Looking Back: Quacks, harems and automobiles – Petoskey News-Review

One hundred fifty years ago, Charlevoix Sentinel editor/publisher Willard A. Smith included this small item that warned people of scam artists who might arrive in town.  Feb. 10, 1872: “The Ypsilanti Sentinel volunteers the following cheerful and charitable advice: ‘Beware of a couple of quacks who are traveling around the country under the name of the ‘twin doctors.’ Instead of listening to their yarns, set a mean dog on them, or wave them off the premises with a twin shot gun.”
Fifty years later, the Sentinel reported on a new film about to arrive. The advance boilerplate publicity reflected the amount of alleged knowledge the writer possessed about Turkish harems — none.  
“May McAvoy Coming as Harem Girl. If May McAvoy were to travel in all the countries which have been the scenes of her various pictures she would be a very well-traveled person. And now she is placed in a real Turkish harem. For that is where she is found in early scenes of ‘Morals.’ As ‘Carlotta,’ an English inmate of the harem of Hamdi Effendi, she embarks upon a series of remarkable adventures which land her in the home of Sir Marcus Ordeyne, a staid British peer. The absolute frankness of her harem training, coupled with the innocence and appeal of a perfectly unsophisticated girl, create complications which render this a very unusual entertainment.” Unusual indeed. A British peer and a knowledgeable, though supposedly innocent, former harem girl? Sounds kinky. The wording, especially the bit about “harem training,” a phrase concocted to pull in the lascivious crowds, should have been enough to bring out the Charlevoix Morals Squad with all guns blazing.  
And how did an English girl get into a Turkish harem? Voluntarily? Just knock on the door? Better yet, how did she get out? The writer may have assumed a harem was about as harmless as a strictly chaperoned boarding house for women. A short description of the film’s storyline found on the internet paints a much different, and somewhat more logical, if romanticized, picture.
In 1972, the Feb. 9 Courier had this on the front page: “Was State’s First Gas-Powered Auto Built in Charlevoix?”
George S. May, professor of history at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, needed information about the early years of the automobile in Michigan for a history he was writing. He had learned about Robert Elston, father of Charlevoix Beach Hotel legend Martha Elston Baker featured in very recent Looking Backs. When Elston moved to Charlevoix in 1892, he and his wife lived on the first block of Park Avenue off Bridge Street, and it was on “the upper portion of the residence” that he performed the self-challenge of building a two-seated car, originally slated to be electric, completed in early 1895 after two years of work. In March, the Sentinel said, “Mr. R. W. Elston, of this place, has perfected an electric wagon that has in it the elements of revolution in road transit.”   
“If he did,” May said in his inquiry letter to the Courier, “it probably would have been the first gasoline-powered automobile to have been built and operated in Michigan.” When completed, the car would have weighed about 1,000 pounds and made 12 miles per hour.   
Long-ago merchant George Miller remembered Elston as a “great inventor,” but couldn’t remember if the car ever ran. Likewise, our builder in stone Earl Young, who, with his parents, shared the Park Avenue house with the Elstons when the Young family first arrived here in 1900, recalled the inventor as “being a tall, bearded man who walked every day out to the cemetery and back,” and also said “I can’t say for sure if I ever saw it run.”
In July, the Sentinel said that Elston was about to journey to Racine, Wisconsin “for the purpose of applying the Remington hot air motor thereto.” That definitely indicated a late decision to switch to gas. “Mr Elston has unquestionable [sic] made a success of his vehicle.” The clincher came in September, when the car was definitely equipped with “a Pennington gasoline motor for his patent horseless carriage. Yesterday he had the vehicle photographed for entry in the international motor-bicycle race that is to occur Nov. 2 from Milwaukee to Chicago.” But there the reportage ends. No records exist of the Pennington engine being installed, or the race even entered.   
Later inclusion in the Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942, called the Elston a four-, not a two-seater, as seen in the accompanying drawing. Here is what apparently happened, according to the catalog: “Although the car was not finished on time (for the race), Elston did subsequently complete it, but never could make it travel further than around the block before experiencing problems. Elston never did build another car, but turned his talents instead to devising a new type of differential about which history seems to have recorded nothing.” He apparently persuaded the machine to putz around Park Avenue-State Street-Clinton Street-Bridge Street and home at least once. Three years later, he turned his attention to building the 50-room Hotel Elston at the corner of Bridge and Antrim streets, now the site of Oleson’s.
One further question — if Elston did build the car in the “upper portion of the residence,” how did he get it out and down to the ground?      


Enable Exclusive OK No thanks