Tag Archives: Germack Coffee Shop

DETROIT: Mt. Elliott

28 May

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A cemetery can tell you the story of a city; where residents came from, who was rich, how streets got their names, it can be fascinating stuff. Today we are visiting Mt Elliott Cemetery on, well, Mt Elliott, just north of Lafayette. The oldest, still operating, traditionally Catholic, cemetery in Detroit, it was consecrated in 1841, just 4 years after Michigan became a state. The first burial was that of Robert Elliott, notice the name? Elliott was one of the original purchasers and planners of the cemetery, one month after it opened, he was killed in a construction accident at St Mary’s, it was named ‘Mount Elliott’ in his honor.

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We enter through a beautiful stone gateway designed and built by Walter Schweikart in 1882; many prominent families are laid to rest near the entrance. The grass is green and lush, the spring breeze a bit chilly, monuments and tombstones rise from the ground as far as the eye can see. Directly in front of us is the monument of a barefoot scholar belonging to Daniel Campau, son of Joseph Campau, yep, that guy. Surrounded by books, the man looks deep in thought, as if he is pondering some eternal question; his father, Joseph, is buried at Elmwood. We traverse the grounds winding past grave sites; it is tranquil, serene, the only sounds come from the rustling of leaves and songs of the birds. A canopy of mature trees seem to exist to protect those who have passed on. Crosses come in all sizes here; carved of stone, one resembles a log while another has a Celtic design. There are multitudes of statues gracing monuments; angels, women in flowing robes, they all wear grief stricken, sullen expressions, some turn their faces upwards toward heaven. 

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Some headstones are barely legible, weather has taken its toll and worn them nearly smooth, one monument has become very dark, it looks long forgotten. A tiny lamb sits atop a stone rectangular box, details have been washed away. In 1872 the Fireman’s Fund bought large lots for $500 apiece for the purpose of burying firefighters; the Fireman’s Fund Monument stands tall over the headstones, annuals have already been planted in the urns, two red, faux fireplugs flank the site. Jerome Cavanagh, Mayor of Detroit from 1962-70, is buried here, as are many French and Irish settlers, soldiers that fought in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, for and against Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo and the Polar Bear Expedition to Russia after WWI. Little Chief Edward, grandson of Sitting Bull is laid to rest here; the well-known and unknown are entombed side by side.

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The mausoleum architecture is elaborate, fancy, graceful. The Palms is my favorite; framed by a Crimson King Maple on each side, the structure is beautiful; a few steps lead to metal doors that have tarnished over time, creating a lovely patina, short columns flank the entryway, a statue of a woman is positioned on top. The Palms family were Detroit high society through real estate and banking; they have left an architectural legacy in the Palms House, Palms Apartments and Palm Theatre (now the Fillmore). We pass familiar names such as Beaubien, St Aubin and Moross; most mausoleums have gorgeous metal gates, some, ornate stained glass windows, iron grates and urns waiting for flowers to be planted. One tombstone resembles a church steeple, another a tree stump with a log cross, where the bark is ‘peeled’ away we learn the names of those who have passed on. 

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Crossing Mt Elliott, we find ourselves in front of St. Bonaventure and the Solanus Casey Center. St Bonaventure Monastery, constructed of red brick with limestone trim, built for the order of Friars Minor Capuchin, opened in 1883; Father Solanus Casey was a Friar here from 1924-1946. At the Center we pass through the open gateway into the courtyard; brick pavers are engraved with names of donors, large pieces of sculpture dot the garden landscape. A pair of impressive glass doors lead us into the building; sunlight floods the interior corridor. A group of bronze statues are to our left, glass cases display items used by the monks; robes, chalice, sashes, habits, sandals and wood rosary beads. A narrow doorway leads us to a series of exhibits detailing the life of Bernard Francis Casey; born in 1870, he was the sixth of 16 children. There are family pictures and personal items; stories from childhood through adulthood appear on placards, giving us insight into this revered man.

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Father Solanus Casey’s casket lies beneath the north trancept at St Bonaventure’s; today a single red rose and small folded pieces of paper sit atop the wooden tomb; prayers offered for the intercession of Father Solanus. Known as a ‘wonder worker’ he is the first United States-born man to be declared ‘venerable’ by the Roman Catholic Church; he has been proposed as a candidate for Sainthood. The church is quiet, we are the only ones here. The Gothic Revival style is simple and elegant; highly varnished wood wainscoting covers the lower half of the walls, classic lantern-style lights hang from chains. Light streams in from understated stained glass windows that face Mt Elliot, the main focus of the space is definitely the meticulously carved wood altar, magnificent with its tall spires.

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We exit through a rear door that leads to the Votive Candle Chapel, enclosed in glass it provides a lovely view of the grounds. Tiny flames dance inside tall red and green glass jars; the scent of melting wax permeates the air, it is familiar to me, many of the old churches smell exactly like this, I find it pleasant and comforting. A few people arrive with new candles purchased in the gift shop, they will replace ones that no longer burn with their own prayers.

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We leave the serenity of the Center and head to Eastern Market to grab a late light lunch; Germack is now serving bagel sandwiches in their coffee shop–perfect! We place our order at the counter and have a seat at a nearby table, I sip on a hot Chili Mexican while we wait. Our sandwiches arrive and they both look delicious; Kris has a PBJ: Germack’s own freshly ground cashew butter and a layer of a locally made blueberry lavender vanilla jam on a Detroit Institute of Bagels blueberry bagel, if you think it sounds good, you should taste it! I went with the Morning Sunshine–house-made herb cream cheese, cucumbers, tomato and arugula on an everything bagel, yum! When our sandwiches are gone we sit back and chill as we finish our coffee, it has been another great day in Detroit.

BIKING DETROIT: Riverwalk & Dequindre Cut

19 Oct

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If you’ve never seen Detroit on two wheels, you don’t know what you’re missing! Kris and I each have vintage bicycles from the late 60’s, early 70’s; banana seats, high-rise handle bars, and shifters, his even has a tall sissy bar. One of our favorite things to do is hop on the old bikes and take a ride through the city, today we were joined by a friend. The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy is responsible for this wonderful thing we call Riverwalk; with a vision of providing riverfront access from the Belle Isle Bridge to the Ambassador, it has become one of the city’s greatest assets.  I like to start things at the beginning, in this case that would be Mt Elliot Park; the forecast promised sunshine and mild temperatures, for a change it was right on. The Riverwalk itself is constructed of a series of concrete slabs and multi-color brick pavers, decorative railings furnish a place to lean against while looking out across the river to Canada or a place to rest your fishing pole. We pedaled along, cruising past the UAW GM complex, Roberts Hotel with its outdoor patio, and the old Park Davis building; sparkling blue water on one side and beautiful historic buildings on the other. We make the jog to Atwater  then hop into Milliken State Park and Harbor with its 52 slip marina and 63 foot replica light tower; it is completely unexpected and wonderful to find a state park inside a big city. A surprising number of boats are still in the water, large Weeping Willows sway in today’s gentle breeze, fishermen sit patiently soaking up the sun, waiting for the big catch of the day.  We head back to Atwater St then to the Dequindre Cut, an urban greenway that links the riverfront to Eastern Market.

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The Dequindre Cut was formerly a Grand Trunk railroad line; the 20 ft wide path is below street level, allowing you to get from one part of the city to the other without the hassle of crossing busy streets. Popular with both pedestrians and bicycle riders each are given separate lanes. Tall light poles display banners inviting us to “Play at Dequindre Cut”, many embrace the invitation. Today there are lots of people enjoying the path; joggers, casual walkers, serious bikers and photographers. Graffiti covers the concrete walls; once paint starts to fade and peel, it is scraped off and becomes the blank canvas for a new artist, the current array of murals is fantastic! We ride to the end, asking much of our thighs to push us up the ramp at Gratiot. We cross Gratiot and enter the hustle and bustle world that is Eastern Market on a Saturday afternoon.

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All three of us were thirsty, luckily Germack Coffee Shop serves up some of the best coffee around. The boys stayed outside with the bikes while I went in to get our beverages; as usual the shop was busy, but the line moved quickly. I returned with two iced coffees sweetened with Germack’s own homemade vanilla syrup and an iced Chili Mexican for me.  Armed with a little caffeine and a little sugar we were off again. We rode north on Russell and took a left on Mack Ave to Woodward. We turned at Willis making our way to Avalon to get some lunch. Along with amazing breads and pastries Avalon International Breads also makes a variety of sandwiches and salads ready-to-go from a refrigerated case. We were starving! All that fresh air and exercise built up an appetite. Kris stayed outside, saving us a table while Ben and I went indoors for food; we grabbed a variety of sandwiches and a salad and headed back outside for our meal. The sandwiches were interesting combinations of flavors served on a variety of their best organic breads, the salad was excellent; the dressing a homemade puree of strawberries and who knows what else, that was just delicious! We sat and rested in the late afternoon sun as we talked of our adventures in the city so far. 

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Riding at a gentle pace, we went north on Second over to Wayne State University; the campus is actually quite scenic and makes for a nice ride. Then it was south on Woodward, pedaling onward we took in the sights and sounds of the city; the detail of buildings much more apparent from this level and at this speed, two different wedding parties posed for photos in front of the fabulous Fox Theatre, at Hart Plaza we stopped and took photos of the bicycles. The vintage bikes are a natural conversation starter, folks come right up to us and share their stories of their own childhood bikes, all told with a smile on their face and a twinkle in their eye; I get a kick out of the ones who call out the bikes by name. Back on the riverwalk we ride over to the west end near Joe Louis Arena, taking time to pause at Cobo Arena and check out the renovations, can’t wait to see it when it’s done. Turning around at the end of the walkway it was back east for us. We stopped in front of Ren Cen and watched the kids run in and out of the fountain, the sight is always accompanied by the sound of  joyful screams and laughter at a pitch that can only come from a child.

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The view is spectacular; it’s hard to look away and concentrate on where I am going, the water looks as though thousands of diamonds have been sprinkled atop, the clouds in the sky have taken on interesting formations. Further down, the lure of the patio at Roberts Riverwalk Hotel proved too much to resist. We parked the bikes and grabbed a table with a picture perfect view of Windsor; Kris went inside to the bar and grabbed cocktails. The patio was full of wedding guests mingling before dinner was served, what a gorgeous venue for a reception. Evening was approaching quickly; time to get back on those banana seats.

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