Stuck in the Mud

As Michigan emerges from our lockdown and we slowly begin driving to more places and contemplating summer road trips, I thought we’d look back to a time before asphalt, air conditioning, and safety features.

Ellen Scripps Booth, Jean McLaughlin Booth and Henry Scripps Booth on Lahser Road with the 1908 Pierce-Arrow in the ditch, 1911. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Here, we see Ellen Scripps Booth, daughter-in-law Jean McLaughlin Booth, and young Henry stranded somewhere along Lahser Road. I love the ladies’ wide hats and wraps, intended to keep their hair in and dust out. Henry looks particularly pleased with the situation (sort of like me when my own mom got a speeding ticket—she didn’t appreciate my backseat smirking, either).

Instead of AAA, the family turned to their own skills. Here’s Henry Wood Booth, Ellen’s father-in-law, addressing the situation:

Henry Wood Booth works on the Pierce-Arrow on Lahser Road, 1911. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Booth family’s Pierce-Arrow Limousine was one of several cars they used to move about here in Michigan and in Europe (where they traveled with the Pierce-Arrow and chauffeur). Purchased for $7,750 in July 1908 ($215,984.08 in 2020), the seven-seater, 6-cylinder touring car came with two bodies: a closed limousine body for winter use and a sports-touring body for summer. As Henry Scripps Booth later wrote:

The original garage at Cranbrook House had a traveling crane in it so the Pierce-Arrow’s winter and summer bodies could be conveniently changed with the seasons.  The crane spanned the depth of the garage, having an iron track bolted to the east and west walls on which the crane with a hand operated hoist could be pulled to the spot where the two respective bodies could be removed or hoisted into place. 

The accident on Lahser Road wasn’t the first time Ellen had been betrayed by poor road conditions. In 1908, she wrote in her diary of a similar event that took place as the family traveled from Grand Rapids to Lake Michigan:

“Wed. Aug. 12. We decided to take the auto as far as Holland on the way to Ottawa Beach but I wish we hadn’t for it took us five hours to go the 25 miles—We got off the road and one place slid into a ditch. It took an hour & a half to get a team to pull us out. We later frightened a horse and it ran down this deep ditch and horse, top-buggy and all just lay right down flat. The old couple in it were not hurt at all.”

If you want to learn more about the history and social impact of cars, register for our free virtual Bauder Lecture this Sunday, June 28, 2020, at 3:00pm EST. Brendan Cormier, Senior Design Curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, will be speaking about his recent exhibition and publication, Cars: Accelerating the Modern World. Center for Collections and Research Director Greg Wittkopp will deliver an introduction about Cranbrook and cars, featuring more treasures from Cranbrook Archives relating to our place in automobile history.

—Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

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