Perpetual Day

Moonlight TowerWhile examining photos of Detroit around the turn of the last century, we frequently noticed strange towers which taper from a single pole at the base into a very tall latticed structure.  Seldom is the entirety of one in view.  Initially we took them to be utility poles supporting the city’s electric streetcar, telegraph, or phone lines.  After doing some digging we discovered that these were actually “moonlight towers”—150-foot arrays of arc lamps intended to illuminate blocks at a time.  At the end of the nineteenth century, Detroit was a leader in public lighting thanks to the installation of these lights, having 122 of them according to an old advertisement from their manufacturer.  And as you might expect, they caught the public’s imagination, even inspiring poetry printed in Detroit Free Press in which the man in the moon becomes jealous of having been replaced.  The tower which once stood in front of the old City Hall on Campus Martius seems to have been the most photographed.  However, they have also been seen in photographs of Fort and Griswold, Woodward and Jefferson, Woodward and Willis, and even on residential streets.  Particularly sharp-eyed Detroit Historical Museum enthusiasts might recognize the structure from the mural which provides the backdrop for our penny-farthing bicycle next to the drug store in the 1900 section of the Streets of Old Detroit exhibit.  With the growth of the skyscraper and the eventual ubiquity of the incandescent light bulb, 150-foot towers requiring regular maintenance were no longer needed.  In a manner reminiscent of Detroit’s streetcars, the city eventually sold some of them to Austin,Texas, where a portion of the system, albeit with some upgrades, is still in service and recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

Moonlight Tower at Night

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