An American Ghost Town, Detroit, Can’t Even Bury Its Dead

Abandoned corpses now crowd the stainless steel racks of the Detroit City Mortuary, grim symbols of a city on a course with becoming a ghost town. In recent months the numbers of unclaimed bodies of the hopeless have piled up as people cannot even afford to bury their dead apparently. According to Albert Samuels, the city’s Chief Investigator at the mortuary, the number of unclaimed corpses has never been higher in his 13 years on the job. The situation according to officials, began to worsen once the economy took its most recent downturn. This situation begs the question; “Can America re-emerge as an industrial power while her centers for manufacturing decline?

Detroit, the city which once claimed the highest median income in the US, now stands as dying monument to what has gone wrong in America. This latest embarrassing blemish on the city almost resembles some sort of post-apocalyptic nightmare. Amid the wreckage of Detroit’s forgotten manufacturing might, after decades of mismanagement by city officials, and under the weight of this latest economic disaster, Detroit almost wreaks of a smell American’s have never come to accept – failure.

A shining example of American industry

A shining example of American industry

Nowhere To Go But Down

The unemployment rate for Detroit is even worse than it was in the Great Depression, standing at close to 30 percent. Roughly half the city’s population of 1.6 million has left the city in search of greener pastures, this leaves somewhere around 900,000 to suffer everything from insufficient services to a soaring murder rate. It has taken the philanthropy of local Detroit residents to even begin to bury the growing number of unburied, some 11 more having been interred out of donations. Hell, the down and out in Detroit cannot even go down.

gm centerDetroit, The Motor City, a symbol of America’s industrial might in the 20th Century, reduced to a skeleton. The city’s professional sports teams probably symbolize Detroit’s death throes as much as anything. The Lions becoming the first team in NFL history to lose all 16 regular season games, the Pistons having their first losing season since 2001, the Tigers finishing last in the AL Central, and only the Red Wings making a showing in the playoffs. A sad epitaph to a city of former champions.

Beyond Sport, far past the exportation of American jobs and industry overseas, for the last residents of this industrial ghost town life resembles the old west sure enough. Detroit has always been a dangerous city to live in, but now it is the absolute worst in the country surpassing even Miama (which is not exactly thriving industry wise either). In short, Detroit is not a place anyone wants to be, and no one really needs to.

Detroit's Grand Central Station

Detroit's Grand Central Station

gm deadA list of business closings, boarded up skyscrapers, ravaged middle class neighborhoods, infrastructure nightmares, and a Twilight Zone epic could be written for what is now, in case anyone cannot see, a dead city. The video below says more than this writer could ever summon about what a pitiful condition this once great city is in. While the image (right) of a dead inhabitant no one even took the time to remove from the streets testifies to this too.  More significant than any epitaph for Detroit could ever be, is the larger story of an America headed down exactly the same path. One has to wonder where nearly a million people since the late 50′s migrated (or more aptly evacuated) to? What sort of manufacturing utopia are they now living in?

Sold Out America

Since 2001, When China gained access to the World Trade Organization, almost 2 and one half million American’s have lost their high paying manufacturing jobs. The trade deficit with China and other nations continues to grow wider and wider. The average American has no conception of the long reaching effects of the losses of these jobs. Not only do Americans lose their jobs, but low cost competition from these cheap labor forces effects over 80 percent of the jobs people still cling to. For Detroit, and eventually nearly every major US industrial center, the outlook is pretty much clear. As Detroit begins to look more and more like Mogadishu, or some other gutted urban center, perhaps Americans will wake up. More importantly for the world, maybe watching Rome fall will wake them too?

Detroit Wildlife from florent tillon on Vimeo.

Home Featured Photo courtesy Time and photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre (Website)

Comments

    • Phil Butler says

      lol @ t-luv, He pretty much did cuz I jumped on some sports teams. Next time I have to use the Dunkin Doughnuts franchises that closed in Detroit. Or better still, point out how goofed up Fresno is or something. :)

      Always,
      Phil

  1. Mark Keilen says

    Not to get into a tit for tat, but I just want to clarify a couple things on my behalf. I’m not being defensive and you are being condescending by implying I am. First, I don’t deny the problems in the manufacturing industry. I think this country has lost its way and will pay the price because we don’t make anything here any more. I’m just saying that Detroit – the city, not the region – was decaying back when 70-plus% of Americans owned American made cars (and clothes, and shoes, and furniture, etc.).

    Now your comments about the sports teams here are just plain wrong and an example of lazy research. Then using those false statements to draw parallels to the city itself renders your whole premise shaky. The entire article becomes suspect when viewed through the eyes of someone like me who knows the facts about the teams and the city, and how the city interacts with the region, the history of how we got where we are, and all the factors that have contributed to the demise of Detroit. Manufacturing has been leaving the city of Detroit for decades. That’s how the suburbs here became so prosperous!

    Your story is in the suburbs, not the city.

    If you want a more compelling case for your thesis, you should focus on the Metro Detroit area or Michigan in general. But then you wouldn’t have the drama of dead bodies piling up, which I contend would still be happening in the city-proper regardless of how many auto plants were churning or how much money was being made in the rest of the region.

    • Phil Butler says

      Mark, I am not trying to be condescending at all. The least literate person in Detroit or any major American city knows more about the effects of so many pressures than I do at the moment, inherently at least. I did not have the space or the time to outline the historic decline of Detroit, or any of another 100 cities. The piece was intended as one of several dozen, to be compiled into a greater story. As for the sports teams? I looked at the data available, their relative positioning just as I stated it. Sure, I used some license to interject them and even left out the Red Wings…this was as you suspected…for effect. I am sorry now that I did that. It was a function of time, space, and in the end a painting of the city as I see it….dead.

      So, how is that for transparency? I could not talk about the decades in an editorial piece like this. Hell, we could go back to the slave trade and talk about West Africa, or ever blame the death of Alexander for our current problems in the Middle East. Detroit never was much of a pretty city, or even a really desirable one in my book. However, it was home to families, teams, a culture…and yes to the automobiles which came to represent the American Dream as much as anything.

      On the condescending thing? You interjected yourself as the neo-author of what could be termed a “good” piece, or more appropriately an “accurate” one in your opening comments. Start off attacking the whole premise, then suggest you are better, then accuse some more, then go “smart ass” at the end eh? “Right. Me either.”

      Poo! I tell you what my friend. You and I get together and tell a better story of Detroit, and even these other city shells out there, how about that? Not your story, not mine, but a synthesized one. We wont call ourselves journalists either, as I have actually come to despise that term of late. We can just be citizen reporters. We will just tell the truth as we see it okay? Oh, that is what I tried to do isn’t it? Any way, I welcome your comments and it is obvious you have a passion and a knowledge of this subject. Tell us more and please let’s not call one another names any more.

      Always,
      Phil

  2. Mark Keilen says

    This is a classic example of distorting data to prove a point. The author says, “The city’s professional sports teams probably symbolize Detroit’s death throes as much as anything. The Lions becoming the first team in NFL history to lose all 16 regular season games, the Pistons having their first losing season since 2001, the Tigers finishing last in the AL Central, and only the Red Wings making a showing in the playoffs. A sad epitaph to a city of former champions.”

    SO DRAMATIC…not to mention inaccurate, misleading, and really not true.

    How about this for a more accurate depiction of the situation:

    “Perhaps symbolic of the city’s hope and potential to rebuild, Detroit’s sports teams continue to endear themselves to the struggling region. The Tigers rebounded in the latter half of the decade, going to the World Series in 2006 and forcing the Minnesota Twins to a decisive extra game in a battle for the AL Central Crown in 2009, missing the playoffs by only the slimmest of margins. The Pistons have missed the playoffs only once in the last decade (2001), advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals 7 consecutive times (a record), making it to the Conference Finals twice, and winning an NBA Championship in 2004. The Red Wings are a perennial NHL powerhouse, appearing in the Western Conference Finals and Stanley Cup finals consistently, their most recent championship coming in 2008. The lowly Lions seem hopeless but even they have won two games so far this year (that’s two more than last year) and things seem to be looking up under new head coach Jim Schwartz and University of Georgia standout QB Matt Stafford. Detroit is consistenly ranked among the Sporting News Best Sports Cities, claiming the number one spot in 2007. Finally, Detroit is one of only 13 US cities to boast professional sports teams in all four major sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL)”

    Sorry. Getting tired of this story line. Trying to use Detroit as an example of American decay and/or blaming Detroit’s woes solely on the decline of American manufacturing is lazy journalism (if you call blogging journalism). Detroit’s problems are rooted in racial inequality and segretation going back to the early 20th Century. I think Detroit would be in the same sad shape it’s in today if everything in the world were produced in the USA. No matter what happens to the economy (manufacturing or otherwise), Detroit has been on a downward spiral since 1967 – through good times and bad. Anyone remember the 90′s and how great the economy was back then? Anyone remember Detroit in the 90′s booming back to prosperity and returning to its pre- 60′s status as a great American city? Right. Me either.

    • Phil Butler says

      Hi Mark, I don’t blame you for being defensive at all. I started to put the Red Wings in there, I really did. I was not trying to be misleading at all, but perhaps I should have included some good news from Detroit. The problem for me at this point is that it seem apparent than not only Detroit but any number of other US cities are fairly well beyond hope unless people get the message.

      This same story is happening in so many places, and I did not mean to pick on Detroit so much as to feel empathy for the people who love the place. Sorry it came across as misinformation, but the city is pitiful compared to what it once was. As for your opinion on manufacturing in the US, if you any everyone else in the US feels that way, wave bye bye. There is no need to get nasty either you know. If your opinion differs that is fine, but I did not blame Detroit’s decline on the loss of manufacturing alone, though it is a major cause of the current situation. We are past worrying about urban sprawl and the dieing inner city out of white peeps moving to the suburb here.

      You are right about the city being in trouble all along too. But it was not a ghost town either. Buffalo, Pittsburgh, any number of other places have had some of the same problems. But you do not exactly open the news wire to find them stacking up the corpses either – not yet any way. So you go right ahead and cling to whatever fragment of the American dream you are attached to. I am not the “end all” expert on these things, I just told a story the way I saw it. Get yourself a blog and jump in my friend.

      Always,
      Phil

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