Mary Ann Farley, August 1st, 2016
WW: Today is August 2nd, 2016. My name is William Winkel. We are in Farmington Hills, Michigan. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project and I am sitting down with Mary Ann Farley. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
MF: Always happy. If you’re not happy, what’s left?
WW: Can you tell me where and when you were born?
MF: I was born on Woodvine, in Redford, and there were seven of us altogether. My dad built the house, and the address is 16820.
WW: What year?
WW: Can you tell me what it was like growing up in Redford?
MF: It was the most wonderful place in the world for everybody. In fact, on Facebook, we have an Old Redford and people write in and put, “Do you remember…, do you remember….” There’s no other town like it. I’ve been all over the country, but you just can’t find another Redford. I worked at the Redford Show when I was a teenager, and that’s still there. I can’t go there anymore because it’s just too hard to look at. The memories. We had fields and trees with fruit on them, and you didn’t have to lock the door and the houses were really far apart, but everybody knew everybody. Everybody helped everybody. Especially my mom, she was the mom of the whole neighborhood. I saw her take a fish hook out of a kid’s hand once. She was always there for everybody.
WW: Did you go to the city of Detroit at all while you were growing up?
MF: Oh yeah, oh yeah. That was a given. Go down and get those permanents with those great big machines on your head, then like I say, we’d go to the United Artists, movies, then meet at Sander’s for hot fudge sundaes, things like that. Go to Woolworth’s and get Christmas presents for a dime. We spent a lot of time down there.
WW: Where did you go to school?
MF: I went to Yost, which they burned it down. That was 1946. My mom died that year.
WW: After you were 18, did you stay in this area?
MF: For a while, but I moved to Louisville to pursue my dream as a singer, and I got there.
WW: Did you come back to the city of Detroit? How long did you stay in Louisville?
MF: I was there two years, then I got married. I had worked since I was 5 years old to be a singer, then I wind up getting married after I hit my goal. It was really nice. It’s a good feeling to hit your dream.
WW: After you got married, did you come back to Detroit?
MF: Yeah. My husband was from New York, and we moved after we got married here at Christ the King. We moved to White Plains, New York, where he was born. Then he got a job at a company called Wilding, which is in Detroit, and I was so homesick. He said, “Should I take this job?” I said, “I can’t answer that for you.” Because I really wanted to come back. But he took it, and we’ve been here ever since.
WW: What was your impression of the city after coming back from being away for so long?
MF: It just wasn’t the same. I had a job down there as an assistant in ’71, I think it was. My first day on the job, it was on West Grand Boulevard, there was a knock on the door because they had a security guard. He was mopping up blood, and I’m going, “What am I getting myself into?”
WW: What year did you leave to go to Louisville?
WW: What year did you leave to go to Louisville?
MF: What? I’m sorry.
WW: You left the city of Detroit to go to Louisville.
MF: Well, we lived in—we were all over the place until we found a house. We lived in Warren for several years, then we moved here in 1971.
WW: Were you here in 1967?
MF: Yes. All my kids were born in Detroit.
WW: Where were you living in ’67?
MF: Here. I’m sorry, wait, let me think. We lived in Royal Oak for a while. We were in Warren, because that was the year we had the flood. That made the front pages, too. The riot took the flood off the front pages and President Johnson had declared us a national disaster, because everybody’s houses were collapsing.
WW: What made you choose Warren to live in?
MF: I’m sorry?
WW: What made you choose to live in Warren?
MF: We were just house-shopping, just looking around for a nice neighborhood for the kids. I wanted them to go to Catholic schools, which are really hard to get into back then. We found this builder and drove through his area that he was building houses, and we liked the houses. It’s the only neighborhood I know of that we have a reunion, like every two years.
WW: How did you first hear what was going on in the city of Detroit in ’67?
MF: That day, my son Johnny was 5 and he was going to have a hernia operation, so the whole family went down and we dropped him off and went down to my brother’s. I looked down this one street and I said, “Gee, there’s a fire going on.” It wasn’t very big fire, but it looks like at least three or four police cars. We didn’t realize what was going on until we got to his home in Dearborn and it was getting into full-fledge fighting, killing. The army came in. all I could think of was “My little boy’s down there! I have to get him out!” The next day, it was not really clear if it was okay to, and I called the doctor or the hospital to see if they were going to proceed with surgeries. Johnny was 5, and I couldn’t get an answer. I called my doctor; I couldn’t get an answer. So I just decided I’m going to get my baby. Who knows? They had windows that opened back then. I just jumped in the car, and I just drove as fast as I could. Listening to it on the radio, it was getting worse and worse, and this officer stopped me somewhere on Woodward and he said, “Where are you going? You can’t get through here.” I said, “I have a baby in the hospital. I’m going to go get him.” He started arguing with me, and he says, “Oh, go on. There’s too much going on.” I truly believe that I was guided to this alley and this door that led right to the pediatric ward. When I got there, I was praying like crazy that the building wasn’t on fire or whatever and the door was unlocked. My guardian angel and Johnny’s guardian angel were really looking out for us. I got into the pediatric ward, and I hear all these babies screaming. At least twenty babies. I went in to where these little babies were and they were all wet, there was vomit everywhere, there was not a nurse in sight. There was a fridge, and thank the good lord again, there was their names and their names on the cribs. So I would go to as many as I could just to give a few sips. I saw a bucket in the hall, like somebody had just left it there. I was mopping the floor, and I had to rock some of the babies again, and I’m thinking, “I’ve got to get to my own baby.” But I thought, I can’t leave all these teeny-weenies there by themselves. Another mother came in and after that, the nurses started coming in one by one. I went down to Johnny, and he’s standing by the window, “Look, mommy! Real ole GI Joes! They’re firing real guns!” I yanked him away from the window, and by that time, the fires that were visible—this was Detroit Osteopathic Hospital—and it was just…you felt like you were in a movie or am I dreaming this? I was so frightened. They didn’t have seatbelts back then, so I just put Johnny—he was 5—on the floor, and I came home. I shook for so long. That was what happened.
WW: Did you anticipate any violence that summer? Did you see this coming?
MF: The other thing that happened is I was seven months pregnant. No, I don’t know. I didn’t know it was so bad down there because we were moving around. We had three homes before we moved here, or two. No. all I remember from—it was over fifty years ago—I saw huge fires everywhere. They’d just pop. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back home because of fires and the guns and you’d see army there, the National Guard and the ROTC, and everybody in the world. I’m starting to shake again, it was so long ago. I just never dreamed that would happen to our city like that. All those beautiful homes that were down there in Highland Park or around where Detroit Osteopathic was. That was my story.
WW: Did you come back to the city for your son’s surgery or did you stay out of the city for it?
MF: I took him back. I called the doctor because his hernia was about to burst, which is why he would do it on a little tiny five-year-old. He said, “We’ll schedule your surgery.” It was like at the end of the week. Things were starting to calm down.
WW: Were you less willing to go into the city after this?
MF: Oh, yeah. For a while. I took my kids, I wanted to show them stuff. I felt like I was walking into a Star Trek thing because it was all so different. The buildings I remembered were gone or on fire. It was really a nightmare. It kept me awake; I kept waking up in the night thinking my child was still in that hospital. It was a very frightening time.
WW: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
MF: I was trying to think, there was—here’s just a thought: I couldn’t figure out why the nurses weren’t there. But obviously, I couldn’t leave a baby, like that many babies. I couldn’t do that in a million years! I had to when that other mother, and I’m sure other mothers were coming as well. If they realized what was going on down there. You just wanted to take them all and run out the door with all these babies, so sick and waiting for whatever. It was just—and I’m going, God, I hope I’m giving them the right food. Their names were on the bottle and the crib as I said, and one baby had a cleft pallet, and I’d never fed a baby with a cleft pallet before, but he had a special nipple so I knew. He was so hungry, and they were all so hungry. I couldn’t get to all of them, and I was so grateful when that other mom came in. As I said before, the nurses started trickling in. The clean-up crew, when I was there, didn’t show up.
WW: How do you feel about the city today?
MF: There will always be a special place in my heart for Detroit, because we’d go down to Hudson’s at Christmas. I still love the city. I like seeing what they’re doing with it, that it’s kind of coming back the way it was. But it’ll never be the same. And Redford will never be the same. I had a girlfriend that had Polio, and she was bedridden for thirty years, and she said, “If only I could see my Redford one more time.” We all felt like that. Everybody felt that way about Redford! I got the idea, I’ll go videotape it! And I looked around, I thought, Doris, just remember this in your head the way you remember it, because I don’t want to show you this tape. It would break your heart. Just remember Redford. I took a couple of pictures of the Redford Show and a couple of other stores that were still there that she and I used to shop in, like Cunningham’s. That was a drugstore. Dell record shop was still standing, and Redford High, Christ the King. It hadn’t reached down that far yet. Like they say, it’s so long ago, I don’t remember if—Redford didn’t have fires, I don’t’ think, but don’t quote me on that because that was a long time ago. But it’s a mess now. The street I lived on, was born on, I used to go to Dearborn, take care of my sister-in-law, and a couple of times I wanted to go reminisce. I didn’t even recognize the street. It had barbed wires around the gas station that used to be there. It was just different. The whole thing is like all your nightmares rolled into one. When I left Woodvine, I grabbed hold—I was 12, and I’m hanging onto the doorjamb, “I don’t wanna move!” because it was a kid’s paradise, to me.
WW: Well, thank you so much for sitting down with me today. We greatly appreciate it.
MF: Any time. I hope I gave you some good information.
WW: You most certainly did.