If anyone knows whatÂ a “sense of place” means it’s Lansing Michigan attorney Eugene G. Wanger. He has lived in Lansing his entire life and has utmost respect for its history. He has now given the State of Michigan an important legacy of that life. Wanger is an expert on the Michigan constitution and has collected hundreds of items related to the development of the Michigan Constitution including rare first editions of the state’s four constitutions. Wanger was a delegate to the 1961-1962 State Constitutional Convention which was held at Michigan State University.
I’ve known “Gil”Â since the Michigan Sesquicentennial celebration in 1986 and 1987 when he volunteered his time on the many history projects which were a hallmark of the Sesquicentennial. But I have to say I knew who Gil was before I was introduced to him. Gil who is an avid book collector would scout the semi-annual Michigan Antiquarian Book Show looking for books. He was very efficient and what made Gil stand out was he wore a sign around his neck suspended by a string. It simply said “Death Penalty”. It was clear Gil was looking for books on a particular topic, but I wasn’t sure if he was for it or against it.
I later found out that Gil wrote the provision in the State Constitution on the prohibition of the death penalty. It’s pretty tough to findÂ a book on the topic which Gil doesn’t have.
Some of those books areÂ included in the collection. In addition to the collection, Wanger also authored a companion book for the collection, “The Eugene M. & Roka G. Wanger Michigan Constitutional History Collection”. The collection is named for Gil’s parents.
The book, according to State Archivist Mark Harvey, is heavily annotated and is a historical blbliography of the collection and shows where each item is located. It is illustrated with more than 20 Michigan Constitutional rarities.Â Gil doesn’t talk about himself much so it was nearly 25 years after I met him that I discovered he was at one time a professional magician who toured nationally. As a collector one of his prized posessions is a sketch of himself as a young boy which the legendary magician Harry Blackstone Sr. drew of him. It hangs in his Lansing home.
I’ve talked with Gil about doing a feature article on himÂ and his recent contribution makes it even more of a priority. So many private historical collections are broken up and sold for the highest bid and that’s why Gil is to be commended for his gift to the people of Michigan. It’s his legacy and it is an important one.
For more information on the Archives of Michigan click here.