Written By: Rebecca Indianer
George P. Staffan is a name long associated with our Chelsea history. He’s also one of the main characters in the upcoming musical, “The Only Man in Town” which debuts this summer. “The Only Man in Town” brings history to life with its leading character Frank Glazier. Frank is responsible for bring electricity, running water, telephones, cars, senior citizen housing, and industry to Chelsea. The musical focuses on the conflict between Frank and ‘the city fathers of Chelsea.’ It portrays how Frank was continually imagining new developments for Chelsea, and often times used his position as Village President, Head of Bank, and Head of Chelsea’s largest industry, to push his visions through. However, Frank accomplished all these things with great opposition from those who valued tradition, harmony, and consensus in any plans for Chelsea. Who are these ‘city fathers of Chelsea’ who openly opposed Frank Glazier in his single-minded determination to modernize Chelsea? George P. Staffan was one of the main people, so lets start there.
George P. Staffan was an important figure in the history of Chelsea. His father Frank Staffan was originally from Alsace-Lorraine, yet ended up making his mark in Chelsea at the age of 20 with his carpenter skills. He honed his skills into wooden casket making, which led to the creation of the Staffan Funeral Home. George P. Staffan took over his father’s funeral home business after Frank Staffan’s passing in 1915. The Chelsea Standard in a 1981 article entitled, Staffan Funeral Home Will Change Owners Tomorrow reports, at the age of 21 George P. Staffan became the youngest ever elected Village President in Chelsea’s history. As President George P. Staffan was responsible for the pavement of Chelsea’s roads; the original pavement still covers the streets, though inches of asphalt bury it. The same article states, George was also in the forefront of arterial embalming, and sold embalming fluid. Interesting fact, His son George L. Staffan is responsible for changing the parking on Main Street from diagonal parking to parallel parking.
Louis Wm. Doll is the godson of George Staffan and explains his godfather’s animosity with Frank Glazier quite vividly in his book, Less Than Immoral: The Rise and Fall of Frank Porter Glazier of Chelsea, MI. Louise writes, Samuel A. Mapes a relative of Glazier’s by marriage disposed of his prosperous Chelsea Steam Laundry business to study mortuary science in order to open up his own undertaking establishment to directly benefit Frank Glazier, and hurt George Staffan’s generational undertaking business. The book’s author calls this the first of the “rule or ruin” techniques used at that time period. This is how Chelsea ended up with two undertakers in town. George’s godson also notes that Mapes was known as the “Protestant Undertaker” and Staffan was known as the “Catholic Undertaker.” Staffan was one of Glazier’s most effective opponents, however Glazier was ineffective at driving George Staffan out of business. Both undertakers ended up staying in business.
The year 1899 was a warring year for the two men as Louise continues to explain in his book. Glazier again attempted to overthrow another of George’s businesses, after Glazier lost an election for village president to George P. This time the business wasn’t undertaking, but that of ice cutting. A month after the political loss Glazier started running full-page advertisements in the Chelsea Standard for an ice-making machine of his own invention. This tactical move was to hit Staffan’s already established ice cutting business on Cavanaugh Lake. Glazier again was ineffective at taking down Staffan, and Glazier’s ice machine wasn’t put into production.
When looking for stories about George P. Staffan that would capitalize on his personality I came across the current owner of the Staffan Funeral Home, which is now the Staffan-Mitchell Funeral Home. John Mitchell purchased the Staffan funeral home in April of 1981. This is what John had to say about George P. Staffan, “I don’t know anyone alive who remembers anything about George P. Staffan’s personality. I know his son very well. However, I do recall hearing that George P. was always known to drive Cadillacs, and wear hats pulled low over his head. And I know for a fact that he passed away in the parking lot of his own funeral home at 124 Park Street, which is the funeral home’s old location.” The community lost one of its most prominent figures with the passing of George P. Staffan in 1950.
George P. Staffan and other early leaders of Chelsea are portrayed in the musical performance, “The Only Man in Town”. The musical will be held at the Chelsea High School Auditorium July 17th & 18th at 7PM, and July 19th at 3PM.
Tickets can be purchased at: chelseaareplayers.com
Questions can be answered at 720-317-9295