Detroit Among the Ruins

By Marc Dion

May 9, 2010 4 min read

I am sure that in those dark centuries after the guys with the horns on their helmets dismantled Rome, it must have been pretty usual for some hairy medieval farmer to plow up a bit of Roman statuary, a graceful marble arm perhaps or maybe a broken, but still elegant, metal comb once used by a Roman lady.

It must have been a little sad to plow something like that up in your turnip field and then return to your smoky, flea-filled, smelly hut and think of the easier days you never knew.

Then again, maybe that was a good day back there in A.D. 1136. Maybe anything was more interesting than digging up another rock or even digging up another damn turnip. Maybe giving that broken bit of comb to your wife meant an unusually warm night on the family heap of skins/bed/flea farm/maternity ward.

So maybe it won't be so bad when some skin-clad peasant plowing what once was the city of Detroit unearths the shiny chrome door handle off a 1980 Ford Fairmont or a still-bright beer bottle opener bearing the mysterious word "Pabst."

The mayor of Detroit, an American city almost ready for the tools of the archeologists, proposes tearing down some 10,000 structures in the next three years because, in the last 60 years, more than half the cities 2,000,000 people have left, either chasing work or running from African-Americans who, in the history of America's cities, play the part of the guys with the horns on their helmets.

The exodus of people from Detroit has left the city a place of medieval ruins, full of artifacts of a lost civilization — things like boarded-up wallpaper stores and empty bungalows once occupied by vanished factory workers. And, of course, the empty factories themselves. Among other useless theories, I have one stating that any real city without at least one place to buy wallpaper is playing footsie with becoming a ghetto.

At the same moment the mayor of Detroit expresses an interest in demolition, he expresses the opinion that big swaths of Detroit can be turned into farmland. Perhaps the land would be good for turnips.

How fast history's wheel turns these days, when it seems some huge finger has hit the fast forward button on whatever machine plays the DVD of our history.

Tired of plowing thin ground, your grandfather left Poland's Tatra Mountains at the beginning of the 20th century. He found his way to Detroit and perhaps found work in the first foundry he'd ever seen.

And his son built cars, maybe built a bungalow in a neighborhood of other first-generation Americans.

And perhaps your father, tired of 'cropping cotton for the white man, left Mississippi in the 1940s and found a job in Detroit, maybe in the first foundry he'd ever seen.

And his son finished high school and learned to work on air conditioners.

Ward politics and trip hammers. Molten steel and department stores. Rib joints and the bar at the VFW. A Catholic school on the corner and a new Ford in the driveway.

How many generations up and how many generations down? How many steps from the Tatra Mountains to sitting around a radio rooting for Joe Louis? How many miles from shoeless in Mississippi to buying your first navy blue suit with a foundry worker's pay, earned in fire.

And maybe someday, the great grandsons of Polish immigrants and the grandsons of sharecroppers can crawl in the dirt together, picking tomatoes and pulling weeds from the hard soil of Detroit City.

To find out more about Marc Dion, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit

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