the man found frozen in detroit and what it means

In the movie Short Cuts, Buck Henry and his pals, while on a fishing trip, find the body of a young woman. She’s underwater and clearly dead. And, by the looks of it, she hasn’t been there long. They debate hiking back to civilization so that they can tell someone, but ultimately decide to stay where they are and continue their vacation. So they stand by her body, beers in hand, and reel in fish.

It’s the kind of thing that you can’t imagine would ever really happen, but, at the same time, you know very well might.

I was reminded of this scene today while reading an article in the Detroit News about the man found dead and frozen in ice few days ago in an abandoned Detroit warehouse. The story in itself was appalling — the image of his feet sticking up out of the ice just seemed to convey the helpless, demoralized and fragile state of Detroit at the moment – but what really got me was the fact that the men who had found him, while exploring the abandoned building, didn’t immediately tell anyone. Instead, they proceeded to play a game of ice hockey there, on the surface of the ice above him. I know that he was dead, and that there was no helping him at that point, but I can’t imagine being so cavalier about loss of human life as to do nothing. It makes me doubt our future prospects as a society. And I hate that it happened here in Detroit.


[At the request of several readers, I’ve chosen to take down that image that originally accompanied this article. The image showed the dead man’s legs extending from the ice. I’d originally thought that it was important to share the image, as it illustrates the dire circumstances in Detroit better than any article could ever hope to. Upon further reflection, however, I’ve decided to take it down. If you want to see similar images, just follow that link at the top of the post.]

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  1. ol' e cross
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    In Ypsi, we skate past dead men everyday. On the way to work. The store. Our cars. Our doorknobs. Technically, they have a pulse, they stomp and shout at the streetlights, but we know they’re dead. And we skate.

  2. Posted January 31, 2009 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    Despite the nature of my fictional lyrics:

    I don’t know how to say this or how it’ll be received, but if those feet belonged to my brother or dad or friend or wife, I wouldn’t want them plastered up for complete strangers to gawk at.

    We had a shooting in my highschool back in the day, and journalists were crawling all over town really disrespectfully. They even barged into the church during the guy’s funeral with cameras rolling — no shit. I think if they’d stayed longer than a week they would have started to get rocks thrown at them. They probably did once or twice.

    America does not have the right to devour someone else’s real tragedies like a form of entertainment via the media. If it isn’t someone I know, and there’s nothing I can do about it but feel crappy and hopeless, then it’s none of my business and I’m not worthy to think of myself as a part of it vicariously cause I saw it in the news. It just seems disrespectful and ghoulish to me to make sensational fanfare of someone’s tradgedy.

    Sorry, I just had to get that out there. If it ever happens to someone I love, I’ll probably get really mad. It’s a privacy/respect thing.

  3. Monica
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Reminds me of another movie, River’s Edge that I saw in high school. I thought I was being “cool” seeing a “non-Hollywood” movie, but ended up being so disturbed by the film. Exactly for the reasons Mark put forth. The indifference was far worse than the death. I still am bothered by the movie and anytime a similar story comes up I remember a particularly unsettling scene: “I poked it with a stick…”

  4. Robert
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Monica, and the thing I found most unsettling about that movie “River’s Edge” was when later I saw that Crispin Glover’s behavior in the movie wasn’t an act.

  5. Jon
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to make a point or two about the story and subsequent blog post. First off, the skaters didn’t continue to play hockey “on the surface of the ice above him.” They play in the basement of the building which is often flooded and freezes every winter. Urban explorers/trespassers/vandals have been playing hockey down there for years. It’s really a surreal place at any time of the year, but even more so in the winter. The body was found at the bottom of an elevator shaft. That shaft is not accessible from the basement, so it’s not like these guys were skating around the poor soul’s feet. However, continuing to play your hockey game and not calling the police is still inexcusable.

    Second, this phenomenon doesn’t just happen in the abandoned buildings owned by billionaire Matty Maroun (who owns the Ambassador Bridge and the abandoned Michigan Central Station) in inner-city Detroit. A man was found frozen in his truck in Sumpter Township at about the same time. His home was so filthy and uninhabitable that he resorted to living in his truck. A couple of scrappers found him, but you have to wonder if they didn’t make off with whatever they could steal first. Metal scrapping isn’t exactly the most honorable profession. A Bay City man froze in his house recently, too. Police routinely come across street people who have succumbed to the freezing cold. The term most often used when they find them is bumsicle. Not politically correct at all, but it fits in well with the gallows humor most first responders acquire after a little time on the job.

    The sad state of affairs is that these events are more a symptom of an unrelenting winter hitting the weakest first in increasingly hard times. That’s life or Darwinism or whatever cliche you want to attach to it. It’s not so much that people care less today that yesteryear, but more about the wrath of Mother Nature. Nobody says people don’t care about the victims of a tornado or hurricane that kills a few people.

    The same thing with most of these freezing situations. There is story in today’s The Detroit News today that says the family of the man found at the bottom of the elevator shaft doesn’t want him called homeless. They said he had a place to go, but choose not to go there. It’s probably the same situation with the recluse in Sumpter Township. Many of these people choose the streetlife over normal society because of drug addiction or mental illness or some other problem they struggle with or any combination of the above.

    Anyways, I don’t think this is a sign of an uncaring society as much as it is a sign that we haven’t figured out how to solve societal ills like poverty or drug addiction or mental illness.

  6. mike_1630
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    That is awful :( Yea… wow… what kind of person would play a game of ice-hockey over a dead man’s body… *shakes head*

  7. Robert
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    This should remove any doubt that Detroit truely IS Hockeytown!

  8. mark
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    I see where you’re coming from, Brackache. If it were someone in my family, I doubt that I’d want the photo up on the site. I agonized for a bit as to whether or not I should put it up here. Ultimately, however, I decided that it was too powerful of an image not to share. In my mind, it’s kind of like war photography. It’s painful to look at, but I think it’s important that people see it. It’s visceral. And, maybe I’m wrong, but I think that people need to really see what’s going on around them. I think it’s important that we see images of the dead in Iraq, and I think it’s important to see the images of people here who are dying on the street. This is a brutal winter, and people are dying, especially here, in what might be the most depressed city in America. I don’t know that it will help, but I don’t think it can hurt to have people see what’s going on right now in the abandoned buildings of Detroit, where fellow Americans are congregating.

  9. Brackache
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Why do people keep confusing me with Black Jake? Just cause it’s 2 syllables starting with a B and they rhyme? This is the second time this has happened.

  10. Brackache
    Posted January 31, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Just when everyone’s starting to spell my name right, too.

  11. Posted February 1, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    The picture is important because most people would like to deny that it happened and pretend that Charlie made this all up.

    Instead of demanding that the picture be taken down, the appropriate thing to do is to demand the demolition of this building and others like it. The effort would create jobs for 56-year-old men with experience in the steel industry at legal demolition companies. In our neighborhood, men with resumes like Mr. Reddings live on “found” metal that they sell at a crack house.

    People should be outraged, and they should be pressuring the people in charge. How many people are calling the Detroit City Council and Mayor to demand code enforcement and condemnation? How many people are calling the dangerous buildings department every day? How many people are picketing? People have thrown their hands up… they think they can’t do anything about it. That is what is wrong with Detroit.

  12. Robert
    Posted February 1, 2009 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    “If it were someone in my family, I doubt that I’d want the photo up on the site.” – Mark

    Mark, if it were someone in your family, I doubt you’d let that person live homeless on the streets of Detroit through the winter.

    If I die in some similarly disturbing fashion, I grant you permission to print any photos of the scene as you like. If my family tells you not to post them, you have my permission to tell them “Go fuck yourselves!”

  13. Posted February 1, 2009 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Well now I’m a little conflicted… I didn’t think you’d actually take the photo down, I just wanted to get my feelings on the matter off my chest. I have a brother who will probably end up as feet sticking out from under something*, and I can’t help but picture him in those situations. But I wouldn’t call it a request to take it down… the guy in the photo isn’t somebody I know, so I really don’t have the moral authority to request such a thing in this specific case. That’s very considerate of you though, since you can do whatever you like on your own blog.


  14. Jon
    Posted February 1, 2009 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    “the appropriate thing to do is to demand the demolition of this building and others like it. The effort would create jobs for 56-year-old men with experience in the steel industry at legal demolition companies. In our neighborhood, men with resumes like Mr. Reddings live on “found” metal that they sell at a crack house.”

    Where to start with this. First off, have you ever seen this building up close? Yes, it’s blown out in a similar fashion to the adjacent Michigan Central Station, but it’s actually architectural attractive and still in salvageable shape. It’s also only a couple of blocks from Corktown’s Slows’ restaurant and Mercury Coffee Bar and a short walk to Mexicantown. These places aren’t downtown Birmingham but hold some of the city’s best immediate redevelopment potential.

    Second, this building and the MCS are both owned by Matty Maroun. He owns the Ambassador Bridge, one of the largest trucking companies in the world and is Michigan’s biggest property owner. This billionaire is arguably the state’s wealthiest individual. He is so rich he is chomping at the bit to build a $1 billion twin of the Ambassador Bridge out of his own pocket. Maroun has the resources to renovate both of these buildings with his equivalent of pocket change, but not the will.

    Third, one of the biggest bits of false conventional wisdom in Michigan is that razing blight will eliminate it and create jobs. In fact such demolition only devalues neighborhoods because it demonstrates that structures there aren’t worth any investment. They’re better torn down. Not to mention the empty lot left behind is often just as much a blight and danger as the building that was there before. Also, it only takes a handful of unskilled men to tear down a building. It takes ten times as many, both skilled and unskilled, to renovate it. Razed buildings leave a community no place for its people to live, businesses to open or tax revenue to collect. Renovated buildings do. Most of the time the calls to tear down a building like this are short-sighted, feel-good calls made by people who lack a long-term vision for the community.

    Fourth, there are a lot of people enraged over this incident. Detroiters have been enraged at the treatment of its poor, how we have to shoulder much of the burden of poverty for all of southeast Michigan, how billionaire slumlords like Maroun continue to drag our city down for their own greed and for a thousand other valid reasons for decades. But there is only so much that can be done. Detroit didn’t end up in its current state overnight and what ails it won’t be fixed overnight either. There are few, if any, easy answers here.

    Example. That building is so large and strongly built it would cost millions to tear down. Where is a city with a $300 million deficit going to find the money to raze a blighted structure in private hands when it doesn’t have enough money to raze buildings in much worse shape (beyond salvage) that it controls? The city can bill Maroun for it, but it has to put the money up front first. Someone like Maroun with virtually unlimited legal resources would probably fight such a bill. That leaves a city teetering on the brink of receivership holding the bag for years while big legal bills pile up on top of the original demolition costs. And if Maroun wins (he has an unbelievable track record of getting his way in court) then the city has to pay the demo costs, its legal bills and then Maroun’s legal bills on top of it. It’s a huge Catch-22 for city officials already struggling to balance the city’s budget and deal with the impossibly complex problems that come with running a major metropolis.

    Fifth, Maroun routinely makes the right contributions to the right politicians so he hasn’t had to be worried about being bothered. For instance, he has made huge contributions to the campaigns of the Kilpatrick family for years. You don’t get to that stage of wealth and power without knowing how to play politics well.

    Sixth, these scrappers don’t sell the metal (like the copper pipes stolen from a house) at a crackhouse. It’s sold to scrapyard dealers who melt it down and send it to the building booms in China or India or even locally here where it becomes a line in a press release about a local development using “recycled” metal as a way to win points for LED certification. The money from scrapping, a pittance really, is spent at the local crackhouse or corner liquor store on a pint of Mohawk vodka that normally ends up broken on a sidewalk where kids walk to school or an needle of dope that ends up discarded in a park. You’re right that some of the money eventually makes it to the crackhouse, but not before plenty of other people get a cut of it first.

  15. Jon
    Posted February 1, 2009 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    BTW, I am pro picture posting. We have to look our problems directly in the eyes before we can solve them

  16. Ol' E Cross
    Posted February 2, 2009 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    I feel like I should consult a lawyer before leaving a comment on Maroun, but from my uniformed, highly speculative perspective that is based on no insider knowledge from any previous employment, Jon’s comments are dead-on. (For the record, I am not posting as Jon; I wouldn’t kid you folks.)

    It is worth asking, rhetorically, why given the alternative locations studied, the only added border crossing being considered is one running parallel to and owned by the same folk who hold a trading monopoly on our current access to our NAFTA partner.

    But then, why shouldn’t Maroun have sole control over the busiest border crossing in the world?

    What’s he gonna do? Let us freeze?

  17. Posted February 2, 2009 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    Yes, I’ve seen the building. I’m all for renovation, but whether any building stands or is demolished is ultimately up to the property owner. The city can force code compliance on property owners, and eventually take buildings through eminent domain if they aren’t secured. You and I both know that Matty has no intention of renovating that building, and the only way this will happen is if the city takes it away from him and sells it to someone else.

    CDBG allocations are specifically for code enforcement and infrastructure improvements, and Detroit gets half the CDBG allotment for the entire state. I looked to see where the money is going, and the current recommendation by a committee would set money aside for an African dance troupe and a Baptist church in Hamtramck.

    You evidently don’t live in my neighborhood because there is a crackhouse between here and the Davison that trades scrap metal for crack. They got busted by the Hamtramck PD last summer after they bought the copper gutters that someone stole off St. Lad’s.

    I’m not speaking to this problem as someone who doesn’t have experience dealing with the City of Detroit. I live one block south of Greater Detroit hospital and spent the better part of two months harassing city officials to do something about the looting of medical supplies and equipment. Neighbors called several city departments daily, and eventually, the city administration got tired of the constant phone calls and did what we wanted.

  18. Posted February 3, 2009 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    if they can show legs and arms from underneath body bags in gaza, iraq, or elsewhere in the national press then i think that this appalling incident deserves the same level of emotional scrutiny. it is not respectful but it gets a pointed message across.

  19. Posted February 3, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    I think it’d be better policy if you had to get the family’s okay to publish pictures of corpses, personally. Any corpses. Making a point with somebody’s dead loved one against their will seems just as wrong to me as skating around him. In both cases, he’s nothing to you — useful only as a compelling visual aid, one step closer to a pulitzer, or a handy goal post. His real humanity and dignity is self-servingly overlooked in both cases, isn’t it?

    I’m not ususally this preachy, I just can’t help picturing somebody I care about in his situation. And it’s not just a matter of public policy or being a better relative… sometimes people just refuse help and live unwisely and die crappily and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, believe me.

  20. Evelyn Gerut
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    It’s lovely to see more people taking part in sport these days.

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