Near the intersection of Trumbull Street and the I-94 expressway in Detroit is a field. This particular field butts up to a series of railroad lines that are part of an intricate system of tracks that crisscross the City of Detroit. Like many fields and empty lots scattered throughout the city, this lonely piece of land is full of weeds and small trees and is located smack in the middle of a large section of urban wasteland. Riding across that inconspicuous field, I happened upon some unusual signs. They were not the ordinary “For Sale” or “This land slated for future development” signs, but a series of small, one-of-a-kind signs with people’s names spelled out. All of them were nailed neatly to a mature tree.
Most of them appeared to be made of new or recently purchased lumber, and all were cut at the same angle on each end. Based on the newness of the wood and lack of weathering, they must have been recently tacked to the tree. They reminded me of those handmade, weather-beaten vintage directional and mileage signs that can be found in small towns out west, nailed to gray wooded posts. But the ones I saw in that field were not mileage or directional signs pointing the way to the next burg and beyond. The assorted signs, with various colored letters hand-painted on them, seemed to be some sort of tribute to the named individuals.
Perhaps they were attached to that tree as a makeshift shrine, or as a special tribute to people who may have lost their lives in a distant war or to a senseless act of urban violence. Or maybe they are a small acknowledgement of sorts to people that have made a difference in the life of the creator of those signs. Whatever the names represent, it seems someone took a great deal of time and immense pride to hand-paint the names found on these mysterious signs and evenly stack and nail them to that tree in an unassuming, secluded field in Detroit.