‘Everything was muddy, and everyone was drunk’

Detroit Drunken Historical Society co-founder shares tipsy tales from the days of yore

By: Elizabeth Scussel | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 10, 2015

 On Feb. 12, the community is invited to share in the storytelling of Amy Elliott Bragg, co-founder of the Detroit Drunken Historical Society and president of Preservation Detroit.

On Feb. 12, the community is invited to share in the storytelling of Amy Elliott Bragg, co-founder of the Detroit Drunken Historical Society and president of Preservation Detroit.

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BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — The community is invited to the Bloomfield Township Public Library at 7 p.m. Feb. 12 to share in the storytelling of Amy Elliott Bragg. The program is a presentation of the Bloomfield Historical Society, in conjunction with the library.

As an author and historian, Bragg, of Ferndale, is also the co-founder of the Detroit Drunken Historical Society and president of Preservation Detroit.

It was Bragg’s love of local history, as well as libations, that led to the creation of the Detroit Drunken Historical Society nearly three years ago.

“I was drinking one day, and telling my friend a long story about the War of 1812 — because that’s what I do when I drink — when my friend suggested I find a venue, an audience, and tell drunken stories of history. And I began to think, ‘Hey. There may be a way we can do this.’”

Bragg — who grew up in Farmington Hills — began the journey with bus tours of historical sights in Detroit that included multiple stops at bars along the way.

“It was a loose environment,” she said. “Our first year, most tours sold out, and it was always a good time.”

During the Feb. 12 program, Bragg will present “Tavern to wagon trail — then back to the tavern.” Bragg sums up the evening’s discussion as “everything was muddy, and everyone was drunk.”

“We’re really excited to have this opportunity with (Bragg). She’s amazing and tells the story of Detroit like it’s happening right there in the room,” said Pam Carmichael, president of the Bloomfield Historical Society, explaining that she discovered Bragg by way of her book, “Hidden History of Detroit.”

During her program, Bragg will share the abridged history of Detroit and the Bloomfield area, including the history of several prominent Detroiters.

“I’m so excited to speak at the library and condense these 300 years of history. I enjoy the chance to make people understand the connection from Detroit to the suburb — the industrialization, the railway and retailers. They basically lived like the Old West. And I love to talk about drinking — it was such a huge part of that culture. They drank tons more alcohol than we think they did,” she said.

Bragg said she grew up hearing the stories of history, including the 1920s, Henry Ford, and the rise and fall of industrial capitalism.

“I grew up in the suburbs, and I know how far we fell,” she said. “We hear all the time about how Detroit is the way it is, but there’s more to the story than that. It’s worth thinking about a city that’s over 300 years old, and how it played a role in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I think history is so boring,’ but these stories are really fun — the lifestyles of people, how they got their water, how they ordered at the bar or at dinner. They’re entertaining, as well as enlightening.

“I feel it’s my duty to protect the history that is still here, and advance people’s understanding of the city’s history — from creating economic growth, to understanding the city’s unique identity, taking care of old buildings. I try to advance the understanding and history through outreach, education, events and tours.”

Bragg is hopeful about what will become of the city.

“I’d like to see Detroit become a vibrant and enriched city in the future. I hope for a future where there is economic opportunities for everyone — equitable economic opportunities — a future where urban planning and thinking is part of our every day. I’d like us to build ourselves a city of the future, with walkable neighborhoods, and connect the cities through transit, conversation and community building.”

The program is free and open to the public. There will also be a small celebration of the 206th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday with cake and conversation.

“I like to make my talks fun. They’re not very serious. I tell a lot of jokes, but people will learn something, too,” Bragg said, explaining there is a good possibility of consumption of spirits before the program. “I hope to. I’ll be coming straight from work, so it’s likely.”

The Bloomfield Township Public Library is located at 1099 Lone Pine Road. For more information on the event, call (248) 642-5800 or visit www.bloomfieldhistoricalsociety.org.

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