the biographical essays based on photos that Cristi Smith-Jones, a mom and amateur photographer in Kent, Washington, posted on social in 2017. Mrs. Smith-Jones wanted to teach her daughter, Lola, about African-American history, so she posted the photos of then 5-year-old Lola dressed as iconic African-American women. Ms. Riley saw the photos and asked to write the stories of the women as well as others featuring Ms. Riley’s grandson, Caleb, dressed as iconic African American men. Mrs. Smith Jones said yes.

“In February 2017, I was working on my previous book, ‘The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery,” and scrolling through Twitter, when I saw an amazing series of photos during Black History Month,” Ms. Riley said. “Then the same thing happened again in February 2018. I’m scrolling through and these lovely photos pop up featuring a little African-American girl named Lola dressed in meticulously researched attire. She was highlighting the accomplishments of historical African American women, and I thought I need to find the person doing this. And it led me to Lola’s mom, Cristi.”

“Cristi said she was teaching Lola about Black History. So, I explained to Cristi that I was a writer and that pictures are worth a thousand words and I had a thousand words for each of their photos. She was very shy and stunned. I flew to Seattle to meet with her personally, and she agreed to do the project. I wanted to represent the men too, so I flew to Dallas, got my 8-year-old grandson Caleb, and we flew back to Seattle.”

“Yes, some bribery was involved. We would do a 30 -minutes photo shoot, then fifteen minutes of Fortnite and cupcakes. Afterwards , when the project was done, would take him to the movies. He wanted to stay dressed as Frederick Douglass. I convinced him to go as Thurgood Marshall.”

The Burden by Rochelle Riley (WSU Press)

Although geared towards young readers, ‘That They Lived’ is a book that can be enjoyed by anyone of every age.

The project was funded, in part, by a grant from the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan and the WSU Press endowment from the Arthur L. Johnson Fund for African American Studies.

“This is a book for young readers, for all readers,” Ms. Riley said. “I want them to understand that every great person was once a child. The book highlights 21 African Americans, but there are hundreds of African Americans who have invented and achieved, so it was definitely hard to choose. I tried selecting those who helped changed the views of other people about all African Americans, people who paved the way for others.”

“Previously, I had joined forces with WSU Press on The Burden. So I did it again.

Rochelle Riley on Her Love of Books & Writing

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

I became a writer when I was 8 years old. I had no math skills, and I had learned a love of words from my mother, an English teacher. I was hooked.”

“When I was a columnist, I wrote constantly. Currently, I’m working on a novel and a sequel to The Burden. When I’m writing a book, I’m finally happy with it by about the 11th or 20th draft.”

I write everywhere! Sitting on the couch, lying in bed, or sitting at my sturdy copper dining room table. I also work at my writing table, a glass desk where I’ve been writing for 20 years. But I can write anywhere. One time I was in the emergency room and had a column due. I snuck out to the waiting room and finished the column in my hospital gown.”

“Some of my favorite personal favorites books are: ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ (1943) Betty Smith and ‘The Color Purple’ (1982) Alice Walker. I like thrillers and mysteries. And I celebrate the brilliance of James Baldwin and Toni Morrison every year.”

Biography

Rochelle Riley grew up in Tarboro, North Carolina.

“My parents lived with their three kids in New York. My mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 27 years old, and my parents split up. We went to live with my mother’s parents in Tarboro, and I’ve forever grateful to them for making us into a new family.”

Even as her MS progressed and she was confined to a wheelchair, my mother was an incredible inspiration to me. She taught English to my friends and me in the living room.”

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

“The town, like most towns back then, was segregated based on race. The Mason-Dixon line that split the nation also existed in our town. And I crossed that line every day to go work at the public library.”

“In Tarboro, the norm was what is was. Beyond the expected segregated norm I didn’t experience much racism there. When I got to high school, everybody got along. But I was always aware of it.”

“My great, great, great grandfather Bailum Pitt was enslaved in North Carolina. I was able to find and confirm this in the tax records and will of a white attorney whose papers I found at the North Carolina State Archives.”

Personal interests

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

“As for hobbies, I live to write. But I do occasionally make time for movies, television, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, reading and traveling. They aren’t hobbies like some people would consider hobbies. My only constant task is reading. It is a duty and a joy.”

“I don’t have any specific favorite local eateries, but I love pasta and Asian food. And I love Belle Isle on a sunny day and Comerica Park in a close ninth inning.”

Detroit’s ACE Office

City of Detroit’s ACE Office (Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship)

In May 2019, Mayor Mike Duggan appointed Ms. Riley to head the City of Detroit’s newly created Office of Arts, Culture, and Entrepreneurship.

“I had decided to leave the newspaper (Detroit Free Press) to help keep others from being laid off, and the mayor needed an arts and culture director, so I was hired for the new role.”

“One thing we are going to be doing is a city-wide creative workforce census (which was launched in June). This project will measure the depth and breadth of Detroit’s creative workforce.”

Some parting thoughts for now

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of WDIV)

Slavery didn’t end. It just moved from plantations to the board rooms, court rooms, newsrooms and classrooms of America. This country has spent centuries trying to hide a crime committed in plain sight. That is no longer possible.”

“The greatest honor any African American can achieve is the acknowledgement that he or she has been blocked from achieving great life, liberty and happiness, that America is sorry and that the achievements, inventions and genius of African Americans will be added to all textbooks forthwith.”

Keep your eye on Rochelle Riley and stay tuned for her upcoming books, articles, and ACE projects!

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Homepage

https://rochelleriley.com/

 

Email contact

[email protected] on city business and [email protected] for everything else.

 

Twitter

https://twitter.com/rochelleriley

 

WSU Press

https://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/burden

https://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/they-lived

 

Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/entity/author/B003DOI9YY

 

Detroit ACE

https://detroitmi.gov/departments/planning-and-development-department/arts-culture-entrepreneurship

 

Letters to Black Girls project

https://www.tamarawinfreyharris.com/letters-to-black-girls/

 

Endowment

https://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/support/endowments

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

Rochelle Riley (photo courtesy of Rochelle Riley)

 

 

Exclusive Interview: Detroit author RJ King discusses his new book ‘8 Track: The First Mobile App’ which details the pivotal role of Ford Motor Company in bringing the 8-Track Tape Player to market

Exclusive Interview: Detroit author RJ King discusses his new book ‘8 Track: The First Mobile App’ which details the pivotal role of Ford Motor Company in bringing the 8-Track Tape Player to market

RJ King 8 Track book

I’ve always loved Boston-Edison. This is a large residential Historic District in the geographic center of Detroit full of stately homes, wide boulevards, and old-fashioned streetlamps. Detroit author and DBusiness magazine editor RJ King moved to a beautiful three-story Colonial Revival here in 1994.

Sitting in RJ’s living room, we can hear the steam gently whooshing through the radiators. Soothing, it reminds of my Marpac Dohm sound machine, whose sonic white noise helps me sleep.

RJ is very welcoming, hospitable, and insightful. In terms of stories and hidden history, he has an eagle eye for tantalizing, overlooked, and underreported gems. A writing talent, RJ has penned over 6,000 articles at DBusiness and over 16 years for The Detroit News. Prolific at home, RJ has written four books. Never one to lollygag or dawdle, he’s also a licensed real estate agent!

We’re here discussing his fabulous new book, “8 Track: The First Mobile App,” published by Folktellers and Written in Detroit.

RJ King, Detroit author of 8 Track the First Mobile App (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

When publicly released in October 1965 by Ford Motor Co., the 8 Track tape player completely revolutionized in-car audio and how music in general was experienced by consumers.

It offered, for the first time, a mobile music experience in an industry dominated by AM Radio and record players.

Since then, the 8 Track, which essentially offered “album” cartridges, served to bootstrap the introduction of cassettes, followed by compact discs, and now downloads. Today, the medium has been largely forgotten as a fun and useful device in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

The last major release on 8 Track was in 1988 with Fleetwood Mac’s “Greatest Hits.”

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

Sure, from 2009-2014 there was an 8 Track museum run by Bucks Burnett in Deep Ellum, Texas.

And Barry Fone runs Barry’s 8 Track Repair Center in Prescott Valley, Ariz.

And don’t forget “Tracker Bob” Hiemenz. Bob owns the world’s largest 8 Track collection. Over 90,000 tapes and 700+ players are stored at his house in Quincy, Illinois. But for many people, especially those who postdate 8 Track mania, the true story is a quick trip back in life filled with nostalgia.

RJ’s new book is an incredibly detailed and well-researched story of Detroit and Ford Motor Co.’s pivotal role in the development and rollout of the 8 Track tape player.

Part hidden history, part business lesson, this is a story largely untold until now.

 

RJ King on His Book

8 Track book RJ King (photo by: Ryan M. Place

“My older brother Patrick emailed me a speech that my dad, John P. King, had written in 1975 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 8 Track tape player. Until reading that email, I had no idea my dad was intimately involved in the development of 8 Track back when he was a product engineer at Ford.”

“Fascinated, I searched for a period history of 8 Track, and there was nothing. So I started researching my dad’s involvement, assembling a chronology, reading Billboard magazines every week from 1964 to 1980, and doing interviews with my dad and other key people whom he introduced me to.”

“I worked on the book on weekends, typing it up on my iMac, and about a year and a half later had a final product.”

“This book details the leap from stationary music to mobile music. The 8 Track really was the first mobile music app. Prior to its creation, you could only listen to music live, on a record player, or on AM radio. What Ford and Motorola did, using Bill Lear’s design which they modified, is they built a combined AM Radio and 8 Track tape player and it completely revolutionized music and car audio.”

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

“All four of the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, math) were used to invent, launch, and sustain 8 Track. It was a big leap from the mono world to the stereo world. The 8 Track was a physical music playback system that allowed you to listen to songs without being present with the band. It was the introduction of ‘music to go.’”

My dad was hired by Ford in January 1965, and the 8 Track was ready to go by October 1965. It was a rush program, to be sure. After Ford came out with 8 Track, Chrysler, and then GM, Volkswagen, and American Motors offered 8 Track. It was successful because it was a group effort.”

Motorola designed the players, Lear made the cartridges, RCA contributed the music, and Ford installed the players into 1966 model year vehicles.”

“Initially, none of the record companies would license their music to 8 Track. But Bill Lear knew David Sarnoff, chairman at RCA Records, and they licensed 175 albums.”

Motown 8-Track (courtesy of Google Archives)

“Then later, Motown Records in Detroit, licensed some of their catalog for it. And all the other record companies came on board, and by 1970 it was a $1 billion industry. Motown even let Lear’s team transfer the initial master record tracks from RCA to magnetic tape. Berry Gordy would sometimes come up and hang out on the third floor of Motown Records (which is a converted house on West Grand Blvd.), and the machine was only available after midnight.”

“What I want the reader to take-away is that forming a talented team and working together is key to the success of any project. You’ll also learn how vital it is to control your intellectual property, and how to launch a major industry from scratch, and take advantage of the good sales years and properly prepare for winding down the business, as 8 Track gave way to cassettes, and so on.”

 

RJ’s dad John P. King fills in the gaps

RJ calls his father on the phone. His dad, John P. King, is 85 years old. He grew up on Chicago’s west side on Jackson Boulevard near Garfield Park, until moving to Michigan in January 1965. He earned a master’s degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and he had magnetic tape background based on his early employment.

John started out as project engineer for the introduction of the 8 Track Tape Player, and wrote all the standards (and made sure everyone adhered to them).

He retired as Regional Manager of Asia Pacific and New Markets for Ford Customer Service Division in 1997, and today is active with FREE (Ford Retired Executive Engineers).

John says:

“The development of 8 Track was fast-tracked so we could make the 1966 model year. We all worked many extra hours to bring it to market in only nine months, which was unheard of.”

“Back then, I had what we called a ‘Sound-Off’ with Earl ‘Mad Man’ Muntz out at the Ford Assembly Plant (28801 South Wixom rd, Wixom, MI). Muntz acquired that nickname in Los Angeles when he had a used car business. He was the guy who invented the 4 Track tape player, and he had a flair for showmanship and self-promotion. He was trying to get all the automakers to go for his 4 Track.”

“The Sound-Off was held at the Ford Wixom Plant, where at that time they were building the Thunderbird and the Lincoln Continental. Well we had an audio test among a small group of Ford people and Muntz, and we pitted his 4 Track against our 8 Track tape player by doing a live demonstration.”

“I showed up with my 1963 Ford Fairlane wagon, but I had swapped out the factory speakers with six-by-nine-inch speakers front and rear, and I had installed a very new production 8 Track tape player. From there, it was obvious that the 8 Track sounded far better. What wasn’t obvious was that I had installed stereo speakers in my car.”

Ford Quadrasonic 8-Track (courtesy of Google Archives)

“One other funny story. Donald Frey, the guy who designed the Ford Mustang, lived near Pete Estes, who was vice president for General Motors. Don was the overall lead on 8 Track at Ford, and he asked if speakers could be mounted in the front grill of his car, and he wanted specially loud Motorola bullhorn speakers. The speakers were wired to Don’s 8 Track tape player in his car. At the time, Ford’s ad slogan was ‘Ford has a better idea.’ So every morning when he drove by Pete’s house, Don would blast that slogan with the music at full volume.”

“Later, in 1967, Don Frey had us do a sound comparison between the 8 Track Tape Player with the latest cassette tape. At that time, the fidelity of the 8 Track was superior. Another factor was you had to manually flip the cassette, where 8 Track was hands free. But eventually cassette won out as Lear, who owned the patents on 8 Track, sold them to Gates Rubber Co., and they failed to renew the patents in 1975. From there, the standards could not be maintained, and the industry started to introduce cheaper products.”

“A plus for cassette tapes was that it was much easier to record your own material. And the cassette was half the size of 8 Track. So we helped usher in cassettes, and then compact discs. When I retired from Ford in 1997, downloads were available, and you could see one day they would be readily available.”

Back to RJ.

 

RJ King Biography

RJ King (courtesy of DBusiness)

“I have 6 sisters, 2 brothers, and I’m in the middle! (laughs) I have 3 sisters and 1 brother older, and also 3 sisters and 1 brother younger.”

“I’m editor of DBusiness magazine. Prior to that I was working at The Detroit News starting in 1990. I was on the business staff until I ran into Gail Fisher (now Gotthelf) while volunteering at a charity event during Super Bowl week in February 2006.”

“Gail worked for Hour Media and said the two owners, John Balardo and Stefan Wanczyk, were looking to start a business magazine. I came onboard and that’s how DBusiness was born.”

DBusiness Magazine

Hour Media is based in Troy, Michigan. As a parent company, they own around 160 magazines, including Hour Detroit, DBusiness, Grand Rapids magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and we have other magazines in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Cincinnati, Atlanta, all throughout Florida, the Gulf Coast of Alabama, and more.”

“In general, I write one story per day for DBusiness Daily News and write about 7-10 stories per each issue of DBusiness magazine.”

“In terms of local restaurants, some favorites are Roman Village in Dearborn and also London Chop House and the Vertical Wine Bar, both in Detroit.”

 

Upcoming Developments

Detroit Engine of America-RJ King

“We just introduced an audiobook version of my other book, ‘Detroit: Engine of America,’ available on Audible.”

“And I have a fifth book coming out in March 2021 called “Grounds for Freedom.” It’s an unbelievable true story about Andrew Niemczyk, a local inventor who has developed amazing machines and new technologies. Check out his website at Exlterra. ”

 

Buy RJ King’s 8 Track book here

https://www.amazon.com/Track-First-Mobile-Stem-Revolution/dp/B08FP4QJF1

 

Email RJ King

[email protected]

 

8 Track (and related audio) Timeline

*Most of this timeline was pieced together from information found in RJ’s book

Rarest 8-Track: SinatraJobim (courtesy of Google Archives)

  • 1928-Motorola founded in Chicago. Bill Lear helped name the company.
  • 1930-the Motorola car radio is invented
  • 1935-RJ’s father John P. King born in Chicago
  • 1948-Columbia Records introduces the LP
  • 1949-RCA invents 45 RPM
  • 1949-sales of the 1949 Ford help save the company’s fortunes
  • 1952-endless loop tape cartridge invented
  • 1954-George Eash invents the Fidelipac tape cartridge
  • September 12, 1955-Chrysler agrees to install Peter Goldmark’s in-car record player (Columbia Records) after the automaker’s team in Highland Park, MI tests the prototype by driving on the nearby Davison Freeway.
  • 1956-58-the Highway Hi-Fi in-car record player is featured in some Chrysler vehicles. It uses special 7-inch records called ‘ultra-microgroove.’ It was a big flop.
  • 1959-closed loop tape players are used at nearly every AM radio station
  • 1960-used car dealer Earl “Madman” Muntz invents the 4 track tape player
  • 1961-Michiganian Larry Spitters founds Memorex in Silicon Valley
  • 1962-the audio cassette is developed by Philips in Hasselt, Belgium
  • 1963-Bill Lear, owner of 110 patents, invents the Lear Jet to be introduced in 1966
  • October 1964-the 8-Track Stereophonic Tape Player is developed by Bill Lear and Richard Kraus at Lear Jet corporate HQ (Wichita, KS). Afterwards, they are built regularly at the Lear Jet Stereo-8 division (13131 Lyndon Ave, Detroit)
  • January 1965-John P. King moves to Dearborn to work for Ford
  • July 1965-Motorola begins production shipments of 8 Track tape players to Ford
  • October 3rd, 1965-8 Track tape players are released to the general public thanks to Lear’s friendship with Henry Ford II (grandson of big Henry). They are released in the form of an AM radio with integrated 8 track tape player installed inside Ford vehicles.
  • 1965-80 = 8 track is popular
  • 1966 = Ford sells over 125,000 8 track players as an option (available on six models)
  • Fall 1966-all Detroit automakers now offer 8-Track factory installation options
  • April 1967-Gates Rubber Co. acquires a controlling interest in Lear Jet
  • May 1967-Earl Muntz has his son Jim Muntz fly to Detroit and open Muntz CARtridge City (15278 Gratiot Ave, Detroit) to sell 4 track players and tapes
  • 1969-Sinatrajobim 8 track tape (3,500 made but quickly recalled; only a handful not recalled). This is currently the rarest 8-Track, selling for upwards of $6,000
  • September 1969-production of 8 Track tapes ceases at Lear’s Detroit plant. They move production down to twin plants in Tucson, AZ and Nogales, Mexico.
  • December 1969-Lear’s company’s name is changed to the Gates Learjet Corp.
  • 1970-RCA releases 40 Quad-8 tapes (Quadrasonic sound)
  • 1971-GM and Chrysler start offering cassette tape player options in cars
  • 1979-Sony and Philips join forces to create Red Book standards for Compact Disc Digital Audio
  • 1979-Sony Walkman invented
  • 1979-Ford introduces all-electronic AM/FM stereo radio with Quadrasonic 8 Track player. Knobs and buttons are replaced by a brand new digital display.
  • October 1982-CD player Sony CDP-101 publicly released in Japan by Sony Philips
  • April 1983-CDs become popular in USA as car manufactures install them
  • October 1984-Terra Haute, IN = first US CD plant opens
  • May 1985-CDs become insanely popular worldwide
  • 1985-Sony Discman invented
  • 1986-the Lincoln Town car has a CD player. This is the first factory-installed application in the domestic auto industry.
  • 1988-CD sales eclipse vinyl
  • November 1988-the last 8 track tape is made = Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits
  • 1991-CD sales eclipse cassettes
  • 1999-Napster file sharing MP3s
  • 2000-CD sales global peak (2.45 billion sold worldwide)
  • 2001-Apple iPod

Ford Quadrasonic 8-Track (courtesy of Google Archives)

Motorola Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

8 Track vintage (courtesy of Google Archives)

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

Motorola 8 Track (courtesy of Google Archives)

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

Panasonic 8 Track detonator (courtesy of Google Archives)

Ford 1966 advertisement (courtesy of Google Archives)

Ford 1967 advertisement (courtesy of Google Archives)

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

 

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

 

Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)

Tracker Bob Hiemenz (courtesy of Google Archives)