Ferry Field - DetNews Article

Submitted by Everyone Murders on July 5th, 2017 at 8:21 AM

An oft-overlooked icon on Michigan's athletic campus, Ferry Field, gets a nice article by Gregg Krupa in today's Detroit News.  As the article notes, Michigan won six of its eleven national titles at Ferry Field or the nearby Regents Field.  Yost helped build Michigan football into the monster it is at Ferry Field, and it remains a beautiful and understated track facility.

But I'll gladly allow that a Buckeye achieved the greatest individual fame at Ferry Field.  Jesse Owens, running for OSU, set or tied four world records there on May 25, 1935:

  • 100 yd dash - 9.4 Sec
  • Long Jump - 26'8.25" (record stood for over two decades)
  • 220 yd dash - 20.3 Sec
  • 200 yd low hurdles - 22.6 Sec

Owens is in a rare group of OSU athletes I can't even bring myself to dislike, what with the showing Hitler up stuff and all.  (Other candidates are Jack Nicklaus, Archie Griffin and Chris Spielman.)  Owens suffered indignities in the U.S. like many other black athletes, including not being allowed to live on OSU's campus despite being their biggest celebrity.

It used to blow my mind when I was at Michigan that I could run on the same track as Owens - a feeling reminiscent of standing at the Lincoln Memorial on the spot where MLK told us all of his dream.  If you're lucky enough to be in or near Ann Arbor, you owe it to yourself to take a run there.

And, oh yeah, the infield.  Some other stuff took place there too.  Yost's and Oosterbaan's teams, including Harry Kipke, Benny Friedman, and others ran the college football world for years on that hallowed ground.  All before crowds that ultimately required a larger stadium that you probably know a little about.

In the article Dr. Robert Soderstram notes that many landmarks from that time still remain, and you can mentally orient yourself pretty easily with current landmarks:

“It still, basically, remains where it always was,” Soderstrom said of Ferry Field. “In fact, the flag pole that is there is still where the flagpole was when Michigan played there,” he said
“The track is essentially the same. “Where the great big I.M. (Intramural Sports) Building is now is where the north stands were. And they had a cement stand, it was a permanent stand that was on the south side where you now see the small stands they use for track meets and stuff. “But at that time they had a pretty fair-sized cement stand that probably sat 10 to 15 thousand people,” Soderstram said. “Yost could squeeze 45,000 people in there.”

Ferry Field remains an understated gem (although it's been several years since I've been able to run there), and can transport a person back in time in the midst of a bustling campus.  So of course Dave Brandon was proposing going all Big Yellow Taxi on the spot and putting in a parking lot - a plan that fortunately never got legs.

The entire article, although a touch alarmist*, is worth a gander - http://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/2017/07/04/ferry-field-jesse-owens-university-michigan-historic-um-football/103428396/

*The headline is that the "Future of UM's Historic Ferry Field Uncertain", but the article notes at the outset that there is no current plan to tear the place down.



July 5th, 2017 at 9:17 AM ^

The plaque is a major upgrade from the bag of sawdust with a note pinned to it that a certain athletic director said was an appropriate memorial. The plaque is a tribute to the cultural turnaround of Michigan athletics under Hackett and now Warde. 

Everyone Murders

July 5th, 2017 at 10:06 AM ^

The fact that FDR and others showed Owens tremendous disrespect does not somehow make Owens and Hitler "good friends".  Owens, knowing it was politically unpopular, said something along the lines of getting more recognition from Hitler for his achievements than he got from FDR.  The humiliations Owens suffered in the U.S., both before and after the Olympics, were real and nothing for us to be proud of.  And it took courage for Owens to shine a light on that by noting that he got better treatment in Germany than he got in much of the U.S.

HOWEVAH, Owens showed Hitler up.  Showing a resurgent Nazi Germany, and the supposed superiority of his "Aryan" athletes, was absolutely a focus of the Nazis for the 1936 Olympics.  Jesse Owens taking four gold medals against the "Aryan" athletes absolutely undermined that goal - and thus showed Hitler and the Nazis up.


July 5th, 2017 at 9:54 AM ^

I'm not sure if they still are held there, but it was always cool to supervise those events.  Knowing that you were standing in the place of history was a very cool feeling.

I had to fact check the Hitler/FDR bit at the end of the article, and found this on an FDR wikipedia page:

After the 1936 Berlin Olympics, only the white athletes were invited to see and meet Roosevelt. No such invitation was made to the African American athletes such as Jesse Owens, who had won four gold medals. A widely believed myth about the 1936 games was that Hitler had snubbed Owens, something that never happened. Owens said, "Hitler didn't snub me—it was [Roosevelt] who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram." However, Hitler had left after Owens's first gold medal win and did not meet him. Subsequently, he did not meet with any of the gold medalists. Owens lamented his treatment by Roosevelt, saying that he "wasn't invited to the White House to shake hands with the President."

Source (LINK)


July 5th, 2017 at 6:20 PM ^

FDR was a man of his time period. He was far from the only white American to treat Owens poorly.

What bothers me is that we still mostly sweep this part of Owens's story under the rug, preferring to retell the old legend of him showing up the Nazis.


July 5th, 2017 at 11:59 AM ^

There's a school in Grosse Pointe that bears his name and his name pops up in downtown Detroit, so I researched this very interesting Michigander.

His dad started with nothing and had the idea to sell seeds in small packets so they would have a higher germination rate. He became very wealthy owning the largest seed factory in the world. Part of the business was owning lots of land to harvest seeds, which eventually made him even wealthier. 

As with many nineteenth century capitalists, Ferry felt an obligation to share a measure of the bounty he enjoyed in the form of charity. His many gifts included gifts to churches, Olivet College, the University of Michigan, Grace Hospital, and an Art Loan Exhibit that some contend was a lineal forebear of the Detroit Museum of Art, which in time became the Detroit Institute of Art.

He donated the land to Michigan for an athletic field which bore his name. And now you know the rest of the story... "Benjamin, seeds.. the future is seeds"


July 5th, 2017 at 2:00 PM ^

Other than one day in 1935 there's nothing particularly noteworthy about Ferry Field as a track facility. It wasn't used as a track at all until football departed for their new digs in 1927. We haven't hosted an outdoor B1G Championship meet in nearly 30 years due to insufficiencies in the facility. While we've had many great track and field athletes over the years, very, very few of their accomplishments have occurred at Ferry Field. We host very few outdoor meets let alone meets of any importance. All of Yost's point-a-minute teams played at Regents Field where Schembechler Hall now sits, not Ferry Field.  Ferry Field served as a football field for only 21 years.

It's silly to tie up prime real estate in the middle of the athletic campus as a little used jogging track and a shrine to a Buckeye because of one day 82 years ago.


July 6th, 2017 at 9:41 PM ^

for your "expert" opinion... that weak ass effort where four WORLD records were broken in the span of approximately an hour and a half is kind of a big deal. One human broke not one, FOUR records on that track. I still have the meet program from the Western Championships...my grandfather hand recorded each event in the program as the day went on. Making it even more special, in honestly a random circumstace I later attended Michigan as part of the track program and spent THOUSANDS of hours on that prime realestate. We hosted the Big Ten Championship while I was there...and if you happen to believe other schools have state of the art venues...uhhh they are just rubberized ovals that take up prime locations on their campus as well...none of them were Olympic quality (in fact in 1989 we were hosted at IUPUI where the Olympic trials and Pan Am games were held because Indiana had "sucky" facilities...

sometimes it's more than just a patch of land...maybe you should lobby for parking structres at Ground Zero as well...after all it was just a place where a couple accidents happened why take up such valuable land for a damn memorial? (heavy Mark Sarcasm for asshats who don't get life).


July 5th, 2017 at 12:50 PM ^

Here's a fascinating article that tells the untold story about Jesse Owens' big day at Ferry Field. Gerald Ford was there that day as a graduating senior at U-M, most likely to see his good friend Willis Ward compete in the high jump.

When FDR snubbed Jesse Owens by refusing to invite him to the White House in 1936, it was President Gerald Ford who made it right 40 years later. Ford invited Jesse to the White House in 1976, where he presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

It took a Michigan Wolverine to make it right for an Ohio State Buckeye. Here's the whole story. It's great.



July 5th, 2017 at 2:57 PM ^

I have this run that I like to do every time I'm back in Ann Arbor that includes a trip around the stadium and around the track as many times as I feel like. I especially like to do that when it's a game day, and regardless of that I always stop for a moment at the plaque, because I am very proud that it is there. Couldn't understand how they came to decide that they were going to turn all that into a parking lot - all I could think of was "where in the hell are they going to put the plaque, in some museum? - appears that the proposal is off the table and that is more than fine by me.