“Preserve and value the past while building the future from those learnings.” That’s the message one Ford employee has recorded for future generations who might discover his thoughts, which will be preserved inside a glass bottle and sealed inside the walls of Michigan Central Station.
Octavian Felderean is the winner of an @FordOnline contest prompted by two workers who earlier this year unearthed a bottle believed to have been left behind by a pair of the station’s original construction workers in 1913. The note in the bottle reads “Dan Hogan and Geo Smith stuck this [illegible] of Chicago.” While it doesn’t reveal much, it seems clear someone had a thought they wanted preserved.
Felderean is one of six people who inscribed messages – written on UV protected paper with waterproof pens and put into bottles with clasped seals – that will be placed in the wall of the men’s tearoom, where the 108-year-old note was found inside a pre-Prohibition-era Stroh’s beer bottle in early May. All who left messages will receive a map indicating the location of the bottles once the notes have been sealed into the walls.
“It’s definitely a humbling experience,” said Felderean. “You don’t know when and who is going to read it – if ever. It gives you goosebumps.”
Felderean, body shop maintenance and engineering team manager at Dearborn Truck Plant, has a good theory that the note in the Stroh’s beer bottle was simply the random thoughts of one of the original construction workers. “I’ve worked with tradespeople my whole career, including the trades that are involved in building,” he said. “These guys like to leave their signatures in their work. You might not notice it, but it’s there. He left that bottle in a place where you can’t see it. It’s just their signature.”
The message was discovered by Lukas Nielsen, a laborer, and Leo Kimble, foreman, for Homrich, a plaster restoration contractor working at the station. Both Nielsen and Kimble were on hand for a recent ceremony where the new messages were written. Their words will be included alongside Felderean’s and those of others who were selected to leave messages.
Nielsen, 26 and from Garden City, has been working on site since February. He was eager to get inside the building, which closed in 1988, after years of seeing it from afar. “I’ve always passed this place coming down this way and wondered what they were going to do with it,” he said. “It shut down before I was born, so it’s pretty cool to see this Corktown area grow and for me to be part of this project and make it a nice centerpiece for downtown Detroit.”
Rich Bardelli, Ford construction manager for the Michigan Central development project, said putting messages inside the walls is a great way to add to the legacy of the station, in that well into the future, when another restoration is undertaken, the history of this project will be kept alive. “We get to do that same thing now in giving people that same opportunity to put something back into this building,” he said. “Some 100 or 150 years into the future, when someone is doing another renovation, maybe they’ll be able to find these people’s kids or grandkids, and keep that history alive.”
Ford purchased the station in 2018 and began restoration work soon after. Workers are now in the final phase of returning the Beaux Arts building to its original grandeur. Construction is expected to be complete by the end of 2022, with the station opening to tenants and the public in mid-2023. The nearby Book Depository and Bagley Mobility Hub are set to open next year.
The buildings will all be part of Michigan Central, a 30-acre mobility innovation district in Corktown that brings together entrepreneurs, educators, investors, policymakers and companies to shape the future of transportation.