Heyoon

Roman Mars: This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Maybe the Last time I went out there was 2005, and I was in the early stages dating this lady. I went over to her house and she said, I just had this crazy dream where you and I were like walking through a field and then came upon a spaceship. And I was like, “Oh yeah, you wanna go there?” and she’s like, “What are you talking about?” I was like, “No that’s a place, we can go, it’s not far.” And when we finally saw this place she was just like overtaken with how magical it was to see this thing that just doesn’t seem real.

Alex Goldman: I was really lucky to grow up in Ann Arbor. We had great record stores and an art house movie theater and of course, Ann Arbor is the home of the University of Michigan. So there was a lot going on for a small town. But it was a small town and I was a misfit. And like a lot of young misfits and small towns, I was bored, and disaffected, and angry a lot.

Roman Mars: That Misfit is Alex Goldman. He’s a producer at the radio show, On The Media and he now lives in New York City.

AG: I hated high school, I was a bad student and most of my friends went to different schools. In fact, although I’ve gone by Alex my entire life, that’s actually my middle name. My first name is Michael. And for at least half of my high school career, my teachers and peers all called me Michael. It was like I walked around pretending to be a completely different person for most of my waking life. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere and I desperately wanted to escape this oppressively small town that felt completely devoid of wonder.
And then I found Heyoon…

Voice 1: I hope someone brought a flashlight

Voice 2: Nah, we can’t be using flashlights. Here, take my lighter.

AG: The only way you found out about Heyoon was if someone took you there. It was like there was the secret club of kids who knew about it. I got initiated when I was fifteen. You drive out in the middle of nowhere deep in the country and park alongside this dirt road.

Voice 2: Okay so step one, we’ve got to get over that fence.

AG: There is this fence that you had to climb over and it had this sign on it.

Voice 3: Guys I don’t know about this.

AG: The sign read:

“Turn back. This is private property you’re not welcome here for any reason. Please now. Turn back and leave in peace. Turn back and leave in peace.”
It almost felt like a dare.

Voice 2: Trust me. This is going to change your life.

AG: Once you’re over the fence, you pass alongside a white farmhouse.

Voice 1: The guy that owns that house is crazy!

Voice 2: I heard a rumor that he shot a kid full of rock salt for getting near his house.

Voice 3: I heard he’s got a pack of attack dog

Voice 2: I heard he skinned kid alive!

AG: A path behind the house led to this thin line of trees but once you make it through the trees you are in this huge field. And there was something else there in the field, something man-made. Something really big.

Voice 3: Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. When we get up to that clearing, everybody run as fast as you can until you see it… Ready? Three two one. Go!

Voice 2: Whoa. Welcome to Heyoon.

AG: The structure was made mostly of wood with a canopy of Teflon and nylon stretched over a metal frame. From the base, there were stairs leading up to a platform about ten feet off the ground. Suspended over a boulder about the size of a Volkswagen bug. At the top of the stairs there were these two pieces of glass in the floor, and one night a friend stood underneath with a letter while I looked down from on top.
There was an etching on one of those pieces of glass. It said, “The Heyoon Pavillion.”

Voice 2: H-E-Y-O-O-N. Heyoon. The Heyoon Pavillion.

AG: There was other signage too, one sign that sort of welcomes you there.

Voice 2: This pavilion is a work of art, designed and carefully put together for more than two years by many workmen and artisans. If you by some happenstance are now here in this place,
please take pleasure in serenity but please do not disturb it, nor deface its beauty in any way. Its beauty alone is your reward for meandering here. For your respect, the spirit of the designer artist will leave you in peace.

AG: But then right next to that. There is this other sign

RM: It said, and I’m quoting, “If you are here you shouldn’t be. This is a privately owned farm off-limits to outsiders. You have crossed clearly marked “keep out” and “no trespassing” signs on fence lines and gates. Please. Now. Respect the owner’s privacy by leaving this place in peace. Thank you.

Voice 2: Some of the no trespassing signs may have backfired a little bit because there is this… I feel like there’s a sort of, contrariness to teenagers where it’s like, “Well if there are that many ‘no trespassing’ signs, then it must be awesome.”

AG: I rounded up a few of my high school friends and talk to them about Heyoon. It seems like it’s still as entrenched in their minds as it has been in mine.

Friend 1: It was, I mean it blew my mind the first time I saw it.

Friend 2: I would best describe Heyoon to someone who’s never seen it…… It’s big, maybe the size of a small house or a hut.

And it looked like a hot air balloon.

Like a jellyfish.

A mushroom

Mushroom-y sort of?

Globe-like

Like a telescope?

Observatory

A spaceship

A rocket ship.

I mean when you first look at it you kind of think, “It’s going to take off” or something. It looks very alien and foreign, sitting in the middle of that big field.

The place definitely has a Stonehenge feel to it.

AG: There were a number of myths about why Heyoon was there. That it was built to commemorate the owner’s dead daughter. That it was built along ley lines. That was created for a wedding ceremony. That it was designed for paganistic rituals, or for star gazing. The place was such an enigma. There’s no way you could have known it was out there if someone didn’t take you to it. The first person who found it has been lost to history, but by the time I was taken there it was an oral tradition handed down from one group of teens to the next.

Part of its power was that in being secret, it created a community. It bound people together. Appealing for an angry fifteen-year-old.

Voice 4: It was secret sneaky, teenagers only, like, kids versus adults, secret time.

Friend 1: Heyoon was mysterious, beautiful, and peaceful and just kind of reassured you about all of your inner turmoil…your deeper questions I guess.

Friend 2: It’s almost like it was designed to inspire teenagers in the local area to come out there and hang out and drink beer and smoke pot and you know, kind of capture their imagination.

AG: I probably went out there once every couple of months for the next four to five years. We’d go out there and drink, do drugs, sometimes just talk. And of course, it was always thrilling to bring new people out there, to indoctrinate them into our secret club. Plenty of romantic relationships started out there. The first time I made out with someone who’d become my girlfriend happened while we were sitting on Heyoon during a rainstorm. It was otherworldly and magical, it felt out of time and it felt like it was ours.

RM: Going to visit Heyoon was the perfect mixture of danger and secrecy and awe to capture 15-year-old Alex’s imagination….. for the next decade and a half.

AG: Even after I moved away in 2001, I was fixated on trying to find out why it was there. So in 2009 I wrote a letter to the white farmhouse we always snuck past on our way to Heyoon, asking them if they were the owners.

RM: Alex got a letter back. They didn’t own Heyoon, their neighbors did. Rita and Peter Hayden.

AG: That’s when I realized that what we’ve been calling Heyoon for years, was actually the Hayden pavilion. That Gaelic font made the D look kind of like a second O. And we’d only ever seen it in the middle of the night.

RM: If the names Rita and Peter Hayden sound familiar, it’s probably because their nonprofit, The Mosaic Foundation has been underwriting public radio for decades.

Radio: …and by the Mosaic foundation of Rita and Peter Hayden based in Ann Arbor, honoring the literary arts and the universe of great ideas. Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

AG: I sent the Haydens a letter, apologizing for my youthful indiscretions and asking them if I could interview them about Heyoon.

RM: Peter Hayden wrote back, “So you’re one of the little shits who invaded our privacy by visiting our pavilion when you were told many places along the way, not to be there.”

AG: This was in 2009, before I was a public radio producer. I was just a guy in New York who fixed computers and a guy who used to trespass on the Hayden’s property. The rest of his letter was friendly, but he wasn’t too keen on talking to me. But I couldn’t let it go that I communicated with the creator of Heyoon and that the mystery could be solved! It drove me bonkers. So in 2012, after working in public radio for a couple years, now I had a better excuse to try to talk to Hayden and I decided to try again.

RM: Peter Hayden can be a hard man to reach. He doesn’t use email, he doesn’t always answer the phone, and he was reluctant to give an interview for fear of attracting even
more people to Heyoon.

AG: But after a couple of phone calls and a few fax messages, he agreed to meet me for an interview about Heyoon, at Heyoon. It was like meeting the Wizard of Oz.

PH: Are you Alex?

AG: Yes I am.

PH: How do you do?

AG: Nice to meet you!

PH: Nice to meet you. Let’s go back up there.

AG: Okay, which fence you want to go to?

PH: That gate just south of the white residence. This will be something new for you, coming in legally!

AG: Yeah, and during the day!

PH: Yeah. (laughs) It certainly has.

AG: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this.

PH: Yeah, I have mixed feelings about it as you can imagine.

AG: Yeah, I bet.

In my effort to try and respect the Hayden’s privacy, I offered to refer to the pavilion only as Heyoon and not use his name, but he told me from the beginning that he wasn’t interested in anonymity. He was interested in privacy.

PH: I don’t think that I want this to be anonymous. I want it to be with my name attached to it, but that doesn’t mean to say we have to violate our privacy we don’t have to tell where it is, we don’t have to say whatever, I mean if you said Ann Arbor, that’s good enough. Most people would not know.

AG: I was actually going to be even less specific, I was going to say Southeastern
Michigan to give people less of a sense of….

PH: That’s fine, they’ll know my name from our credit on NPR.

Radio: …and The Mosaic Foundation of Rita and Peter Hayden based in Ann Arbor. Honoring the passion of NPR. journalists all around the world, whose stories take us there every day.

PH: As we always say, “based in Ann Arbo”r that’s what it says. Always.

AG: Peter Hayden told me that Heyoon was designed by a friend of his, an artist and designer named Joseph Kinnebrew. Kinnebrew and his wife were visiting the Haydens one night in 1978 when a massive blizzard came through and snowed them in.

PH: We were trapped in our house down at the bottom of the hill for five days, just the four of us. But we got to know each other quite well during that period but I think Joe is nuts and I like being around him. I find him you know, a couple…. the kind of person I’m not. The Haydens and the Kinnebrews got to be close. That spring, the Kinnebrews came back for a visit.

PH: And we went to a downtown restaurant we got absolutely, soddingly drunk. We had planned, he said, “I’m going to build you a pavilion.” and I said,” Okay, we’ll do this.” and by dusk, we decided we’d come out here look at this field and the position where the pavilion was going to be…I had nothing, I didn’t have a flashlight, I didn’t have anything. Our wives were parked right here where we’re parked and they watch these two stumbling drunks walking across the field, and Joe said, “I can’t see you.” And I said, “Well what are we going to do?” He said, well he said, “In order for me to see you I’ve gotta have a light!” I said “What’s that going to be?” And he said, “Here’s a piece of the New York Times.” ANd we made a flare. I mean, we could have set the whole field alight but we didn’t (laughs). And so, that was exactly the spot where I was standing with this burning newspaper. That was funny stuff to watch us working that night.

AG: And that’s how Peter Hayden & Joe Kinnebrew, drunk and running around with a burning newspaper, decided to build Heyoon. Joe said that if Peter paid for the parts and labor he’d do the design for free. I found it kind of oddly reassuring that the creation of Heyoon came out of the same sort of drunken antics my friends and I would get into almost two decades later at the same spot. That you could trace its origin story back to a sleepover party. But on the other hand, Peter couldn’t give me any particular reason for its existence. It’s just there because it is, because it’s beautiful. Because it’s art.

PH: I was a professor of English at the University of Michigan for 24 – 5 years starting in the 1960s. And so I, you know, have a kind of an ascetic view of what art is. It teaches you the steps by which wisdom is gained. And in that sense art is useless, it doesn’t have any practical impact and so for me, this pavilion was always sort of that. It was something that was a place for contemplation, a place for pleasure, for enjoyment for conviviality with people that I chose to be here.

AG: Peter’s relationship with Heyoon feels like an echo of the possessiveness, the secretiveness, the ownership that me and my friends all feel for it. The only difference is that Peter actually owns it. Like us, he feels protective of it. Unlike us, he’s actually responsible for it. Over the years, he’s had to clean up the messes left by drunk teens and even some damage left by vandals.

PH: Like you Alex, or some shithead kids that came out here and actually did some damage that we had to repair that. They actually cut the covering.
We know that there were parties out here…we had candles and things like that. Sometimes it looked like there may be and have been sort of, religious things going on here, there may have been poetry readings and it was you know, I think a hefty amount of sex. (laughs) I don’t think there were orgies out here, I think that couples who come out here and find it very compelling to be part of nature out here and you know, be one with nature. Especially on full moons and stuff that was always…seemed to be an attractive time for people to be out here.

I’m curious…. you know, I was talking to my friends about the signage that’s out front and the first sign, the sign that says you know, sort of “respect this and leave this in peace, congratulations this is your reward for finding this”

PH: No it didn’t say congratulations so I don’t think… but I’ll do it… please continue.

AG: Well, the reason I say that is because one of my friends said to me, “I kind of believe that they wanted us to go out there. They wanted us to find it, and that’s why there are so many signs daring us to visit it.”

PH: No, that’s absolutely fabricated. That’s that’s wishful thinking on your part. Nothing like that of the sort we wanted. If I choose to utilize it, that’s my business, that’s my religious experience. It’s not a common temple for everyone to utilize.

AG: It’s funny you should put it that way, because that’s exactly how my friends and I all felt about it then, and still do now, even though we ourselves were trespassers. One of my friends who I talked to for the story Jason van Mater, put it this way:

JVM: There were like, certain kids who would I would talk to and they’d say like, “Oh yeah, that pavilion out there. Like I took a six pack out there, we got we got wasted out there the other night.” or whatever and I, I’d feel a little bit hurt by that. Like, why are you just going out there to drink? You know, you’re just talking about your thirty pack of people who are out at the Pavilion? It’s like, sacrilegious, you know? That’s like my church. It’s like you’re sacrileging my church.

AG: When we found trash in Heyoon left over from other people, my friends and I would clean it up or at least try to minimize our impact on the place. But for Peter that doesn’t matter, we’re all just a bunch of interlopers.

PH: Did you go to (inaudible) high school?

AG: I actually went to all three. I went to Pioneer, Community and Huron in the in the course of my troubled high school….

PH: Presumably along the way there, at least you learned the English language, you were able to read things. Especially something that’s subtle like that, like that, but I would challenge you to say that was an invitation, it was not an invitation. It was really meant to say, “Look here’s the fact: you’re here, you’ve come to this place I don’t want you to do any damage and I don’t want to piss you off, so here’s what I’m telling you: Leave. Admire its beauty but leave, don’t stay here. Leave. And I think that was the message that I want to be, I wouldn’t want them to… because you know, spending twenty minutes in your sock drawer as opposed to five minutes or two minutes in your sock drawer. It just kind of became kind of, polluted to me in some ways. When people, people that I didn’t know, didn’t invite, had nothing to…..had no knowledge of, whose values and whose sense of aesthetics were not the same as mine. I felt it was a personal violation.

AG: Talking with Peter I can see how much he values privacy and having control over the stuff he owns. He hired a former cop to drive a decommissioned police car around his property. It’s got lights and sirens and a logo that says RP8 Security as in, Rita and Peter Hayden. He says it’s mostly to keep out hunters.

PH: What I say is, we don’t allow hunters, we allow a hunter who hunts this property and he’s entitled to take one buck a year. As many does he wants.

AG: And when he did catch kids that were out there to sneak into Heyoon, he’d make them give their names and addresses and makes them write letters of apology. He still has a lot of those letters. Yet for all of Peter’s possessiveness of Heyoon, he doesn’t actually do a lot with it.

PH: You know the place itself…is not meant to be used. For me anyway. In other words, it’s perfectly good being by itself not having any occupants.

AG: Peter hosts private wine tastings once or twice a year at Heyoon, and maybe he’ll wander over to it from his house from time to time but that’s pretty much it; and it doesn’t really matter. Peter’s the actual owner of Heyoon and he can do anything he wants with it. He can use it, he can not use it. He even talked to me about how he’s thought of tearing it down. And he can, it’s his prerogative.

RM: The way Heyoon gets used, or doesn’t get used is under total control of the Haydens. But when you think about design intent, what Heyoon was actually designed to do there’s one other person for whom it might be fair game to weigh in: this guy:

JK: I’m so happy, in spite of Peter’s unhappiness about interlopers, that young people came in to sneak a peek.

AG: This, of course, is Joesph Kinnebrew, the designer of Heyoon. The guy that got drunk and set newspapers on fire with Peter Hayden back in the day. He left Michigan decades ago and never had any idea that Heyoon had become such an underground attraction. His take is somewhat different than Peter Hayden’s.

JK: I’m delighted. I’m actually delighted! How could I not feel something really good about what you did even though you weren’t supposed to? You were all quite naughty. But that’s quite alright! It’s one of those things that life should include. (laughs)

AG: Granted, Joseph Kinnebrew, unlike Peter Hayden, doesn’t have to deal with interlopers coming on his property doing God knows what under the cloak of darkness. But Kinnebrew says that it’s bigger than a question of property, it’s the impact that the pavilion has on the landscape, on the psyche of the people who come in contact with it. Through means legitimate or not, for Kinnebrew, Heyoon is out in the world.

JK: Contandina tomato paste used to have this wonderful thing they used to say, you know “Once they’re peeled, they’re packed.” referring of course to the tomatoes. I feel to a certain degree the same thing about artwork. You know, once it’s done, it’s done. I’m gone, I’m of the picture. It doesn’t even belong to me anymore. I’m not even sure that thing belongs to the Haydens. You see, possessing it has nothing to do with it. Absolutely nothing. I remember as a youngster sneaking off to look at something called Peabody’s Tomb, which was a mausoleum in a forbidden monastery that we all visited on occasion. About the same age you were. It was West of Chicago, where I grew up. And allegedly Peabody was in this glass coffin. These candles were lit every night and we’d sneak out there to see it. Here you are, you’re 33 years old for God’s sake, you’re still holding on to it. What a wonderful thing.

AG: Even though I’m sure it pisses Peter Hayden off to say this, I can’t help but feel like a part of Heyoon belongs to me. I think that other people I know have a similar feeling. There were a couple of people who refused to talk to me for this story because to them, to share Heyoon with the world, is to ruin Heyoon.

RM: We found a photographer who had taken some pictures of Heyoon but when we asked him if we could post them to our website he replied with an emphatic “No.” He did not want the secret getting out on his watch.

AG: And I have to admit I understand where they’re coming from but on the other side of the coin, when I put out a call to friends on Facebook to see who would talk to me about Heyoon, some wrote, “What’s Heyoon?” And that gave me the same sense of exclusivity, of belonging, that I had when I was a teenager. And now, over the course of producing the story, I’ve actually gained a kind of buy-in from the grand arbiter of Heyoon himself. I’m no longer just a “little shit” to Peter Hayden.

PH: Alex look, you’re a different person than you were then. Secondly, as you know, I’m a radio guy, I like voices and I like the “word pictures” that people can weave on the radio. You came credentialed because I hear your voice, I hear your name, Alex and this morning I heard your name on the media again. What do you… what are you, associate producer?

AG: Yeah.

PH: Yeah well, you know I’m proud of you for doing that.

AG: I’m grateful that I ever got to see Heyoon. That I live in a world where Heyoon exists. But I’m also grateful that I live in a world where there are magnificent structures that are made without me in mind. With nobody in mind. And while I may have gotten a lot out of it and attempted to protect it by only gifting it to certain people, The Haydens are just trying to do the same thing. So even though this feels a little hypocritical, I have to say it: if you ever find yourself out in the middle of nowhere in southeastern Michigan and you happen to come across some foreboding signs along the side of the road, as a favor to the Hayden’s and me and my friends, Please. Now. Turn back and leave in peace. Leave. Don’t stay here. Leave.

Comments (33)

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  1. Robbie Duncan

    Thanks for another fantastic episode. I’m sure we all grew up with a few wonderful spots that we treated as our own little secret.

    “To share Heyoon with the world is to ruin Heyoon” – Well, took me all of 5 seconds to find that someone had forever immortalized it on Google Earth. Can you really hope to keep such a place under-wraps in an age where every youth has a smart phone with GPS? I felt the point being stressed in the episode was more about anonymity (a futile task) when it is really a subject of ownership and private property. Alex was too blasé about the issue and was far too keen to shrug off Mr. Heydon’s insistence that trespassers were completely unwelcome.

    My advice to Mr. Heydon – Want to keep Heyoon rightfully yours? Build a better fence.

  2. james

    I’m sad to see that this thread lost all the old comments when you changed your website.

  3. Jen

    You and Alex shouldn’t have told the world about this place, no matter how Alex closes the story. You made it about you, not about Heyoon.

  4. Norm Powell

    I live in the Ann Arbor area and was able to find it on Google Earth. Fear not, I will not let the secret out or go there myself. BTW, the art theater mentioned by Alex is most likely closing in favor of office space….sad.

    Keep up the great work…..

  5. I respect the work of the Heydons and of Kinnrbrew. I am glad that this place exists, but I will not try to visit it. There is an entire secret/private sculpture park in New Zealand, if you care to find it.

  6. Hello, my name is Espacia. I spend a lot of my time listening to podcasts and short stories. When I came across this story about Heyoon, I was incredibly inspired. I have always wanted to create something amazing and would bring joy to people. One day I hope to create something like this.I’m not entirely sure if Heyoon is still a no trespassing area, and I wouldn’t want to disrespect the Heydon family by trying to visit, if I am truly not wanted there. But I do believe seeing this “spaceship” would inspire me and allow myself to believe that I can create something amazing as well. Something that would change the world and create stories for people to share and pass on. The creator of Heyoon, Joseph Kinnebrew, says “possessing it has nothing to do with it” Heyoon is now out in the world. I would love to hear back from someone about this. Seeing this work of art would change my life.

  7. Shu

    NO. GOD. DAMN. WAY. I went out there as a little sir, although I don’t recall it being called Hayoon. Got there in just the same way- friend of mine showed me it in the middle of the night. Now, flipping through old episodes, you guys answer this question from so long ago…….just wow. Small world.

    1. Matthew

      Thanks for the link! I spent a good five minutes googling around before I thought to check the comments. Trying to obscure the pavilion, especially after spending half an hour listening to it being described, is almost more enticement to see it than if a picture were just posted up.

      I guarantee most people wouldn’t give it a second thought if it weren’t so deliberately obfuscated.

  8. tom in oregon

    i also was told a by a friend of a friend about this mysterious pavillion. growing up in nearby dexter nobody believed him until we scaled that very same barbed wire fence and tramped through that same itchy field only to see this banana yellow spaceship. it was awesome. we used to camp out there from time to time too.

  9. I went looking for it on a trip to Ann Arbor recently. I was *really* close but could not find a place to see it without trespassing. And I did not want to tussle with Mr. Heydon! :)

  10. The Jay

    Latest update: as the leaves have not yet started to fill the trees, “Heyoon” can be viewed from a non-trespassing location. When I saw it yesterday, the canonical orange dome had been removed and only the wooden structured remained in the field. Perhaps because it is marked on Google maps and has become somewhat of a more known cult legend? It is being dismantled? Maybe so.

  11. Christian

    Oh man, it’s so sad that some actual little shits damage the place and leave a mess. That is literally why we can’t have nice things. Just imagine you could build such magical places all over the countryside and trust people to preserve them as the special thing they themselves enjoyed.

  12. Russell A Tessier

    When your most succesful foray is a midwestern acid swilling college town punk band
    everything to follow is suspect. I live in LA but if I wanted Id call Fletch Kevin Todd and Ian and we would rendevous at hey yoon now and smoke dmt sincerely a bassist named RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRr\

  13. Ricardo

    The song during the credits sounds extremely familiar, yet I can remember where I heard it. Does anyone know where/who is it from, or how is it called?

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