Annie’s Ghosts – Made In Detroit

Annie's GhostsI first heard about “Annie’s Ghosts” on NPR.  A Journalist Uncovers His Family’s ‘Ghosts’ was both an interview and a book promo with author and Washington Post editor Steve Luxenberg. Half-listening while  driving, it was interesting enough for me to scribble down the title and subsequently reserve it at the library… and I’m so glad I did.

Annie’s Ghosts – A Journey Into a Family Secret must have been an extremely difficult book for Steve Luxenberg to write. It is honest in the face of dishonesty and loyal where he could have turned away. Digging into the dark corners of his family’s past, Mr. Luxenburg exhumes the complicated history of his ancestors in hopes of revealing a family secret once mentioned by his now deceased mother.

I don’t know how I was born in the Detroit area and never heard of “Eloise”. The psychiatric hospital which closed its doors in 1979 would have at best been historical information, and at worst a schoolyard jeer. One would think that an institution that once housed “nine thousand mentally ill, infirm, and homeless people” from the state of Michigan would have caught my attention at some point. However, it wasn’t until I read about Annie that I learned of its existence.

Having always eagerly described herself as an only child, Beth Luxenberg (the author’s mother) did her best to conceal a sister long hidden away at Eloise. However, after her doctor mentioned a mysterious comment to Mr. Luxenberg, the author felt compelled to prove the existence of an aunt he’d never met. With the deftness of his trade, Luxenberg tempers his unyielding journalistic skills with empathy and sensitivity as he coaxes his older relations into pasts best left forgotten.

“Pursuing the secret would ultimately lead me back to the beginning of the twentieth century, through Ellis Island to the crowded streets of Detroit’s Jewish immigrant communities, through the spectacular boom of the auto industry’s early years and the crushing bust of the Depression, through the wartime revival that transformed the city into the nation’s Arsenal of Democracy, through the Holocaust that brought a relative to Detroit and into my mother’s secret, through the postwar exodus that robbed the city’s old neighborhoods of both population and prosperity.”

And  this is exactly what Steve Luxenberg does.  As we move back in time, the anticipation builds as more pieces fall into place ultimately bringing us closer to solving this mystery. At times horrific, Luxenberg holds your hand as unbelievable truths come to light. Poignant yet informative, this is the gift that keeps on giving. Full of Detroit’s colorful history, this true mystery is without a doubt destined to be a  Michigan Notable Book.

A NOTE: When I began asking people if they had heard of Eloise, they usually talked about it as a sight for paranormal activity. When I tried to look at footage of Eloise, YouTube seemed to back that up. However, there are legitimate sites and some pretty cool information on Eloise and its remaining structures. My condolences to those of you whose relations remain nameless and faceless in the mist of Eloise.

-Post by Megan Shaffer


3 thoughts on “Annie’s Ghosts – Made In Detroit

  1. Dear Megan,

    Thanks for the review, and your belief that I handled the narrative with empathy and sensitivity. By the way, no worries (yet) about the Michigan Notable Book award. Books published in 2009 become eligible for the 2010 list, which will be announced in December. I hope Annie’s Ghosts is among the fortunate titles picked for the award.

    In doing my research on the book, I met a lot of people who didn’t know of Eloise (formally known as Wayne County General Hospital after 1945). The dividing line appears to be largely generational and geographic. For those people born around 1970 or later, and living somewhere other than western Wayne County, the likelihood of knowing about Eloise goes down dramatically. On the other hand, those born before 1940 tend to say, “Oh, sure, Eloise. On Michigan and Merriman.”

    –Steve Luxenberg

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