As certain as a phase of the moon, a menstrual cycle, or the arrival of a utility bill, this monthly read may lift DeTour Village, pop.320 from obscurity….and enlighten the reader, especially those of you who enjoy both sitting and a good story.
Now for the legend of the Thonet Hairpin Bentwood Chair
The background: in late 2008, we lost a good friend Glen Shaw, unexpectedly (not a misprint) at age 92. After a distinguished career as a captain on Great Lake freighters, he retired at his home in DeTour Village, MI with his lovely first mate of 72 years, Joan. Glen and I spent many hours together. He talked. I listened. In the presence of a master story-teller, writer, & wit possessed with a sharp mind and memory, listening is the best policy.
Aged 11, as a fifth grader in 1928, he watched the large old Hotel DeTour burn to the ground from a roofing tar heater gone awry. As the wooden structure incinerated, the grade schoolers were allowed to watch from the school playground across the street. In the chaos, people ran into-and-out of the building, throwing out beds, furniture, and anything of value that was certain to be destroyed in the fire.
After school that day, Glen picked up a chair at random and carried it home. He kept it for 80+ years, using it as saw horse more than once. I noticed it, stoic and forlorn in the corner of his garage, and commented on its original finish, simplicity, and graceful design. Over a cold beer, he relayed his chair story and vowed, ‘if I die before you, the chair is yours’.
His darling widow, Joan, called me several months after his death and reminded me that the chair now belonged to me ( I had forgotten the promise he made, but she had not). The chair, a Thonet, made of beech, still retains the original label on the underside, exhibiting the latest patent date of March 29, 1910.
I can’t describe how much the chair means to me. I use it daily when lacing my shoes. I choose it over a deck chair when entertaining guests….and during those solitary moments when staring over Lake Huron seeking solace and inspiration. It defines the rhythmic nature of life and the value of true friendship. Without ever saying a word, the chair listens.
Captain Glen, old pal, you took a back seat to no one, I miss you and wish you, “four whistles, full steam ahead”.
I’d rather have an rather ordinary chair with a story like that, than a $10,000 chair discovered on “Antiques Roadshow.”
Bill D. says
From obscurity to chairman, you have outdone yourself in enlightening this reader about a beautifully and yet simply designed historic chair and its heartwarming story of how it was saved by Captain Shaw and lives on with you.
I think you will agree that a good chair, along with a dog, is man’s best friend.
helen b. says
What a charming story. You have made my day. Remarkable, too, was that their marriage lasted 72 years, longer than most people live.
Keep writing. You have become an office favorite here in Sioux City.
Joan and Glen were lovebirds, into their 90s, and on the occasion of the 70th anniversary party, I had the temerity to ask him for the secret to the marriage longevity.
He pulled me aside, looked both ways to insure privacy, and whispered softly, “easy, I was gone most of the time, out to sea.”
Joan Shaw passed away peacefully on April 23, 2017, at the age of 97.