STICK ‘EM UP

By Tyler Tichelaar

Stick ’Em Up: Michigan Bank Robberies of the 1920s & 1930s
By Tom Powers

Stick ’Em Up is a book that surprises you. You wonder, “Why has no one ever written on this topic before?” and even though you didn’t realize such a void existed, you are happy it has now been filled. Tom Powers’ book is the only one to date that recounts the series of fascinating bank robberies that happened in Michigan between the World Wars. He chose to focus on this period because bank robberies were still relatively new, and law enforcement was just learning how to cope with them. The time period was equivalent to the Wild West for bank robbers and their victims. Trust me, bank robbery stories don’t get much better than these.
The book includes a useful introduction and conclusion that bookend the surprising and sometimes almost unbelievable stories. Powers tells us bank robberies were more common during this period, because cars were becoming faster, meaning robbers could escape more quickly. Police cars had no radios until 1930, so officers were unable to communicate with each other or their headquarters to set up roadblocks or pursue robbers jointly. It was also an age when vigilante justice was still acceptable. Citizens of several small towns, upon hearing their bank was being robbed, grabbed their shotguns and ran to the bank to stop the robbery. Many of these citizens even pursued the robbers in high-speed chases. Powers notes that vigilante justice was more likely to occur in small towns. In larger cities, citizens would instead collect outside the bank to watch the show while letting the police handle the robbers. Law enforcement also often offered bounties for the capture of bank robbers dead or alive, which resulted in more citizens trying to apprehend them.
Powers explains that things changed in 1935 when the FBI became responsible for catching bank robbers, rather than local and state law enforcement. Prior to that, criminals would often rob a bank in one state, then move to another, and the law enforcement in the new area had no help or information from those previously pursuing the crooks. Also by the 1940s, police cars had two-way radios. Finally, World War II drafted any would-be apprentice bank robbers.
All this history is fascinating, but it pales beside the stories themselves. There are twenty-three stories of different bank robberies in these pages, most of which are downstate. However, the book does include the 1932 robbery of a bank in Hermansville in Menominee County. In that case, an eighteen-year-old kid who had worked in Hermansville thought he knew Hermansville well, but he didn’t know it well enough to avoid getting himself and his cronies lost on back roads.
There are too many stories to mention here, but I loved the one where the bank robbers stole a plane they could barely fly. Other stories tell of bank robbers tossing nails out of car windows to try to impede their pursuers. At a standoff, one robber pled, “Don’t shoot me. Remember my mother.” In another story, a woman was inside a bank when it was robbed; then, she watched her husband pursue the robbers, with their baby in the car. In Cassopolis, bank robbers took over the entire town before they even robbed the bank. Many of these robbers ended up in Marquette prison… and then escaped from it.
Overall, the cleverness and occasional stupidity of the bank robbers in these stories is amazing and will leave you surprised by how often the law failed to catch the crooks. If you love books about the Roaring Twenties, Al Capone, Prohibition and gangsters, Stick ’Em Up will be a treat for you.

Blossoms in the Dark of Winter
By Christine Saari

Christine Saari, a U.P. resident since 1971, grew up on an Austrian mountain farm before immigrating to the United States. (This column reviewed her previous book Love and War at Stag Farm, about her family’s farm.) Her new book, Blossoms in the Dark of Winter, is a treasure trove of poems about her family and the many tragic and beautiful moments in their lives.
The poems begin with Anna and Michael meeting and marrying while sharing a love for a Madonna statue that they install on their farm. This first poem ends by telling us the Madonna watched over them for the seven short years of their marriage, immediately making us want to know what happened to the couple. When Anna arrives at the farm, Michael cuts bare cherry branches on December 4 (St. Barbara’s Day) so they will bloom at Christmas—blossoms in the dark of winter, hence the book’s title. Later, the news that Michael has been wounded and will die arrives at the farm in spring when the blossoms are in full bloom.
Perspective shifts from the couple to relatives enduring depredation to their child. Before Michael dies, one poem asks, “What do you tell a five-year-old about war?” He describes dead horses, chickens running about, people who fled. The poem concludes “Today is a sunny day, he writes./ I heard a lark sing/and saw two yellow butterflies./ Ten days later he is killed.” The child also prays for her grandmother in Germany, not knowing what has become of her, especially after the border closes between Austria and Germany. In a later poem, we are told that the dahlias that grew from the bulbs the grandmother sent give the family hope as they wait to learn if she is still alive.
One of my favorite poems was “My Kingdom,” which describes a child’s refuge in a linden tree, where she can “think, dream and cry.” At the end, we are told today she must cry because she must go to school, and “my strawberries will ripen without me,/ my bluebells will not be picked,/ my mushrooms will grow undiscovered,/ my linden tree will be deserted.”
Later poems reflect the mother’s aging. In 1988, the speaker struggles to get her mom to leave the farm and is told she is cruel. But “in the end she forgets/ she once lived on a farm/ and I find forgiveness.” In another poem, we learn that the mother lived in a rest home for eleven years, living in a daydream world and asking people she knew all her life if they had ever met before.
After the mother dies, sadness lingers over the remaining poems. Family graves are described, as is a Christmas when the child of World War II is now the oldest of three generations and the laughter of grandchildren brings hope for the new millennium and the old farm.
Overall, Blossoms in the Dark of Winter is a family odyssey from World War II to the present, told in verse with nostalgia, poignancy, tears, hope and joy. Ultimately, it is a slice of life that moves us and makes us rethink our own family odysseys.
Saari will be reading from Blossoms in the Dark of Winter, as well as showing photos and mixed media art pieces related to the book, on September 12 at 7 p.m. in the Shiras Room at Peter White Public Library in Marquette.

Editor’s Note: Tichelaar is the author of When Teddy Came to Town and Haunted Marquette. All books reviewed in this column are available in local and online bookstores. For book review submission guidelines, visit www.marquettemonthly.org.

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