Hidden away on East Liberty Street, a bright alleyway enclave,
easy to go unnoticed, has been colored not only by the paintings
upon it but also by the rumors that encircle it.

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The current mural at East Liberty Street and Maynard Street, is
enriched with bright colors. A illuminant yellow, red and orange
eagle is painted to the right sight, and above it are stars and a
twilight sky that seem to engulf passers-by.

But the history of the mural is rich with dark secrets, said
Scott Clarke, the Michigan Theater technical director, whose
theater shares an alleyway with the mural. Clarke said that the
mural was the site of two suicides.

“A boy jumped in the spring, in the late morning. I pulled
into the alley expecting a piano delivery. A cop came around the
corner saying he had heard a gunshot,” Clarke said. “It
turns out the sound of the body hitting the pavement had sounded
like a gunshot. That was about 10 years ago.”

As the second story goes, police chased a Community High School
student named Zac after he snatched a purse in the East Liberty
parking structure about three years ago. The boy jumped off the
parking structure, said Michigan Theater Facility Engineer Arthur
McViccar.

The mural is painted on the side of the parking structure.
Afterwards, the boy’s girlfriend wrote a poem on the mural
and left flowers to commemorate Zac. Even now, the word Zac is
etched at the floor of the mural along with faded sayings
pertaining to his death, McViccar said.

But it is not only death of others that this mural has
witnessed; the mural has gone through it’s own
transformation. Clarke said that a Community High School student
named Ben painted the original mural sometime in the late
’80s.

“He kept his paint in the stage area so we watched this
whole thing progress. What ended up was so different than what was
started — it kept evolving,” Clarke said.

The current mural was painted on top of that mural. And Clarke
expressed nostalgia for the old mural, as well as a dislike for the
new. “I was disappointed because we lost Ben’s. I never
enjoyed (the new one). His was more fluid, one image led to
another. This is very segregated: each (image) is in it’s own
frame,” Clarke said. “It is nice to look at, but
it’s not for me. It doesn’t draw you in or get you in
involved.”

But Josh Williams, co-owner of Digital Ops, whose back door
leads into the alleyway, said that it became a message board for
teenagers of the community to voice what they were feeling. He said
that, in the community, it was known as “trippers’
wall,” and is the place where initials, made of gum, are
arranged. Besides the gum wall, Williams said the mural gets its
character from the people who frequent it. The most famous of them
is the Michael Jackson impersonator, who brings a boom box and
dances for passers-by.

“Every time I come down here I see him. Play
‘Dancing Machine’ is all I ever say to him. Play
‘Dancing Machine,’ play ‘Dancing Machine,’
” said Ernie Sievert, an Ann Arbor homeless man who
panhandles in front of the mural.

He said that the mural provides him with a sanctuary, where he
can panhandle without the police bothering him. He said one of his
favorite paintings on the mural is the five of hearts. He pointed
to it, a grin on in his face. “The five of hearts looking
like he’s saying, anybody got a five dollar bill for a five
of hearts?” Sievert said.

With all of the connotations the mural has taken and roles it
has played, LSA senior Arielle Doneson said that its presence is
one that is unique to Ann Arbor alone.

“I just like it in. In the midst of all the big business
(here) … this retains the feeling of truly being ‘Ann
Arbor.’ Einstein’s (Bagels) and Cosi’s could be
found anywhere, but the mural is only here,” Doneson
said.

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