Saturday, January 7, 2012

1884 Didn't Foresee Big Brother in 1984

While perusing my search results at last year I came across an article written in July 1884 that imagined the 4th of July celebration in 1984. Living in Kalamazoo at that time I can tell you first hand that it looked nothing like what was envisioned in the article. I'm sure we all wonder at some time or other what things will be like 100 years in the future. While it is funny how wrong they were about certain things, I'm sure I wouldn't do much better. As the article is quite long I'll give you the highlights.

A lot has changed in the past 100 years. Kalamazoo grew since its establishment while Battle Creek, Grand Rapids and other “small towns” have “fallen far behind in the race of city growth.” Some of that growth was undoubtedly fueled by the widening of the Kalamazoo river to accommodate boats from Lake Michigan. Warehouses line the river and the “miles of docks” were swarmed by boats carrying those arriving for the 4th of July festivities. “The shipping in the river from the smallest sailboat to the massive government ship “Grover Cleveland,” were gaily decorated.” River traffic was not the only mode of transportation near capacity for the exciting events of the 4th. “The scenes at the depots of the pneumatic tube [Pneumatic tubes? I wonder where they came up with that idea?] and baloon [sic] routes were animated. The running time to Detroit and Chicago via the tube had been reduced to seven minutes, and to N.Y. and the east to twenty minutes [I know people who would kill for a commute time like that]. The trains arrived every two hours, bringing thousands of people. The baloons [sic] brought nearly as many more from the villages within a radius of one hundred miles.” With the throng of visitors to the city the normal population of 300,000 was estimated to be nearly double. The underground railway was very busy as well. Some “individual electric carriages” also brought revelers into the city. [Keep in mind that Karl Benz didn't even patent his Motorwagen until 1885 so they did well to add in such a new-fangled idea.]

Independence Day activities began at midnight with “the explosion of dynamite/bombs … and the sending up of baloons [sic] [hot air balloons] from which were displayed fireworks.” [I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to be up in the air with fireworks going off around me.]

A large crowd assembled to watch the ceremony to remove the corner stone of the court house laid 100 years before. “The building which has stood so many years . . . has been found inadequate to the demands made upon it and a new one is being erected to cover the whole block on which the old one stood. . . The ceremonies connected with opening the old stone were very impressive, but the operation was witnessed with breathless interest.” The little box was finally removed “from its century's hiding place” and the contents “read to the assembled multitude.”

“What a contrast in the sight today and that of a hundred years ago. These lofty buildings lifting their half dozen stories [they imagine miles of docks, but only double the height of the buildings?] and marble fronts to the sky for miles in every direction, contrast strangely with the little two and three story wood and brick arrangements which they called “blocks.” The massive city hall lifts its huge body where before was a little seven by nine park which could be put inside the horticultural grounds of any of the present city parks. Long since the old Dutch and Baptist and Congregational and Episcopal churches were destroyed and the imposing edifice which occupies the whole block is unsectarian [sic] and preaches no gospel of narrow creed, but a religion of humanity to men. The little wooden buildings and the one or two brick ones which ornamented Main street then, have given place to the elegant marble structures which furnish abiding places to a few of the immense wholesale interests of the city. The high iron ampitheatre occupies the corner formerly used by Israel's dry goods house and . . . it furnishes under its gilded arches nightly, amusement to ten thousand people.

After the reading from the corner stone, some wandered over to the former site of Bronson park, now replaced by “the beautiful and massive city hall. . . [it] shone splendidly, its white marble facing contrasting with the decorations and the colored electric lamps which in the evening made the building look like a fairy palace.” [These people are really hung up on marble buildings.]

The houses in the city were also bedecked with electric lights of every color of the rainbow, creating quite a spectacle. [I'm guessing they never imagined the houses and lawns these days would be covered with snowmen, elves, reindeer, Santas in sleighs with music and animation to boot as we have all so recently seen during the holidays. I wonder if “tacky” was in their vocabulary.]

The grand ceremonies of the day were viewed by the US President as well as the President of Ireland [I don't know how large the Irish contingent in Kalamazoo was then, but clearly enough to make it into the article and take a jab at England “which in the last fifty years has lost so much power and prestige.”]

Comstock, “now among the handsomest residence portions of the city,” [I didn't see that one coming. No offense to Comstock, it just seems a random choice to me.] was the starting point for the five-mile-long parade. “The old Mardi Gras procession at New Orleans are [sic] the only ones to which it may be likened.” The 500 city police led the parade followed by three regiments of state troops. “One thousand young ladies from the female seminary [oops, it closed in 1907, KPL1, see below] rode in gilded cars, and 2,000 students of the Baptist college [now Kalamazoo College, but they got that number about right]” came next. Then four more regiments in addition to the Kalamazoo artillery companies marched before the dignitaries passed in procession. “A hundred bands were interspersed in the long line, the rear of which was brought up by 3,000 electric carriages containing trade displays.” [These sound like floats to me, though they make no mention of pop or C&W stars singing on board.]

After the official ceremonies concluded things soon broke up “each seeking his pleasure in the avenues which suited him best.” Many enjoyed balloon rides, though “an accident occurred to a baloon [sic] on the Grand Rapids line, but the prompt application of the gravitation cut off, held the vessel in mid air until the break in the apparatus was repaired.” Others packed the ampitheatre or flocked to the hippodrome which “offered its startling racing program and with the [horse] racing at the National Park, in which a mile was made in 1:58 ¾ , the base ball game which stood 0 to 0 in 21 innings and the thousand smaller sources of amusement the day was passed pleasantly.”

Notes from the 1884 corner stone include the following:
Climax: “About 150,000 bushels of wheat, 100,000 pounds of wool, and large quantities of lumber, cattle, hogs, sheep, and oats are shipped each year” through Climax on the Chicago and Grand Trunk railroad.
Oshtemo Township: “the census just completed gives the following statistics: Population, 1295; families, 301; farms, 220; libraries, 23; acres of wheat in 1884, 4212; acres of corn in 1883, 2758; acres of oats in 1883, 763; acres of potatoes in 1883, 113; acres of hay in 1883, 2898; horses, 718; cows, 640; hogs, 1647; sheep, 519; acres in orchard, 539.
Comstock Township: “In 1829 wheat was first sowed on Toland prairie which commenced the agricultural history of the town. . . In 1837 the population was 1390; in 1850 1200. From 1850 to 1865 the population more than doubled.”

I so often wonder what our ancestors would think if they could visit us for a day. I also wonder if anyone knows about the box that was apparently buried under the corner stone of the court house and if it has ever been opened.

Kalamazoo Gazette: 7-11-1884, page 6

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