Then & Now: Chelsea’s Historic Glazier and Holmes Dramatically Come to Life in Music

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The Only Man in Town! Courtesy Jason Eyster.

By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter

One hundred years ago, in January 1922, two titans of Chelsea’s history passed away within a day of each other. The two men, Frank Glazier and Harmon Holmes began as good friends but ended up arch enemies. Composer Jason Eyster captures the dramatic story in his musical, The Only Man in Town!

“Glazier and Holmes were the architects of modernization for Chelsea from a farm town to an industrial center,” says Eyster. “The musical centers on the relationship Glazier and Holmes had during their time in Chelsea.”

Attorney, historian, musician, and composer Jason Eyster has written and performed music for many years. His love of musicals began after law school when he spent time on Broadway working for the Actors Equity Association, the performers’ union.

“I saw a lot of musicals during that time,” recalls Eyster. “In 1989, I made a New Year’s resolution to write a musical about Frank Glazier because he had such an amazing story.”

Jason Eyster with a set model for The Only Man in Town! Courtesy Jason Eyster.

But life came along and with it family and career. All the while, Jason kept his love of music alive, composing for organizations that included dance companies, television, and the University of Michigan. But he never forgot the story of Glazier and Holmes. Once he had the chance, he went to work on it in earnest. The Only Man in Town was scheduled for a reading by the Chelsea Area Players this past year but was delayed, as everything was.

Every good musical needs a compelling story, and Chelsea’s two visionaries provide just that. The musical is not only entertainment, it is a fascinating glimpse into Chelsea’s history at the turn of the twentieth century. Eyster explains.

“Harmon Holmes was known to be a silent partner in many different businesses, perhaps over 100,” says Eyster. “He worked behind the scenes making sure that the whole town prospered in the way that he envisioned.”

Harmon Holmes owned Chelsea’s White Milling Company which his family grew and developed into Jiffy Mix. The company is still owned by the Holmes family today. Holmes also owned the bank that evolved into the Chelsea State Bank.

Harmon S. Holmes. Courtesy jiffymix.com

At the same time, Frank Glazier made his mark upon the village. He served as Village President, School Board President, and Bank President. Glazier was the youngest Michigan State Senator and became State Treasurer. “He did many amazing things but always had to do them his way,” says Eyster.

Eyster tells how Glazier and Holmes worked together in Chelsea’s metamorphic days. Holmes served on the Board of Glazier’s bank. Their camaraderie ended when Glazier accused Holmes of holding back taxes. As Village President, Glazier sued Holmes on behalf of the Village. Glazier wanted to build a new high school. Holmes opposed it. Glazier wanted to bring electricity to Chelsea. Holmes helped defeat it the first time around. The war continued from the 1890s to 1907 when some of Glazer’s actions caught up with him.

“The year 1907 began auspiciously for Frank,” says Eyster. “He completed construction of the clock tower. He laid the cornerstone of the Methodist Old People’s Home donating $10,000 and the land. But by the end of 1907, he’d been indicted for misappropriation of government funds. As State Treasurer, he took $875,000 of state tax money and put it in his bank. He then used it to pay off his bills. This was discovered, and the Attorney General brought 32 indictments against Frank. He ended up being sentenced to prison for ten years of hard labor.”

Glazier’s side of the story is filled with poignancy and occupies most of the musical narrative. “His daughter died while he was in prison,” says Eyster. “She died after childbirth, and the Detroit News said ‘Glazier Daughter Dies of Shame.’”

Frank Glazier and his daughter Edna. Courtesy Jason Eyster.

Glazier may be best remembered for manufacturing stoves. Eyster explains, “He buys a small foundry north of the railroad tracks and imports a 16-ton double toggle drawing press. He can now stamp out stoves instead of molding them. Soon, he was filling a trainload of oil stoves each month.”

“As a result, many individuals came to Chelsea to work in the factory,” adds Eyster. “Many of these individuals came from foreign countries. It would have been interesting in the 1890s to walk up and down Chelsea and hear all the different languages spoken.”

“Seven taverns, gambling houses, and houses of prostitution opened up in Chelsea catering to these single workmen who had nothing to do,” continues Eyster. “In response, Frank built the Welfare Building next to the Park Tower. It had a library, bowling alley, swimming pool, and various things to keep the workers occupied and busy rather than going to the saloons.”

Regarding The Only Man in Town!, The Chelsea Area Players’ website reads, “You can experience the Chelsea of 1900 in the premiere of “The Only Man in Town,” an original musical about Frank Glazier, the man who built the Clock Tower.”

The January 5, 1922 copy of the Chelsea Standard reported that Frank Glazier died January 1, 1922, and Harmon Holmes the next day.

The production is in limbo until the troupe can get things back in order. But stay tuned. It sounds like we’re in for a treat.

Eyster says, “I’ve written a musical about this because it’s a pretty dramatic chapter in Chelsea’s history.”

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