The Michigan Walk of Fame in downtown Lansing affords passersby the opportunity to read about famous Americans who at some point in their lives were connected with the state. Athletes, scholars, political icons and other notables are all included, and some are familiar household names far beyond Michigan’s borders. Each honoree gets a small plate embedded in the sidewalk dedicated to his or her memory and achievements. Although the idea is essentially a sound one, the method of conveying the information is not as good as it might otherwise be if more properly housed in a palace of civic splendor or at least a more suitable venue.
Layout of the Walk of Fame
The Walk of Fame is strung along the length of Washington Avenue (also known as Washington Square in the downtown business district) for several blocks. There is no advance notice given of its location, and indeed strangers to the area might fail to notice it if they do not look down at the sidewalk as they stroll along. Worse still, at various times of the year, the plates may be covered with leaves, snow or other debris obstructing one’s view. Still, the roll call of honor is an impressive one.
Some leading nameplates
Some of the honorees are so obvious that they need no introduction. Gerald R. Ford, for example, gets a plate informing us that he succeeded the disgraced Richard Nixon as the thirty-eighth President of the United States. Thomas Edison is another leading luminary but the fact that he spent some years in Port Huron may not be well known. He set up a small laboratory in his parent’s basement to conduct experiments. In addition to the familiar incandescent light, Edison also invented dynamos, the movie camera, the stock ticker and the mimeograph and dictating machines. His personal favorite remained the phonograph. In all, he held more than a thousand patents! In the realm of athletics and recreation, two more plates are illustrative of the concept behind the Walk of Fame. Ernie Harwell is best remembered as the voice of Detroit Tigers baseball, but there are some surprising informational tidbits here, too. We learn that the late Mr. Harwell earned a place in the Guiness Book of Records for a career that spanned seven decades and was also inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981. He also appeared in seven movies and wrote six books. Perhaps less well known is Genevieve Gillette, who did so much for the Michigan state park system. She also helped to create a national lakeshore and served as an advisor to President Lyndon Johnson on recreation and natural beauty. Clearly, these individuals and others along the Walk of Fame rate as high achievers.
Displays on the Walk of Fame
While the Walk of Fame is a laudable idea, it is not seen to its best advantage. Obviously, it cannot compete with Mount Rushmore, but what about the Hall of Fame for great Americans in the Bronx, New York? Located on the former uptown campus of New York University, this display also features distinguished Americans on a commanding outlook over the Harlem River valley. Portrait busts accompany informative tablets concerning each honoree. All is enclosed in a sweeping colonnade stretching for some distance. Unlike Wentworth Park and the proposed Malcolm X historic site development (see the author’s articles at icedjamb.com), here the dignitaries are not well represented. One can only hope that future funds can be found to give these luminaries the proper setting for their considerable achievements and contributions.