Henry Morgenstein’s column photo from his Record-Eagle days.
TC, I Love Thee By Henry Morgenstein Between the Bays Publishing $16.99
The Traverse City Chamber of Commerce should be handing out Henry Morgenstein’s new book, “TC, I Love Thee,” to every tourist and prospective resident. Real Estate agents should buy cases of the books to give as gifts at closings. If you would like to join in a song to our beautiful area, this is that song.
Henry Morgenstein came to the United States in 1948 when he was brought to New York City from first Belgium, and then Havana, Cuba. In 1971 he moved to Traverse City, teaching English at Northwestern Michigan College for the next 30 years until his retirement in 2001.
This man loves Traverse City: unequivocally, unapologetically, wholeheartedly. He loves the area, the people, the houses, downtown, the lake. For years he’s fought for a sensible future, argued for sustainable growth, for using our resources to the best advantage, for preservation of our buildings, and for holding on to the unique character of the town.
After he came to TC, he was soon writing letters to the editor of the Record-Eagle, then eventually writing a column for the paper. After that came talks on various radio stations, including WNMC, Northwestern Michigan College’s radio station. It is these letters, essays, radio talks, and columns that are collected here, in this book. All with a common theme: the city that he loves. In “Traverse City is as close as I can come to paradise on Earth” (written in 1990) he recalls the dark tunnels of New York City.
“I lived in apartment 6C in New York City,” he writes. “A nice building at the very uppermost tip of the island of Manhattan. When I left my apartment to go anywhere I stepped outside my apartment, made sure the door was locked, walked through a dreary tunnel (long hallway) to a dank cave (elevator)…” But here, in the city he’s come to love, “I bicycle down Washington Street, State Street, Eighth Street. I bicycle all over town… What unbelievable peace and quiet reigns in this small town… Traverse City, you are close to my ideal city. How did I get so lucky?”
Never a man to steer away from controversy, one of the most telling exchanges in the book comes when the theneditor of the Record Eagle, Jim Herman, left it up to the readership, whether Henry should be given a regular column or not. Morgenstein, in his own defense, wrote “I think I am good at writing. I think I am good at clarifying an issue, at raising the various points that need to be raised. I write to make all of us aware of certain human issues—pollution, overpopulation—local issues—school buses—city streets…” He included a coupon to vote yes or no for him. Over 300 people voted and he got his column, until 1991, when he was fired for opposing the first invasion of Iraq.
One of his essays, about saving the beautiful buildings of the old state hospital, reads almost like prophecy. Although his dream of locating the college at the hospital site never materialized, many of his other wishes for the property have come true. At first, he envisioned the plan of the Palais Royal in Paris, designed in 1790:
“It included an exquisite theatre, a puppet show, a waxwork, and a theatre in which child actors performed. There were auction rooms, concert rooms, a salon for chess players, gambling clubs, purely social clubs, a Turkish bath, apartments to rent, several small hotels, numerous cafes and eating places. The upper floors were rented out.”
So, maybe some of that is still to come but he did describe great restaurants locating there . . . “Some posh apartment buildings. A building with specialty shops.”
Not bad. He suggested that the site become Traverse City’s Central Park; that the zoo be moved to the grounds; and that cars be banned in the area.
Some of that could still be in the future as the property defines itself. It might yet be Traverse City’s Central Park, cars might still be confined to the outer perimeters, and maybe the zoo animals we lost will wend their way back.
BIKES & CARS
A bit of a renegade, Henry Morgenstein is definitely not a lover of cars. In “TC should walk into the future,” he champions walking or biking as the sanest means of transportation. In a not so prophetic pronouncement, he says in this 1986 essay, “Cars are not the wave of the future.” If he had his way, he would ban cars from almost all of the city, compelling residents to ride a bike as he does. A common sight in Traverse City was Henry on his bike, greeting neighbors and visitors. A one-man welcoming committee for the city he loves.
Perhaps my favorite lines from this book of elegiac, contentious, and thought provoking essays comes in “Ban all cars inside Traverse City” when he writes:
“Ban all cars inside Traverse City. When you get to our city limit you will please leave all guns, cars, and other mechanical noise-making machines at our front door. Now you may enter our world of peace, quiet, tranquility and children’s games.”
Well, maybe not during Cherry Festival, or the Film Festival, but it is something to think about.
Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli will be talking about “Dogs, Logs, and Dead Folks” at the Traverse City Library August 22, 7 pm. Her new mystery, “Dead Dogs and Englishmen,” is in bookstores now.