I haven't figured out what to serve at memorial services for the
Belle Isle Aquarium, which now sits on death row waiting for the gas.
Potato chips? Why not? Detroit is the potato chip capital of America,
and back in the 1930s, 22 local companies sliced, fried and kept folks
supplied with chips. There's only one left.
Guests at the aquarium's final send-off could wash down their chips
with swigs of Cold Duck, the bubbly blend of champagne and regular wine
introduced at the Pontchartrain Wine Cellars on West Larned. Surely you
remember the Wine Cellars, one of many long-closed dusky downtown
Oh, it would be quite a party, a salute to all the institutions lost,
the icons forgotten and the history allowed to die.
After the city buries the aquarium, perhaps I could lead an
expedition to Detroit's Palmer Park. The west side park so beloved by
joggers and walkers is the site of a two-story, four-bedroom log cabin
that was built in 1885 and was once the summer home of Sen. Thomas W.
Palmer and his fleece-spinning wife, Lizzie. Last time I checked, it was
Of course, people hungry for rich scoops of local history and culture
still have options. They can visit museums, go to stores selling jars of
Sanders fudge topping and clocks made of automobile parts or pick up
some Tupperware and remember that it was Brownie Wise, a divorced
Detroit mother, who figured out how to sell tons of covered plastic
containers at home parties. Or they can take in a show at the 10-story
Fox Theatre, the largest continuously operating theater in the country.
The other day, I flipped through a 1997 city of Detroit pamphlet
titled "Fascinating Facts About Our Fine City," which informed me that
Detroit was the first city in the country to "assign individual
telephone numbers, hold a state fair ... witness Henry Ford build his
first car, use radio-dispatched police cars (1922), host an ethnic
festival series ... pave a mile of concrete road (on Woodward Avenue
between Six & Seven Mile in 1909), install a traffic light (1915) ...
develop an urban freeway (the Davison in 1942) (and) found an 'urban
coalition' (New Detroit) organized to improve education, employment and
But it's no special thrill to roar down a freeway, and ethnic
festivals only spring up in warm weather, most selling the same brand of
smoky sausages and T-shirts.
Sooner or later, if you really want to show someone Detroit's heart,
you wind up on Belle Isle, Detroit's island park and home of the oldest
continuously operating aquarium in North America.
Barring some last-minute miracle savior, Detroit now plans to close
the aquarium on April 3. Meanwhile, supporters continue collecting
money, and visitors keep crowding the place, posing for pictures and
saying their goodbyes.
I understand the city's need to slash expenses, but I'm not sure it's
smart to shut down a 101-year-old institution that can't be duplicated
and might not ever be replaced.
But all I can do is plan the final dinner. How about some chocolate
bumpy cake with a tall glass of nostalgia on the side?
Betty DeRamus' column runs Monday, Wednesday and Friday in Metro.
Reach her at (313) 222-2296 or