Saturday, September 29, 2012

Reserving Judgement in Genealogy

When I write up the information I have about my ancestors or other relatives I try to reserve judgement of their actions. After all, I don't know these people. I don't even know that much about the world they lived in. I am always trying to learn more to help put them in context, but that only helps so much. After finding out how often some women in my family tree divorced it is easy to snicker. But, then I stop and remind myself that I have no idea what was really going on in their lives and what their options were.

Here's a case in point. I wrote about Ada (Wallace) Hoard Alger Miner Nelson Carr (1885-1972) in my post Husband, Schmusband. After Ada's first marriage dissolved she married again about a month after her divorce was finalized. I concluded that she truly married her second husband in good faith. Why do I believe that? In the divorce record (and yes, I understand that everything in these records is not necessarily the absolute truth) Ada described how she used $150 she had saved to buy her husband-to-be a new suit to get married in and a cheap team of horses to use on the farm. These don't seem like the actions of someone who was entering into marriage for frivolous reasons. If you also consider that it was more difficult to obtain a divorce in the early part of the 20th century, something Ada certainly knew by then, I wonder if anyone entered marriage lightly.

Of course, there are times when I find it impossible to reserve judgement. Here are three instances. 1) I can't excuse the behavior of a distant uncle, Solon Lane (1841-1915) who married four women without obtaining a divorce from any of them. It is even worse that he left two of them with children to raise alone. 2) I also can think of no mitigating factors in the case of my great-grandmother's brother who at seventeen raped a teenage girl. 3) I must admit that I haven't even tried to reserve judgement of Joseph Salpatrick who murdered my grandma's sister in cold blood while she was wrapping Christmas presents for her children. To find out how he wiggled his way out of a jury trial read Christmas Morning Murderer Gets Off Easy.

OK, I've admitted my three cases in which I simply can't remain impartial. That said, I do try not to judge people when doing genealogy. There is another case in which while I can't condone her behavior I won't excoriate her since I have not lived her life. Leona “Nettie” (Taylor) Allion Snyder Fabing Schafer (1871-1958) married four times. That, I can withhold judgement on. But, then I read in the Kalamazoo papers that Nettie was arrested for stealing things from department stores on multiple occasions (a half bushel of handkerchiefs, stockings, hair pins and other items). I also read that Nettie ran off and took her pre-schooler with her. Nettie's mother posted an ad in the paper telling Nettie she had better return the girl because she was not competent to care for her. I guess it's no wonder that Nettie moved to Ohio shortly thereafter to obtain a divorce. Maybe Nettie was just flaky and in my opinion, you just can't fix flaky. I will say that a couple of decades later, Nettie let her parents live with her for the last few years of their lives when they had health problems. I admit that I don't know what motivated Nettie, but maybe it just took her a while to grow up.

Sometimes I just don't understand some of my relatives' behavior, which makes it difficult for me to see things from their perspective. Nettie is a case in point. Part of this is a personality thing so I try not to be critical of people who seem very different from myself. While I don't always succeed, and frankly, with people like Joe Salpatrick I will unapologetically judge him, I do try to give my ancestors and other relatives the benefit of the doubt. When I catch myself starting to judge I try to take a step back to the facts to see if they can shed light on the behavior I find puzzling. Sometimes it works and sometimes it makes me glad I don't actually know these person and have to deal with them. But, that's the way it is with family, sometimes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Civil War Stories. What to Believe?

While researching the Civil War service of my great-grandfather's brother, Lawrence Flynn, I made use of his compiled military service record, pension application file and histories of the units with which he served. I then wrote a brief description of his time in the military to share with my family. It was not the most thrilling read, but was as accurate as I could reasonably make it considering I had no personal stories to include. So, you can imagine my great joy when I found a Kalamazoo Gazette article at containing an interview with Lawrence.

Photo of Lawrence Flynn taken during the 1860s.  From the author's collection.  All rights reserved.

“Camp Fire Tales” it was titled and I eagerly began to read. The article explained that Lawrence, aged seventeen, first attempted to enlist in Kalamazoo where he was reportedly attending school. Turned away, Lawrence traveled to Saginaw where he joined the First Michigan Lancers in October of 1861, though still underage. Lawrence may have believed it would be romantic to wield a lance while riding into battle on a horse, but that never came to pass. The regiment was disbanded within about six months, in part for a lack of horses and in part due to the large number of Canadians enrolled. So far, the article agreed with what I had previously found, though the bits about going to school and attempting to enlist in Kalamazoo were new to me.

By the third paragraph, however, I realized something was amiss. The article's author, Harry W. Bush, stated that soon after the Lancers were disbanded Lawrence enlisted in Company M of the First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics on Sept. 24, 1862. While Lawrence did join Co. M, according to documents in his pension application file he did not sign up until Oct. 22, 1863. Moreover, he could not have joined the company in 1862 because company M was only formed in late 1863. They were quickly put into service, however, because by mid-November Company M was already busily at work securing the railroads in Tennessee and soon after in Alabama. [1]

Bush then stated that “while [Lawrence] may have missed some of the preliminary fighting done by the organization . . . he joined in time to participate in the fight at Lavergne, Tenn., January 1, 1863.” [2] Bush followed this by describing the battle of Stone's River in which the Engineers successfully fended off the Confederates who were attempting to sever the railroad supply lines at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He ended the passage saying “comrade Flynn was one of the men who helped beat off the rebel cavalrymen.” [2]

The rapid, yet solid construction of the Elk River bridge was also discussed. Again the implication was that Lawrence participated. But this feat too occurred prior to Lawrence's entry into service.

Finally, the article included another incident in which Lawrence reportedly played a key role. The story was that a group of twenty-eight Engineers & Mechanics was camped for the night. Suddenly, a colored man emerged from the darkness to tell them they were surrounded and would surely be attacked by the Confederates at dawn. Lawrence volunteered to pass through the enemy lines to seek aid. “I started out,” Lawrence related “and crawled along the ground for what seemed miles until I was well past the rebels. Then I got up and ran to Tullahoma [Tennessee] and gave the alarm. Just at daylight I guided a force of 700 boys in blue to where the rebels lay.” They drove off the Confederates, capturing some of them and saved their little band of men. [2]

Now I was faced with a question, what, if anything could I believe from this article ? Simply put, not much. Every record I have indicates that Lawrence only served in the Lancers and in company M of the Engineers & Mechanics. That being the case I must discount all suggestions of his involvement in anything prior to October 1863. That leaves only the Tullahoma story. This could be true, but considering the rest of the article I can't lend it credence. Unless I find another account of this incident I won't feel comfortable including it in my account of Lawrence's military service.

So then I wondered about the interview for this article. I can imagine three possibilities to explain the errors in the article. 1) Lawrence described some major exploits of the First Michigan Engineers & Mechanics and the reporter assumed Lawrence was involved. 2) Lawrence insinuated that he participated in these events. Or, 3) Lawrence simply lied. Sadly, I'll never know which is closest to the truth. I certainly don't want to believe that Lawrence lied about his service, but I can't rule it out either. In Lawrence's defense, the investigator for his brother Edward's pension considered Lawrence to have a good reputation in the community and to be a reliable source. And yes, I have seen instances in which people were considered unreliable. Unfortunately, that doesn't help me resolve where the fault lies for this article's errors.

One thing I did obtain from the article was a photo of Lawrence. I have only one identified photograph of Lawrence that was taken in the 1860s so it was like finding buried treasure even though the picture is of poor quality. Lawrence appeared to be bald and sported a very bushy, though well-groomed mustache. Lawrence died only months after the article was published and since money was scarce, this may have been the last photograph taken of him. While overall, the article proved to be a disappointment as it related to enlivening my account of Lawrence's military service, the photo saved it from being a total loss.

  1. Hoffman, Mark. “My Brave Mechanics, The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War.” 2007. Wayne State University Press. Detroit, Michigan.
  2. Kalamazoo Gazette, 1-30-1916, p7

Friday, September 21, 2012

Christmas Morning Murderer Gets Off Easy

I'm planning a trip home to Kalamazoo soon and I'm wondering how I'll fit everything in. The truthful answer? I won't. Besides visiting with family and attending my college reunion I have a long list of genealogy tasks I would be thrilled to complete. If I have time I would like to photograph some of my ancestor's homes. I definitely plan to look up some old chancery court cases, among other things, at the WMU Archives. But at the top of my list is a trip to the 9th circuit court clerk's office. I want to understand exactly why a self-confessed murderer got away with only a few years in the Ionia prison for the criminally insane.

Every time I think about this case it makes me furious. Let me provide you with some background so you too can get upset about something that has nothing to do with this year's presidential election. Back in December 1941, my grandmother's sister, Mildred, took her two children and left her boyfriend of many years. [1] I don't know what the last straw was for Mildred, but it may have been when Joseph Salpatrick fractured her ribs. [1] Little did Mildred realize that this step she took to start a new chapter in her life would end in her murder just weeks later on Christmas morning.

To summarize, Joe and Mildred met during the mid 1930s. Mildred was coming out of a failed marriage with two young children to support. Joe was a boxer with a history of causing trouble. At sixteen he was sent to the Industrial School for Boys. [2] In 1928, then eighteen, he stole a car and was placed on probation. [3,4] About a year later he stole a bike and rather than enter the court solemnly, he sauntered in, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. [3,5] The judge summarily revoked his probation and sentenced him to a year at the Michigan Reformatory, a prison for youthful felons. The court submitted a statement to the Reformatory that related Joe smoking a cigarette in the court room and stated that he possessed a “lawless, indifferent, irresponsible disposition and temperament.” [3,5]

Joe and Mildred lived together for an unknown period of time in the early 1940s while Mildred's children lived with some cousins at least for a while. Although I don't have independent verification, it seems Mildred was a victim of domestic violence. Mildred's sister reported that Joe “had beaten [Mildred] and just recently fractured her ribs.” [1] In any case, by December 1941 Mildred left Joe and moved in with her sister. After Pearl Harbor was attacked Joe repeatedly came to the house begging Mildred to marry him so he could receive a coveted dependency deferment. Mildred refused. [1]

Photograph of Mildred, probably taken in the early 1930s.  From the author's collection.  All rights reserved.
Late on Christmas Eve, Joe got drunk, borrowed a shotgun and drove across town to Mildred's sister's home. [1] While Joe was binging on alcohol, Mildred, her sister and their children sang Christmas carols around the piano. [6] After the kids were in bed, the women began decorating the Christmas tree and wrapping presents for their little ones. They may have been discussing their hopes for a happier 1942. Mildred's sister looked up and saw Joe's face peering in the window. Moment's later gunshots exploded into the room. Mildred was struck squarely in the heart. She died almost instantly. She was twenty-nine. The children woke up and called out to ask if Santa had come. Mildred's sister, most certainly spattered with blood, had to collect herself to get the children back into bed. Then she faced the task of cleaning up and finishing preparations for Christmas morning. “I will try to have Christmas for the children, even if there can be no Christmas for my sister and me,” she told the police officers. [1] How she found the strength to tell Mildred's children their mother was never coming back, I'll never know.

After killing his sweetheart, Joe scrambled away in the dark, unable to find his car. He was eventually found cowering under a bed in a relative's home. “I guess you don't know what it is to be in love,” he told police. [1]

Joe's first attorney filed a claim of insanity in his defense. [7,8] Subsequently, three state psychiatrists declared Joe sane at the time of Mildred's murder. [8] Jury selection was slated to begin on March 9, 1942, but a storm kept some prospective jurors away. [9,10] Apparently realizing that their only son was really going on trial Joe's parents hired a new lawyer in a last attempt to save him from a prison sentence. The next morning Bernard Moser entered the courtroom and filed a petition asking Judge Weimer, ironically, the same judge who sentenced Salpatrick to the Reformatory back in 1929, to unilaterally declare Joe sane. The public hearing of the petition was set for that afternoon. [9]

The reason for filing the petition was clear. It was obvious to Moser that a jury would not be convinced Salpatrick was insane. In addition to the statements of three state psychiatrists, the emotional testimony of Mildred's sister would be particularly damning and could easily turn the jury against Salpatrick. At the hearing, Joe's family asserted that he was insane. In addition, the defense presented two doctors and another man (who, shall we say, had a vendetta of sorts against someone in my family) who presumably also testified that Joe had been acting crazily. [9] I wonder if the judge was aware that this man was probably not the best witness as he had only just been released from prison after serving eighteen months.

The judge was evidently swayed by the defense's case and remanded Joe to the sheriff for removal to the Ionia hospital for the criminally insane. [11] By 1948, after serving only six years, Joe reappeared in the Kalamazoo city directory, apparently “restored to sanity.” The rest of his life was unremarkable. As far as I can tell he never married and seems to have worked as a general laborer. My grandmother became livid every time she saw Joe around Kalamazoo, knowing that he was free and her sister was dead. Joe Salpatrick died in 1977 and is buried in the same Catholic cemetery where Mildred lies. [12]

So, that's the story. I don't know what I might find in the court records, but because it never went to trial there probably won't be much. I'm particularly hoping to find the statements of the psychiatrists who examined Salpatrick and any notes from the hearing. I'm sure whatever I find will just make me madder, but I feel compelled to look. I just sent my request to the court clerk's office so they have time to pull the records from storage before I arrive in town. Now I wait.

To read about what I found in the court file see Christmas Morning Murderer, Part 2.

  1. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-25-1941, p1, col3.
  2. Convict Record for Michigan Reformatory (previous incarceration information). Record Group 64-53. Held at the Archives of Michigan. Lansing, MI.
  3. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-29-1929.
  4. People v. Joe Salpatrick, Kalamazoo County Circuit Court, Case No. S-10428, records held by the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI.
  5. People v. Joe Salpatrick, Kalamazoo County Circuit Court, Case No. not recorded on copies in my possession, records held by the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI.
  6. Interview with one of the children, name withheld.
  7. Kalamazoo Gazette, 2-28-1942.
  8. Ross Coller file (on Mildred). Held at the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections. Western Michigan University. Kalamazoo, MI.
  9. Kalamazoo Gazette, 3-10-1942.
  10. Criminal Court Docket. 9th Circuit Court clerk's office. Kalamazoo, MI.
  11. Kalamazoo Gazette, 3-18-1942.
  12. Joseph Salpatrick obituary, Kalamazoo, Michigan, Kalamazoo Gazette 09-02-1977 Sect. B, p10, col4.

For more information on what you might find about your relatives see my post on the Ross Coller files.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Online Kalamazoo Photograph Index

Did you know that you can view about 3000 photographs related to Kalamazoo on the Kalamazoo Public Library website? This index is a collaboration between the KPL, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections. Each institution provided photos: KPL (about 1200), KVM (about 1000) and WMU (800).

Some of the photos are more recent, from the 1980s and 1990s, but you can also find old photographs as well (into the late 1860s). Unsure where to begin? Try searching for a street name, building (e.g. library), or event (e.g. parade). More recent photos appear first in the search results. The results page includes a brief description of each photograph. Select “Take me to it” to view the photograph and click to enlarge. Be sure to make a mental note of where you are in the search results (the number) because when you close the photo window the results revert to the top of the page.

All of these photographs are searchable here.

You can also conduct a photo search anytime you are in the “local indexes and community information” database by scrolling to the bottom of the results page and selecting “photograph” in the “Type” drop-down box.

On an unrelated note, the KPL is hosting another Genealogy Lock-In on Friday October 26, 2012. This event lasts from 6 pm to 10 pm. The description of this event from the KPL website is as follows. “Explore databases and Kalamazoo County vital records, learn how to use the microfilm reader/scanner/printer, save microfilm images to CD or flash drive—or just take advantage of free copying and printing during the event. If you like, bring your own laptop and use the library's WiFi network. Free parking in the library lot.” Registration is required and begins on Oct. 3.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Seeking Michigan's Census Secret

Seeking Michigan is slowly adding images for the 1894 Michigan state census to its website. A month or so ago I was reviewing the changes made to the website that make browsing documents so much easier, when I first noticed it.  At first they didn't have a  page on their website that mentioned these census records, but they do now (as of April 2013).

Upon making the discovery a search for “smith” only yielded results for two counties. When I checked again this week images for nine counties turned up. Those counties are: Bay, Ingham, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Newaygo, Ottawa, Roscommon and St. Joseph. Clearly images are not being added alphabetically by county. That's bad news for those with relations in Branch or Cass counties, but potentially good for those with kin in Van Buren county because we may not need to wait until the end of the process to get that information.

I know that a transcription of the 1894 census is available at Family Search, but not all of the information from the census is included. Besides, if the name was difficult to read it could have been transcribed incorrectly and you would have no chance to find it. Speaking of transcribing, I don't know where the Seeking Michigan transcription came from, but it evidently did not come from FamilySearch because at least three of my households showed up under a surname spelled differently than on FamilySearch. And for those paying attention to the discussion of whether the Federal 1940 census indexers at or FamilySearch did a better job, the FamilySearch index of the 1894 Michigan census spelled the names correctly, but SeekingMichigan did not.

The good news is that the 1894 Michigan census index at Seeking Michigan is an every-name index. The bad news is that it only pulls out exact matches. To find my “missing” families I had to search by first name and county and then manually examine each record. If you do need to search by first name try one that is uncommon to decrease the number of hits (e.g. Henry yields many more results than Tina).

To start finding your people select “Advanced Search” underneath the main search bar at the top of any Seeking Michigan page. Enter the person's name in one box and possibly the county name in the other box. Be sure to uncheck the Death Records box at the top of the list and select Michigan State Census Records at the very bottom. Once the list of results appears, don't let the name in the far right column deter you from clicking on an image. As far as I can determine, the name is randomly chosen from somewhere on the page. If you know what township your ancestors are in you can narrow your search that way. Otherwise, just dig in and examine each page, though you won't have to decipher the handwriting. Simply scroll down under the image to see a list of the transcribed names. Unless the name has been hopelessly mangled, you should be able to find it readily. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to go to the next or a previous image so if your family is split over two pages you'll have to search again. And no, searching for the surname spelling found on one page does not necessarily pull up the missing image (sigh).

Once you have found you family, be sure to note that half of the information is located at the top of the image while the remainder can be found at the bottom. Several useful questions include 1) how many children a woman gave birth to, 2) how many of those children are living, 3) how many years a person has lived in the US and 4) how many years they have lived in Michigan.

I have already found a couple of interesting things about some of my Kalamazoo families. Now I will be impatiently waiting for other Michigan counties to make their debut. I'll keep you posted on the progress of this project.

To see exactly which counties/years are now available go to the 1884-1894 Census Page.

As of April 2013, Seeking Michigan is also adding early census images (1827-1874).  To see what counties and years we can expect to see records for see my post.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Michigan Buggy Inferno

“A life long work gone skyward,” said M.H. Lane, president of the Michigan Buggy Company as he watched his business go up in flames. [1]

On the evening of January 16, 1902 the sun set on the main building of the Michigan Buggy Company for the last time. An hour after the approximately 300 blacksmiths, wheelwrights, painters, finishers and other employees headed for home the night watchman discovered a fire in the shipping room. A few hours later the entire five-story brick building and all it contained lay in smoldering ruins.

Photo displayed with permission of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.

Before the fire the state of the Michigan Buggy Company was never better. “According to President M.H. Lane and a number of the employees, the factory has never before been so fully stocked with finished goods and wheels, leather, broadcloth, wagon trimmings, wood, and the general equipment of a big factory, as it was at the time of the fire; nor never before has it been so filled, or rather overrun with orders. The books showed orders for over 100 carloads [train carloads] of finished goods.” [2] Doing an annual business of $600,000, the Michigan Buggy company was undoubtedly a successful business that was important to the Kalamazoo economy. [1]

The origin of the fire was a mystery. The shipping room reportedly did not contain flammables, but nonetheless that was where George Kieber, the night watchman discovered the blaze. Immediately he ran to trip the alarm. Within eight minutes the Kalamazoo fire department was on the scene, but before they could set up their six forty-foot streams of water [2], “the second and third floors of the new cast building between the main structure and the first fire wall were in flames.” [1]

The firefighters at first hoped they could prevent the fire from spreading beyond the firewalls between buildings, but they were simply not sufficiently equipped to fight a fire of this magnitude. They were particularly worried as the fire approached the triple-walled paint shop which contained many flammables. The flames again spread through the fire wall and several small explosions rent the air, but no large explosions rocked the building as all those present had feared.

Melodramatic accounts appeared in both the Telegraph and Gazette and are too colorful to omit entirely. “First from one point and now from another the grim old fire king would rear his lurid head. Water was useless. Wherever the greedy flames took the first lap of destruction, annihilation followed.” [1] “From every side the red faced demon could be seen, grinning, smiling in anticipation of the feast before him. . . The long, hungry forked tongues leaped from window to window and from floor to floor. . . Onward and onward swept the flames destroying everything before them, at times leaping high into the air and again bursting forth as though in joyful exultation.” [2]

When the first wall of the five-story building crashed to the ground several firemen nearly lost their lives. Several times more they were forced back as wall after wall swayed and crashed into rubble. While the firemen continued their attempts to douse the flames, they had now switched into damage control mode. Nearby homes were blistering from the heat so hoses were turned on them to prevent the spread of the disaster. [1] Fortunately, these efforts were successful and no buildings beyond those of Michigan Buggy succumbed.

When it was evident that the whole factory would be lost “many willing hands volunteered and a large quantity of tops, cushions and other material were removed from the warehouses to a place of safety.” [1] Unfortunately, the value of these items did not exceed $200. [2] “The only building that was saved was a small wooden addition on the east end, in which are stored the old cushions, buggy tops and bolts.” [2] Thirty Shetland ponies were also rescued from a nearby barn.

The progress of the fire was watched by about 5,000 spectators who from half a block away shielded their faces or moved back away from the tremendous heat. While their front sides burned their backs were freezing in the wintery air. [1,2]

Rubble from the blaze blocked the railroad tracks that passed by the factory and this was cleared within hours so that train traffic could resume. Another problem that required quick action was the debris that dammed Arcadia creek. If it had not been removed promptly the lower end of the city could have been badly flooded. [1]

Photo displayed with permission of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum

Now, all that remained was a charred heap. Nearly three hundred men were out of work. About two-thirds of them were heads of household so all told 1,000 men, women and children who depended on Michigan Buggy to pay the bills were without a source of income. [2] This too in the middle of winter when they couldn't even seek temporary employment as farm laborers. To make the situation worse, the employees had not yet been paid their wages for December as the company typically paid mid-month for the previous month's work. Now it was feared that the pay rolls and checks which had just been put into the safe at days end had not survived the combination of fire and water. “The most pitiful sights at the fire were the groups of sad faced women who looked into the seething mass of flames as they destroyed their husbands' place of employment and threatened them with hardship and even hunger.” [2] The monthly payroll of the company was about $20,000 which in addition to the direct hardship imposed on the workers and their families would also trickle into the rest of the community in lost rent and grocery money. [3]

If one could say there was a bright spot during the massive blaze it was that no one sustained serious injuries. One fireman suffered severe burns to his face and another badly scraped his hands, but that was the worst of it. Unfortunately, there was one fatality that resulted from the fire. This occurred the following day when John Decker, 24, was posting advertisements on some of the free-standing brick walls of the factory. Despite the men stationed around the perimeter of the site, presumably to warn away gawkers, Decker and two companions posted placards on a couple of walls before approaching another. This wall was unstable and onlookers noticed bricks at its top beginning to tremble. They called to the men who scrambled away as fast as they could. Decker, a well-liked veteran of the Spanish-American war, was only two feet from safety when the bricks buried him, crushing his head nearly flat. [4] The remaining walls were torn down to prevent further tragedy. [5]

One good bit of news came for the now unemployed workers when the safe was hoisted from the rubble. The pay roll checks which had been placed in the inner-most of three compartments had survived. They were a little worse for wear, but that hardly mattered to the men now seeking employment wherever they could. [5]

When it was all over, the damage was estimated at $200,000 [1,2], not counting lost business which was expected to cost about $800,000. [3] The worst of it was that only $87,400 of the loss was covered by insurance. Despite the fact that a devastating fire had destroyed part of the factory only six years previously, the company had not purchased sufficient insurance to cover a total loss.

Now, one major question faced the Kalamazoo community. Would Michigan Buggy rebuild . . . again? The residents were forced to wait anxiously for over three months before the answer came back in the affirmative. [6] Although the new Michigan Buggy building was state-of-the-art and very well built (and still stands), no one in town likely would have believed that the company would only remain in business just over a decade more. This time it came crashing down under a black cloud of scandal and not a rain of fire. But that is a story for another time.

  1. Kalamazoo Gazette, 1-17-1902
  2. Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, 1-17-1902
  3. Lyon, David O., The Kalamazoo Automobilist, 1891-1991. 2002. New Issues Press. Western Michigan University. Kalamazoo.
  4. Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, 1-18-1902
  5. Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, 1-20-1902
  6. Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, 4-29, 1902

Note: I would especially like to thank the staff of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum for allowing me to include the above photos, but also for searching out the photo of the ruins for me unbidden. For more on the museum go to their website.

For more information about the history of the Michigan Buggy Company I encourage you to read a nice article on the Kalamazoo Public Library website.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

1879 Kalamazoo County Fair

My family recently attended the Wilson County Fair (the largest in Tennessee). A major draw to county fairs these days is the wide variety of rides, but many things remain the same as they did in our ancestors' time. Examining farm equipment and judging livestock are fixtures now just as they were then. Another staple of the fair experience is being stuck in traffic while trying to get there. On our first attempt to go to the fair this year we actually gave up after barely moving for nearly an hour and still being nowhere near the fairgrounds. As I discovered, we were no different from our Kalamazoo relations who also got stuck in traffic on the way to the 1879 Kalamazoo County Fair. Based on newspaper accounts in the Kalamazoo Telegraph here is what it may have been like to attend the fair in 1879.

The third day of the fair dawned clear and cool, only in the 40s, but that could not deter my husband and myself from attending the Kalamazoo county fair. We knew many others who held off until today because they too were eager to witness the big day of horse racing, but somehow I just wasn't prepared for the buggy-to-buggy traffic we encountered on the road to the fair grounds. I'm glad I thought to bring a couple of extra quilts to keep us warm. From what we heard from others it was the same on the other roads leading to the fair. Nothing but horses, buggies and wagons until about noon.

I carefully picked my way around the parked teams and buggies. The last thing I wanted to do was get something other than dirt on the hem of my dress. We finally entered the crush in the exhibit halls. We have attended the fair for many years and agreed with our friends that never had we seen so many milling about the halls and stalls at the fair. I found out later that the attendance was estimated at 6,000. [1] That's not bad for a county with about 12,000 inhabitants. [1]

As we entered Floral Hall we were greeted by the scent of innumerable flowers. The hall itself was trimmed for the occasion; it was a trifle plain, but prettily done, nonetheless. We also noticed the fountain within was “very neatly arranged.” [2] The variety of flowers was dizzying. Mr. Flanders alone had over thirty types of asters. [2] It was a splendid exhibit. And to think that he raised them all from seed. [2] Beyond Flanders' set-up we saw houseplants, dahlias, roses, verbenas, oleanders, gladiolii, dianthus, geraniums, phlox, fuchsias, pansies, coxcombs and clematis in all the colors of the rainbow. [3] Each display seemed more wonderful than the next. I wished I could have taken some with me to enliven the rooms at home. Floral hall seemed an appropriate setting for Mr. Goodale, the undertaker's, exhibit. We saw many admiring his “beautiful array of burial caskets.” [1] While the styles were quite lovely and the materials unsurpassed, “truth to say, there was not a visitor but would willingly forgo the use of them for many years to come.” [1]

Some committee members were still passing through the halls making last-minute inspections before finalizing the results and awarding the ribbons for first, second and third place. I enjoy viewing the entries, but I would hate to have to choose between them. Especially this year when I understand there were nearly 1500 in all. The “entries up to Monday were the largest in the history of the society.” [2] There were far too many to describe here so I'll simply mention ones I found notable.

We slowly inched our way forward to examine Frank Henderson's cases filled with the regalia he manufactures. His customers include the Knights Templar, Masonic and other societies. His fine “workmanship and tastefullness [sic] of arrangement, well merits the admiration” he receives. [1] “Mr. H is constantly receiving orders from all parts of the country by telegraph and otherwise, and the reputation of his work is wide spread. The various laces, fringes and buttons used in the manufacture of his goods are of Mr. Henderson's own importation, direct from the factories in France.” [1]

We also briefly admired the five different sewing machines brought by Mr. Miller, “all of beautiful pattern and most perfect working qualities.” [1] The “Royal St. John” impressed many and “it is claimed, [it] combines all that is desirable in a perfect working instrument of its kind – possessing the most points of excellence, the most new and valuable improvements, ability to do all kinds of work, lightness of running and ease of movement, simplicity and durability of construction, noiselessness, etc.” [1] If only it would sew by itself so that I could devote myself to other necessary housework.

Across the way we perused the “very fine and ample display” of stoves. Devisser & Co had twenty-three varieties in all. Both wood and coal burners were on view ranging from parlor to cooking stoves. [2]. Messers. Parson, Wood & Phelps had “the famous Mills cooking range, said to be the best on earth,” along with other cooking ranges and stoves. Both hardware firms also had a fine assortment of granite iron ware and tin ware. [2] My husband wondered how many teams it required to haul so many heavy stoves here.

We also admired fine marble works, jewelry, worsted work, and ready-made clothing. Musical instruments, boots & shoes, millinery, photographs by George Winans, fancy goods, embroidery and needle work were also on display. We were also much interested in “a handsome collection of arrow head, stone implements, and other relics of the pre-historic age.” [2]

One display that really caught my attention was Mr. Morse's selection of hats. They were very elegantly trimmed in the latest fall patterns. All of the ladies I spoke with agreed that the hats were “trimmed with the good taste and regard for the harmonious blend of color which characterizes the work of this establishment.” [4] I was well pleased that Mr. Morse was awarded the first premium. I could have stood gazing longingly at them for quite some time, but there was still much to see before the racing began.

In Fruit Hall, “the display of vegetables surpasses that of any other show we remember to have attended.” [2] Some of the vegetables shown here even won the first premiums at the state fair. [2] Ribbons were awarded for wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat, corn, beans, clover seed, timothy seed, hops, turnips, beets, onions, parsnips, carrots, peppers, celery, “vegetable eggs,” cabbage, cauliflower, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, potatoes, watermelons, citrons, various varieties of apples, peaches, pears, grapes, plums, quinces, cheese, butter, canned fruit, canned vegetables, preserved fruit, jellies, honey, bread, biscuits, cider, cider vinegar, pickles, maple sugar and maple syrup. [3] My mouth was watering before we had made our way a quarter of the length of the hall. There was also much to see among the nursery stock. The peach trees were simply splendid. Mr. Geo. Taylor exhibited a very fine collection of trees and shrubs, many of which were conifers. [2] I may consider adding some arbor vitae at our home if I can find some as handsome as those shown at the fair.

Other items on display included: needlework, cretonne work, applique work, bead work, hair work, wax work, sofa pillows, toilet sets, pin cushions, rugs, pillow shams, slippers, undergarments, wool and cotton stockings, mittens, chair tidys, crocheted lamp mats, lambrequins, carriage afghans, patchwork quilts, piano stools, air castles, knit brackets, pictures, oil paintings, drawings, fancy picture frames and exquisite penmanship. [3] Perhaps I shouldn't admit it, but seeing the crocheted undergarments made me giggle. I simply won't be able to look at anyone in the Downey family without turning crimson for imagining them wearing Miss Mary Downey's handiwork.

Sonja Hunter, copyright Aug 2012, all rights reserved.

We then passed by the horse and cattle stalls as well as the sheep and hog pens and observed some fine specimens. The poultry too were in good form. As for the farm equipment, with improvements made every year there is always something new to see. Jno. McKee Jr. & Co and others made “a very large and fine display of farming machinery, having over 30 different machines on the grounds, the estimated value of which is nearly $7,000.” Among these were plows, including the famed sulky plow, a self-binder harvester, reapers, mowers, a combined reaper and mower, corn planters, case seeders and separators. [1] Amid this vast assortment there were a few that stood out to my eye. One of the “separators on exhibition has been in successful operation this season, and during a period of thirty-seven days threshed 37,481 bushels of wheat, an average capacity of 1,013 bushels per diem. Taken as a whole this exhibit was one of the finest of the kind on the grounds and attracted much attention.” [1]

“Crowds of farmers and experts” are examining the Dodge Plow daily. [4] It “is particularly adapted to plowing stoney or hard, dry soil, from four to ten inches deep, as well as prairie, sod, or stubble; and when compared with any other plow doing the same amount of work is very much lighter draft. The claims of the inventor are confirmed by the award of the committee.” [4] The sulky plow also garnered a great deal of notice. The large sales of them seem to support “the claim for the lightness of draft, convenience and ready adjustment, it has no equal, and the necessary farming implements which can be attached to the sulky, (aside from the plow, including cultivator, harrow, etc) combine to make it one of the greatest labor-saving machines of the age.” [1 This sulky plow, of over fifty manufactured, “stands alone as the peer of all, and Kalamazoo may well be proud to reckon this among her most successful manufacturing interests.” [1]

There were also some nice examples of carriages, buggies and wagons on view, but my husband and I knew the races would begin soon and we needed to proceed to the track post haste. Despite the cold temperatures it seemed that the exhibit halls emptied when it was time for the horse racing to commence. The grand stand was packed by the time we approached the track so we had to be satisfied with a position track-side. We breathed in the excitement knowing we would soon be inhaling dust as the horses thundered by. First came the speed contest for the gentlemen's driving horses. It was a tame race, but the running contest more than made up for that.

“The running contest was a poor affair as a race, but furnished great amusement for the crowd.” [4] The horses were to run mile heats. Bismarck, Rowdy and Black Ann took off with Bismarck in the lead. He “ran pretty well till after reaching the quarter pole, then suddenly bolted, tossing his rider over his head and galloped to the stable, but was caught and sent after 'Rowdy' and 'Black Ann.'” Apparently taking a cue from Bismarck, Black Ann then bolted “down the back stretch, threw her rider and [ran] across the cultivated field. . . The second heat was given to 'Biz.' and 'Black Ann' did not reappear on the track. The next three heats constituted scenes in a roaring farce. 'Bismarck' twice threw his rider and finally had to be slowed up in going by the gap to the stables.” [4]

Then came the “free for all race” which consisted of county horses in mile heats, racing for $30, $20 and $15 premiums. The first heat “was sharp and exciting,” with Dick the winner. In the second, the drivers were “fined $1 each, which they pulled out and paid” for ignoring the judges command for a standing start. Initially behind, Dick “went ahead, swinging around the circle in an easy, steady, square trot” to win again. “Dick easily won [the third] heat though in the rear most of the time till he came into the home stretch, when with a magnificent stride he pulled away from his struggling competitors and came home in a 2:26 gate.” Dick easily won first money, but there was a bit of a kerfuffle afterward. One of the judges “said he knew the horse was a 'ringer' [a track horse under an assumed name] and so ruled him out,” though he “took no means to prove the charge.” [4] “Afterwards the committee offered Mr. Badger the third premium. . . but 'Dick's' owner indignantly refused. The splendid trotting of this animal yesterday shows him to be among the best horses of this class in the west.” [4]

And so another Kalamazoo county fair was at an end for us, though one day officially remained. Our trip home was much like it had been in the morning, though the pre-fair excitement of the morning's journey had evaporated. Now the procession of horses and buggies carried passengers anxious to reach home before darkness set in. As we rode home lulled by the movement of the buggy I mused how the end of the fair always signals a change for me. It means the warm summer days are gone for good. It's now time for the wind to whisper to the leaves that it's time to put on their party colors before they decorate my walking paths. It's time to stow the apples in the root cellar. To make sure there is enough fire wood and await the snows to come.

  1. Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 9-25-1879, p4
  2. Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 9-24-1879, p4
  3. Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 9-29-1879, p1-2
  4. Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 9-26-1879, p4