LIFE-LIQUORBOTTLE-MEMORIAL-1-DTN

Emmanuel Humes stands in front of hundreds of bottles laid out in a memorial for his uncles at an abandoned house across the street from his home in Detroit on Feb. 11, 2020. (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News/TNS)

DETROIT — Emmanuel Humes started a memorial for two of his late uncles with a few empty vodka bottles as an act of love, but nearly three years later, he hopes it will be the saving grace of his west-side neighborhood.

Nearly 1,000 bottles of 1800 Silver, Patron, Grey Goose and Don Julio fill the porch and pour into the sidewalks of an abandoned home on the 4200 block of Webb, across the street from the Humes’ generational home near Petoskey.

The collection has been growing since the family started it in June 2017 to honor Humes’ late uncles: James Otis Smith, a former Ford worker of 35 years who died from cancer in 2009, and Ive Silas, a neighborhood mechanic who died from a heart attack in 2011.

“Everyone has their own way of grieving and this was our way of celebrating their lives,” said Humes, 39. “We have a lot of family barbecues and every time we drink, it’s another one for uncle and we’ll just put it to the side.

“We still miss them and with this, we feel like their spirits are still around.”

The family stopped counting the collection after 100 to 150 bottles, as people in the community began adding to the display.

“It’s still shocking how big it’s gotten and how long it’s been able to stay,” he said. “Cats have been busting the bottles and each summer, busloads of kids with Central High sweep the neighborhoods cleaning streets and hitting everything from Davison down to Dexter, but they walked right past this.”

The family plans to keep adding to the collection until the city cleans it up or the house is demolished, which has been their hope since 2009 when the homes were abandoned.

“If they tear all these out, we could buy the whole block. This memorial might speed up the process — who knows? Neighborhoods never look good with abandoned houses, and we plan on staying here,” Humes said. “It would be nice to see green grass. This is as much of an eyesore as the house is and we hope the city sees that.”

The family speculates the display has kept crime away from the neighborhood. They say if the city demolishes the boarded-up houses on the other side of the block, his family would install a permanent memorial for his uncles and buy the land for their future generations.

“What if it was just another abandoned house on our block? A lot of these abandoned houses have dead bodies, squatters, are prey to arson, maybe this is keeping those away too,” Humes said. “The land is cheap so we’re just waiting for the city to clean it up. I know Detroit’s on the come-up so we just gotta wait our turn.”

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