SOUTHFIELD, MI—The streets are quiet now, but the ghosts still haunt the place they made.
Seeming to defy gravity itself as it thrusts itself defiantly skyward, Southfield's newly built Chuck E. Cheese restaurant towers as an enduring monument to the men who labored to hew it from the living rock of the Midvale Mini Mall's parking lot.
Hundreds of years from now, this hallowed, good-time pizza place shall remain standing, an awesome, hulking testament to commerce, enterprise and the human spirit, its cheerful facade belying the sweat, toil, blood and heartbreak that made it possible.
As one passes through its gleaming glass doors, the spirits of those who made the ultimate sacrifice can be sensed over the proud, animatronic-puppet-sung strains of "Rock Around The Clock."
They labored, and often they died building this hallowed place. Forty men perished laying the foundation for the ball pit. The exact number is not known, as no records were kept. But what is certain, and what shall never be forgotten, is the courage of those brave young workers who crawled some 40 feet down a three-foot-diameter shaft to their doom so that there may be a place for children everywhere to gather and enjoy cake and video games.
After months of hardship, slowly, imperceptibly, a great dream began to take shape. Groups of hard-rock men worked the sledge 12, 14, sometimes 16 hours a shift to drill the pits for the fearsome countersunk steel girders, and a mighty skee-ball alcove was born.
There was work for every man, even those who might be rejected elsewhere. A worker who had lost his sight to the blast furnace, or a limb to the giant bronze gears of the drywall mill, could be a valuable addition to the wack-a-mole test team. The token mint, where artisans struck the coins and currency vital to the inner economy of Chuck E. Cheese, was staffed with men who had lost fingers and toes while dynamiting the birthday party room. Trunk Torvald, a camp legend and day-shift mess cook, lost both legs when a team of workmen spilled their cement tub into the latrine he was digging. Torvald was stuck waist-deep in hardening concrete and had to be sawn in half to save his life.
A great many suffered shattered hands when, in a moment of fatigue, they allowed the hammer to slip off the stone-chisel. Dozens were burned in the explosion of the blast furnace used to cast Chuck E. Cheese's monstrous, 20-foot-high, cast-iron mouse mascot. Ten high-steel walkers fell to their deaths at the hand of the unpredictable winds that swirled about the restaurant's roof during the night shift so that this mighty Chuck E. Cheese place would be air-conditioned for eternity.
Through it all, this awe-inspiring symbol of progress and family-style- eating slowly grew from an impossible dream into reality. The workmen sent for their families and settled them into the dirty, overcrowded tar-paper shantytown wedged between Applebee's and the mall proper. Twenty-five thousand men would eventually settle within its boundaries. There was roisterous drinking, fighting and gambling 24 hours a day, and many a man lost an entire month's pay on one roll of the dice. But above it all, above the din of life and construction, towered the ideal to which some would give all.
When workers finally sledgehammered the last cast-iron Ms. Pac Man game into place, a great cry went up that, legend has it, could be heard as far away as the McDonald's on Nichols Road. They gave their all so that this Chuck E. Cheese may rise—and with it, our spirits—toward Heaven above.
Ultimately, the shining edifice they built will outlast them all. Like the Egyptian pyramids and the Great Wall, the Suez Canal and the Chrysler Building, this mighty Chuck E. Cheese shall stand forever as a gift to future generations, a good-time eatery and video game parlor to endure for the ages. Its beauty is eternal, and its message—that through toil and perseverance, the human race may achieve anything to which it sets its will—is a triumphant shout that shall echo throughout the centuries and beyond.