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Thief returns train station clock, thanks Ford for believing in Detroit

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An anonymous tipster provided Ford an image of where a stolen train station clock could be found on June 15, 2018. An anonymous tipster provided Ford an image of where a stolen train station clock could be found on June 15, 2018.
Ford found the stolen train depot clock wrapped in moving blankets after an anonymous tipster reported where it would be left in Detroit, just two miles from the station. Ford found the stolen train depot clock wrapped in moving blankets after an anonymous tipster reported where it would be left in Detroit, just two miles from the station.
Ford found the stolen train depot clock on Friday wrapped in a moving blanket after an anonymous tipster reported where it would be left in Detroit, just 2 miles from the station. Ford found the stolen train depot clock on Friday wrapped in a moving blanket after an anonymous tipster reported where it would be left in Detroit, just 2 miles from the station.
This is an undated photo of the clock at the Michigan Central Station gateway. This is an undated photo of the clock at the Michigan Central Station gateway.
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DETROIT - A thief who stole a clock that hung on a gateway for decades at Michigan Central Station in Detroit reached out to anonymously return the antique timepiece, sending Ford to an abandoned building to retrieve it.

The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan, received a phone call Friday afternoon saying that the depot clock existed and wanted to "go home." Museum officials immediately contacted Ford Motor Land Development Corp. and The Ford Archives.

Within hours, text messages were exchanged with the "donor," said Dave Dubensky, chairman and CEO of Ford Land. Ford bought the train station, which closed in 1988 and became a symbol of Detroit's ruin, from the Moroun family and has plans to restore the building.

June 18: Bill Ford stands behind Ford CEO Jim Hackett: 'I love having him here'

The exchange went like this:

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."

Ford Land: "Thank you! I will try to send a crew right now."

Thief: "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."

Ford maintenance workers heading home for the day offered to stop to pick up the item in their large truck. They found the package carefully wrapped in moving blankets leaning against the wall in an overgrown lot with abandoned tires.

"The individual presumably was afraid he or she would be arrested for stealing the clock and would not identify themselves," Dubensky said.

June 17: Bill Ford explains why Ford is serious about reviving Detroit

The clock is one of hundreds of antiques and decorative parts stolen from the 18-story Beaux arts structure, which opened in 1913 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

The thief seems to have felt he or she was protecting a piece of history, Dubensky said.

Text messages later sent to Ford said, "Thank you so much. I loved that clock and I loved that station."

Ford preservationists confirmed the authenticity of the clock Monday through photos and chemistry examination.

No one knows how the clock will be used, Dubensky said. It may be returned to the wall as a working clock or even displayed as art with the story of the building's history for visitors to read.

"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."

He provided the number for his assistant Donnell Elwood, 313-322-1092.

"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. They validated it's real (Monday) morning."

He added, "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."

Bill Ford, executive chairman of the company, told the Detroit Free Press he is looking at opportunities to feature the architectural beauty of the past in the restoration as well as current urban elements - in both art and design.

Jeremy Dimick, manager of collections at the Detroit Historical Society, said it's encouraging to see a building that meant so much to so many "go from being unused and unwanted for so long come back and find a second life."

June 11: Ford buys landmark train station that symbolized Detroit's decay

"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."

Time was integral to the operation of a train station, so there's symbolism to the return of the clock, Dimick said. "We may have located images from 1913, not quite facing Michigan Avenue but visible from Roosevelt Park. Clocks were all over because train service was regimented to the minute."

Henry Ford reportedly had hoped to develop the Corktown area but his plans were disrupted by the Great Depression. Now his great-grandson Bill Ford is fulfilling the family dream.

Follow Phoebe Wall Howard on Twitter: @phoebesaid

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