I wrote this book because someone had to tell the truth about what happened in Detroit back in the days when it still mattered what happened in Detroit.
A lot of people don’t know this, but by 1920 Detroit had mushroomed into the fourth largest city in the U.S., due to Heinrich Ford and two dozen other carmakers importing workers to make car parts and assemble ’em. Whilst me and mine were stuck in the stagnant Hastings Street ghetto, the downtown area had skyscrapers going up all around: the Buhl Building, the Fisher Building, and the Book-Cadillac, tallest hotel in the world. They built movie palaces such as the Fox, and big sports stadiums—hell, we even got our own Thinker statue in front of the museum. The papers called Detroit “The Paris of the West.”
It was the cradle of so-called technology. The car assembly lines were humming and so was the pipeline that shipped a million dollars-worth of liquor from Canada to America by way of the Detroit River. Between these two growing industries, opportunity was there for the grabbing. The future was being created each day: riveted, screwed, smuggled, bottled.
There were 20,000 speakeasies in the city—one on every corner and sometimes even in the back of an ice cream parlor. The cops knew about all of them, and about us—but the cops were all well-greased so they played along. As for the mayor of Detroit, he had ties to the Ku Klux Klan (very big in Michigan at the time). This mayor Bowles came into office claiming to have a solution to crime and then announced his plan: “Let the criminals kill each other off.” We were all too happy to oblige.
By ’28 you could see that the city was starting to get too big for its britches. The cars were everywhere (seemed like I was the only person in town still capable of ankling) and all those vehicles created a so-called “vicious circle” in Detroit—meaning that whilst every fool suddenly had the means to move about, no one could get anywhere because of traffic. The population was approaching two million and “experts” said it would hit five million soon. This was predicted by the Detroit Rapid Transit Commission but they should have been called the Detroit Flying Pigs Commission because the city’s population peaked right then and has dropped ever since.
You can blame it on the Depression. Or on the ethnic group of your choice. Or on the selfish and short-sighted car companies. Or you can do what everyone else has been doing for as long as I can recall: Just blame it all on The Purple Gang.
Click below to explore more of the Purples’ world:
Arthur Nix • Back stabbings • Elvis Presley • Harry Riley • Henry Ford • Mazel tough • Rachel and the Palmer Raids • Saying bad things? • Speakeasy queen • The babies • Why purple? • WWJBD? • Buy the book