Functioning as both the only floating U.S. post office and zip code, the J.W. Westcott II can be found docked just south of The Ambassador Bridge along the Detroit River’s western shore. Delivering “mail by the pail,” for more than 100 years, the 45-foot vessel’s current list of duties includes storage, freight delivery, passenger service and pilot boat services; the Westcott has even been known to deliver a pizza.
Opened in 1928, the Detroit Zoo was the first modern American zoo to feature cageless, open exhibits. While the modern zoo was groundbreaking, it wasn’t the first version of an animal park attempted in the city. After acquiring animals from a defunct circus in 1883, the Detroit Zoological Garden opened on Michigan Ave. It only lasted one year due to financial problems and the fact that the animals kept disappearing. Apparently, Detroit residents wanted exotic pets of their own.
With a vision and video appeal posted on the Internet site Kickstarter, artist Jerome Ferretti set out to restore the North Corktown neighborhood’s feline spirit. His masterpiece, a dome-headed cat sculpture aptly named “Monumental Kitty,” rises out of the ground beneath a pedestrian overpass along highway I-75 which once led to the beloved old Detroit Tiger’s stadium. Constructed of 3,000 reclaimed bricks, poured concrete, limestone and mortar, the 9-foot wide, 7-foot tall Kitty comes complete with tail and waving paw.
Belle Isle Park, the largest park within any U.S. city, opened to the public in 1884. However, the island originally served as a place to house pigs and chickens without the threat of coyotes. “Hog Island” was later bought by the British from local Indian tribes and changed hands several times before the city purchased it in 1879 as part of the beautify Detroit initiative. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also crafted New York City’s Central Park, the island boasts a 9-hole golf course, museum, sports facilities and a 150-acre state protected wooded area.
Former Michigan Governor Stevens T. Mason was infamous for his fiery stint in office. However, he has become more famous for events transpiring after his time in office and after his death. Originally buried in New York City, his body was later moved to downtown Detroit. When a new bus depot evicted his monument, Stevens was lost until a construction crew found his coffin still resting in its original location. Residents can rest easy as Stevens is now comfortably housed beneath his statue in its new home.
Among the facts about Detroit, here’s one to brag about. In 1862, Detroit pharmacist James Vernor was trying to create a new beverage by storing a variety of ingredients in an oak barrel. However, he had to put his drink making plans on hold when he was called into service with the Union army during the Civil War. Returning home four years later, Vernor discovered his fermenting beverage had acquired a gingery flavor, and Ginger Ale was born.
There are more registered bowlers in Detroit than anywhere else in the country, a fact that seems only fitting given the city is home to America’s oldest active bowling center, The Garden Bowl. Built in 1913, the bowling alley was originally a ten-lane house with a poolroom on the second floor. Undergoing a variety of building alterations due to the changing landscape, the current bowling center now boasts 16 lanes and Detroit’s original Rock ‘n’ Bowling.
Few people have their fists immortalized in bronze, but sculptor Robert Graham felt there was no better way to pay tribute to former heavyweight champion and Detroit native Joe Louis. Weighing 8,000 pounds, the 24-foot replica of the boxer’s fist and forearm is suspended 24 feet above the ground from a bronze pyramid. While a work of art to some, it’s a very tempting blank canvas to others as the sculpture has been illegally painted several times, most recently in 2011.
One of Detroit’s most popular tourist spots, the Motown Historical Museum, keeps vigil over the legacy of Berry Gordy Jr. and Motown Records Corporation. However, if not for the U.S. army draft, neither the museum nor Motown itself may have come into existence as prior to being drafted for the Korean War, Gordy was working hard to fulfill his professional boxing dreams. Thankfully, Gordy put boxing on hold, and the rest is musical history.
An impressive series of tunnels sits 1,200 feet below Detroit’s streets thanks to an ancient dried up sea. In the 1900s, miners used modern engineering skills to unlock the vast salt bed lying beneath Detroit. Today, the expansive salt mine stretches out over 1,500 acres and consists of 100 miles of underground roads.
Did you already know these facts about Detroit? Then check out our Lansing facts.