Guilt has to be one of the last things one usually associates with thieves. For that matter, guilt is the antithesis of stealing, so when items containing serious sentimental value go missing, they are seldom returned.
However, it may give you some pleasure to know that at least one antique clock thief felt bad enough to return one iconic timepiece to its rightful owners; the good people of the City of Detroit…
Michigan Central Station
Michigan Central Station was an icon for the people of Michigan for many decades. Known by some as the Michigan Central Depot, or ‘MCS,’ Michigan’s former main intercity rail depot was originally built for the Michigan Central Railroad. But then, disaster struck.
Shuttered By Fire
The iconic building was burned down, for the most part, thanks to a massive fire back in the winter of 1913. Thankfully, it was immediately rebuilt and dedicated in 1914, the station was open to commuters while major renovation works took place. Time and money were invested in the project, but for good reason…
At the time of its reconstruction, the MCS boasted 13 stories, a mezzanine level office tower and was finished to a high specification by any standard. Moreover, the MCS was at the time a proud record-breaker, standing at 230 feet, it was the tallest rail station in the world. It may not have held onto that record for long, but the people of Detroit were always proud of their intimidating train station.
The old, legendary building received a facelift in 2011, although most of the antique items that had been left there were stolen over the years by less-than-scrupulous thieves. Minor structural repairs have been carried out, as well as repairs to the lift. The basement has also been drained of the stagnant water which had built up there over the decades. But then, in May of this year, the building got some new owners…
One may think that the new owners of the building are a little unlikely; however, the Ford Motor Company saw it in their infinite wisdom to purchase the structure, which they intend to redevelop into a mixed-use facility as well as a head office for the company’s new Corktown campus.
When the famous clock face which had adorned the building for decades was stolen, many Detroitians were outraged, and rightfully so. The clock had no other value other than sentimental, but that fact didn’t stop the crooks from stealing. However, some good news lay ahead for the new owners of the building…
The Phone Call
The random, anonymous phone call came out of the blue, while nobody was expecting it. When the phone operator at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn received the call on an average Friday afternoon, she immediately connected the caller with the right point of contact. With that, the anonymous caller directed the people at Ford to an abandoned building somewhere in Detroit.
Whoever had originally stolen the clock clearly felt bad about their actions, saying to the Ford Museum contact that the clock wanted to “go home.” The museum reached out to the Ford Motor Land Development Corp. and The Ford Archives, and their people were en-route to the derelict building where they believed the clock to be within hours…
The CEO of Ford Land, Dave Dubensky was excited to see the stolen clock and return it to its rightful home. The first text came from the thief: “I only have the clock. No other material. I left it leaning against a burned-out building on Lawton. It is between Warren and Buchanan. The building is between the train tracks and 4470 Lawton. Please send two men and a truck immediately. It has been missing for over 20 years and is ready to go home. Thank you so much.”
Thanks a Bunch
Having received such a polite text message from the thief, Dubensky decided to reply in kind, even if he was no fan of robbers, “Thank you! I will try to send a crew right now.” He wrote back, but the current owner of the clock had further instructions for Ford, suggesting that he did have some sentimental feelings for the clock he had stolen…
The thief clearly didn’t want the antique clock he had stolen to be damaged any further in transit, so he gave Ford specific instructions, “Please have them lay it face up in the truck. The paint is very delicate. You can tell the front from the back by looking at the exposed legs,” he wrote.
When Dubensky instructed a crew of his construction workers to pick up the large timepiece in their truck, they were not expecting the sight they were met with when they arrived at the building. The large package was meticulously wrapped in blankets and was leaning against the wall of the building…
For obvious reasons the individual who stole the clock didn’t want to be identified and turned in to the police. “The individual presumably was afraid he or she would be arrested for stealing the clock and would not identify themselves,” Dubensky said. But it did seem strange that the man was so overly-conscientious when it came to returning what he’d stolen; was it simply a case of guilt?
It may be one of the biggest pieces stolen from the station but the clock is not alone. In fact, literally hundreds of antiques and other decorative items worth money were stolen from the same 18-story structure over the years since it closed. But this thief was different, and Ford even felt some sort of gratitude towards him and vice versa
This was not your everyday criminal, probably more just an opportunist thief. After the clock was picked up by Ford, the thief sent a text message saying, “Thank you so much. I loved that clock and I loved that station.” After carrying out the appropriate tests to ensure the clock’s authenticity, Ford was proud to confirm that it was the Real McCoy.
A Call To The Public
Dubensky also reached out to the public, just in case other timeless pieces like the clock are decaying in a derelict building somewhere in downtown Detroit. “This shows just how much emotion is attached to what we’re doing,” he said. “This individual went through all this work to return the clock. We’d like to ask any others who might have a piece of history and want to return it to please call, no questions asked. We’ll come get the pieces anywhere, anytime.”
Just Making Sure
After the initial tests, the Ford team carried out further tests to the clock, “We did have architects and historians familiar with these pieces,” Dubensky said. “They looked at paint samples and compared the clock to pictures of the building…” That process means that a piece of history has been returned to Detroit, coming from the most unlikely of places.
The people at Ford were so thrilled to have had the clock returned, they showered even more thanks on the thief who returned it. Dubensky said to reporters, “We are so happy that this individual reached out to us to return the clock. Thank you. We are grateful to have it in our possession.”
According to Jeremy Dimick, manager of collections at the Detroit Historical Society, it’s very encouraging to see a building like this being restored. In his words, it’s amazing that the building was able to, “go from being unused and unwanted for so long come back and find a second life.”
Dimick gushed about the return of the clock, as well as its restoration as an iconic piece of Detroit’s history, “This building is priceless,” he said. “It’s fantastic that it survived. And a lot of times, when things disappear, they never resurface. They’re lost, ruined, scrapped. Just the fact that this clock survived is incredible.” He said.