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Ed Driscoll

I Thought It Was More of a Mickey Mouse Town, Myself

July 18th, 2013 - 10:47 am

“Howdy Doody may test limits of protecting Detroit assets,” according to the Detroit News, which is obviously trolling for hits with a headline like that. The opening lede is a classic as well, especially considering that overpriced government bureaucrats and their underfunded pension plans have helped to destroy the once-thriving city:

Does Detroit really need a million-dollar puppet?

Given the extraordinary circumstances the city now faces, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has reason to ponder what Detroit owns — even down to a certain beloved TV marionette now in storage at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

“Do we really need Howdy Doody?” asks Bill Nowling, the EM’s spokesman. “I’m not so sure.”

Since 2001, the 1950s TV icon has been a resident but seldom-glimpsed star at the DIA. The museum was awarded Howdy One (a.k.a. Original Howdy) in a hard-fought $300,000 legal battle with heirs of puppeteer Buffalo Bob Smith.

The custody fight proved that a promise to the DIA is taken seriously, even when it involves a TV mannequin that’s more Michaels craft store than Michelangelo.

Now, on the hunt for cash, Detroit’s hard-nosed creditors are pointing at the DIA like bird dogs flushing quail. The toughest are clamoring for the city to sell art or manhole covers — whatever isn’t nailed down.

Which brings me to Howdy Doody: Here’s a puppet worth $1 million or so, last displayed in 2009 in conjunction with the Howdy Doody postage stamp. Original Howdy is one of 60,000 art and artisanal objects stored in the DIA’s warehouse, out of view and largely out of mind. But Howdy and friends are deemed sacrosanct and untouchable because they, too, are owned by the museum.

That’s the kind of argument that makes sense when you have a city that pays senior citizens the pensions they were promised when they agreed to spend their lives working.

The museum is and was designed to be an oasis of refinement and culture in a rough-edged city built on human sweat and the clang of machinery.

And destroyed by bureaucracy run amok, viewing the town’s citizens and businesses as little more than money spigots to pay their salaries. However, with the city now well into its death throes, its local government is finally aiming its sights squarely on the big issues that will help salvage the beleaguered metropolis (beyond deciding on Howdy Doody’s ultimate fate, of course): “Detroit federal judge could challenge state’s ban on gay marriage,” another recent Detroit News headline claims.

That’ll turn the city’s fortunes around for sure!

Incidentally, the idea of selling off the assets of TV shows to help keep the lights on — haven’t we seen this before? Why yes we have:

Update: Evidently, selling off Howdy Doody isn’t going to save the city: “The City of Detroit is in final preparations to file for federal bankruptcy as early as Friday morning, several sources told the [Detroit] Free Press today.”

As the Zero Hedge economics blog noted last month, “Rotting, Decaying And Bankrupt – If You Want To See The Future Of America Just Look At Detroit.”

Related: “Apropos of nothing, the last time Detroit had a Republican Mayor was 51 years ago.”

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