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Up Woodward: 1908

Up Woodward: 1908

Detroit circa 1908. "Up Woodward Avenue from Grand Circus Park." A record number of "moonlight tower" arc lamp standards on view here. 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Backward Time

I agree with you. My Grandfathers' house where I lived for a number of years is now part of the baseball park (122 E. Vernor Hwy). I attended the Boy Scouts at Central Methodist Church. My Mom and Dad worked at the Hotel Statler. I also went to the Franklin Elementary School and Cass Technical High School. We have a lot in common and your Google Earth is something for me to view.

Three Churches

The three large churches visible on the righthand side of the picture along Woodward Avenue are, from front to back: first, the Central United Methodist at 23 E. Adams at Woodward, and built in 1866 (still extant); second, St. John's Episcopal at 2326 Woodward at Fisher Freeway, and built in 1859 (still extant); and third, Woodward Avenue Baptist at 2464 Woodward, and built in 1886 (demolished).

Austin moonlight towers

In the early days when Austin's moonlight towers had carbon-arc lamps, one city employee had the full-time occupation of driving around in a buggy to each tower once a day, hoisting himself up by the internal lift rigging, and adjusting the carbon sticks to their proper gap for making an electrical arc. I suppose all these towers worked that way In the Day.

Austin Towers

The former Detroit towers here in Austin are still used a lighting as well as historical markers. The one in Zilker Park is turned into our "Xmas tree" each year.

So tall

The towers seem so tall compared to our average street lights today. Yet, these are undoubtedly the precursors to the tall, multi-fixture light towers around today's modern expressway interchanges. Today's lights also lower to the ground with pulleys.

I wonder how far those old tall towers would throw the light, and how bright they would be compared to today?

A lovely September afternoon!

Tuesday, Sep 8 L DET 2 CHW 5
Wednesday, Sep 9 W DET 7 CHW 6
Thursday, Sep 10 W DET 6 CHW 5
Friday, Sep 11 L DET 2 CHW 4
Saturday, Sep 12 L DET 1 CHW 2

Towers and Tigers

Detroit had more of these moonlight lighting towers than any city in the world - well over 100 at their peak - before they were all taken out in the 1910s in favor of modern street level electric lighting. A few of these Detroit towers were purchased and moved and some are still in use in Austin, Texas.

More here on the evolution of this form of public lighting.

As for the baseball score on the roof on the right, I think it may be from one of the final games of the razor-close 1908 American League pennant race. The Tigers traveled to Chicago for the final series of the season, a 3 game set starting on October 4th, with a 1.5 game lead over Cleveland and a 2.5 game lead over Chicago.

Detroit lost the first two games of the series to the White Sox, and I think the scoreboard shown here may be from one of those 2 games, so probably Oct. 4th or 5th 1908. This set up a climactic final game for the championship. The Tigers won that game 7-0 and claimed their second consecutive American League pennant by a game over Chicago and a half-game over Cleveland.

The AL race, however, was somewhat overshadowed by the National League race, which also came down to a final game, between the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs, necessitated by the infamous "Merkle's Boner" play. The Cubs won, and went on to defeat Detroit 4 games to 1 in the World Series.

Moonlight towers: steampunk for real!

I would love to see how well those things really worked.

Game 5

First, I think the trees are too bare for October 12. Second, the teams are listed the wrong way -- the Tigers were at home for Game 5, 1908.

Look at the mast

Look at how the base of the moonlight tower in the foreground is anchored to the ground. It tapers to one ordinary steel pole! The structure has guy wire anchors to support it, but it still it doesn't look very sturdy. I wonder if they had difficulty finding enough maintenance people crazy enough to climb these things. It is interesting to note that thousands of similar structures would be used in the radio era, in the years to come.

Time frame

Not only do the long shadows indicate a late afternoon time for the picture, the fact that there aren't any people on the balcony where the box score is displayed makes it likely that the picture was taken sometime after the end of the game (and definitely after the fifth inning). Baseball Almanac says that the game lasted 1:42 (hah!) but doesn't say when it began.

Austin transplanted towers

In a March 1964 visit to Austin, Texas, when I first saw some of these Moonlight Towers that had been transplanted there I first thought that they were for some type of microwave relay system. They are plotted on a USGS quadrangle map (1954) of the area and supposedly when viewed from above once made the outline of a five-pointed star.

Off season

I suppose the picture could have been anytime after October 12, 1907 as that was the last game of the World Series, and therefore the season. I suppose they could have left it up for a while without another game necessitating the change.

1907 perhaps? Tigers vs. Cubs

I think the baseball game might not be the Detroit Tigers vs. Chicago White Sox, but rather the Tigers and Chicago Cubs. The Tigers and Cubs played each other in the World Series in consecutive years in 1907 and 1908. I think this might be Game 5 of the 1907 World Series.

World Series Game 5 Played on Saturday, October 12, 1907 (D) at Bennett Park

CHI N 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 2 7 1
DET A 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 0 7 2

The convention of listing the home team on the bottom has not always been consistent, and perhaps DETROIT was always listed on top in Detroit. has box scores going back to 1871. To be sure, I'd have to rule out all the regular season games between the White Sox and Tigers, which I have not done...

The lights and the pulleys

The pulleys are for raising and lowering the work platform, visible near the bottom of the tower. This feature has been disabled on the surviving towers in Austin.

Moonlight Towers

And all this time I've considered cell phone towers a major symbol of our modern crassness, as another reason to long for a return to the Edwardian Era of enlightened tastes!

Perhaps we're not so bad after all.

Baseball game

With the trees still bare this is early in the baseball season (April or May). If back then they used the convention of away team on top and home team on the bottom like now then this puts the picture at April 14th (season opener) or April 16th.

on 4/14/1908 Sox 15 Tigers 8.
on 4/16/1908 Tigers 4 Sox 2.

Unfortunately box scores are hard to find earlier than about 1918.

[This photo was made in the fall, not the spring. - Dave]

And in Time

This Woodward Avenue, in about 55 years, would become famous for the fact that many Auto manufacturers would come out and compare models by running out Woodward. And that the tradition still lives on.

Not that they were "racing," ahem, Officer, cough.

I believe this is 1907

In the 1907 World Series, Game 5, the Chicago Cubs scored a run in each inning of the first and second as shown on the outdoor baseball scoreboard in this shot. It didn't match any scores from the 1908 series.

High (and low) Wires

How are all these tower guy-wires anchored? Two look like they are converging in the small park on the right but I can't follow them to the end. Were they fastened to something right on the ground or perhaps out of reach on a pole?

High anxiety

Who's gonna be the one to go up there and change a lightbulb?

[Note that the lights are on pulleys and can be lowered to the ground. - Dave]


I noticed that just past the first church on the left there's a partial view of a baseball scoreboard showing the Tigers and the White Stockings. That's how folks got the score back then. They were wired from the stadium to various points and posted so fans could keep up in near real-time conditions. Some of these places also served simple food and beer and were generally an all-male gathering spot.

Let There Be Light!

How many moonlight towers does everyone count? I can see maybe twelve, thirteen or fourteen. If we could enlarge it even further ...

Smokestacks and Spires

Industry and faith--a winning combination in my book!

Also, I wonder who won the Detroit/Chicago game. It got cut off in the fifth inning.

Who needs a nifty ESPN smart phone app?

When you can get the latest baseball scores posted on the roof of a building!

Where's a DeLorean when you need one!

I wish someone would hurry up and invent a time machine so I can go back and live here. Living in the Detroit area today, and having spent a lot of time in this particular area represented in this photograph, I would give anything to be back "there" today, instead of what we have now. Even if it meant I had to shovel coal, or clean up after horses.

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