mike shaw retrospective

The following comes from guest-blogger, Old East Cross:

Ypsi’s last Shaw at Caf

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  1. Posted January 14, 2008 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    OEC – thanks for this contribution to Ypsilanti’s historical documentation. This was a very interesting piece to read, and very well done. I am really interested in seeing his art. Wow – what a cool story, in so many ways.

  2. Thoreau
    Posted January 14, 2008 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    I came to know (mike) Shaw much better in the last five or seven years before he died. Before that I would eye him suspiciously as he would just stand in silence while my gorilla-like dogs would leap and bark along the fence at him. It was like the dogs were not there. I came to appreciate his snail-like pace along back alleys and sidewalks. And I eventually became pretty familiar with him through many conversations, most held in the backyard off an alley of a house on N. Adams.

    You describe him well. Especially how he would continue his conversation regardless of what one may be talking about. And he may sit silent for hours, or not stop talking for hours.

  3. Ol' E Cross
    Posted January 14, 2008 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I was also wondering what the plans were for Mike’s art. I’m fine with whoever salvaged them keeping them, but if they were inclined to sell a few, I think something could be done with the proceeds in Mike’s memory. (I think planting a memorial tree in one of the parks would be fitting.)

    Thanks Thoreau. I was hoping some other folks who knew Mike would stop by.

  4. Pete Murdock
    Posted January 14, 2008 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    OEC – Nice Post.
    Mike was a fixture in Ypsilanti ever since his return from Vietnam. Over the past twenty-five years or so, I have had many a conversation with him on the street or him dropping by the house. Your description and rememberance was kind and thoughtful. Yes, may he rest in peace.

  5. Thoreau
    Posted January 14, 2008 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Did you ever smoke one of his cigs?

    Like toothpick sized

  6. Steph
    Posted January 14, 2008 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Is the second picture of a fur coat? It looks like it’s made of tiny pieces of fur. It doesn’t sound like he hunted. Maybe he got them from road kill.

  7. Roy
    Posted January 14, 2008 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    They were made of road kill. He would not kill any animal. He kept them for memory and didn’t want them to rot.

    He had a story about hiding from the cong in a foxhole as they were approaching. They had to be perfectly still. When he laid in the foxhole, it was filled with red ants that started biting. They had to let the ants eat on them and be still.

    His great grand dad, I think, has his name in the stone at the church at N Adams & Emmet.

  8. Posted January 14, 2008 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    I have a very big soft spot for Vietnam Vets. This post was very touching.

  9. Katy
    Posted January 15, 2008 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this… I think I lived across the street from Mr. Shaw about 8 years ago, in what I can only assume was the Kircher house mentioned. I always wondered about his story, but was too intimidated to find out for myself. I’m so glad someone was able to salvage some of his work. RIP

  10. mark
    Posted January 15, 2008 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Word is that a link to this post went out to a lot of the creative writing and art students at EMU and that several of them are making the pilgrimage down to Cafe Luwak to see the exhibition. I think that’s incredibly cool. A big “thank you” to everyone helping spread the word.

    It’s just a shame that all of this couldn’t have happened during his life.

    My dog used to go crazy when Mike went by. One day, when he was coming down the sidewalk, she went nuts and I went over to quiet her down. I was saying something like, “Be good, Freeda.” And Mike, by then right next to us, said, “She’s just doing her job, man.” I agreed and we kind of smiled at one another. I think that’s the longest conversation we ever had. By the time I heard that he painted, it was too late. I never saw him again. I regret not saying more than “hello” on all of those other occasions. I should have been talking to him about his work and the American Visionary Art Museum, and passing along salvaged paint and collage materials. Hopefully I learn from this.

  11. Pete Murdock
    Posted January 16, 2008 at 1:35 am | Permalink

    Maybe, the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum would be interested in some of the art work – even if they are in Chicago. It was a neat place when I visited it a few years ago.


  12. Matt
    Posted January 16, 2008 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I know when I looked at all the artifacts I had a really strange feeling. The collages almost spoke to me as I knew him to be. You can really see his personality in them. The animals, wizards, pyramids. Perhaps each of us would have our own style, but I felt really close to him there. Seeing his jacket was really something too.

    Later at an apartment near by, I asked a freind that went with me if he any anything made by Shaw. He left the room a moment and returned with this big brass weapon/spear that Shaw made. It was quite impressive. Made from an old brass lap pole or curtain rod. It screws together in two pieces and has a big blade attached to the front. Hopefully if a send a photo you can post it. We thought about going to Luwak and hanging it up, but had second thoughts about walking into a ice cream store with a big spear.

  13. Michelle Shankwiler
    Posted January 16, 2008 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Hello :)
    My boyfriend (Michael Labadie) and I collected the works of art. Mike had become a close friend and neighbor to us in his last year or so back in Ypsi. He even called my boyfriend Mike his “smile of the day”. I’ve lived in Ypsilanti my entire life and he was always there – I found myself to be very curious of him before I met him and it was indeed a pleasure when I got to be his friend.
    The collection has it’s own wall in my home on Adams street, when it comes down all are welcome to see it.
    We hadn’t planned on selling any of the works because they are literally priceless to us but we considered many times having a donation/fundraiser of some sort for a proper burial and/or tree planted in his name any suggestions are greatly appreciated!
    I have also sent a CD to the board members at the RAC and are awaiting word on a possible show there if it gets accepted.
    Plan on the works to change tomorrow as many of the paintings are double – sided.
    Thank you for writing this lovely article and taking the time to appreciate the man that Michael Shaw was.

  14. Observant
    Posted January 17, 2008 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    So road kill is hanging from the wall at Cafe Luwak?

    That’s the place where they serve coffee made from cat excrement, right?

    Are there no laws in Ypsilanti?

  15. Brackache
    Posted February 21, 2008 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    I just want to point out how much easier it is to praise Mike now that he’s dead, and you don’t have to worry about him seemingly reading your thoughts from a block away, showing up uninvited and unwanted, talking for hours, not restraining his dog, and fearing he’ll take offence at something you did/said/thought/(even if you didn’t), and suddenly coming at you with a weapon because he was trying to save the squirrels from skinheads. I feel bad for the tragedies he went through in life and I’m impressed with those who put up with him a lot, but I’m frankly relieved to see his roadkill coat uninhabited, and to know he won’t be setting up any vietcong boobytraps for me if I mow the lawn. Sorry, but someone had to say it. RIP anyways.

  16. Ol' E Cross
    Posted February 22, 2008 at 12:16 am | Permalink


    I don’t think it’s easier to praise Mike now that he’s dead, but, I agree, it is easier to live with him now. As I said, there’s no sugarcoating Mike, he was never easy, but nothing easy is ever as captivating as Mike. I ended up buying bird seed and cigs for him from two, very fine, local businesses he’d been rightly banned from for berating clerks.

    Mike, often, was oppressing and cruel. There were many days I was afraid to mow the lawn. There were also days when I wandered the lawn “fishing for Mike.”

    I think I agree with your experience of Mike. But, all of us are some blend of admirable and despicable. Mike could be the best and the worst of men. There were many times when I dreaded him, but no times that I couldn’t praise him in the same breath.

    If I was trying to say anything, it’s that, first, I moved into Mike’s neighborhood, and I disrupted his life at least as much as he disrupted mine. And second, I remain grateful for the memorial granted by the display at Luwak. For better or worse, Mike was a part of this community for his entire life, and he, like any of us, shouldn’t just disappear.

    It’s a great town we live in that Mike Shaw can have his art saved and displayed, despite himself. It was good tribute. And deserved. With any luck, we’ll find a scrap of Brackache nailed to some local cafe wall in a few dozen years. I promise, if I’m still alive, I’ll tack it there.

  17. Brachache
    Posted February 22, 2008 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    OEC —

    I agree with everything you wrote, and you earned the right to write it. If you let me sleep in your garage, cured my dog from rat poison, or saved my stuff from being tossed, you can eulogize me all you want or tack my stuff up wherever. Mike was an inescapable living portent of all the horrible things life can force on people against their will, and I think he would approve of that spirit of cornflake-pissing being honored in regards to him as well. He never wanted things to be pleasant and easy for people regarding him in life. It seems ghoulish to me if that should change now that he’s dead. Again, not aimed at you or anyone in particular (besides maybe me).

  18. Posted February 22, 2008 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if ole Mike Shaw really did serve in your U.S. Army in the Republic of Vietnam. His stories smell like bullshit to me. Through the National Archives you can check a list of all U.S. Army soldiers or employess who were wounded in the Vietnam War. No SHAW with either a first or middle name of Michael is listed. So if the taking a bullet comment above is to be taken literally, and I take it it was, there’s an explanation missing. No one is claiming that Army records are perfect but suspicion is raised. Does anyone have any objective third party evidence that he was a Vietnam Vet (versus a Vietnam ERA Vet)? He sounds like a guy who went into the Army and was medically and honorably discharged when schizophrenia made him unsuitable for service. Mental illness is a sad thing and I pity the man but fake veterans piss me off. One can’t help but note that Jordan Miller of the Ann Arbor News didn’t raise or obviously answer these question in her Junuary 21 piece in the Ann Arbor News. Anyone have any answers?

  19. private bilko
    Posted February 22, 2008 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Fake vets piss me off almost as much as fake detectives.

  20. Brackache
    Posted February 22, 2008 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    1) Unless I did the search on Sherlock’s link wrong, I got exactly 50 Shaw results, all fatalities. Seems like an incomplete list to me, perhaps missing the lists of nonfatally wounded.

    2) To anybody that knew him: was he definitely Army or another branch?

  21. Jayne Fonda
    Posted February 22, 2008 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    i got the same as Brackache but if you look in anuther section ya get a michael l shaw who got a bronze star in may 1970 and was elg to be sent home in june 1970 which matches up


  22. Ol' E Cross
    Posted February 22, 2008 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Here’s the link to Mike’s bronze star (valor).

    Bachache, Mike was in the U.S. Army Airborne, I don’t remember the number.

  23. Brackache
    Posted February 22, 2008 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    Sgt. Holmes was totally out-donged by a little old [e. cross] man.

  24. Sgt. Holmes
    Posted February 23, 2008 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Sgt. Holmes was totally out-donged by a little old [e. cross] man.

    Really? Ole cross just stated a conclusion. For all the yapping Mike did — as I read the stuff in the paper and here (shot in the head, no wait shot in the leg, airborne, choppers, eating ants,etc.)– never mentions a bronze star. Now we find a MICHAEL L SHAW got a bronze star and it’s automatically him? Stupid question I know but nobody’s asked: Was his middle initial L?

    Does anyone have any objective third party evidence that he was a Vietnam Vet (versus a Vietnam ERA Vet)? I know Mike said he was but what about THIRD PARTY?

    Waitin’ for proof,


  25. Ol' E Cross
    Posted February 23, 2008 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    Sgt. H.

    I did less than state a conclusion. I just gave a link to what Jayne found. Nope. I don’t know Mike’s middle name. I know the middle names of my immediate family, but, honestly, couldn’t tell you the middle names of any of my closest friends. And, nope, I don’t have any hard, third party evidence that Mike served in Vietnam.

    I’m a little conflicted, because I feel a sense of duty to defend my friend, but a) I’m not sure he’d care, and b) not knowing you, I’ve still not decided whether I care enough about your suspicions (really, no offense, just the nature of blogging) to do the legwork to provide an answer. If you’re up to pursuing this, I’ll be interested in what you find. Here’s a start:

    I knew Mike very well for about four years. That’s it. What I think I know about Mike was pieced together from both my time with him and local folks who knew him much longer than I.

    As I said with his injury, reports conflicted. Mike never directly confirmed the bullet in the head to me, that came more from Ypsi folk, and he did struggle with leg pain. Of course, one or both could be true and both could be false.

    One thing to realize about Mike, is it was rare to get a straight answer about anything. I remember he had two military-looking medals framed on his cluttered wall, I asked what they were for, and Mike said something like, “Shit. I don’t know. Not being dead?”

    The other is Mike was never standing on street corners selling little paper flags. In the hundreds of hours of conversation I had with Mike, Vietnam made up maybe ten percent. It would only enter when something would jog a memory, like standing in the backyard and Mike offering advice on how to keep neighbors from staring learned from how to keep snipers from seeing you. Then conversation would drift back to dogs, squirrels and landlords. I had to intentionally query Mike to find that he was, yes, by his account alone, a Huey gunnie chief in the Airborne who enlisted and served until 1970 (which is quite a coincidence to the bronze star Shaw).

    This is far from the third party proof you’re looking for, but in the time I knew Mike, I spoke with several about (depot) town who’d known him for years (since high school). None ever said anything to undermine his service. As you’ll notice, a former mayor of Ypsi (Pete Murdock) who, as I can gather, has lived here pretty much forever, didn’t either. Maybe Mike fooled everyone that had known him all his life. Maybe he was just flying around Texas on weekends.

    Also, the only person to show up to help him move, post-eviction, “claimed” to be there because he was a much-younger member of the same Airborne outfit Mike was in. If it turns out Mike was a fake, maybe I can help you track that guy down, too.

    Mike was known at the Ypsi VFW. It might be a good place for you to start. Of course, you can also request his official records. Let us know what your sleuthing turns up.

  26. mark
    Posted February 25, 2008 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    How do I know that this Mike Shaw actually existed? I don’t see a body.

  27. Posted March 30, 2008 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I knew Mike for a short time. In dec of 2003 I took him in over christmas. I had just lost my job by choice, I was walking home and I had seen Mike walking his dog. I remembered him stating over the summer that he was losing his apt because his landlord had city problems. I asked him where he was living now? He replied he was staying in a hole in the ground with his dog “BUD” and almost froze to death that very nite. He explain as he was freezing to death that he woke for a min to look at his dog because he wanted another look before he pasted away. I invited him up for coffee and I couldnt let him go back out in it. It was in the single digits. I couldnt get anyone in the wonderful city of Ypsilanti to even give a care whether he lived or died in the cold. All of Depot town turned away from him as to say let him freeze to death over our well decorated holidays Except “Apple Annies”. What a sad bunch of bussiness owners to let one of there own freeze to death at christmas without even blinking an eye. As some of you sit here and pick apart his life and service to the country it must make you feel great to sit behind your keyboard type such negitive words. I got him in touch with a church and he moved to a small trailer in sumpter for the rest of that winter. There is way more to his story. Whether or not he is who you think he should be or was makes no diffence now. I can say he was a friend for a short time. I can say he took the time to take cake of animals with all his heart. Why most you pick him apart. Fear? Maybe your afraid that he is a war hero and now your ashamed because part of your freedom you owe to him. You may be just like the Bussiness owners in depot town. Just another money hungrey pig without a heart willing to let the city die for a buck. Not all the bussiness owners just the money hungrey pigs “they know who they are I asked and they remember” I myself lost part of my life just for helping Mike Shaw and Id gladly do it again. He was able to pass in his own bed how wonderful of a end for a hero. I miss him dearly. He once told me the only reason he stayed around this town was to tend to his family plots. That in it self deserves a medal. As far as all you negitive pigs out there why dont you go dig him up and hit him now its the only way you’d ever lay a hand on him. Shame on you. To all that wrote the kind words I thank you for keeping his memory alive. Just Somebody

  28. Michelle Shankwiler
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    Mike Shaw’s remains are in Highland Cemetery in the Shaw Family plot just as he wanted.
    on the right side of the George Shaw Stone. Unfortunately he didn’t pass in his bed, close but not quite, he was between his couch and his front door, and for some reason his fridge was open. His works will once again be on display this coming January. For more information visit the shankwiler 123 gallery in Depot Town or go online to the shankwiler123 website.

  29. guest
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    82nd airborne

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