Author: Gerry Pety
Happy 5th Anniversary... to Us!
Reflections on the old YHS Archives: 7/26/2007-7/26/2012
As most people in the YHS community know, we have a new Archive which is absolutely first rate
and a blend of the old and new that makes it very efficient and yet evokes a positive feeling on
Ypsilanti history. What the walls of this 150-year-old house could tell! The best part of moving
to this well-planned 'Phoenix' of the old YHS Archives is that everything works on a consistent
basis which again makes this an ideal place to do research or just converse about the history or the
area. Moreover, we are now fully capable of finding anything in the archives pertaining to
Ypsilanti - which is something we could not always do at the old place, due to its interior
It is still hard to believe that it has been five years since we moved the Fletcher-White
Archives from the, then city-owned, carriage house to our new present facilities in the lower level
of the YHS Museum. What a move it was too! Everyone within the YHS family and others, it seemed,
came to help us move. It was a real job and it involved a great deal of preparation on everyone's
part, but my volunteers and I pulled it off. Phew!
People seem to remember different aspects of that place than I do, and although I still remember
the good times we had over there, there were many other things which made the place absolutely
'unique'. Many have asked me what I feel about the old Archives and then they would wax
nostalgically about how charming the old place was or the great view we had of Riverside Park from
our windows. During the summer, there were lots of annual events within our view. All of this
free! Also, some of our guests and members remember the coziness of the place which engendered a a
spirit of camaraderie among the patrons with everyone helping one another; whether it was to do
research or just simple explanations of Ypsilanti's fascinating history. Yeah, it was a wonderful
experience to be sure, to everyone including myself.
Yep, I really liked the place but there was a side to the old Archives not everyone knows about.
I will spin that story for you now as I remember the old place.
Sometime in 2002 the Archives were in the Ypsilanti Room in the YHS Museum where I was a
volunteer and during my first week we moved the Archives over to what was known as the carriage
house. Wow, what a move it was! James Mann was the first Archivist at the new digs and I worked
for him the first year. In 2003 James left this position and I was finally hired to run the
'exiled' Archives at the carriage house. This was after the short-lived tenure of an archivist who
was allergic to dust and mold. Two ambulance rides to the hospital later they hired me to take her
place. It seems it was on June 25th, 2003, a date that General Custer made famous some 127 years
The part of the story most people find hard to believe was that totality of the problems we would
encounter there and I do mean WE! Every day we came to the Archives I never knew, until I entered,
what would or could possibly go wrong that day or what my guests and helpers would encounter. Many
times during the next five years we would welcome patrons and helpers without any heat, light,
phones, computer, water, or even with a plugged toilet! This happened all the time! We even had a
flood in the bathroom one day and a bathtub that was backed-up with some really, slimy goo---shades
of 'slime' in the movie "Ghost Busters"! We some how always found a way to stay open though. Oh,
we might get really cold, but we remained open.
Our final August in 2006 at the old Archive, we even had a real fire! The power line leading to
the building was literally knocked off by a direct lightning strike; it was just hanging there on
the side of the building when DTE arrived to fix it. No air conditioning, light or computer that
day! Luckily, the actual strike was so short-lived, probably only took a nano second. The
electrical lead-in wire was probably due to fail anyway due to its advanced age and lack of
maintenance, so it was time to replace it anyway. This place was originally converted to apartments
in 1929 and that was probably the original lead wire from then. The only evidence left was a
scorched and melted carpet under the desk in the living room and a completely destroyed surge
protector. The good news was that the computer survived and somehow the place didn't burn to the
ground like the building almost did in 1968 when there was a boiler fire in the basement!
When we did finally move to the new Archive, renovations started. What was revealed was a very
antiquated wiring system and confusing fuse panel, and a plumbing system that even the ancient
Romans would regard as sub-standard. (YHS President Al Rudisill and Jerry Jennings would remedy all
of this over the course of the next nine months to make this place into a deluxe apartment).
Besides the physical problems with the old Archives, we had all kinds of visitors- invasions of all
kinds of some really ugly creatures that came to visit: a rodent or two, numerous House Centipedes,
(I swear one was size of a 75-cent Tootsie Roll) and other 'things' I never knew existed or haven't
seen since my student days at Hover Labs at EMU, when we studied bugs. If you believe there is not
enough bio-diversity on this planet, is wasn't missing, it was just hiding right here in the
We also had a squirrel that went absolutely beserk in 2005 and ran 'hill and dale' leaving paw
prints on everrrrrryything! He left paw prints on every vertical surfaces too. This little fellow
went everywhere and only the ceiling was spared this 'super-tracker'. Seems he came down the
chimney and could not back up so he decided to show his immense displeasure with the whole joint by
leaving his 'calling cards' along with numerous tracks.
But this is not a 'hit piece' about a place that never would have made 'code' if it had been
owned by a private landlord, this was a city owned building at the time. Ypsilanti over the years
had taken a minimalist approach to repairs and human safety issues - and all of the 'regulars' and
visitors who came in knew it instinctively. One of the first items of interest upon entry was to
survey where the exits were and how far it was to jump out a window in case of an emergency. The
walls were uniformly rough from faulty plastering, the doors stuck, nothing worked properly. I got
to know Stan, the leader of the city maintenance crew that came to fix things on an almost weekly
schedule. Heck, even when everything appeared to be working well, you knew that this was just a
setup or prelude to some new difficulty---lady luck was nowhere to be found during our tenancy.
When I think back to those days of five years ago, I still remember all the things that went on
and wonder if this was not some sort of immense cosmic joke. Maybe, in some perverse way the place
was so trouble prone that it challenged the laws of possibilities. How could so many negative
things happen all at once and all of the time! Maybe it was some escaped gremlins from the
Ford/Consolidated bomber plant of World War II. Nah!
Then I think of the people and made 'IT' the special place that it was. It was a great place to
do research and a lot of fun to boot - the full spectrum of positive human personalities were
present there every day we were open. Many of those people that came to the old Archives are now
gone but the special memories of these people are accentuated by an equally special place we all
shared. I will never forget the old Fletcher-White Archives, it was a special time, in a very
special place. There will never be a place like this again.
As to our present Archives, I am sure, that 45 years from now someone will write an equally
satisfying account of all of the great happenings and people here and now and about our panoply of
friendly ghosts that habituate the place. I sure hope so!
So long live the YHS Archives and Happy 5th Anniversary!
[Gerry Pety is Archivist for the Fletcher-White Archives and a boon to all who seek professional