July 25, 2008
Rose of Aberlone and Other Cows in Plymouth, Michigan
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
About halfway between Detroit and Ann Arbor sits the cute little town of Plymouth, Michigan. It's now a suburb of Detroit, but it wasn't always, and its claim to fame is that it is the home of the intersection of the east-west and north-south C&O railroad lines in Michigan. Which means that you can be pretty well guaranteed of not making it out of town in any direction you drive.
As I'm still a member in good standing of the State Bar of Michigan, I get the Michigan Bar Journal (the repository of an article I wrote twenty-five years ago which was of no value whatsoever academically speaking, but that's another story). Well, it turns out that pretty little Kellogg Park, the Midwest equivalent of the town green, turns out to have all sorts of historic legal implications to it. The June, 2008 issue of the MBJ highlights the rededication of the Rose of Aberlone plaque in the park. As we all recall, Rose was the the breeder cow whose fertility or lack thereof was the subject of Sherwood v. Walker (Hiram of whiskey fame), the 1887 contract law chestnut.
But wait, there's even more legal significance to Kellogg Park. First, if you examine the story, you'll see the reason for the rededication was the prior theft of the original plaque. Far be it from me to cast aspersions, but I think you will agree that the left side of this page contains a nice list of the usual suspects, particularly toward the top. So the criminal law clearly, it seems to me, has a place in the history of Kellogg Park.
We're not done. I know all of this about Plymouth, Michigan, because I lived there for eight years, between 1980 and 1987, in two different houses. It was a lovely place. It was, however, at the time, a relatively homogeneous community, and I'm pretty sure my wife and I constituted a significant percentage of the Jewish population within the city limits (I think you can also verify that we were the only two votes in our precinct for Carter in 1980 and Mondale in 1984). The town had a Yuletide custom. The day after Thanksgiving, a creche with Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus would appear at the west end of the park, and three full size statuary magi would appear at the east end. Every night between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, the magi would move just a little closer (from the east, get it?) toward the creche. This bugged me no end for six years, and in the seventh, I met with the local community newspaper editor and muckraker, Ed Wendover, suggesting that he get on his First Amendment horse and say something. Being a "free press" kind of guy, but not really an "establishment of religion" kind of guy, he prevailed on me instead to write a guest editorial, which in some spasm of recklessness or courage I did.
The next week Ed printed the responses to my editorial. One of my friends from the local University of Michigan alumni club defended me, but the rest were, how shall we say, parochial and unsympathetic. I won't say I became a pariah in town, but it did make for some interesting conversations with the neighbors at the round of holiday receptions. I never worried too much about unruly mobs with torches and clubs, but I got a funny phone call one night. I pick up the phone, and a young woman says, "why don't you turn to Channel 4?" I do, and there's Ronnie and Nancy lighting the White House Christmas tree. She says "whaddaya think of that?" I am speechless, and hang up.
Six months later we moved, and I don't know if they still do the moving magi thing out in Kellogg Park. But it's good to know they've commemorated some kind of cow.
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They now have a large menora that they haul out every December. I live in Plymouth now. Being an atheist, I don't care for any of it. However, I'm also not so bothered by it that I would like it shut down. Ceremony and tradition are nice and comforting in a way, even if I do believe it's all a big fairy tale.
Posted by: Michael | Sep 16, 2008 6:47:34 PM