The above image has been making its way around the Ypsisphere today. According to the story that I was told, it was taken during a 1906 Halloween parade in Downtown Ann Arbor. While it’s a little difficult to make out the words on the side of the wagon, they would appear to read “Mysterious Ypsi.”
Upon first seeing the image, I immediately worked out a scenario in my mind that made me rub my hands together in delight. The men in the image, I imagined, had come from Ypsi with the intention of freaking the fuck out of everyone in Ann Arbor. Dressed like skeletons, they broke into the procession, and then proceeded to make their way through town, just staring silently at people as they passed, filling them with dread.
Sadly, as it turns out, that probably wasn’t the case. A little digging led me to a post from the Bentley Historical Library, where the photo in question [Norton Townsend Brotherton Collection, HS10029] was accompanied by the following comment from a person named Wystan Stevens.
The Michigan Union County Fair was held to raise money to build a clubhouse (the present Union building) for male students at the University. The County Fair was not held “every year in April” — it was held only two times, in 1902 and 1905. I don’t know when the 1902 Fair was held, but the 1905 event was on May 5 and 6. This photo, by Ann Arbor photographer A. S. Lyndon, was taken on May 5, 1905. It is one of several parade photos taken that day by Lyndon, which were reprinted in the June, 1905, issue of the “Michigan Alumnus” magazine. The parade photos were taken on North University Avenue. “Mysterious Ypsi” was the name of just one of the numerous booths set up at the fair, which was held in the old Waterman and Barbour Gyms — two glorious, historic spaces, lined in golden oak, which were connected to each other on the NE corner of the original campus. Built in the 1890s, they were demolished in 1977, by order of a Board of Regents that had forsaken its duty to protect and preserve the University’s architectural heritage.
[The above comments were in response to a U-M caption stating that the carnival in question was held every year in April. It also identified the photo as having been taken in 1906.]
So, there you have it. The photo was apparently taken in 1905, almost six full months before Halloween, and the men in the wagon, I’m guessing, weren’t even from Ypsi. No, they were probably just Ann Arbor frat boys trying to manufacture a little “Mysterious Ypsi” street cred.
For what it’s worth, this County Fair Carnival sounds like it was a pretty cool event. The following description comes from the Bentley post:
“Here’s where you see all the freaks,” boasted one exhibitor in the 1902 County Fair Carnival’s official guidebook. “Several gypsy queens will tell you your fortunes by palmistry,” read another.
Regardless of whether these folks in the wagon really were from Ypsi, I’d like to suggest that next year some of us from Ypsi find a horse and wagon, don some black suits and skull masks, take to the streets of Ann Arbor at dusk, and scare the fuck out of some people…. Mysterious Ypsi must live on.