He was a collector. But saying that John Schuch was a collector is like saying the Sahara has sand. He collected EVERYTHING! He had ten thousand theatrical programs, thousands of books, hundreds of steins, mugs and tankards, pipes from around the world, unusual glassware and china, snuff boxes, campaign buttons, canes, military medals, playing cards, thousands of photos of actors, actresses and producers, posters, pistols, rifles, swords, spears and knives, three hundred elephants ranging in size from 1/8” to three feet tall. You name it and chances are, John Schuch had more than one. And it all started when he was eight years old and painstakingly collected 10,000 tobacco tags so he could get a cuckoo clock.
He shared his collection with the public at a hotel that carried his name and he called “Ye Olde Musee.” His patrons called it a legend.
John Schuch was born August 13, 1887, the son of Henry and Catherine Schuch. Their home was at 1022 Throop. John’s father peddled beer for the nearby Schemm Brewery.
An ambitious lad, John began his career when he was only 14 and found a summer job selling newspapers and magazines on the Pere Marquette Railroad from Saginaw to Ludington. He did so well he was able to talk his parents into allowing him to quit school and work full time on the railroads. In 1905, he was selling on the Hocking Valley Railway when he caught the eye of a theatrical manager who was impressed by the young man’s business sense and people skills.
John became the advance man for road companies of stage shows including “Was She to Blame?” which opened in Detroit and “Midnight Flyer” which played at Saginaw’s Academy of Music and “Sunrise” at the Jeffers Theater. In 1908, John worked as an advance man for stage star Courtney Morgan’s company which was on the road in “An Innocent Widow.”
However, in 1910, John’s father became ill and his travels came to an end. Returning to Saginaw, he and his father bought the Ames Hotel (originally Crowley House) changed its name to the Schuch and John embarked on another career, enriching, enlivening and entertaining the city of his birth. Gradually, John’s growing collection covered the walls and ceiling of the hotel. Interviewed in 1946, he said “I have never regretted quitting school as a youngster for my real schooling began when I was a newsboy on a train. That’s when I began collecting and my collections and travels have served as my high school and college. You can’t collect much of anything without being forced to learn history, geography, science and literature.”
Along with his hotel responsibilities, John Schuch found time for several more careers. During World War I, he was a mess sergeant at Camp Grayling’s National Guard Camp and he was in the Personnel Classification office in Columbus, Ohio. He served as sheriff of Saginaw County from 1922-24. He was Michigan Commissioner for the George Washington Bicentennial in 1932 and was chairman of the Saginaw County Selective Service Board during World War II.
In 1940, he served as a state representative and senator for two terms each. During that time, two of his initiatives were returning captured Confederate flags to the southern states and promoting the use of the Turner house in Lansing, a replica of Mt. Vernon, for use as headquarters for the Michigan Historical Society. He also was elected president of the Historical Society of Saginaw County.
From its start in 1933, he was a loyal friend of Pit and Balcony and members of the theater group looked on the Schuch as a second home, gathering there nightly after rehearsals, crew nights and performances.
Probably his greatest contribution to Saginaw was his keen interest in local history and his leadership in the formation of the Historical Society of Saginaw County which was founded in the late 1930s. John was especially involved in the society‘s efforts to educate the public through a series of lively stories about local characters that were broadcast on radio stations. John also served as president of the society.
From 1912 to 1940, he made his home at the Schuch Hotel, living with his favorite items from the collection in an upstairs apartment. In 1941, he moved to a new house he had built in Golfside, again, surrounded by collections.
His health began to fail in the late 1940s and he died on January 31, 1953.
Historical Society colleague Dr. Richard D. Mudd ranked him with the most significant proponents of Saginaw history such as James Cooke Mills, Fred Dustin, Ralph Stroebel and Audra Francis.
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