From Protest to Outer Space
The 1960's in Ann Arbor opened on a bizarre note. In September 1959 Chhen Guan Lim, a University engineering student from Singapore, was discovered hiding in the loft of the Methodist Church at the corner of State and Huron streets. The live-in caretakers, disturbed by footsteps in the night and plagued by church groups' complaints of stolen food, had asked police aid. Once captured, Lim left a national audience dumb-founded by his tale. Humiliated by failing grades in November 1955, he destroyed all his personal identification papers and retreated to an uninsulated crawl-space beneath the church roof. For the next forty-six months, he had left his refuge only at night to forage for food.
As Lim emerged, the 1960's, characterized by extremes of experience, burst upon the city. Years of conscientious civic effort were rewarded when in 1967 Ann Arbor was named an All-American City for the quality of its life and the efforts of its inhabitants to improve that quality. Very nearly at the same time, the city was engulfed by macabre national publicity surrounding the hunt and trial of murderer John Norman Collins.
Long years of behind-the-scenes research and development were rewarded as Ann Arbor people and companies received praise and publicity for their contributions to America's space program. Several of the astronauts received training at The University of Michigan. Included were Gemini astronauts James McDivitt and Edward White for whom the corner of East and South University streets was named. White was later killed in a training accident. Apollo 15 astronauts James B. Irwin, David R. Scott, and Alfred M. Worden left a University of Michigan Alumni Chapter of the Moon charter on the moon. During the summer and fall of 1973, Ann Arbor High and University of Michigan graduate Jack Lousma spent nearly two months aboard the U. S. space laboratory "Skylab," and set a space-walking record.
Fulfilling Charles Ziegler's prediction, Ann Arbor was now completely "belted" by freeways, east, northwest, and south, and increasingly associated with the southeastern Michigan megalopolis. At the same time internal city life became more fractured. Presenting city government with an unusual threat to its authority, neighborhoods organized as pressure groups to protect their interests against what they saw as an indifferent municipal bureaucracy.
Parallel to national trends, the African-American community of Ann Arbor began to raise a concerted voice for a greater share of the opportunities of life in the city. In an unusual move, the African-American Economic Development League received "reparations" from all the city's churches. The funds have been used in a variety of ways to benefit local African-American citizens. One of the most recent innovations has been the awarding of scholarships to African-American youngsters to attend Washtenaw Community College. Other prominent African-American residents have committed a great amount of time and energy to the city's housing commission, charged with insuring the less affluent citizens of Ann Arbor suitable living quarters.
Too often in the '60's what began as deep, rational commitment was overtaken by mass frivolity. On March 24, 1965, as public frustration over the Vietnam War increased, the nation's first "teach-in" was organized at The University of Michigan. Utilizing films, discussion groups, and speakers, many sessions lasted all night in an effort to develop a coherent anti-war position. Later mass rallies and their support of "trashing" or the digging of "bomb craters" to rock music were sad declensions from the original. Serious attempts at creating "alternate life styles" were deflected by the publicity given hair length and increasingly bizarre tastes in clothing. Organized religions experienced sincere pietistic movements, such as the Word of God community in Ann Arbor. Many other seekers found solace in complete submersion into exotic Eastern religions.
There was a pervasive sense in the 1960's of constant remodeling and fabrication. The football team began wearing rubber cleats to play on plastic grass in old Michigan Stadium, and the trackmen ran on rubberized asphalt at Ferry Field. The railroad station, no longer really functional, was turned into a seafood restaurant where a discarded and refurbished baggage wagon served as a stationary salad bar. Good humored guests soon adopted the tradition of applauding the occasional train that came through or, more rarely, stopped. Ann Arbor compensated for the permanent loss of its rural heritage by recreating natural beauty within sculptured recreation areas. The city began to purchase properties along the Huron River in 1965. By 1973 park land, created by new dams and joined by bike paths, stretched almost unbroken along the river from the old canoe livery on the north to the new Huron Parkway Bridge on the east.