William M. Fenton was basically an 1800s superhero. He was a sailor, and then a lawyer. He platted a successful town in the middle of nowhere, naturally naming it Fentonville. He served in the Michigan senate, as a colonel in the Civil War, as mayor of Flint, and as Lieutenant Governor of Michigan. Plus, he was president of a bank, and… well, you get the idea.
He basically did everything. He was a rare breed, descending from some superior stock of civilization-building giants, the sort that heard the call to go West and thought “finally, a use for my talents.”
Slowing down in his later years, Fenton took a job as chief of the Flint Fire Department, around the same time most us would be taking up a permanent residence on our couches. Responding to a fire, Fenton ran into a hitching post and died shortly after.
It was an odd, tragic end for such an indomitable man.
But his memory lives on in Fenton, Michigan, a thriving town of around 11,000 people, just south of Flint.
And I thought, what better way to honor him then to invite him over with my time machine? Yes, I’ve always had a time machine. How did you think I did research this good? By reading books?
William (as I’ll refer to him, to prevent confusion with his town) – William, I’m happy to report, was very pleased with our modern contrivances and love of artifice.
“These roads are so wide,” he said, taking it all in with his wide, perceptive eyes. “And paved so marvelously. I remember when there was little here but wagon ruts running through the woods.”
Williams placed his formidable jaw between his thumb and index fingers, ruminating wistfully. His hair, parted meticulously to the right, blew in the wind.
“What of these mechanical carriages? By which means of propulsion do they move?”
“An engine, powered by gas,” I explained, but his gaze remained quizzical. “You know, like oil, from the ground.”
“I see, I see,” William said, clearly overwhelmed. “Where are they going? What are there professions? I see a great many men and women driving about. This looks to be a booming metropolis!”
I tried not to laugh.
Hip restaurant in Fenton. William was impressed, though a bit disappointed he couldn’t get his fine linens laundered there. Photo by John Lloyd.
“I don’t know. They probably work in the towns around Flint and Detroit. Doing what? Who knows? Maybe they work for one of the ‘horseless carriage’ companies. Or at a hospital or nursing home. Maybe they have a government job. A few work in these weird call centers… it’s hard to explain,” I said. “The rest work in stores, bars, or shops. And there’s so many people nowadays, carriages – uh, we call ’em cars – are everywhere. Fenton isn’t even that big.”
“They work in Flint or Detroit? Simply acquiring provisions in Detroit is an arduous affair for us in Fentonville. You mean to tell me…?”
“Yes. Believe it or not.”
“Well, I’m proud to see many fine brick buildings scattered about Leroy Street, just as we valued in my day. To think this town began with a one saw, left exposed to the elements. Incredible. Did you know I won the naming rights to this town in a game of poker? Look at this town’s influence today. Surely, I must be a figure of prominence!”
William paused. His chest swelled with pride. But then he noticed something unsettling.
“Though if you’ll excuse my saying so, I must admit that a few look to be ‘imitations’, for lack of a better word.”
“Right. That’s what passes for modern construction, Will. Quantity over quality. You know, they knocked down a bunch of those fine brick buildings about 40 years ago to make room for the ‘imitations’.”
“Soon as we got cars, people started thinking our old Main Streets were too crowded. I mean, look how huge those things are. They all wanted bigger, better buildings to match their cars. That was the thinking. You couldn’t even begin to understand how annoying parallel parking is, man. It’s rough.”
“I – this – this is much too much, sir.”
People were beginning to stare at William. His impeccable suit, replete with an upturned collar, obviously belonged to a bygone era. His precise mannerisms and polite, congenial demeanor stood out, too. We looked shabby and rude in comparison.
I had to get William out of here, before someone caught on to my time-traveling act.
“Hey, Will, follow me,” I said as I turned my back to him, beckoning him on with my hand. “There’s something behind this building you oughta see.”
“Check it out,” I said, pointing to a dark, unlit spot by a parking lot.
William looked, uncertain. I pushed him into my time machine and shut the door with the press of a button.
“Sorry, Will. You would’ve really enjoyed the craft beer and artisanal food. You know they took the old town fire hall and turned it into a fancy restaurant? They cook over a giant open flame, so it smells like smoke! See what they’re doing there?
And with the press of another button, William was zapped back to his time period. His kicking and shouting ceased. I neglected to wipe his memory, but nobody would believe him, anyway.
Artisanal food? They’d think he’d lost his marbles.