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Cemetery Jar

By | Norm's Author Blog

Today we present an unsolved mystery.

   We go on many walks around our neighborhood—to campus, to the river, to downtown. But occasionally we walk to Forest Hills Cemetery, a beautiful landscape that gives us a peaceful nearby destination. When we are finally laid to rest there someday, we will be amongst old Tyler gravesites at four locations.

   On a recent meander through the pathways of Forest Hills, we passed by the largest Tyler gravesite and found a small glass jar partially buried in the ground. We were curious about it but decided to leave it there. However, in a few days our curiosity got the best of us, and we returned to find the bottle still protruding from the ground. The top was tight, so took it home and carefully opened it. Inside we found the following—a dollar bill torn into four parts, strings holding together faded and torn copies of contemporary faces, and some beans that were likely serving as a desiccant. The photo below illustrates what we found.

   But the mystery remains regarding why it was buried at the Tyler gravesite. Was it meant to be a remembrance? Was it meant as a hex, a charm, some geo-tagging, or just some kids fooling around? We would really like to hear any thoughts on what was behind this surprise discovery.

   We created a YouTube movie showing the opening of the jar. You can find it online at:


Preservation Podcast

By | Norm's Author Blog

   We invite you to learn more about historic preservation through a podcast discussion we had recently about our two careers as preservation architects, historians, and authors. Urban planner Stephanie Rouse and professional preservationist Melissa Gengler, both from Lincoln, Nebraska, invited us to discuss how we created the content for our book, Historic Preservation: An Introduction to Its History, Principles, and Practice. The questions were varied and comprehensive and they were interested in how the content had changed over twenty-five years through four editions. We noted first that preservation seen only as preserving old buildings is very limited in scope; it’s much more than that, much broader than that. They asked us to describe some of the most memorable and exciting experiences we have had in preservation.

   We invite you to take a break in your day or weekend and enjoy our banter during this 51-minute podcast. It describes well our lives and careers as a couple of ardent preservationists. The host’s closing teaser: “As our final takeaway, Norm talked about ‘temenos.’ Listen to figure out what temenos has to do with historic preservation.”

Glasgow Conference

By | Norm's Author Blog

Next week world leaders meet in Glasgow to confer once again about the climate change crisis. As architects, we recognize that proper management of the built environment is critical for any final strategies. In our book, Historic Preservation, this perspective is represented:

“The effort known as the ‘green building movement’ remains blind to its most troubling truth: We cannot build our way to sustainability. Even if, with the wave of a green wand, every building constructed from this day hence had a vegetative roof, was powered only with renewable energy sources, and was built entirely of environmentally appropriate materials, sustainability would still be far from fully realized. Seeking salvation by building new green buildings fails to account for the overwhelming vastness of the existing building stock. The accumulated building stock is the elephant in the room. Ignoring it, we risk being trampled by it. We cannot build our way to sustainability; we must conserve our way to it.”

Our colleague, architect Carl Elefante, popularized this approach through the phrase, “The greenest building is the one already built.”

Audacious Women

By | Norm's Author Blog

For the past year I have been writing the manuscript for an intriguing new book. I hope to soon find a publisher or agent interested in it.

Audacious Women: The Compelling Stories of Six Travel Trailblazers, tells the stories of six incredibly bold women who traveled the world on their own and shook up the status quo against all odds. From the late 19th to the mid-10th centuries, each had a unique story that enriches our narrative as a nation on the move. Coming from differing circumstances, they shared an adventurous spirit that broke the confines of what was then considered a “man’s world.” Their personalities were intriguing and complicated; certain words provide apt descriptions–fervent, impassioned, formidable. Their motivations, described by one writer, were “scared to death of being unconventional but seething underneath.”

Written largely in their own words, the narrative explores what emboldened them for the lifestyle they chose, the challenges they took on, and the discrimination they faced. Their stories also illustrate how this new-found ability to travel on their own paralleled the evolution of the women’s movement during this period. 

The six chapters are bookended with two distinctive individuals–Nellie Bly, who in 1889 traveled around the globe in 72 days taking only one dress and one coat, and Sally Ride, who gave up a career as a tennis professional to circumnavigate the globe in only ninety minutes. Other stories include Annie (Londonderry) Kopchovsky, a housewife who in 1894 decided to trek around the world by bicycle, ostensibly to capture a $10,000 prize but more significantly to gain celebrity. Next is Alice Ramsey, an early race-car driver who in 1909 decided to be driver and mechanic on a hazardous coast-to-coast trek from New York to San Francisco in a Maxwell automobile. As the age of flight began, Harriet Quimby was the first female licensed pilot and became an international celebrity for her achievements, earning an unbelievable $100,000 to fly in the Boston Air Show in 1912. In the 1920s, Amelia Earhart impassioned the day she saw her first aircraft in flight and flew throughout the world until the day of her tragic disappearance.

The book gives a unique perspective in that each of the six women is paired with an individual whose story provides a striking contrast. This counterpoint brings attention to relevant issues–the changing role of women during this pivotal period, travel as a means for women to become more independent, the fleeting nature of celebrity, and the sometimes tragic endings when trying to push the envelope too far. 

How did I become interested in writing about this topic? For twenty years I taught a university course in Transportation History and Planning. During this time I authored a book, Crossing the Continent: Pioneers of Transcontinental Travel, that included biographies of individuals significant in the historical development of transcontinental transportation, from George Washington to William Boeing. After reviewing the manuscript Ilene candidly asked, “Why are there no women in your book?” Her comment was eye-opening and spurred me to look more deeply at my historical resources. This resulted in the marvelous stories of the six “audacious women” described in the following chapters. During their intriguing and colorful lives, they each took on great challenges and overcame incredible obstacles; it became obvious they deserved a book of their own.

Thoughts On Teaching and Learning

By | Norm's Author Blog

   Here are two thoughts on how teaching and learning is changing in the digital world.

   My first thought stemmed from when I was teaching at Eastern Michigan University. One day I announced the date for a Midterm in a graduate course. One of the students challenged me: “Dr. Tyler, why do you give tests? They may test our memory, but don’t evaluate our ability to solve problems.” I immediately recognized he was right; that was the last test I administered. With the universal use of Google, I realized students no longer needed to “know” information since virtually everything is immediately accessible on the smartphone in their hand. I revised my courses to be less a teacher of information and more a facilitator of problem solving.

   My second rumination resulted from reading about a professor who was surprised his current students did not use “folders” to organize information on their computers. Their computer desktop screens were often overloaded with randomly-placed icons. A comparison of one of their screens with my own illustrates the generational difference.

Typical(?) computer screen of a student
My computer screen

   The professor surveyed his class and found most students had no knowledge of the concept of folders, so he began offering a class on the use of folders. Why was this necessary, he wondered? He concluded this generation of students had grown up relying primarily on their “Search” function. Their smartphones and iPads were great at doing a sophisticated Search that could find what they needed in a variety of ways–by name, date, size, subject, format, or even using facial recognition for photos. In their minds it was not necessary to have their files organized in any systematic way.

   Fortunately, in my retirement these generational changes in how we use our personal devices has not really impacted me that much. First, I no longer teach, so I no longer need to evaluate the “learning” of my students. Second, I will continue my old-school practice of placing computer files in folders so I know where to find them. My computer is quite comfortable with its tried-and-true MS Word software used for my writing; my iPhone and iPad are primarily used for distractions. In short, I may not be keeping up with Generation X, Y, or Z, but it is good enough for now.

Tyler Original Editions

By | Norm's Author Blog

The two volumes of The Tyler Genealogy first published in 1912 include names of 7,724 of Norm’s distant relatives dating from 1619. Family genealogist Willard I. Tyler Brigham made it his life’s labor to collect this wealth of information on descendants of immigrant Job Tyler. Although original editions of Volumes I and II are now pretty rare, I was able to purchase them online in very good condition. It was like a birthday party when they were delivered to our front porch. Now, instead of the poor-quality Xerox copies I have used for research for many years I can peruse dates and details in these original volumes without needing to refocus my eyes.

Although these volumes are a keepsake, our current efforts involve loading our genealogy information online, making it far more accessible to the public. Names are being added gradually to the genealogy software site, I prefer WikiTree because it is world-wide, easily accessible, and free (with no ads). Feel free to look up my family there; we encourage you add your own family members as well.

Model Railroading

By | Norm's Author Blog

Are you curious about model trains? My interest began long ago as a young boy. My current layout, named the “Ausemy and Eastern Railway” after our grandkids Austen and Remy, includes many unique features, so last year I submitted an article to Model Railroader magazine. I thought you might enjoy reading the article and seeing photos of the overall layout, weathered cars, and hand-built structures. You can view it online at:

Murder Mysteries

By | Norm's Author Blog

Twenty years ago in New Mexico, our family used a Murder Mystery as a way to amuse ourselves during a weekend-long celebration of the new millennium. The fictional story unfolded to reveal a prominent lawyer who had been stabbed in the kitchen at the Albuquerque Country Club. I played the role of the detective who had to expose the guilty party. Uncovering various clues was a wonderful device that encouraged multiple generations of family members to interact with each other.

From time to time I have written other Murder Mysteries. The characters and circumstances changed, but typically a plot unfolded during drinks and dinner and our big old house in Ann Arbor often became one of the characters.

   This year, however, a New Year’s Eve Murder Mystery would need to be totally online. Six of us took on roles built around the shock of the murder of Wayne Bruce, “Ace Reporter” for the fictional Metro Times, whose five-day-old dead body was surprisingly found in one of the caskets at the Luke Lexher Funeral Home. (Tip: Names of the characters were derived from Superman and Batman stories.) To simulate our meeting, the six of us each put the same photo of a funeral parlor on our Zoom virtual background screen so we all appeared to be in the same space; we agreed that it was a nice touch. The mystery revolved around, How did the body get there? And who was the guilty party? Was it the reporter’s estranged wife, his old flame, the managing director of the Metro Times, one of the newspaper’s reporters, or even possibly the funeral home owner. The plot was a fantasy diversion which served to take us from a bleak 2020 year into a hopefully more positive 2021.

Murder mysteries can be interesting, but difficult, to write. If you ever thought of echoing Agatha Christie by writing a novel-length murder mystery, I suggest trying to write such an evening’s interactive version first. Use your imagination to write colorful characters, meaningful clues, and a compelling plot line. And although not as easy as it may sound, it is definitely a lot of fun.

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Book review

By | Norm's Author Blog

One of our books, Greek Revival in America: Tracing its architectural roots to ancient Athens, has received primarily 5-star reviews on Amazon. The following review by an unnamed reader describes our quest to unravel the mysteries inherent in our historic home through the narrative of our travel to England and Greece. The story of our odyssey includes many serendipitously unplanned discoveries. Available online, we feel this book would be a fine gift for someone who could vicariously appreciate the joys and drama of historic travel during this year’s stay-at-home holiday season.

The review reads:

“While Norm and Ilene Tyler’s “Greek Revival in America” may sound like a book that would appeal by title to architects and students of architecture only, the adventure this couple embarks on in their quest to uncover the architectural history of their beautiful, old house in Ann Arbor makes for a great and entertaining read for all. The book opens with what seems like an improbable tale concerning one of the 20+ foot columns that takes an unexpected tumble across the front lawn of their grand historic home (original structure built circa 1830’s). This incident sparks a unique gum-shoe trail for Ilene and Norm as they research and uncover stories about the home’s original owner (Judge Robert Wilson), subsequent home-owners (some characters are quite colorful) – and mainly – why this stately home was built in replication of a Greek temple in a former Midwestern frontier town in the first place. Ilene and Norm are not long for insignificant details that detract from their pursuit of the origin of those grand columns in front of their dream home. The reader continues to be drawn by their folksy narrative and well-documented travel-research that takes sometimes Norm and mostly both authors to New York State, England, and finally Athens, Greece. Ilene and Norm provide unique insight to the architectural uninitiated about why we should care about their passion for the old house. (For one we learn that Teddy Kennedy made a speech in their parlor during his presidential run). Historic facts aside, we ultimately care because Ilene and Norm are able to weave an intriguing story that includes a little mystery, fun, adventure and fact-finding. Not boring textbook “facts,” but unearthed stories that lead Ilene and Norm — and this reader – on a deeper mission involving adventure, overcoming obstacles and uncovering hidden historic landmarks. After finishing the book one mystery however still remains: how did Ilene and Norm – as husband and wife – manage to write such an entertaining book together – and yet remain professional partners and friends? That question is also part of the endearing appeal of a story that is perhaps best described as a travel-log adventure with a historic twist. Don’t be fooled: “Greek Revival in America” is far from a text book. Highly recommended reading for anyone interested in history, art, community, travel, and relationships!”

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