Thursday, November 28, 2013

Jackie Hopper's Pet Rock Cemetery

The Miami News, October 21, 1976
As a concerned citizen, Jackie Hopper, a Detroit tavern owner, did what anybody would do when she heard that pet rocks were going hungry: she built a graveyard awaiting their demise. Having come across an newspaper ad bemoaning the fact that the treasured pets' well-beings were in peril without an adequate food supply, she prepared for the worst and constructed a pet cemetery for the soon-to-be passing stones. Or so the newspaper legend goes.

Hopper told a slightly different story in her autobiography, Passing Through: The Jackie Hopper Story (Yes, even bar owners write books!), stating that one morning a kid had chucked his pet rock through the bar window and came in to retrieve it, claiming to have dropped it. The caretaker of the bar quipped that he was going to start making coffins for pet rocks and Mrs. Hopper encouraged the notion by stating, "You do that. I will make a graveyard."

It was then she began to gather the materials necessary to transform one of the vacant lots she owned across the street from her establishment on Junction and McGregor in the southwest side of the city. Using artificial turf for grass and white cement blocks for a border and tombstones she adorned the graves with candles and flowers.

Expecting nothing to come of the matter, except for perhaps an opportunity for vandalism, she was surprised when all of the major newspaper and television outlets began arriving the following day to cover the story.

Not only was it newsworthy but it became a neighborhood rite of passage for the children to tend to and beautify their rock grave sites. Some children even went so far as to have a sleepover to protect their cemetery.

Adults weren't immune to the fad either. There were traffic jams at the intersection, a slow stream of foot traffic through the bar to drop off flowers and even firemen parked nearby in case a rock needed resuscitation. If that weren't enough, people were calling in to reserve plots for future burials and there were plans to expand the cemetery to other vacant lots owned by Hopper.

Then, nearly six months after it all began, it ended one night in an act of thievery. Some scrooge, or perhaps even the Nain Rouge himself, pilfered the graveyard of all 35 markers and pet rocks and scampered off into the night to revel in his deviancy. The Free Press wrote an article on the matter entitled "Ghouls Get Pet Rocks" but the attention was to no avail, as the culprit(s) were never caught and the cemetery returned to its former vacancy.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Forewarned (By a Witch Doctor)

The Detroit Free Press, March 9, 1910
Mrs. John Skowerinski was no Rose Veres. Hell, she wasn't even a middling Samantha Stephens but rather a congenial neighbor who came face-to-face with a real life witch named Josephine Gawronski. Mind you, she was neither a witch in the impractical sense of the word; broom, pointed hat, a brood of black cats primping by a smoking cauldron; nor the practical tradition, but one in the metaphysical realm. More simply put, a lunatic.

This was confirmed when Gawronski invited Skowerinski to her home for the sole purpose of attacking, beating and bloodying the unsuspecting woman. Surely, she must have done something to provoke this episode of senseless brutality. Gawronski's reasoning? Skowerinski was a witch who had put a spell on her attacker and inflicted upon her a stomach malady.

As queer as it may sound to the progressive thinker it was a common superstition among our forebearers up until the last 50 or so years. In Mrs. Gawronski's defense she was also a sick woman. Physically ill, that is, with catarrh of the stomach. Not deathly ill but sick enough. Which may or may not have led to her mental afflictions and plans for retribution against Mrs. Skowerinski, but it was a prime mover in the matter.

With the onset and continuation of her illness unabated, she apparently received a diagnosis from a medical doctor but was unsatisfied with his determination. So Jospehine decided that she needed a second opinion and called upon an east side witch doctor who convinced her that she was bewitched. Encouraged to think back to a galvanizing moment before the symptoms occurred she recalled a wedding party a month or so earlier where Skowerinski had secured Gawronski a drink and then possibly wished an incantation against her. To reverse the effects of the spell she would have to accost the witch and draw blood. Which she did. Once completed, for good measure, Gawronski made the poor prone woman chant thrice, "I take it back."

Needless to say, the catarrh persisted and the witch doctor was summoned once more. Whereupon he proclaimed Mrs. Skowerinski innocent and ordered another woman beaten! That woman apparently didn't come forward to tell her story. Skowerinski did though in the form of a lawsuit. Whereby the gathered raucous anti-witch revelers in support of Gawronski were admonished by Justice Lemke for their beliefs in superstition. He deemed them worthy of a spanking and Mrs. Skowerinski $25 in damages.

L'abeille de la Nouvelle-Orleans, May 19, 1910