Consider the pineapple.
In Michigan, where pineapple is definitely not a native fruit, you may think seeing pineapples on plinths at the end of driveways and walkways would seem weird and out of place. So why on earth would those in ye olden days use pineapples decoratively? Why the pineapple and not say a banana, or an apple, or grapes?
Glad you asked!
While the past is a bit murky and conflicting of when pineapples were introduced into the western world, what is clear is that the social history of the pineapple exploded during the Georgian era, as due to their rarity, pineapples were considered luxurious and heavily desired goods. Having access to a pineapple, either by renting it or owning it, cemented the pineapple’s owner of their high status in society. The same pineapple would often appear at numerous dinners, to be admired and never eaten, until the fruit itself went to rot and then the process would start all over again.
England is not the warmest of countries so special techniques were formulated to successfully grow pineapples in English soil in special greenhouses called pinerys. This of course raised their value even more as only the wealthiest could afford the time and the money to build and maintain what the pinery required.
So how does this connect with pineapple on plinths at the end of a walkway in good old Grand Rapids?
Distance: 1.12 miles
Walk time: 23:20 minutes
Well, it could be a couple of things.
The first is as most of the houses in my neighborhood date back to the mid 1800s, it’s not a leap to imagine a local captain of industry and his family made various Grand Tours to the continent. The wife (or hell, even the husband) saw pineapples used decoratively as they travelled – pineapple as a motif was seen in paintings, china, wallpaper, building design and more. What up and coming Grand Rapids socialite wouldn’t want to be considered the height of European fashion by having her own pineapple plinths?
The second, and probably the most probable, is several social historians suggest that Carib peoples, native to Guadalupe, would put pineapples at the entrance of their village to let visitors know they were welcome at anytime. When Columbus and his dudes took the fruit back to the continent, this same practice started appearing at the entrance European homes. It was also apparently a huge todo here in the colonies to have replica of pineapples built at the entrance of your home to indicate to all that entered would be given the utmost in friendliness and hospitality.
We’ll never really know the story of the pineapple on plinths for this particular sliver of land in my neighborhood. As the historic register requires all modifications and rebuilds to be period specific to the origin of the house, when a home has been destroyed and cannot be rebuilt for whatever reason, the land becomes small parks.
And this particular place, all that is left of that once stately home, and the history that once surrounded it, is a pair of pineapples on plinths.