Missing: The 'little man' from Beakes Street yard
He's a smiling neighborhood ambassador, a relic from an earlier era and a memento from a long marriage. And "the little man" is missing.
That little man is a vintage metal crossing guard figure that's graced the North Fourth Avenue-side yard of the Seeley home at the corner of Beakes for many years.
"I was walking by yesterday and saw he wasn't there," said neighbor Margaret Schankler. "My heart stopped."
She learned that the figure had disappeared on Saturday from the yard of its owner, Johnnie Mae Seeley. She kept him the yard, where her late husband, Howard Seeley - a junk collector, among his other activities - had deposited him years ago.
Schankler says Howard Seeley was a fixture in the Kerrytown-area neighborhood. The crossing guard, with his ever-present smile and guiding hand, seemed to pay tribute to his memory.
Schankler said she's been in the neighborhood for 13 years, and the figure has been there all that time. She grew used to seeing him and witnessing children's reaction to him as they passed.
"It was just a part of the neighborhood for anyone who’s been around for a while," she said.
Neighbor John Hilton agreed.
"He was so engaging, just like a person," he said.
That "little man" as the Seeleys called him disappeared once before, Hilton said, but he reappeared some time later.
And the Seeleys did their part to make sure he stayed home: They encased his feet in cement, and Schankler recalls he may have been chained to the fence for a time.
Hilton took Johnnie Mae Seeley to the Ann Arbor Police Department to report the theft.
The officer who took the report appeared startled that the crossing guard had made it home once before after the previous incident. Memories differ on the details, Hilton said, but the figure had been gone about a year and a half that time.
Hilton said Johnnie Mae is most concerned about the sentimental value of the crossing guard. " 'It meant so much to my husband,' " is how Hilton describes her reaction.
After decades in her Beakes Street house, Johnnie Mae had much of her late husband's finds cleared out of the yard, Hilton said, though there's still some red, white and blue paint on a tree from a long ago July 4 barbecue.
"She's cleared it up a lot," he said. Still, the "little man" stood watch at the corner.
Now Hilton, Schankler and other neighbors are spreading the word: Johnnie Mae Seeley wants "the little man" to come home.
"This is the time to get people out there looking," said Hilton, the editor of the Ann Arbor Observer. "Of course, (the thief) thought it was cool.
"But it was Mr. Seeley's," he said. "It wasn't theirs to take."