Exploring Detroit: Detroit Historical Museum

Even though spring has officially arrived according to the calendar, it’s still pretty cold in Michigan, which makes me want to find interesting and entertaining indoor activities.

This past weekend I ventured back to downtown Detroit to visit the Detroit Historical Museum, which is kitty-corner to the Detroit Institute of Arts (which you can read about here on my blog). I only know tiny snippets of Detroit’s past and present, so I thought it would be a good educational trip. The museum is free as well, so that doesn’t hurt! All you have to worry about is an inexpensive parking fee.

The small museum has exhibits on three floors, all featuring multiple points of interest. Some areas will take you back in time and showcase artifacts going back decades. In others, you’ll discover people, places, and things that have placed Detroit on the map and made the city what it’s been and what it is today.

The lower level takes you back in time to the streets of old Detroit, complete with cobblestone, brick, and even tree stump roads. You can take a gander at apothecaries, a bicycle shop, fire station, blacksmith shop, and even Sanders Confections. Sanders is still around today and makes chocolate, ice cream, and something called “bumpy cake,” which is pretty much unheard of outside of Detroit. However, my old city of residence had some in a restaurant, but I think it was house made.

On the same floor, an active, huge historic and model train set entertains young and old. Called The Glancy Trains, the pieces belonged to Alfred R. Glancy Jr., who was a real estate financier, once owned the Empire State Building, and retreated at a summer home in Grosse Point Shores. Once he passed, his family donated the collection to the museum for safe keeping and for all to enjoy.

The second floor was home to Detroit through the decades, highlighting numerous artifacts ranging from sports, to food, to clothing, and more. Huge signs topped each decade’s display, but I especially loved the old sign from the original Tigers Stadium, which is where I saw the Detroit Tigers play for the first time.

An offshoot of that rotunda was the Kid Rock Music Lab, which explained how music — especially Motown — made Detroit famous and shaped the city’s culture as well as the nation’s.

The first level was also dedicated to the industry which gave Detroit its nickname: The Motor City. There, you could read about how auto companies built cars throughout the years and how changing technologies and innovative ideas moved production into the future. The main display was the “body drop,” which was a live action view of how auto bodies were literally dropped onto the chassis on the factory floor. Models of some of the very first vehicles built in Detroit were available to view and sit in, too!

Finally, the second level welcomed visitors to learn how Detroit played a role in the changing of the outcome of World War II, and discover how the city’s residents of the time helped thousands of slaves escape the South through the Underground Railroad. This display surprised me the most, as I didn’t know Detroit was such a large hub for escapees. Super interesting. It was too dark to take photographs in that area, so you’ll just have to visit the Detroit Historical Museum and see for yourself!

On the way out, placed on a landing on the staircase, is the largest clock I’ve ever laid eyes on. As you can see from the photograph, it’s ginormous at 14 feet tall and 7 feet wide, yet also beautiful and ornate. It’s called the Meier Clock and is newly restored, weighing a whopping 2,500 pounds and made of mahogany. German citizen Louis Meier built the piece, which is driven by weights, over 12 years and debuted the clock in his Detroit jewelry store in 1904. Isn’t it incredible?
While I completely understand the necessity of it, I wish there wasn’t a glass panel there so I could take a picture with an unhindered view. But what a treasure to see in person! The Meier Clock was likely my favorite display in the museum.

And there you have a quick synopsis of the Detroit Historical Museum! I enjoyed myself and appreciated what I saw, but to be totally honest here, I don’t think these types of museums are for me. I don’t care to stand around reading bits of information. I get distracted. I’d rather simply view pieces at a quick pace or enjoy a hands-on museum. I am glad I visited though, and it was a relaxing learning experience. Check it out if you’re in Detroit and looking for an activity.

I’m definitely looking forward to the temperatures warming up so I can visit some of the outdoor areas of Detroit!


—Some photos by Justin McKee

About Karin

Journalist, singer, reader, movie fanatic, photography buff, GVSU alum, wanna-be-Brit, Crohn's fighter, Coca-Cola addict, animal lover, not a kid person, hater of winter, Michigander
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4 Responses to Exploring Detroit: Detroit Historical Museum

  1. Janet M Schnell says:

    Sounds very interesting! Have never been there! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Anita Mueller says:

    Thank you…enjoyed the tour….and also Justin’s fabulous pictures on here and the ones on top of the page in the scroll…keep up the good work ….and hope you are feeling tip top Karin……

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