Detroit Mythbusters

by Kim Goodin, an AOL Travel ContributorPosted Oct 13th 2010 04:19 PM

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Detroit Mythbusters

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Detroit urban myths are like those of any other city. Some of them have roots in reality, some are just the result of pranks, and some develop over time as a way to explain something unusual. Take, for example, Detroit's "knock-knock streets." The story goes that if you drive slowly down a certain street, the ghost of a child who was killed in a car accident will knock on your car. The specific street changes from decade to decade, and there's never a record of an accident at that location. That's one clear case of Detroit mythbusters.

Here are a few more to test your detecting skills.


1. Detroit's J.L. Hudson was the first department store in the U.S. with air conditioning.


TRUE. The year was 1924, and it was J.L. Hudson's heyday. The Carrier Company's first large scale installation used three 195-ton units to cool the building, which was the tallest department store in the world until the early 1960s. Detroit mythbusters? Nah, this was Detroit heat-busters!

2. You can buy a house for as little as $100 in Detroit.


TRUE. Urban decay frequently leads to urban legends, and Detroit is a prime example. It is, unfortunately, entirely possible these days to purchase a house in Detroit for $100, or even less. The city has been in a downward spiral for years now, so it's not unusual to find entire blocks boarded up. There is a bright side, though. The word is out that Detroit real estate is dirt cheap, and buyers are materializing from all over the country, even Europe. Eventually, Detroit will bounce back and with a little forethought, it'll be better than before.

3. Woodward Dream Cruise, the world's largest one-day automotive event, got its start as a fundraiser to build a soccer field.


TRUE. What has become a major car event, drawing more than 1.5 million people, started relatively "small," attracting only 250,000 people. Today, the event includes more than 40,000 automobiles, from muscle cars to collector cars, from every corner of the globe. It is Detroit's single most important event, in terms of economic impact. Whether you're driving, riding or watching from the sidewalk, Woodward Dream Cruise is a blast from the past.

Woodward Dream Cruise
Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI
http://www.woodwarddreamcruise.com
Held every year on the third Saturday in August.

4. Detroit was the first city to utilize phone numbers.


TRUE. This is not one of its urban legends. Detroit is a city of firsts. Way back in 1879, the city was the first to assign its customers a telephone number. The burgeoning metropolis had outgrown the old-style method of directing calls, which involved an operator and individual customers' names.

5. The remains of a paintball player were found in the elevator shaft of an abandoned skyscraper downtown.


FALSE. This is one of the most enduring Detroit urban myths. With so many empty, decrepit buildings, rumors like this are bound to surface. This one, luckily, has no basis in fact.

6. Detroit's bad luck is all caused by a little red character, the "Nain Rouge."


FALSE. This one is a clear case of Detroit urban legend, but it's an interesting one, in the vein of the "Jersey Devil." After a fabled dust up with Detroit's founder in the early 1700s, the Nain Rouge was sighted prior to virtually every single major catastrophe the city experienced, from the Battle of Bloody Run in 1763 to the great fire of 1805, from the infamous 1967 12th Street Riot to the ice storm of 1976. The Nain Rouge (Red Dwarf) is generally described as a small, reddish, raggedy-looking creature, sometimes with horns or burning red eyes. Sightings have become increasingly rare over the last century, but the creature still has a hold of Detroiters' imaginations. On March 21, 2010, residents held "La Marche du Nain Rouge" in Midtown Detroit, with the aim of improving the city's fortunes.

7. Detroit was once believed to be the site of a prehistoric settlement of the lost tribes of Israel.


TRUE. About 100 years ago, former Michigan Secretary of State Daniel E. Soper and his colleague James Scotford began discovering unusual artifacts, such as pottery shards, stone tablets and copper crowns, in Detroit's parks. Scotford frequently unearthed treasures under the watchful eyes of respected journalists or shopkeepers, and Soper developed a thriving business selling the finds as authentic Biblical artifacts. The pair had crafted their very own Detroit urban legend, convincing people across the country that lower Michigan was where Noah landed the ark. Despite the disclaimers of museums, several of which declared the items irrefutable fakes, Soper and Scotfield managed to sell thousands of pieces to churches and individuals. Then, in 1911, Soper's neighbor spoke to a reporter, revealing that not only was Soper making the artifacts in his own home, he had even admitted as much to her.

8. The first concrete road in the world was constructed in Detroit.


TRUE. Fittingly, the Motor City was the first spot on Earth to have a concrete paved road. A one-mile stretch was paved with concrete in 1908.
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