Apr 10, 2010

Documenting and Researching My Grandfather's Memories

Regular readers of this blog already I know that my wife and I spend our Friday nights visiting my 93-year-old grandfather in suburban Detroit. My grandfather is still one of the sharpest people I know, and his memory is excellent despite his advancing years. Over the past eighteen months his wisdom and insights have sparked at least a half dozen blog posts on my part, and I frequently take notes during our visits of pieces of information and recalled memories he brings up in conversation.

While perusing the notebook I use I came across a bunch of small notations of items that I jotted down that are probably not worthy of a lengthy post, but which might be of interest to Internet searchers on very specific topics related to the history of the Detroit area. In no particular order, then, the following is a brief list of some topics we discussed the past few weeks and what I learned in searching for further information.

Call this "oral history meets the Internet," if you'd like.

  • Murray's Bar, Michigan Avenue in Detroit
  • - I have not been able to locate any information on this place, but my grandfather swore this bar and grill had the hands-down best hamburgers ever. He thinks the place was east of the now-demolished Tiger Stadium.

  • Flying Aces magazine - My grandfather vividly recalled being a kid in the 1920s and reading about World War One aviators, and in particular he remembered being mesmerized about an issue that featured Eddie Rickenbacker flying a SPAD-XIII.

  • Peg Leg Bates - My grandfather recalled seeing tap dancing phenomenon Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates on television variety shows in the 1950s. Bates had his left leg amputated above the knee on his family's kitchen table at the age of 12 after an industrial accident, and he persevered as a dancer despite the impediment of a wooden leg. Here is a compilation clip of the inimitable Peg Leg Bates on YouTube.

  • Sharpsteen's Medical Variety Show - I have not been able to unearth any information about this traveling show, which my grandfather believed had been sponsored by a patent medicine maker named Sharpsteen (or Sharpstein). He said that the show was a regular program that offered musicians, comedians, and other vaudeville entertainers at Detroit-area theaters.

  • I plan to make this a semi-regular blog feature over the next few months and years, as I have quite a collection of tidbits from my grandfather. There is no particular order to these chunks of history beyond their appearance in my jumbled notebook, and the process of blogging this material also serves a more selfish aim on my part of forcing me to look up these many anecdotal recollections, kind of like wearing bow ties while cleaning house.


    Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...


    Our genealogy group is in the beginning stages of starting/collecting oral histories of our senior members in our community, so I have a couple of suggestions...

    First, get a recorder that can be left running unattended while you are talking to your dad, for later archiving/transcribing.

    Also do a search (I used Yahoo! search) for "Oral histories, basic questions."

    This will give you many starting questions to get things going.

    Then just ask questions and listen; the conversation that follows will be fascinating...

    My $ 0.02 ;-)

    microdot said...

    Murrays Bar! On certain Saturdays when I was young in Detroit, my dad would go out in the late afternoon and tell us that he was bringing back hamburgers for dinner.
    So, he's get to go and hang at Murrays with his buddies. He grew up on West Grand Blvd.
    He come home around Sevenish in a great mood and we would have the best hamburgers I can remember.
    What made the Murrays hamburgers special were the paper thin sliced grilled onions.
    The burgers were done on a gill, not broiled and I suspect they were finished by putting a pot lid over them to "steam" them.
    i also vaguely remember Peg Leg Bates.
    The Sharpsteen Medical Variety Show sounds like a real worthy investigation.

    You know what I miss about Detroit?
    The Giant Neon Vernors Dwarf that used to stand in front of the old Vernors Plant on Woodward....
    Did you ever go to the Vernors "Bar" in the plant?

    Anonymous said...

    Hi Mike,

    Sorry this posting is late, but perhaps your grandfather is thinking of Miller's Bar at Michigan and Telegraph (to the west of Tiger Stadium), which has been making great burgers since the 1940's.