We Remember When  “A Dark Day in Dallas Descends on Gratiot County”: The Kennedy Assassination, November 1963

The setting out of flags by the Alma Jaycees, weekend of November 23-25, 1963. Gratiot County responded to the death of President Kennedy. View east from Superior Street toward the old water tower.

Front page of the Alma Record, Thursday, November 28, 1963 – one week after the assassination.

A family’s collection of state newspapers from the weekend of events in late November 1963. The events came so fast that the county – and the nation – gasped.

On November 22, 1963, 59 years ago today, Gratiot County opened with cold weather mixed with rain and snow. Overall, it was a dreary Friday as people in the county went to work or shopped. The weekend was coming, and many hoped for quitting time so that they could start their weekend plans.

 The holiday season also beckoned to Gratiot County, with Thanksgiving only a week away.

Friday, November 23: An Absolute Shock

A St. Louis woman, pregnant with her second child and already tired from shopping, sat down to rest on the swing next to the Strand Theatre in Alma. It was sometime before 2:00 pm. The swing was known as a place for the local bus stop, and people sometimes went there to watch life on Superior Street. As she sat there that November day,  a crowd began forming in front of one set of store windows on the south side of the street. In the 1960s, it was customary for stores to place television sets in the front windows to catch the eyes of would-be shoppers. The crowd in front of this store grew as the minutes passed. As she wondered about the crowd, a passerby told the woman in the swing, “Someone just shot President Kennedy.”

Howard Goodspeed of Breckenridge was busy unloading a load of beans at the Ithaca elevator. The old bean truck still had a working radio, and Goodspeed, who was not an avid radio listener, just happened to have the radio turned on. The broadcast had been interrupted to tell the audience that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. Howard Goodspeed climbed out of the truck, walked to the back of the elevator worker who oversaw dumping his beans, and told the worker, “They just shot that Kennedy.”

Working at another elevator in Middleton, David McManus of Alma heard similar news from office workers. All the men in his crew then went and got a radio, turned it on, and tried to follow news reports for the rest of the day.

At St. Louis High School, news came in about President Kennedy. Principal Levant Cazatt announced to the school student body over the public address system that President Kennedy had been shot and was dead. One student, Mike Walker, who was only thirteen years old, happened to be looking out the window and saw a janitor lowering the school’s flag to half mast. In another  SLHS classroom,  teacher Keith Wing taught government to his seniors at the time of the announcement. The group quickly became distracted by the news. In response, Wing kept calm and told his students, “We need to finish the lesson because that is what President Kennedy would want us to do.”

President John F. Kennedy’s death shocked the nation and the world. Although Kennedy was not the first President to be killed in office, it had been the first time in roughly sixty years that a  President had been assassinated. The President was young, well-liked, and prepared to seek a second term in office. A column in the Gratiot County Herald reflected Kennedy’s connection with people. “Never, never have Americans had such identity with a president. Utilizing television or radio, President Kennedy was a regular companion in the nation’s living rooms. He was a great advocate of live radio and television broadcasts of his frequent news conferences; it wasn’t unusual to see the President live on TV.”

For many in Gratiot County, as in other parts of the country, Kennedy’s time in office had been the age of Camelot. This young President, his wife, and their two children represented a new generation of Americans. And now, suddenly, Camelot came crashing down. People in Gratiot County on that Friday now asked what had happened in Dallas. Who would kill the President? What was known about the assassin(s), and what should the United States do next?

It was Friday, November 22, 1963. Thanksgiving was only a week away, and Gratiot County was not only preparing for that holiday, but Christmas was around the corner.

The effect of the President’s assassination seemed to stop many in Gratiot County almost in their tracks. Kenneth Foote, President of the Alma Chamber of Commerce, quickly noticed on that Friday many shoppers became quiet when the news came out and also headed home. There seemed to be little desire to shop as a national tragedy occurred.

The Weekend, November 24-25: Gratiot Slows Down

In many places, people called off gatherings. They huddled near their televisions and radios to catch the most recent news in Washington about President Kennedy’s death. Employees brought portable television sets to work in places like Alma, and an “overall quiet” descended as people seemed to curtail only the most necessary functions.

Area Jaycees put up flags in downtown Alma, and then city officials lowered what flags they could to half-mast, and they remained reduced for the next thirty days. The Sunday traffic was the lightest police officers had seen in recent memory, as people did not seem to be traveling very much that weekend. At Sunday services around the county, pastors changed their sermons to talk to their congregations during the crisis. Over at Ithaca, a High Mass occurred at St. Paul’s Catholic Church at 11:00 am. In some areas, special services took place in reaction to Kennedy’s death because of the county’s state of mourning.

Several county residents began to share their views and feelings about what was happening in the wake of President Kennedy’s death. One farmer remarked that weekend that “We call ourselves a civilized society. What a dastardly crime. What a sad day for this country.” Another resident stated, “You hear it and you know it, but you can’t believe it is true. Is this actually happening in America?” Another county resident asked, “How does a person respond to such a tragedy? Grief, surprise, remorse, and bitterness are all mixed together. It is difficult to express yourself on such an occurrence.”

That weekend, everyone seemed to be grasping for answers as to why a young President died the way he did.

The Monday, November 25: A National Day of Mourning

On Monday, November 25, 1963, President Kennedy’s funeral ended with his burial in Arlington National Cemetery. In contrast to Friday, this Monday in Gratiot County was bright and brisk – in some ways, the opposite of the terrible Friday that preceded it.

All schools in Gratiot County closed for the day. The Gratiot County courthouse in Ithaca closed from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. Postal delivery stopped in the county, and factories closed. Michigan Governor George Romney asked people statewide to pause for one minute at noon to pray for the Kennedys and the nation.

Many businesses in the county closed. In St. Louis, Mayor Max Sias asked all businesses to close between noon and 2:00 pm, but many closed for the day. Sias also asked for the city’s church bells to toll from 12:55 to 1:00 pm. In different places in the county, many churches held services before, during, or after the Kennedy funeral.

After that long Monday, like the rest of the nation, Gratiot County found its way through the Kennedy funeral. However, the memory of the Kennedy assassination remained in Gratiot.

Looking Back, Gratiot County Recalls JFK’s Death

Many residents did not forget that terrible day in Dallas in November 1963. However, as the decades have passed, local memories of the event seemed to fade, according to county newspaper coverage. Over time, the fading of JFK’s death covered two generations: the World War II generation and the aging of the Baby Boomers.

Several people in Gratiot County in 1973 clearly remembered where they were ten years earlier when President Kennedy was killed. Local newspapers covered the anniversary and interviewed several people who were asked to recount where they were and what they were doing at the time. However, starting with the twentieth anniversary in 1983, newspapers seldom covered the event from a county perspective. National columnists and coverage seemed to replace the personal attachment that people in Gratiot County had to Kennedy’s death. The change probably resulted from the passing of the generation(s) that most clearly remembered the tragedy.

I still possess the cardboard box labeled “Kennedy Assassination” that my mother kept that contained LIFE Magazine and newspapers. Like many of her generation who were then younger Americans and identified with JFK, the memories of that time in November 1963 never faded. For many Gratiot County residents, the end of November 1963 and the following Thanksgiving was a terrible time in our nation’s history and a dark time in Gratiot County.

Copyright 2022 James M Goodspeed

“That Most Wonderful Bird”: The Story of Gratiot County’s Ring-neck Pheasant

Francis Norris of Ithaca and Roy LaLonde of Alma show off a good morning of pheasant hunting in Gratiot County in October 1957. Pheasant hunting in Gratiot in the 1950s had reached its high point.

Pheasant hunting became an important part of Gratiot County’s economy during the season. Area businesses and restaurants knew that pheasant hunters needed supplies and a good meal during a day of hunting in Gratiot County. Above, Glen’s Sporting Goods sponsored this advertisement in the October 11, 1962 issue of the St. Louis Leader Press – the eve of pheasant season that year.

Above: A sad, but accurate scene that spread across parts of Michigan in the 1960s. Changes in farm practices spelled doom for the pheasant population as fencerows, stubble fields, woodlots, and other cover disappeared as farmers turned these areas into farmland. The picture was taken in 1966 in the Thumb area, the heart of pheasant hunting. Similar changes also happened in Gratiot County.

Note: The following post is an extended version of a piece that recently appeared in the October 27, 2022 issue of the Gratiot County Herald.

In 1920,  Elder Rushby wrote a letter to the Gratiot County Herald entitled “Who Killed the Last Deer in Gratiot?” Rushby wanted to know when the last bear, wolf, and passenger pigeon had been seen or killed by Gratiot County residents. His letter confirmed a belief that much of Gratiot County’s wildlife had been decimated by the start of the early twentieth century. It also suggested another question, what could residents now hunt in Gratiot County?

By the time of the Rushby letter, a new and vital chapter in Gratiot County’s hunting history began. In this case, it would be the tale of the Ring-neck pheasant.

Pheasants to America, Gratiot County

Pheasants arrived in North America long before they did in mid-Michigan. Both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin’s families attempted to raise English pheasants on the Eastern Seaboard. The pheasant first came to the West Coast when Consul Owen Denny imported fifteen birds from Shanghai, China, in 1881. He placed them in Portland, Oregon, and a year later, another thirty pheasants arrived under his direction. They ended up in the Willamette Valley. While the flocks initially took off, both were soon prey to hunters and were decimated.

However, an interest in importing pheasants to Gratiot County started. In May 1898, Doctor Scott and George Reed of Ithaca made the news when they traveled to Alma to pick up the first recorded arrival of pheasant eggs. It is unclear what happened afterward, but by 1905 the pheasant was officially a protected bird in the county and deemed “Game owned by the State.” During 1917-1918, the State offered to send pheasant eggs to Gratiot County. Only thirty eggs arrived, a small amount compared to other counties which accepted the challenge of hatching and raising pheasants. In 1920, thirteen pheasants appeared at Alverson and Son’s Store in Ithaca as an exhibit to increase interest to try again and bring pheasants to the county.

As the imports of pheasant types started, four types emerged at the Mason State Game Farm: Mongolian, English Black Neck, Japanese Pheasant, and Eastern Chinese Ringneck. These four breeds eventually merged into what Gratiot County hunters knew as the Ring-neck pheasant.

Growing the Pheasant Population, the 1920s-1930s

As the pheasant came under protection in the 1920s, those breeding and raising pheasants raised the theory of the ten-year cycle. During this period, the bird would naturally rise and decline over ten years if the pheasants reproduced and adapted to mid-Michigan’s habitat. Because of this, hunting in the county was not allowed until 1928, and early on October 28, 1928, the first pheasant season opened in Gratiot County.

While hunting was allowed, groups and methods tried to help increase the pheasant population. In 1931, the Gratiot County Conservation League tried to raise pheasants. Unfortunately, the hatch only produced one-half of the eggs that the League received. Officials attempted other ways to help protect the pheasants during the hay harvest. In June 1939, the State promoted the idea of farmers using flushing bars while in the fields. The bar extended in front and had bells or chains dangling in front of the tractor. As the bar made a noise, it allowed pheasants to fly away rather than being chopped up and killed by machinery. Although it is unclear how many Gratiot farmers used them, calls for farmers to use flushing bars extended well into the 1950s. Shooting pheasants with bands and having to turn in the bands took place well into the early 1950s. Sometimes shooting a bird with an old band became big news. In one instance in Hillsdale County, a farmer shot a five-year-old rooster who had traveled a long distance since its release.

Pheasant hunting during the Depression also presented other challenges. The thefts of hunting dogs, like Setters and Beagles, became a real problem in Gratiot County. In early October 1939,  twelve dogs were stolen in ten days, including one from the Clarence Clark estate valued at $150. This decade also saw the emergence of conflicts between farmers and hunters – chiefly because hunters failed to respect farm property. Trampling crops, leaving gates open so animals could get out, and hunting without permission were just some of the issues about which farmers complained. As a result, at least nine hunting co-operatives started in Seville, Pine River, New Haven, Sumner, and North Shade townships. In these instances, any hunter who wished to hunt on farmland had to ask the farmer for a ticket. Farmers hoped the ticket system regulated who and how they hunted for pheasants. However, hunters outside the county (and more and more “outside” hunters appeared) complained that Gratiot farmers only gave tickets to their friends. The result encouraged “outside” hunters to go onto lands without permission. The Horton Trespass Law was passed to deal with the problem of hunters who tried to hunt on farmlands without permission.

One of the last issues pheasant hunters dealt with in Gratiot County in the late 1930s concerned Sunday hunting, which churches opposed. Pastors and congregations in the county actively campaigned for no hunting on Sundays, which lasted a few years but ended during World War II.

The Boom Years, the 1940s – 1950s

 In July 1942, over 100 young birds were released in the Gratiot-Saginaw game area. Later that decade, the St. Louis Gun Club released 450 young pheasants, thirty in each township. The war years seemed good for the pheasant as fewer men hunted, shotgun shells were rationed, and finding ammunition could be a real challenge. When a small store in Newark Township had shells, farmers for miles around traveled there to get their ration’s worth. In 1944, the Ithaca Future Farmers hosted a pheasant feed at the high school. Two teams of boys were tasked with each hunting thirty pheasants, rabbits, or squirrels to feed the anticipated crowd. The team that failed to bring in the most game had to clean up after the dinner. Other pheasant dinners in the county had been and would be in the news. In 1937, the St. Louis Future Farmers fed 100 guests at St. Louis High School. In 1952, Breckenridge High School had a dinner that fed 120 people – mainly with pheasants shot that fall.

After the war, pheasant hunting continued to improve in Gratiot County as gas rationing ended. Still, the 1948 hunting season was deemed the low end of the ten-year pheasant cycle. For one of the first times, calls went out for a ban on hunting for at least one year for the pheasant population to grow again. However, everything seemed to have stayed the same.

Interlude: Nimrods and Other Problems

Another part of the Gratiot County pheasant season story involved those individuals who suffered consequences either by choice or by chance. Pauline Sparks of New Haven Township became one of the first recorded victims of hunter carelessness. Sparks’ husband discharged his shotgun, hitting his wife in one leg when he laid his gun down while trying to catch a wounded pheasant in a brush pile.

In 1937, stiff fines found those who broke the game laws. Robert Brown of Emerson Township paid $60.85 for shooting a rooster pheasant before the start of the season. Two men near North Star were found in illegal possession of a pheasant in their car. They were charged $35.85 each and had a week to pay or spend time in Judge Potter’s jail in Ithaca.

Then there were other incidents with pheasants. In October 1941, L.D. Decker of Alma saw several pheasant heads peeking above the weeds near his father’s grocery store and promptly shot at one of them. Young Decker then discovered that the heads, impaled on sticks, had been placed there by several of his buddies. All Decker ended up with was a pheasant head. A pheasant hunter northwest of Ithaca chased a rooster into a cornfield and fired at it as it flew over a boulder. He shot at the bird and hit the boulder, which turned out to be a doe that he killed. The incident became front-page news.

Once a pheasant flew through the window in front of a Middleton home, landed on the living room mantle, then flew out again unharmed. At about the same time in 1941, students Jack Detloff and Duane Morton found a dead pheasant in front of the Compton Shop in downtown Alma. The bird, which broke its neck after flying into the store window, was turned over to the Alma Police. Detloff got to keep the bird.

 Melvin Fisk of Ashley found himself in dire straits in early May 1949 when he tried to dodge a flock of pheasants in the middle of the road outside Ashley. Fisk rolled his car three times, but he survived – as did the pheasants.

The 1950s, the Best of Times in Gratiot County

As the 1940s ended, efforts continued to monitor Gratiot County’s pheasant population. During the late spring and early summer of 1949, the State Game Commission continued its “crow counting” program during mating and nesting season in May and June. Usually, the observer traveled a half hour to an hour after sunrise and stopped their car every mile to listen for two minutes for the crow of rooster pheasants. The Commission then used the number of crows heard to estimate how many hens, and rooster pheasants may be in that area. Rural mail carriers also kept records of broods they saw during their mail routes and turned in their findings.

The decade of the 1950s was the high point of success for pheasant hunters in Gratiot County and the State. The 1950 season had a six percent increase in the pheasant population from the previous year, and the season was six days longer. The pheasant population the following year grew another eleven percent. The Conservation department also worked on studying how spring rains and poor temperatures affected hatching by using artificial showers on hen nesting at their facility. The combination of pheasant production, hunting, and the continuation of the pheasant cycle produced ideal conditions for many years in the 1950s.

There were some unusual stories about pheasants during these times. In the winter of 1952, hunters, farmers, and the Conservation department were all stunned by a large number of Ring-neck pheasants killed in an area near Fairgrove, Michigan. Farmers in the area found over fifty birds with broken necks, head wounds, and damaged wings. Some wondered if the birds died when they took off and ran into telephone cables, wires, or poles. After autopsies, authorities agreed that the pheasants died from colliding with something. Because the Thumb had some of the best pheasant hunting in the State, the Fairgrove findings became newsworthy. 

Harsh winters during the 1950s also spelled trouble for the pheasants, moving residents to help by providing food. Feeding the pheasants became a priority for many hunters. In March 1959, Bob’s IGA in Alma had a ten-foot-long loaf of bread for a contest. The customers then had to guess how much the loaf weighed. After the contest ended, owner Bob Hornacek donated the bread to feed local pheasants. In Lee Township in Midland County, a conservation officer found a Ring-neck suspended that had been frozen to a bush by its tail feathers. The rooster went into some grape vines to look for food, and the feathers got stuck after a sleet storm. The officer freed the bird and took it home to a station for recuperation. Some of the worst news about pheasants in the challenging 1950’s winters dealt with illegal hunting. Because the pheasants could be seen more quickly in the snow and the food was hard for them to come by, they became easy targets. In January 1954, four young Mexicans from Alma were arrested in Pine River Township for possessing three hens and one rooster pheasant. They were each given thirty days in jail, a $50 fine, and another $9.85 in costs. Sadly, the conservation officer who arrested the men stated that this was only one of many incidents in Gratiot County regarding the illegal hunting of pheasants.

The Decline of Gratiot Pheasants, the 1960s and 1970s

The decline of the Ring-neck pheasant in Gratiot County and Michigan is a sobering story. The 1950s saw the best hunting in the county and positively affected the local economy. Local stores regularly advertised for small game hunters, urging them to stock up on supplies ahead of the season. Restaurants in the county also declared that they would be open during the season for pheasant hunters who needed to take a mid-day break. In 1959, one million pheasants had been hunted – the lowest total in seven years. These numbers may have been the start of the pheasant slide.  

In the early 1960s, more signs of pheasant decline started to appear. By 1963, mail carriers saw fewer broods of pheasants during their mail deliveries in the late spring-early summer. “Clean Farming” became a new term that illustrated a change in farm practices that promoted the elimination of fencerows and ditches. A column appeared in the Gratiot County Herald in 1967, which openly called the pheasant situation “The pheasant crisis in Gratiot County.” In addition to farmland changes, the combination of predators (fox and raccoon), chemicals, brutal winters, and the normal cycle of decline all added to the disaster for pheasants. Some again called for a closed season (or two) on pheasants to stave off the fall, but it went nowhere. The best that the State instituted were different hunting zones in Michigan.

As a result of the pheasant decline in the 1970s, other things did happen. In 1970, Gratiot County Commissioners sought to petition the State to allow 4-H members to raise pheasants. A year later, the Lucky Clovers and Beebe Beef Clubs tried to raise pheasant chicks. Herb Baxter of St. Louis was instrumental as a 4-H leader in guiding members of the Lucky Clovers in their first attempts to do so. The St. Louis FFA attempted to raise and release pheasants three years later. Kim Bebow of St. Louis succeeded in raising and releasing 22 of the 25 birds he raised. The other St. Louis students in their projects were less successful.

Another side effect of the decline of the Ring-neck pheasant in the county meant that more county hunters went after other small game, such as ducks and geese. By the late 1970s, it seemed that fewer and fewer high school hunters took off the first day of pheasant season – a tradition that had been in practice for decades. Around 1989-1990, Michigan imported approximately 2,000 Sichuan pheasants to help the pheasant population. The experiment failed partly because the pheasants were pen-raised and unable to handle the harsh Michigan winters. If any Sichuan appeared in Gratiot County, newspapers did not carry the news.

The Last Fifty Years and Looking Back

When did pheasant hunting stop becoming a key event across the county? Today, few of us see hunters and their dogs wandering across clover and hay stubble fields on the first day of pheasant season as Gratiot County once did. One important group in the county that has sought to educate the public about the Ring-neck pheasant and its need for habitat is Pheasants Forever Chapter 90. There most likely are other people, organizations, and conservation efforts in recent years that have attempted to increase the Ring-neck population in Gratiot County. These all should be recognized, listened to, and supported.

To this day, I can clearly remember, as a boy, the first time that I saw my father clean a pheasant. I also have clear images of him carefully walking through a meadow behind our Beagle, waiting for a bird to fly. I also recall hearing and seeing my father dread the night he thought he accidentally shot a hen pheasant while walking beside a cornfield. Luckily on that hunt, he was not the expert shot he had always been, as the hen (if he hit it) got up and ran away.

Just after the Ice Storm of 1976, I was in his truck as he drove under the northbound US -27 overpass near the Cloverleaf Restaurant. He began shouting when he saw a flock of pheasants, primarily roosters, coming out to the edge of State Road near the gas stations to find food. He then drove straight home, gathered a large can of shelled corn, returned to the flock, and proceeded to throw shelled corn out the window at the pheasants while driving up and down State Road. I remember passing the birds several times as one of us sought to feed the pheasants after that brutal ice storm.

Two winters ago, I was looking outside one of our windows at something nesting in our Pine trees. It turned out to be a huge rooster pheasant. Later I placed birdseed and shelled corn beneath the trees.

It was all about respecting the pheasants in Gratiot County.

Copyright 2022 James M Goodspeed

“Gratiot County and the Holocaust”

Part I.  Gratiot County’s Jewish Roots: Pioneers, Entrepreneurs, and Citizens

Michael Pollasky was probably Gratiot County’s first Jewish settler. Pollasky’s store was considered the finest between Grand Rapids and Saginaw when it first was built after the Civil War.
Wolf Netzorg came to Ithaca in the 1870s. Netzorg’s was an established business that operated until after his death. His family lived in the home that is now the Gratiot County Historical and Genealogical Library in Ithaca.
Simon Messinger, pictured here with his wife in 1931, also operated a clothing store in Alma. He was among the early Jewish businessmen in town and was a respected city leader, and he was a Mason.
The Cohen Brothers tried their hand at business in Alma but stayed less than ten years. They eventually moved their business to Detroit.
The Pollasky Block remains one of the busiest parts of downtown Alma. Built by Michael Pollasky, it has seen decades of Alma – and Gratiot County’s – history.

They lived here from Gratiot County’s beginnings – pioneer business people and entrepreneurs who were among the earliest settlers in Alma and Ithaca. Over time, these individuals profoundly impacted and contributed to our county’s history. They assimilated into Gratiot’s society, lived as honorable people, and worked hard to succeed. They had well-known businesses in the county, places people knew about, depended upon, visited, and admired. This group of hard-working people in Gratiot County happened to be Jewish.

About ten years ago, a box of photographs that was found near Traverse City, Michigan, arrived at the Gratiot County Historical Society. A dozen images were found inside an old trunk belonging to an Ithaca family, and they appeared to be taken around 1900. The family’s name was Netzorg, and it turned out that someone took a few of the pictures in front of what is now the Gratiot County Historical and Genealogical Society’s library in Ithaca. I was asked to find out what I could about the pictures, identify them, and help get the collection into the library’s holdings. The photographs belonged to the family of Wolf Netzorg, one of Ithaca’s earliest businessmen, who was Jewish.

I had to ask, “Who were the Netzorgs, and just how many Jewish residents did Gratiot County have in its early history?”

They Came as Businessmen and Entrepreneurs

Born in Lipnitz, Hungary-Austria, in 1833, Michael Pollasky was probably the first of Gratiot County’s Jewish settlers. After arriving in Newark, New Jersey, he lived briefly in Detroit, worked in the dairy business, apprenticed as a shoemaker, and then traveled through upper Michigan as a trader. He came to Alma when it consisted of only a few log cabins and Ralph Ely’s sawmill. After attempting different businesses in Alma, he eventually tried buying and shipping hides, tallows, and fur pelts. Pollasky’s store in Alma quickly became known as the finest of its kind between Saginaw and Grand Rapids. Unfortunately, the store eventually burned down in a fire. Still, Michael Pollasky continued to work hard and he later built a brick block on the corner of Superior and State streets. It became known as the Pollasky Block and remains a part of the city’s center today. Pollasky was more than a successful businessman. He served as village president between 1880-1882, became active in many private and public affairs in Alma, and was a Mason for fifty years. 

There were more Jewish business people in Gratiot County’s early history. Over in Ithaca, Wolf Netzorg made a name for himself by opening and maintaining a general merchandise store starting in 1877. Born in Russia, Netzorg came to the United States at age 20, joined his uncles in St. Charles, Michigan, and worked as a peddler for almost three years. He then entered into business in Ithaca with a partner, Nyman Yesner, and became the store’s sole owner in 1883. Netzorg’s became one of the more well-known stores in the village of Ithaca, and it remained in business until after Wolf Netzorg died in 1909. After his death, Wolf Netzorg’s body was brought home from Texas, and he received a short funeral service at his home. Also a Mason, he had six Ithaca businessmen serve as pallbearers at his internment in a Saginaw cemetery.

In February 1908, the Cohen Brothers came to Alma and purchased the Messinger and Company clothing store. Arriving from Pennsylvania, they tried their hand at clothing for seven years until they sold their business for lack of a suitable store building. The Cohens then moved their business to Woodward Avenue in Detroit. During their time in Alma, the Cohen Brothers regularly advertised their business and wares in county newspapers.

These were only some of the names of the earliest Jewish business people in Gratiot County. Others would live and work here in the twentieth century, including names like Berman, Werbelow, Simon, Klein, and Bransdorfer.

Still, we can ask why people in Gratiot County do not know about these early families. Part of the reason could be that they faded from county history because many family patriarchs passed away by the advent of World War I. In some cases, a business was sold or closed, or surviving family members married and moved away after their parent’s deaths.

Advertising and announcements in newspapers are the only evidence today that Gratiot County had Jewish residents during its early history. The Pollasky, Messinger, or Cohen businesses closed on Yom Kippur, and they sometimes announced the news of a Jewish christening or marriage in the community. 

In April 1931, a turning point occurred when one of the last Jewish pioneer businesspeople passed away. Simon Messinger came to Alma in 1869 and soon became affiliated with the Pollasky store. Born in 1849 in Austria, Messinger came to America at age 17 and arrived in New York, where he worked with his brother for two years before moving to Alma. Simon Messinger became well known for his clothing store, married Anna Pollasky, and had four daughters. When he died, a Masonic service took place at his home with Alma Lodge Number 244forming a fraternal guard at the home’s entrance. His body was then transferred to Detroit, where he was laid to rest in Woodmere Cemetery. Looking back on his life, the Alma Record later stated that Messinger had attained a reputation as one who wanted Alma’s future to be progressive and moving forward.

Gratiot County after the Pioneers

After World War I, Gratiot County was confronted with the plight of Jewish refugees in

Europe. The Jewish War Relief campaign, also known as Jewish War Sufferers Relief, took place in Michigan. In December 1921, the goal was to raise $500,000 to help those in Russia and Central Europe who faced starvation. To enlist Gratiot County’s help, Rabbi Franklin of Detroit came to Alma High School on December 14 to raise funds, and the Alma Chamber of Commerce endorsed the meetings. Members of the Berman, Soule, Messinger, Pollasky, Rockstein, and Anspaugh families served on the Gratiot County committee to raise funds. They hoped that the people of Gratiot County would support the campaign.

 As the Great Depression started, European turmoil appeared on the horizon as totalitarian governments in Italy and Germany planted the seeds leading to the next world war. One of these groups would become known as the Nazis. Their leader, Adolf Hitler, wanted the destruction of the Jews of Germany and, ultimately, those within his reach on the European continent.

The next question would be, “What would Gratiot County do in response to the impending crisis known as the Holocaust?”

Watch Ken Burns’ “The U.S. and the Holocaust” on PBS.

Copyright 2022 James M Goodspeed

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We Remember “Gratiot County’s Missing Wild Animals”

A pair of wild animals of the 1960s appear in front of the Strand Theatre in Alma. The occasion was the “Wild Circus Sale” in Alma. The date was late June 1967. Jaycees Terry Johnston and Frank Hinderleider stand next to the lion while Strand owner John Musser rides the elephant.
An advertisement from the June 1, 1967 issue of the Gratiot County Herald invites the public to “See Wild Animals” in Ithaca.

Actress Phyllis Diler is caught by a big bear during the 1968 Highland Festival in Alma while the gorilla leads the way.
The last of its kind? The fiberglass elephant remains displayed at Best Sales on State Road south of St. Louis.

Ferocious or friendly? During the 1960s, many residents had to decide which word best described several wild animals that arrived in Gratiot County. These “beasts,” made up of at least seven different species, could be found on display and seen at various times and places in the county.

These animals, made out of fiberglass and often moved on small trailers, were used for promotions by business owners, movie theaters, and parades in Gratiot County starting in the late-1960s. Many young people of that time saw these creatures: an elephant, bear, turtle, rhino, gorilla, lion, and hippo.

One of the first times the fiberglass animals appeared was in June 1967, when they took part in  “bargain circus” sales in downtown Ithaca. Area shoppers were invited to store sales, and children received free snow cones on Friday evening. The animals’ appearance in Ithaca was just the start of several encounters between these beasts and the Gratiot County public starting that summer.

These animal promotions soon spread across Gratiot County. Over at Alma, the Jaycees, led by Terry Johnston and Frank HInderleider, sponsored what they termed the “Greatest Show on Earth,” a combination of promotions for the Strand Theatre and Alma merchants. Theatre owner John Musser promoted P. T. Barnum’s birthday with the reissue of Cecille C. DeMille’s movie “The Greatest Show on Earth,” which starred Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, and Betty Hutton. During that week, on Wednesday, July 5, 1967, an old-fashioned circus parade in Alma featured fiberglass animals. Afterward, when anyone passed the front of the Strand Theatre, they could see the elephant with the lion posed alongside it. At the start of the promotion, Musser, Johnston, and Hinderleider had their picture taken with the two animals, with Musser sitting on the elephant. Inside, the Strand displayed several of P.T. Barnum’s famous exhibits, while a circus barker stood out on the street each evening.

Two months later, in September 1967, the city of St. Louis also used the animals for sidewalk sales. As part of the sales Mayor Larry Shirely dressed as a circus hunter in an African safari-decorated theme in front of Shirely’s Furniture Store with the elephant in front. The elephant continued to be popular at Halloween when Kernen Buick-Opel rented it for car sales in Ithaca. Other merchants also rented some of the animals at different times. Another picture showed one on display in front of the Dog-N-Suds drive-in when it opened south of St. Louis.

Toward the end of the 1960s, the animals showed up in Alma in a parade for Santa’s arrival after Thanksgiving. A picture shows two helpers, dressed as Porky Pig and Donald Duck, pulling Harry the Hippo on a miniature wagon down Superior Street. More animals were probably in the parade on that day. They also made appearances during Alma’s Highland Festival in 1968. One photo shows a lady dressed as actress Phyllis Diller standing between the arms of the bear, each on a small float sponsored by Van Atten’s of Alma.

Gratiot County’s “wild animals” no doubt made many more appearances as the years passed. The question today is, what happened to these fiberglass animals? Before the Covid-19 outbreak in the late summer of 2019, I stopped to look at what may be the last remaining fiberglass animal in the county, the elephant. Today, the elephant is missing one tusk, but he is on display in front of Best Sales and Service,  visible by those passing the business on State Road south of St. Louis.

Many in Gratiot County may recall the famous Dandy/Tony’s Restaurant chicken that sat in front of the restaurant in St. Louis starting in the late 1960s. Was this renowned chicken one of the original fiberglass animals that came to Gratiot County during that decade? The story goes that the chicken was purchased and installed by Joe Nako when he owned the Dandy, making the chicken a landmark in the St. Louis community for decades. However, it is unclear exactly where Nako obtained the chicken.

Regardless, many baby boomers can recall the giant creatures. Possibly they were sold out of state, went into the hands of private collectors, or ended up being destroyed over time. Today, although the fiberglass “wild animals” that came to the county appear to be gone, their memories with the Gratiot baby boom generation continue.

Copyright 2022 James M Goodspeed

“Death at the Hands of the Belgian”: The Oscar Collins Murder Case of 1921

Oscar Collins as he appeared on the day that he entered Marquette State Prison in May 1921.

Ellen Crowe of Alma as she appeared in a montage along with her five children that she left behind in 1921.

Brown Street neighborhood in Alma as it appears today. Both the Crowe and Collins families lived on or near this street in 1921 when Ellen Crowe was brutally murdered.

These railroad tracks that Ellen Crowe walked down on the evening of February 5, 1921, ultimately led to her doom. Oscar Collins either waited for Crowe to walk by, or he followed her home that evening.

In the end, the scratches on Oscar Collins’s face caught up with him.

  On a night in early February 1921, a young woman named Ellen Crowe was attacked and brutally strangled to death on her way home from shopping in Alma. Crowe tried to fight off her attacker, swinging and digging at his face as two strong hands choked her. The murderer then dropped the young mother’s body at a crime scene fifty yards from her home. The neighborhood was south of the area formerly known as Millerville. Ellen Crowe’s death was Alma’s second murder in four years, and both had taken place only five blocks away from each other.

In a­­ sense, the death of Ellen Crowe (sometimes spelled Crow) was the result of the burgeoning liquor trade during Prohibition. Money was to be made selling moonshine whiskey, and every Gratiot County township had its liquor law violators. With moonshine quickly selling for $20 a jug, big and small stills operated in all parts of the county. At Crowe’s murder, the Lansing State Journal reported that Gratiot County officials knew “that it (was) practically impossible to keep moonshine out of Gratiot County.” In response to this homicide, Gratiot law enforcement immediately searched for a murderer and cracked down on a liquor ring in Alma.

Ellen Crowe, age 28, was a dedicated mother with a good reputation. She and her husband, Thomas, raised five children aged nine years to sixteen months. The Crowes struggled to support their family and had moved into their home on Brown Street less than a month earlier. Thomas Crowe took a night watchman’s job at a lumber mill in the town of Alba and had only been working there for three weeks. The situation left Ellen, who previously worked for Mrs. Laurence Sinkovits as a house cleaner, to raise the children while holding a job. Ellen sometimes walked into town for groceries along a path from Brown Street, which eventually connected to the railroad tracks. She soon learned that a nearby shack contained moonshine whiskey, and a neighbor sold it. For the sake of her children and her morals during Prohibition, Crowe became concerned about  Oscar Collins, who owned the shack and was a well-known moonshine supplier in Alma.

During the holidays of 1920, Oscar Collins was brewing and supplying buyers with whiskey as part of what was known by many as “Alma’s Moonshine Ring.” Selling moonshine around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays meant a lot of money for Collins. When someone asked about buying moonshine during a haircut at an Alma barbershop, the barber spoke up and said, “Just see Oscar Collins.” An immigrant, “Oscar Callens” arrived in the United States in New York in 1913 from Conegheim, Belgium, aboard the SS Noonland. He soon went to Chicago, married, had several children, and moved to Gratiot County. He quickly became known around Alma as “The Belgian,” possibly due to his accent and rough demeanor. Collins also had relatives in the Gratiot countryside. Most of these family members were farmers, and one of them, Victor Collins, had a farm several miles south of Alma, making it an excellent location for creating and holding moonshine.

Upon arrival in her neighborhood, Ellen Crowe soon learned that Oscar Collins was dealing in moonshine,  confronted Collins about his shack, and threatened him to stop or she would turn Collins into the police. As a result of the threats, Collins moved his moonshine to the local lumber mill near the railroad tracks. Because of Ellen Crowe, Oscar Collins lost business around the holiday season, and Collins remarked more than once to others that “She (Crowe) will get what’s coming to her.” In fits of anger over lost liquor sales, Oscar Collins made comments to several men inside the whiskey ring. Collins stated that Ellen Crowe “squawked” too much, she would pay the price, and that “I will fix her” and “I will take care of her.”

On the early evening of Saturday, February 5, 1921, Ellen Crowe went to the post office and the  Cleveland Grocery on Bridge Street, then stopped at her employer’s home, Mrs. Laurence Sinkovits on Grafton Avenue. As Ellen prepared to leave for home, Mrs. Sinkovits urged Ellen to be careful about walking down the tracks to get home as the route could be dangerous. Ellen went that direction because there were no sidewalks, the railroad tracks were drier, and this offered a shorter route home. Crowe said goodbye to Mrs. Sinkovits, then proceeded down the steps and went her way. It was sometime after 7:00 p.m. Ellen Crowe would never be seen alive again.

Early the following day, February 6, 1921, around 10:00 a.m., two boys, Donald Blanck and Paul Ritter traveled along the path from the railroad tracks, then went past Collins’ shack and found a body. It was that of Ellen Crowe, who laid just over fifty yards from her home in the pathway. Near the body were a letter, newspaper, a bottle of ketchup, and a jar of olives. One rubber was almost off Crowe’s left shoe, and her fur collar covered her neckline. The collar covered some of the marks on her neck. Ellen’s cap was partly off, but her purse remained intact, suggesting that the killer was not after her money. The police were called and soon appeared on the scene of the crime. After a quick autopsy, which showed five finger marks on the right side of her neck and three on the left, the coroner ruled that death resulted from strangulation. When police and neighbors went to the Crowe house, they learned that the children had spent the night alone as their mother had failed to come home. Another murderer was on the loose in Alma, and the police immediately went into motion to find out who killed Ellen Crowe and why.

The police and sheriff’s department quickly controlled information about the murder and the investigation. Most of this resulted from the bungled and confusing elements surrounding the Beatrice Epler case in 1917. During the Epler murder, Alma police felt that too many people helped muddy the investigation as they went after a reward to help solve the crime. Also, the lack of arrests nearly three months after Epler’s murder contributed to a long, drawn-out trial and conviction. Many in Gratiot County felt that there remained questions about who killed Beatrice Epler and if the right person had been convicted or not. After four years, the court had not yet awarded the reward money for those who then supposedly helped solve the Epler murder. Strangely enough, the resolution of the reward money took place just after Ellen Crowe’s death and subsequent trial.

  In 1921, the Alma police and county sheriff’s department followed the strict rule not to tell anyone on the outside about the Ellen Crowe investigation. Police did allow one local newspaperman, Homer Dunham of the Alma Record, to be present while questioning suspects. Outside newspapers like the Lansing State Journal and Detroit Free Press wanted and demanded the same type of role as observers and access to information in the case that the Alma Record and Gratiot County Herald received. However, the “outside newspapers” were kept out and objected.  

Starting on the same day that Ellen Crowe’s body was found, the Alma police acted on tips and confessions from those who were  part of those who belonged to the “Alma Whiskey Ring.” The day after the murder, police brought nearly a dozen men to Alma’s City Hall for questioning in what police called a “John Doe court for investigation.” It did not take long for some of the men to talk. Herbert Rigg, Victor Collins (a cousin), Julius DeVeres, Joseph DeKeiser, William Stevenson, Stanley Baker, and Howard Griffin were suspects. Other names would also be mentioned: Joe Brennan, H.L. Thompson, Dan Duffey, and Arlie Ingraham. Herbert Rigg was among the first to break and eventually turned state’s evidence. Several men had heard Oscar Collins swear that anyone who messed with his liquor trade “would get what’s coming to them.” More than one in the group said that the threats Collins made all pertained to Ellen Crowe. These confessions pointed Police Chief Vibber and Sheriff Willert to one man: Oscar Collins.

Collins was brought in that Sunday night after the murder, and police invited Homer Dunham of the Alma Record to witness what was called “the grilling.” Others in the whiskey ring had received this same procedure that consisted of repeated, rapid-fire, endless questioning that lasted most of Sunday night and into Monday morning – all in an attempt to find out who killed Ellen Crowe. As soon as Collins appeared at City Hall, the police and Homer Dunham first noticed a series of deep scratches on Oscar Collins’ face. When asked why he had such marks, Collins repeatedly stated that he received them from playing with his fourteen-month-old child earlier that weekend. Collins confessed to having been at a nearby grocery store that Saturday evening of the murder, purchased some potatoes, and walked home. While Collins admitted to dealing in moonshine whiskey, he also stated that he had been outside Alma for much of that Saturday at his cousin’s farm. Collins never admitted to killing Ellen Crowe, saying that his only encounter with Crowe occurred when she picked berries near his shack the previous summer. At that time, the Crowes lived in another house in the neighborhood. Finally, when pressed to confess to the murder, Oscar Collins stared at the police, then bluntly said, “Prove it.” He was let go that night.

However, after weighing the information gleaned from the rest of the “Alma Whiskey Ring,”  the threats by Oscar Collins, and most of all, the appearance of scratches on Collins’ face, the police arrested him five days later for the murder of Ellen Crowe. Investigators believed that  Collins had followed Ellen Crowe home that evening (he said he had been at a grocery store), or Collins waited for Ellen to pass on the trail while he hid behind his shack. Collins then attacked Crowe and proceeded to choke her to death. In her defense, Ellen Crowe swung wildly and tried to fend off the attacker by scratching his face. Unfortunately, Crowe could not defend herself against a stronger foe, but she clawed the attacker repeatedly in the face before she died. A photographer from Alma, Willard E. Baker, took pictures of the murder scene and at least one photo of Oscar Collins in the days following the murder because it showed the scratches. Over the next few months, several photographs of Collins appeared in county and state newspapers, with profiles that featured his face’s right side. Pictures of Ellen Crowe with her young children also appeared in the newspapers.

Oscar Collins was quietly arraigned later that week by the sheriff’s department, and almost no one in Ithaca knew that Collins was appearing before a judge. He then sat in jail for weeks before his arraignment while others in the Alma Whiskey Ring faced the quick judgment of the county court. Judge Moinet immediately sentenced most of the men within two weeks of the murder. Several of them received six months to one year in the Ionia Reformatory. When Dan Duffey, one of the ring members, came up for arraignment, he tried to bail himself out. When he did provide bail for $1,000, additional charges were placed against him, and Duffey was forced to raise another $1,000. When he met that bail, prosecutors submitted another charge against him and asked for still larger bail. This time, Duffey, out of money and friends to bail him out, went to jail until his sentencing. As the arraignments and sentencings came down on the whiskey ring, county newspapers reminded readers that every citizen needed to cooperate with law enforcement to stop selling and distributing illegal liquor.

  In March, prosecutors showed the court cause for a case against Oscar Collins by only revealing enough evidence to warrant a trial and to avoid thus tipping their hand to the defense. This procedure left the defense attorney, Romaine Clark, guessing what precisely the prosecution had on Oscar Collins. One of the problems Clark had was dealing with those from the ring which turned against Collins to save themselves. A key witness was Herbert Rigg, who claimed that he twice heard Collins threaten to kill Crowe on New Year’s Day, saying, “I’ll fix her (Ellen Crowe) before she ever squawks on me again.” Rigg noted that he was with Collins on that day when they retrieved whiskey, which Collins hid by a nearby bridge. Rigg also stated that he believed that Ellen Crowe was murdered because of what she knew and that she was going to the police. After reviewing the motions by the prosecution, the court granted a trial for Oscar Collins, who remained in the Gratiot County jail for two more months. When Collins was allowed a visit with his wife and children, the entire Collins family was observed and told they could only talk to each other in English.

On May 9, 1921, the Oscar Collins murder case began and lasted ten days. Almost all of the jurors save one were either farmers or retired farmers in Gratiot County. Collins appeared relaxed,  happy, and smiling at his table during the first two days of the trial, believing that the prosecution would fail to convict him. Collins’ wife and children also saw him for a few minutes in court daily. Things for Oscar Collins began to change on the third day of the trial. One of the points of the trial dealt with the marks on Ellen Crowe’s neck and the size of Collins’ hands. Prosecutors argued that the bruises and marks on Crowe’s neck were a match, even though the defense questioned this throughout the trial. Regardless, the brutality of Ellen Crowe’s death kept being brought in front of the jury. In another twist, the sheriff testified that he examined the child Collins claimed scratched him. However, the sheriff remained unconvinced that a young child could have caused large and deep scratches just a day or hours before police had first questioned Oscar Collins.

Three men also testified to the threats Collins made against Crowe, including Arthur Easley, a tailor who bought moonshine from Collins several times and had been inside the Collins shack. He was another man to testify to Collins’ threat: “By God, I’ll get her (Ellen Crowe). I do not dare to keep liquor at the house.”   Neighbors also testified that Oscar Collins was one of two men they saw outside, looking and pointing toward the scene of the murder the following morning. Another problem for Oscar Collins was his alibi for the evening of the murder, which he changed since his arrest. Although Collins confessed to dealing in illegal liquor and implicated his cousin Victor Collins in the process, Oscar Collins had concocted his alibi about being out of town during most of the day of the murder and that Collins was out at his cousin’s house. Now Oscar Collins said he could not have been in Alma when the murder occurred. This explanation did not match earlier testimony and conflicted with the story that Collins had been at a grocery store that Saturday night. When he took the witness stand in his defense, Collins confessed to selling moonshine, but he was adamant about being innocent of the murder of Ellen Crowe. Although prosecutors pressed him about changing his story, Collins remained firm that he was now telling the truth. Still, there remained inconsistencies from defense witnesses about where Oscar Collins was and what he did on the day of the murder. Also, there was conflicting testimony about when some defense witnesses saw the scratches on Collins’ face. As the trial wound down,  some defense testimony did not agree or sound convincing.

On the last day of the trial, a Saturday, the court met, and the jury adjourned at 11:00 a.m. The verdict came back in three hours: Oscar Collins was guilty of first-degree murder, and he would receive a life sentence in Marquette, Michigan. On the afternoon of May 27, 1921, Oscar Collins, accompanied by deputies Ray Willert and Sydney Williams, arrived at Marquette State Prison to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Before the start of the trial, Ellen Crowe’s funeral took place on February 10, 1921, and she was placed in Alma’s Riverside Cemetery vault. During coverage of the murder, some newspapers referred to her by her former name, Mamie Ellen Stull. Soon, Ellen’s husband and children picked up and moved to the Grand Rapids area, where Thomas Stull later remarried.

Collins immediately tried to appeal his case to the State Supreme Court. A group of people made up of family members and a Belgian newspaper in Detroit solicited and raised $2000 for the appeal. The appeal was denied in 1923, and Collins continued his prison time at Marquette. As another consequence of his crime, Oscar Collins’ wife divorced him.

However, Collins got a break in August 1935 when Michigan Governor Fitzgerald made him eligible for immediate parole. Judge Moinet, who oversaw the trial in 1921 and now served as a judge in the Eastern Michigan District Federal Court of Detroit, refused to recommend Collins for any early out. On the other hand, Gratiot County Judge Kelly Searl, who had been the assistant prosecutor in 1921, wrote for a pardon and said that” while the jury found Collins guilty, there always has been doubt in my mind.”  Collins’ prison records show that he worked as a janitor and had been noted for good behavior.

After he got out of prison, “The Belgian” became a naturalized citizen in 1942,  later lived at Jackson’s Trailer Camp in Van Dyke, Michigan, and died in 1973. Collins was buried in Bay County, where his marker read “Father.”

Strangely, however, in all of the years since the 1921 trial of Oscar Collins, no other person was ever arrested or tried for the murder of Ellen Crowe. She was simply an Alma woman concerned about her children and the liquor traffic in Gratiot County during Prohibition and who met her fate at the hands of “The Belgian.”

Copyright 2022 James M. Goodspeed

We Remember “Women’s Suffrage in Gratiot County and the Right to Vote, 1916-1920”

October 24, 1918 advertisement in the Alma Record.
Alma Record advertisement dated October 31, 1918.
An early movement for women’s suffrage: August 31, 1916, Alma Record.

In the late summer of 1916, the city of Alma had a problem. The city needed to construct a new sewer and water system, and citizens voted to pass a bond to approve the project. In 1916, women were not allowed to vote in elections; however, in this case, they could vote on the bond issue.

Anti-suffragists in Alma (most likely men) had problems allowing women to vote. They feared women would move toward a larger goal, such as gaining full equal rights to vote in other elections. To keep Alma women from voting, they tried one tactic. Anti-suffragists cried that if women voted that morning, they were taking time away from home duties such as raising the children and keeping the house.

In response, women in Alma showed that they had had enough. On that election day, many women in the city organized and descended upon the voting precincts precisely at 3:00 pm. Anti-suffragists were so astonished at the women’s turn out that someone, or some people, tampered with ballots by incorrectly folding them. This move resulted in the disqualification of many of the votes. However, enough good ballots overcame the anti-suffragist scheme, and the Alma bond issue passed decisively, thanks to the large turnout of women.

While these Alma women made a statement about their right to vote in 1916, there was still a way to go for women in Gratiot County to gain the same right to vote that men had. However, women took a decisive step forward the following spring.

In April 1917,  Frances Burns, a national women’s suffrage movement leader, was the key speaker at a meeting held at the Alma IOOF Hall. A total of 60 women came and signed up as National League for Women’s Service members. Together they raised $74.25 toward their $200 goal to establish a county chapter. 

The women’s suffrage movement picked up more steam as state elections approached in the fall of 1918. By that September, it appeared more and more that Michigan was ready to grant women the right to vote. Another mass meeting at Alma High School featured Frances Burns and E.C. Warriner from Central Michigan Teachers College as speakers. At the same time, the state Republican Party began publishing advertisements in county newspapers stating that the party now endorsed a women’s suffrage amendment.

Suffragists set out across Gratiot County to find out just how many of Gratiot’s women wanted the right to vote. These canvassers reported that 90 percent of the women in the county wanted the right to vote and signed petitions. In many places in Gratiot County, the third Sunday in October 1918 became known as “Suffrage Sunday,” as local ministers were asked to use that Sunday to support women’s suffrage. Also, on that Sunday, Mrs. F.M. Harrington held a county rally at 2:30 pm in Ithaca. Probably the tiny turnout on that day occurred because of the existence of quarantine measures due to the Influenza Epidemic in Gratiot County. Even though only 40 women showed up,  local merchants began sponsoring advertisements in the county newspapers saying that they too supported women’s right to vote. 

Suffragists applied other pressure to how Gratiot County’s population should think about women’s suffrage. During each week in October, a large advertisement appeared in the Alma Record showing how many men voted in the last election and how many women petitioned for the right to vote. In Alma’s first ward, 254 women signed petitions demanding voting rights. Notices of women’s intentions in Alma’s other wards soon followed.

As the right to vote headed toward its goal in the fall of 1918, only one thing stood in its way – the Influenza Epidemic hit the county in October and now was spreading. Large meetings were discouraged, and women needed to postpone their plans. But would they?

On November 7, 1918, Gratiot County voted on the issue of women’s suffrage and the right to vote. A total of 2,349 residents said yes, while 1,496 said no. While a few of the county’s precincts had close votes, only Newark Township failed to support the issue of a woman’s right to vote.

It seemed that by the time of the state elections in 1918, Gratiot County and other counties got the message – it was time that women be allowed the right to vote the same as men. While it would be another two years before the United States passed the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, the issue of women’s suffrage by that time was a done deal in Gratiot County and Michigan.

Soon other things in the county came about due to the 1918 vote. The county’s Republican Party established the Women’s Republican Club and courted women to join the organization. In 1919, Gratiot County had its first trial in Ithaca, where the jury consisted only of women. A year later, Sara Brodebeck became the first woman to run for public office when she ran for the county clerk’s position as a Democrat in 1920. Brodebeck was soundly defeated. However, the number of votes she garnered appeared to many in the county to be a moral victory.

As the decade of the 1920s began, Gratiot County women now possessed something that many women labored nationwide for decades – the right to vote.

Copyright 2022 James M Goodspeed

Gratiot’s Finest Hour – “Retrospect: Looking Back at Gratiot County during World War II”

Front page of Gratiot County Herald, dated August 16, 1945.
Alma Record dated August 9, 1945.

In January 2019, I started a journey of writing about Gratiot County during its watershed moment of the Twentieth Century, which was (and is) World War II.

Before starting this project in 2017-2019, I was completing a history of Gratiot County during World War I, as that war was commemorating its centennial. It was challenging to finish that project and shift gears, but I needed to do so. Technically the 75th anniversary of World War II had been underway, and the two wars overlapped with their respective anniversaries. Still, I wondered, who was paying attention to America’s involvement in these world wars and who cared?

Because the 75th anniversary of World War II was well underway, I decided to pick up Gratiot County’s involvement beginning in January 1944, leaving me with the task of covering the last twenty months of the war. Most of the writing you find here on the blog was based on our history, as seen from our county archives and newspapers such as the Gratiot County Herald, Alma Record, and St. Louis Leader-Press.

As time went on, it turned out that it took me 3 ½ years of my own life to cover 20 months of Gratiot County’s history during that time of war. Although I did not anticipate it, the world of COVID threw up roadblocks and challenges that none of us anticipated. Archives and libraries closed, which hampered this project while we dealt with the first pandemic to hit Gratiot County since 1918. With these shutdowns, I quickly fell behind my goal of finishing the history on time; hence here I am in the summer of 2022. The last six months of the war proved very taxing as more war coverage expanded in 1945. Still, I attempted to try and write about some of the events, issues, and people tied to Gratiot County during World War II.

And so, the project expanded as time went on. After writing a total of 96,111 words about Gratiot County  during World War II (or an average of 4,805 words per chapter), there were some things that I wanted to highlight to readers:

-I hoped this project would be a start in preparing for the time when Gratiot County looks back at the centennial of World War II when the county gets to the 2040s. I hope I am here at that time,  but right now, I have only had the grit and energy to cover the last two years of the war (1944-1945).

-What I wrote about here on the blog was a chronicle, drawing from what I believed to be the most important topics and themes during the war. Things like rationing, farming, the draft, who served and where they were stationed, and those who were wounded, killed, or missing in action – all of these were key to the war here on the home front in Gratiot County.

-No matter what events, places, and names were covered, there were more that should be mentioned. Similarly, no matter what letters of service members were published or stories of where our men and women were during the war, there were more. It became impossible to write about them all – and sometimes, I was asked why I missed a reader’s father or grandfather. I probably missed stories of those wounded in action, although I tried to recognize those we lost as killed in action.  

-Looking back, Gratiot County pulled together and overcame the crisis we know today as World War II. However, it came with a high cost. A total of 116 men lost their lives defending Gratiot County and the nation, and their names appear on the All Wars Memorial in Ithaca. The war also did not ultimately end for some men who did come home. Veterans struggled to find work and how to support themselves and their families, even as economic problems came with inflation and the adjustment to a “peacetime economy.” Some of these men struggled in their marriages and with what we today know as a post-traumatic stress disorder. Still, these men went on and helped build the postwar county many of us inherited. The return home of these servicemen also triggered what became known as the “baby boom,” which affected schools and school enrollment for several decades.

-Probably the most important question from this look at Gratiot County during World War II remains this one: if a national emergency such as another world war took place, could Gratiot County (and America) come together as it did in the early 1940s? Members of that generation asked that question as we passed through the Cold War, Korea, and Vietnam, economic recessions, political scandals, good times, and bad. Could we, as residents of Gratiot County, come even close to what “The Greatest Generation” pulled off? I seriously wonder about trying to answer that question.

That generation and events made up “Gratiot’s Finest Hour.”

Copyright 2022 James M Goodspeed

Gratiot’s Finest Hour, August 1945: “At War’s End”

Private Harry Hill of Alma (far left) sits with two other Michigan soldiers at a rest camp on Okinawa. The three soldiers had been together through two campaigns.

Private L.C. Whitford uses a Ford-Ferguson tractor for the Percy Jones hospital center agricultural school farms at Fort Custer. Whitford was recovering from wounds received while serving in the 26th Infantry Division in France.

A final wartime period ration calendar illustrates rationing as it took place in August 1945.

The End of the Pacific War

The title of a county newspaper on August 9, 1945, read “Ruination is Visited on Japanese.”  It had been three days since the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima; now, a  second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan, and just like that, the Second World War in the Pacific had ended. Signing a peace treaty and getting American troops into Japan would take a bit longer. Still, most in America heard and believed that the war was over. Gratiot County had officially been at war with the Axis Powers for almost exactly three years and eight months.

There had been warnings to the public that the Pacific War against Japan could go on until late 1946. Now, not only did the war end suddenly in August, but the atomic era began in human history. These new weapons would usher in new and dramatic changes across the world. It turned out that the official surrender of Japan was announced in Gratiot County during the early evening of Tuesday, August 14. In response, the county went wild.

Just how did V-J  Day affect Gratiot County?  Celebrations in the county caused businesses and factories to close. Most did so on Wednesday and some on Thursday because President Truman declared a two-day federal holiday. Still, it was unclear which day the community was supposed to celebrate – and many people celebrated both.

City sirens, horns, church bells, and factory whistles went off once the news arrived on Tuesday evening. Unorganized celebrations in Alma started that evening and continued into the next day. People took to their cars and trucks, plugging intersections and downtown streets. In Ithaca, Howard Goodspeed tried to bring in wheat that he had thrashed for farmers in Newark Township. When he pulled his wagon-load into the village, traffic was stuck and backed up toward the city park as people in Ithaca got out of their cars, honked their horns, danced, and celebrated. Across the county,  a joyful celebration exploded that marked the end of the long war that started at Pearl Harbor.

During different celebrations, men in service uniforms stood out in the crowds. In Alma, an impromptu snake dance occurred throughout the downtown, causing the streets to become littered with scraps of paper. Some people in cars threw corn and grain into the air to simulate confetti while bystanders and automobile drivers thought they were being hit with stones. Michigan issued a state wide 24 hour shut down of all places selling liquor, starting Tuesday night. Yet, Alma police who tried to monitor the traffic sere were very lenient with those who appeared to be inebriated.

Alma had an official parade to end the war at 9:30 am on Wednesday. The Alma Chamber of Commerce, which had loosely planned for a victory parade in town whenever it happened, took charge and assembled those who wanted to participate. Moving down Superior Street from west to east, the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts led the parade. Then came the returned service members, V-12 apprentice seamen from Alma College appearing in white uniforms, followed by school children and numerous cars and trucks.

St. Louis also made noise as people spilled into Mill Street, but things appeared more orderly. On the previous Saturday, Representative T. Jefferson Hoxie distributed handbills on what St. Louis would do when the war’s official end took place. A parade quickly was assembled, led down the street by the St. Louis High School band. Snake dances broke out, led by sailors and other service members in uniform. Sirens, horns, yelling, and celebrations continued late into the night. At one point, the American Legion “shot” an effigy of Hirohito at Saginaw and Mill streets.

While many St. Louis churches had no plans for services like they did during D-Day, most were open to the public for prayer and meditation. The coming Sunday services in town were also meant to be a time of commemoration and thanksgiving.

However, people quickly wondered what stores, businesses, and factories were to close, and for how long? President Truman had announced legal holidays for Tuesday and Wednesday, but for federal employees only, which created confusion in Gratiot County. On Wednesday, in Alma, all stores and businesses shut down, as did many factories. The Gratiot County courthouse also closed for the entire day. The problem for some was how long to stay closed. Banks and city offices opened up on Thursday, as did most grocery stores which observed the summer ritual of operating on a half-day on Thursdays. Owners had to decide how long to stay closed due to nationwide confusion on what the holiday (or holidays) meant.

When it came to the end of the war it turned out that Gratiot County did play a small role in building the atomic bomb. The Alma Trailer Company built and trucked hundreds of three-section homes to Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Workers there used these homes while secretly working on the bomb.

Regardless, Gratiot County celebrated the longest and most costly war it had fought. Now, it was time to celebrate, rest, heal, and mourn. The Second World War was now over, even though it had cost Gratiot County well over one hundred of its young men who tried to defend the county and nation.

Farming

During the last month of the war, the main issues for Gratiot County farmers centered around potential problems with crops and how to enable returning service members to return to farming.

The corn, beet, and bean crops all looked like they had improved from a rough spring-early summer start. Some farmers feared that corn would be affected by a poor yield unless the county had a late summer.

One issue that the county did not have was harvesting enough wheat – which was turning out to be the largest crop in fifty years in Michigan. So much grain came in that elevators did not have enough train cars to haul the wheat. By early August, some shipping had improved as more freight cars arrived to take away the grain, but elevators in Michigan still needed 5,000 more cars. Farm leaders feared that if something did not happen in August, elevators would dump and pile wheat outside, leaving valuable wheat to spoil in bad weather. For the first time that summer, due to the largest oat crop in 25 years, the government offered loans on oats graded Number 3 or better. The loans averaged 48 cents per bushel.

Other problems like potato blight, corn borers, and coddling moths appeared. Another problem in the county dealt with the increased number of starlings, which became topics of conversation in towns. The Alma mayor took complaints from residents who complained about the large flocks of birds. In the end, the mayor admitted, “We will just have to take it (the problem with birds).”

Milk production continued to run well as 347 cows in 26 herds averaged over 740 pounds of milk and 30 pounds of fat. Over in Breckenridge, A. J. Neitzke had a brown swiss that produced 1,764 pounds of milk and 70.6 fat.

Another issue that Gratiot County farmers dealt with was migrant labor. During the war, Mexican labor became an essential part of the farm season as laborers started to appear early in the summer. The federal government again increased payments for farmers who contracted to grow more sugar beets in 1946. Farmers already received $12.50 a ton for beets, but who would help cultivate and harvest this critical crop? The answer involved Mexican workers.

The number of Mexican laborers and their families in Gratiot County and the Saginaw Valley grew each summer during the war. As a result, something needed to exist to allow both husbands and wives to work in the fields. Two centers, one in Breckenridge and another in Beebe, were places where Mexican children could be left while their parents worked. At these locations, Miss Katherine Andreas and Miss Christine Moreno worked under the Home Mission Board, holding Daily Vacation Bible School and weekly recreation programs for migrant children. The recreation programs were well attended, and in Breckenridge, as many as 145 migrant children participated. The Gratiot County Council of Churches paid $300, almost half of the anticipated budget, for the programs, while the Home Mission Board in Chicago made up the rest. The program provided Spanish and English classes, and trips for migrants.

Unfortunately, one of the issues that appeared in the news dealt with an occasional arrest of a Mexican worker. In early August in downtown Ashley, Antonio Fernandez assaulted another worker with a knife during a brawl. Geronimo Linares received a deep gash from his ear lobe to his upper lip, which took fourteen stitches to close. Fernandez stood trial in Ithaca for the assault. Despite this incident, the overwhelming number of migrant workers who came into the county to work each summer worked hard to support their families and caused few problems.

Other news items involving farmers included farm programs, plans for returning veterans, and other new methods of protecting crops. The Gratiot County Farm Bureau had its annual picnic at Conservation Park in Alma. Day Bigelow and Clarence Cornwell became new Farm Security Administration committee members. Their goal was to help returning veterans find work on county farms. Returning servicemen were eligible for forty-year, three percent loans under the Bankhead Jones Farm Tenant Act. The veteran needed to be an experienced farmer, and he received help if he could not get credit elsewhere.

Emerson Township became the focus of a farm inheritance study from the Michigan State College Farm Management Department. The purpose of the survey centered on helping farmers transfer their farms safely to the next generation. The program also stated that tenant farmers made up 31 percent of the farms in Gratiot County. Finally, weed killer 2-4D was applied to areas west of Alma on the Naffzinger farm for poison ivy. In Alma, other people like R.H. Mantey’s and Carl Vanderbeek’s home received the spray for bindweed, artichoke, ragweed, burdock, and catnip, as did the Thomas Home Garden west of Alma. Many people remained curious about how effective the spray would be and how it affected these locations in the next year.

Rationing Takes a Few Turns

The end of the war with Japan immediately changed how rationing affected Gratiot County. However, rationing had a way to go before it completely ended. Until V-J Day, county newspapers continued to urge citizens to conserve tin, paper, fats, oil, and sugar.

Meat rationing and distribution remained a hot topic in the county, even though cuts occurred in rationing points for beef, veal, and lamb. During the summer, Black Market operations and the public’s desire for more meat plagued the Office of Price Administration (OPA). In some places in Gratiot County there seemed to be confusion about how much meat one could purchase as well as rationing points. The issue about meat rationing was important enough that local Grange meetings invited OPA spokesmen to come and explain what was going on with meat rationing.

In August, the biggest news about rationing concerned what became known as the Bartley Trial, the first OPA case to take place in Gratiot County’s Circuit Court. Before this trial, individuals who faced charges regarding rationing violations faced the law in Bay City Federal Court. This time a court case involving rationing violations officially took place in the county. James A. Bartley, the proprietor of Bartley’s Market in Alma, several times sold meat above ceiling prices and the OPA warned the Bartley to stop doing so. Complaints about Bartley first started in 1943, and he received official written warnings by mail at least three times. Bartley was also accused of slaughtering cattle, calves, and hogs for over three months in 1945 without officially registering his slaughterhouse with the OPA. Because Bartley refused to heed the warnings, the OPA now took him to court and asked that his license be suspended for one year. At sentencing Bartley most likely benefited from the sudden end of the war in August as he only faced a sixty-day suspension of his license.   

The end of the war improved rationing in some areas, while others remained unaffected. Varieties of men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing now required fewer points and lower retail prices. Tomato, orange, and grapefruit prices came off the rationing lists entirely. Shoe rationing was expected to end within two to three months, easing the anticipated need for fall and winter shoes. On the Wednesday after the Japanese surrender, rationing of gasoline, fuel oil, oil stoves, and blue point canned foods all officially ended. The printing of 187,000,000  newly designed ration books for the next year of the war suddenly halted. The OPA believed that enough ration stamps in the current books would last until 1946. The government told the automobile industry that it could return to total production with a goal of producing 5,000,000 new cars. The problem was that the companies needed more materials.  In the mean time, the companies prepared to set their prices for new automobiles, which were expected to be above the old 1942 ceiling prices.

The tougher rationing news was that some items would still need to be rationed and collected. Sugar, fats, oils, and butter remained rationed until 1946. The OPA feared that bottlenecks in the supply chain would occur, even though the military now required less of these items. Tractor and implement tires came off the list, but not passenger and truck tires.

Still, as August ended, more news from the OPA came out with more reduction points for butter. The rationing office in Ithaca also began to cut hours back to a forty-hour work week and closed on Saturdays.

The Draft

The United States Navy claimed it had 327,000 Navy men ready for immediate discharge, even though those with critical skills remained in the service. The first group targeted for early release involved those who were older and who had served longer during the war.

Despite the end of the war, the draft continued. The Gratiot County Draft Board followed orders to call those men ages 18 to 25, with 18-year-olds being the focus. Fifteen young men left Monday, August 13, for induction in Detroit; all but one went into the Army, while one entered the Marines. Franklin William Burke was the group leader of this contingent. Bernard Evey from Sumner and Marvin Gabrion from Ithaca headed into the Army. The lone Marine in the group was Young Hoyt from Alma.

In August, a final call went out for 17-year-olds who wanted to join the Army Specialized Training Reserve Program. These volunteers had to be high school graduates, and needed documentation of their parents’ consent and also proof of graduation. Residents in Ithaca received the Veteran’s Post War Community Survey. This survey asked Ithaca citizens what work opportunities existed for veterans who had no jobs when they came back home. The advertisement and survey form appeared in the Gratiot County Herald.

The Red Cross

While the Pacific War had no end in sight during the first week of August, the Gratiot County Red Cross requested the public’s help. To meet the needs of returning servicemen and veterans, a second Red Cross Home Service Office soon opened in Alma. Volunteers were needed as the chapter had no intention of closing down or reducing its hours.

 Russell Gaffney, a former businessman and well-known figure from Alma, returned home after spending fourteen months as a Red Cross assistant field director in Caledonia in the Pacific. Upon his return, Gaffney took up his old duties as head of the Gratiot County Bureau of Social Aid in Ithaca. He replaced Grover Brenneman, who became a supervisor in Bay County.

Letters Home to Gratiot County

During August, letters from across the world found their way into county newspapers. These letters reminded readers that Gratiot County still had men in Europe and the Pacific.

Seaman Second Class Charles LeBaron of Alma wrote to his wife about his time aboard the USS Hale, which saw action in the Pacific. LeBaron made it as far as an atoll near Ulithi, where he became a  part of Task Force  8. In March, the group headed toward the Japanese mainland in preparation for the Invasion of Okinawa. Within two weeks, the USS Hale was sending planes to attack the island of Shikoku and dodging Japanese dive bombers became more of an issue as the destroyer carried out its missions. One time a dive bomber narrowly missed the Hale. LeBaron recalled, “A Jap dive bomber picked us out while protecting a damaged destroyer and tried to get us. We fired everything in the book at him, but he kept coming g. We were all pretty scared since we thought he was a Kamikaze, but he wasn’t.” The plane missed the destroyer by 30 feet and shook the crew up, but no one was injured. LeBaron recorded lighter moments, such as the appreciation of receiving mail from home, which unfortunately was not frequent enough. Also, when he arrived in Guam he saw the first Red Cross girls and nurses in a long time, which reminded him of home. Arriving at Leyte in the Philippines, the crew rested, then headed toward the Japanese homeland. The USS Hale became the first American destroyer to bombard Japan and targeted the Kamasihi Steelworks.

Another shorter letter appeared in the newspapers from Private Bill Lator, who was from Ashley. Lator was now stationed in the Philippines, had a brother who was trying to get home from England and another brother stationed in Arkansas.

Doyle Plank wrote to his sister from the Mediterranean Theater, where he found a beautiful place in the aftermath of war. Plank served with the 798th Air Material Squadron as part of the 548th Air Service Group. Based on the Adriatic coast north of Rimini, he had to leave Florence, a place that he loved. Plank knew many Italian families from traveling the streets of Florence. Doyle wished that his sister could have seen the beautiful valley and sloping hills surrounding the city. As he concluded his letter, Private Doyle noted that he sat at a desk only 300 yards from the waterline of the Adriatic Sea.

More letters came from occupied Germany, where soldiers described the war’s end. Private Clare Ingersoll wrote from Stockstatd, Germany, after traveling 700 miles in a GI truck across the French Alps to the French Riviera. Arriving at Nice, an international resort, soldiers found places to stay that the Army now occupied which once charged $30 to $50 a night. Ingersoll wrote, “It is truly a wonderful place, but awfully hot – so hot that one could have gone around without anything on, and the only result would be a bad sunburn.” He also mentioned a bus trip to Grasse (which was a major perfume center),  Cannes, and Monte Carlo. However, Monte Carlo was off-limits for all troops. Private Frank Masarik wrote to his parents from Austria. He had just received two letters from them and stated that he would soon be headed to France. After nine months in the Army, Masarik received four battle stars, but humbly felt

he never did anything too important. He commented, “Maybe I never wanted to do anything brave. After the first days of combat, I saw how it was. It’s very easy to get shot, which I came close to getting in Bastogne.” At one point, while attacking the town of Fay, Masarik was one of only ten men left in his platoon that held their position for several hours until German tanks entered the fray. After he and his fellow soldiers took out most of a 20-man German patrol with grenades, he and others retreated. The man closest to him was hit, while Masarik escaped with only bullet holes in his shovel and canteen. He was grateful to have lived through the encounter at Fay, and he pledged to tell his parents later in detail what else happened.

Major Albert Anthony, the former pastor of Alma Presbyterian Church, wrote from Austria. He described visiting Hitler’s lair in the Alps. Anthony saw Hitler’s home, which sat on the brow of a peak and had a gigantic picture window. Amazingly, no part of Hitler’s home, the surrounding guard posts, or other buildings could be seen from the valley. Hitler’s window measured fifteen feet high and twenty-five feet long, but it was completely shattered. The interior of the house was burned, and all he could see were remains of furniture, bed springs, and overstuffed chairs. Anthony also mentioned that Hitler’s lodge had been equipped with the latest movie picture equipment. He also noted that dugouts and tunnels with complete living quarters ran for six miles into the mountains.

Finally, Sergeant Fred Hicks of St. Louis wrote from Berlin, Germany, as part of the 82nd Airborne’s occupation of the city. Hicks had been promoted and made it to Berlin by mid-August. The billets in Berlin were the best Hicks and his fellow paratroopers ever had. He wrote, “There are approximately three men to the room, and we have Beds (capitalized and underscored) to sleep on and our own bathroom (underscored) which is just a few steps from this room. As soon as we get some fuse plugs, we will have hot water.”  Even though the water was cold, he had electricity, and the place to stay was nice. Hicks also thought it was wonderful to have dressers and drawers. “It is a relief to pull a drawer open and pick up what we want instead of pulling everything out of a bag and finding what you want on the bottom.” Private Max Capen of Wheeler and Corporal Paul Rademacher of Alma were also in the 82nd Airborne.

Even though it was only August, families were urged to prepare now to get items mailed overseas to their service members for Christmas. An article in the Alma Record informed readers of the rules for packaging items and deadlines for mailing.

Those Who Served

News and updates about those who served Gratiot County continued in August 1945.

Lieutenant Avery Granger of Alma was part of a combined white and colored engineers who worked on the Ledo Road from Burma to China. Seaman 2/C Steve Plesko of Ashley had been aboard the USS Guam as it engaged the Japanese from Okinawa to the edge of the  Sea of Japan. On March 18, the USS Guam made its debut in battle in the Ryukyu Islands. Also in the Pacific, Seaman 2/C Albert Camargo served aboard the USS Birmingham. The Birmingham had traveled over 121,000, starting with the Invasion of Sicily to the battle at Okinawa. Camargo’s wife lived in Alma. Lieutenant Colonel W.B. Keyes of Elwell was home to speak to the Ithaca Rotary Club. Keyes vividly remembered being present at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack and described how he was knocked out when a bomb hit his hanger. Keyes had a long list of places where he saw action as a pilot in the Pacific, which included Midway, Solomon Islands, Guadalcanal, and Burma. His service earned him four oak leaf clusters, the silver star, and the Purple Heart. Keyes also earned the nickname “Bridge Buster” for his successful attacks in the India-Burma Theater. Sergeant Virgil Nelson of Perrinton spent two days successfully doing reconnaissance work in the Benguet Mountains of Northern Luzon, Philippines. Nelson had one enemy encounter, which lasted 45 minutes, but left 15 Japanese soldiers dead. He later commented that “I never saw so much lead flying.” Technical Sergeant Ford Parling of North Star was stationed at Saipan. He had been overseas for more than three years. Pharmacist’s Mate, First Class Roland Mayes, Jr. of Alma, had several close escapes during the Battle of Okinawa. Besides swarms of flies and mosquitoes, water problems, and lack of food supplies, Mayes survived being blown out of his hole at least four times – all without a scratch. Okinawa was the most intense fighting Mayes experienced in 38 months of service. Felton Muscott, Seaman First Class aboard the USS Hornet, received a two-week leave to come home to see his wife and three children. It was the first time Muscott saw his youngest child named Patty. Muscott had been aboard the Hornet when it survived a typhoon off the coast of Japan. Also caught in the same typhoon, RM2C Paul Martin of the United States Submarine Trutta remembered encountering winds of 150 miles per hour. The Trutta sank seventeen Japanese trips at one point. Brothers and cousins surprisingly met on Okinawa when Wayne Flegel, Romaine Flegel, and Nyal Flegel. Wayne and Romaine were Marines; Nyal was aboard the USS Sou Barrisson. The three had leave and spent one day and night together after not being together for three years. Glen Reeb, Water tender 3/C of St. Louis, served aboard a destroyer in the Pacific. Reeb spent over 20 months in the Pacific and witnessed action at Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Carolines, New Guinea, Marianas, Philippines, and Okinawa. His ship shot down four Japanese planes and sank an enemy submarine off Truk Island. Reeb attended Ashley High School before his service. Private Harry Hill of Alma had his picture taken with two other Michigan soldiers at a rest camp on Okinawa. The three men had been together in the same company for two campaigns. Hill had been overseas since late July 1944.

Sergeant Leonard Kaslander had been in Iceland, England, Ireland, and France as part of the headquarters of the 5th Infantry Division. A teacher from Shepherd Schools, his wife lived with her parents in Alma. First Lieutenant William Barstow of St. Louis came home on thirty-day leave after being at Nuremberg, Germany. Barstow was executive officer of the Motor Battalion of the Chemical Warfare Division. Barstow’s battalion was the first to cross the Remagen Bridge on the Rhine River during the war. After spending nearly three years in England, Sergeant P. Snacker of Ashley came home for a thirty-day leave, including the last six months in the Army Air Force. As of August, Snacker had eight years and seven months of service for the United States. Lieutenant Frank Baker of Perrinton came home on thirty-day leave after serving with the 42nd Bombing Group. He had been overseas piloting his B-17, “Dream Girl,” and led a bombing mission over Berlin. Before coming home, Baker transported liberated prisoners from Austria to England. Both Corporal Joseph Koval of St. Louis and Sergeant Rudy Tilharik of Ashley reported to the West Coast in anticipation of deployment to the Pacific. Both men had been in the Mediterranean Theater. A group of eight Gratiot County men returned home after serving with the 772nd Tank Destroyer Battalion as part of the 75th Division. Although they only entered combat in late December, the battalion saw intense action in France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany. Among this group were: (Alma) Staff Sergeant Arthur Cole, Corporal Lyle Goward, Sergeant Paul Sapp, Corporal Maywood Morris, Private Harold showers; (Ashley) Staff Sergeant Rudy Tihlarick; (Carson City) Private Carroll Mann and Technical Sergeant Mervin Rinckey. After seven months in Italy, Private Arthur Courter of Forest Hill came home on a 34-day leave. Corporal Joseph Mikula of Elwell went many places with the 296th Signal Installation Company. Among his many stations included England, Scotland, Wales, Africa, Italy, France, Germany, and Austria. Mikula now was back in Italy and awaited transportation home. Carl Peterson of Alma earned his honorable discharge with 89 points and mustered out of the Army. Peterson served overseas for three years and was part of the 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion, First Armored Infantry. He saw action and went to places like Tunisia, Naples, Foggia, Rome-Arno, Upper Apennines, and the Po Valley. T/5 Milford Peacock of St. Louis, who had been part of the 35th Santa Fe Division, fought from the Elbe River to within 42 miles of Berlin. Peacock first touched European soil when he landed in France on July 7, 1944. He was now on his way home to St. Louis.

In the United States, Technical Sergeant Glen Langworthy, Jr. of Elwell, served as an instructor for nineteen months in the Army Air Forces engineering school at Marsh Field near Riverside, California. He recently moved to Boise, Idaho, to take a course for engineers of bomber crews. After completing paratrooper training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, Private Eugene Smaltz of Middleton came home on a 17-day leave. His next stop was Officers Candidate School in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Marine Private Laura Simmons of Ithaca first worked to make B-29s for Fisher Body Corporation in Lansing; she then joined the Marines in February 1945. A 1940 Ithaca High School graduate, Simmons completed boot camp at Camp Lejeune and now served at the Marine Corps air station in El Toro, California. Corporals Arlene and Margaret Fortney of Ithaca finished their schooling at Fort Oglethorpe and Percy Jones Hospital. Both girls managed to get one day of leave to visit their parents. The Fortney sisters liked their work and welcomed letters from friends. Lieutenant Dorothy McClintock, an Alma High School graduate, was stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and announced her engagement to Technical Sergeant Orlynn Eyer, also of Alma. Eyer spent two years in India with a signal corps service group.

Finally, a few of Gratiot County’s servicemen would bring home other people known as “war brides.”  Kenneth Harrier, a member of the Maritime Service in England, married Miss Gladys Jones. They met while Harrier prepared for the D-Day Invasion, and three days after their wedding, he was back aboard his ship. In another instance, Corporal J. B. Guild of Ithaca married Miss Mable Miles of Brighton, England. Corporal Guild was a 1934 Ithaca High School graduate and worked at the Phillips 66 station until going into the Army in January 1942. Corporal Guild served in Iceland, England, and France. He eventually received a two-week leave to return to England to marry his English bride. After the wedding, Guild returned to the continent and was stationed in Germany while awaiting his discharge. Like the Harriers, Corporal Guild planned to have his bride come to Gratiot County – which ultimately happened!

Those Wounded, Killed, Missing

In August 1945, one saw the costs of defending Gratiot County by those who returned home but who had been wounded.

Private L.C. Whitford of Alma was sent to Percy Jones Hospital Center. Whitford appeared in a picture on the front page of the Alma Record driving a Ford-Ferguson tractor on the hospital’s agricultural school farm at Fort Custer. Whitford was expected to fully recover from injuries he suffered while with the 26th Infantry Division in France. After being wounded in the Pacific, Captain Michael Andrews of Alma came home with his wife and two sons from Fort Jackson, South Carolina, after having a third operation on his leg. After visiting his parents in Alma, Andrews had to return to Fort Jackson. Second Lieutenant John Skriba of Ithaca became a new patient at Vaughn Army Hospital in Hines, Illinois. Skriba had been in the service since 1941 and served as platoon infantry leader in the Pacific for 25 months. While it was not told how Skriba was wounded, he received a presidential citation and the Purple Heart after seeing action in the Marshalls and on Atter, Okinawa, and the Philipines. Private Marvin Haas, formerly of North Star, came home on a 30-day leave after being wounded on February 8 while crossing the Ruhr River. Haas had been part of the 6th Armored Division of Patton’s Third Army. After coming home, Haas returned to Bordens General Hospital in Chickasha, Oklahoma. The Gratiot County Veterans Counselor, C.R. Robinson, attended a conference in Lansing. Robinson learned that some men coming home to Michigan from the Pacific still suffered from return attacks of malaria.

Despite the ending of the war, more bad news arrived in the county regarding those who paid the ultimate price for service for the county. Private Clyde Damon of Riverdale had been reported wounded in action on December 14, 1944, near Strass, Germany. After months of uncertainty, Mrs. Alta Daymon was told that her son died the following day and was buried in Margraten Cemetery in Holland. It was a hard and bitter blow for the Daymon’s as they held out hope for over six months that Clyde would be found after being listed as missing in action. Private Ralph Rud of Merrill died in early May and memorial services took place at the Merrill Congregational Church. Rud, who was with the 32nd Rainbow Division,  died on Luzon, and he had a brother living in St. Louis. Rud also left behind a wife and three children. More news came in regarding Private Melvin Thrush of St. Louis, who died in Italy in March. Thrush’s body had been found inside a house that served as an outpost. However, at the time of the confirmation of Thrush’s death, the Army still could not tell the family exactly where Thrush was buried. The town of Breckenridge took a double hit when two men died who were on the same ship while transporting the atomic bomb across the Pacific to Guam. The USS Indianapolis was torpedoed off of Leyte on July 30, and Seamen Dan Karpol and Wilbur Bott were among the 883 men killed or missing after the cruiser sank. An early report stated that ten officers and 305 enlisted men survived the sinking after five days at sea. Still, Karpol and Bott were not among the survivors. Other tragic deaths took place after the war ended. News of another sad ending reached Middleton as Seaman 2/C Charles Rule was officially declared lost at sea. Rule had been missing since June 16 when the destroyer Twiggs was hit and sunk by the Japanese during the fighting off of Okinawa.

Corporal Don Freeman died in a drowning accident in the Elbe River near Grippel, Germany. He was on his way to embarkation when his death occurred. In another loss, Sergeant Warren Clark of Alma drowned during a Victory Party near Spokane, Washington, at Silver Lake. Clark had been a middle school teacher before entering the service.

And Lest We Forget in August 1945

Fair premium checks were mailed to all Gratiot County fair exhibits. Some went to individual winners, and those who did not receive their checks were asked to contact their leaders…The M&S Flint Yellow Dogs played a softball game on the Rathbone Field on a Friday night. A note read that “This Flint team is one of the outstanding colored teams in the state.”…The Ithaca wading pool opened on August 4. Measuring 34 by 24 feet, it was the only water sports facility in the village. It held 6,000 gallons of water…Carson City defeated Fulton in baseball by the score of 2-1. Shortstop Brauher had two hits for the losing team…Donald Healey, age 13 of St. Louis, tragically broke his neck while diving at Turck’s Beach on the Pine River near Alma. He was taken to R.B. Smith Memorial Hospital in Alma…In another incident, Francisco Yadez, age 22 and a Mexican sugar beet worker, drowned at Turck’s Beach on July 31…Private Jack Ecklebarger of North Star wed Miss Joyce Clark, also of North Star. Ecklebarger had just returned from England and was on his way to Camp Grant, Illinois…Those who threw away tin cans in Clinton County now could be subject to a ten-dollar fine. All tin needed to be saved for salvage for the war effort…Merle Rhoads of Breckenridge planned on opening a Gamble Store. The Gamble Store would be one of more than 17,000 in Michigan…The Sickles and Barton schools held their annual reunion at the Grange Hall in Sickles…Talk of building a community swimming pool began in Alma. Most of this resulted from problems at Turck’s Park dealing with water quality and the safety of swimmers…Those who wanted to apply for jobs at the Alma Post Office as substitute clerks and carriers could do so. The introductory rate of pay was 84 cents an hour, and applicants had to be sixteen years old…The Alma Board of Education announced that it planned on closing the Alma East Side Library, which had been in operation since 1937…Captain Tom Crocker, a worker on Detroit’s Bowery, prepared to speak at the Salvation Army in Alma. Crocker had once been an inhabitant of the Bowery himself…Alma Recreation bowling alley was sold to Porter Field of Mason. The alley had operated since 1939.

A lack of building material held up the plan of building fifteen new residences in St. Louis. Although construction started on one house on Saginaw Street, a lack of lumber stopped all other building plans…A water shortage also continued in St. Louis as repairs continued on three city wells. Residents were told not to make unnecessary use of water…A Social Security manager from Saginaw planned on being at Alma’s city hall for anyone interested in discussing claims or account numbers…Having trouble with poison ivy? Buy Te-ol at any drug store in the county…Gratiot County supervisors eagerly entertained discussion about a proposition from the Alma City Commission that Alma airport property be conveyed to county government. Discussion also took place about a city swimming pool being part of a memorial to those who served in World War II. Alma’s Center Street continued to be a busy place on Saturday nights. Public dances in a State Street hall continued to filter out into the streets, causing “liquored patrons” to dance, yell, and utter profanities and left broken glass. Complaints were issued to the city commission…Swimming at Twin Bridges continued to increase as Turck’s beach was deemed unfit. The new swimming hole was located west of the Ely School…Leonard Refineries held its sixth annual picnic at Conservation League Park on a Saturday. It drew 350 people…Not to be outdone, the Gratiot County Farm Bureau held its annual picnic at Conservation Park one week later…The Orin Riker American Legion Post in Ithaca planned a new year of activities, had new officers, and welcomed the ideas of World War II service members. The meetings were open to all honorably discharged veterans from World War I and World War II…Doctor F.R

McNabb of Ithaca received a fractured collar bone after being thrown from his sulky in an accident at the Ionia Free Fair. McNabb was using his horse, Billie Breeze, in the race…Mrs. Grace Johnson of the Ithaca Airport took the engine from a Blue T aircraft back to Pontiac for repairs. Don Barden took a solo flight in early August…Buster Diaz and a fifteen-year-old friend were arrested for shooting dice for money on Breckenridge sidewalks. Diaz paid $6 to avoid jail and sentencing…A total of 175 people came to the reunion of seven schools at Bannister. The reunion took place at Holiciks Woods just north of Bannister. Mrs. Ella Hoover Bishop received flowers for being the oldest living pupil of the Bannister Scho l. She attended school there in 1880… Gratiot County got an oil well in Elba Township. Merrill Drilling Company hit oil on the Elmer Cook farm in Section 14 of Elba Township in early August. Oil was discovered at 2432 feet…A flower and vegetable show was sponsored by the Breckenridge Garden Club. The Methodist Church hosted the program in the basement…On a Wednesday afternoon, Mrs. Della Story of Wheeler hosted a Garden Club on her lawn.

 “A Song to Remember,” starring Paul Muni and Merle Oberon, played at the Ideal Theatre in Ithaca on August 9…St. Louis Schools planned to open for the year on September 4. The Board of Education rented the Adventist School in southeast St. Louis for one grade…More news came to county newspapers that DDT produced by Michigan Chemical in St. Louis wiped out flies on Mackinac Island. A public bonfire took place to burn the many fly traps that were no longer needed…President Truman was expected to abolish the use of wartime. During the war, Gratiot County residents heard about slow time, wartime, and Eastern Standard Time. The Michigan Legislature needed to pass an act in order to adopt EST…An Army plane came to Gratiot County to pick up an emergency supply of DDT to fight an outbreak of polio in Rockford, Illinois. Combatting flies was believed to be the best way to fight the transmission of polio…Miss Maurine Stovall exhibited three photographs at the National Photographers headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio. Two of them were considered among the best fifty photographs in the country for the previous year…The ninth installment of moratorium taxes was due on October 1, according to the county treasurer. These taxes covered the years 1935, 1934, and 1935…An estimated 500 Lobdell-Emery workers went to Lumberjack Park in Riverdale for their first annual picnic. Participants enjoyed a full day of activities. The Alma Scots battled the Chippewas at Mt. Pleasant in what was billed as a heated rivalry that went back to 1897…North Star Township schools released the names of teachers for the upcoming year. They included Pauline Greer, Martha Neilson, Florence Pittman, Norine Peters, Reva Zancewicz, and Mozelle Pete s. The Barstow School still needed a teacher…Victor Manzullo’s grill at 224

East Superior in Alma was being remodeled for the new Jim Brown Store, which was attached to the Brown Fence and Wire Company of Cleveland, Ohio…Fulton Schools would open for school on September 4 at 9:00 am Central War Ti e. The school still needed a music teacher…Ithaca Schools would open on September 5…The Gratiot County superintendent announced that employment problems with the road commission, which had been a nagging problem for some time, no longer existed. The return of veterans looking for jobs solved the issue…A rat situation in certain portions of St. Louis caused city officials to be concerned about a potential health problem. No action had yet been taken…Joe Purdy, manager at the Alma Strand Theatre, gave a free Saturday afternoon show to 700 youngsters. Kids stood four abreast on the sidewalk eagerly waiting to watch the comedy feature and four cartoons…August 30 was the last day in which Alma stores would be closed on Thursday afternoons. Starting in September, stores would resume regular hours…The National Housing Agency gave approval for the building of fifteen new homes in Alma. Five of the homes could be sold to owners while the other ten had been offered as rentals at no more than $60 a month…Cars could no longer be parked on either side of Wright Avenue between Superior and Elwell streets. Those who did risked prosecution, and the city commission adopted the resolution.

And that was Gratiot County’s Finest Hour in August 1945.

Next time, a summary: “Lessons Learned, Men Lost, and Things Loved from a Journey Through Gratiot County in WWII from January 1944-August 1945.”

Copyright 2022 James M Goodspeed

We Remember May 9, 1923: “When King Winter Arrived in Gratiot County”

Alma resident Julia Rench took these three photographs on May 9, 1923.

It is never too late in the year to snow in Gratiot County. Almost exactly one century ago, residents discovered that King Winter still ruled when a May snowfall buried the county with up to a foot of snow.

The date was May 9, 1923, and when I first was told this story, I could not believe it – until my uncle, the late Aaron Bliss of Newark Township, described that day to me. Bliss remembered going to bed on May 8 and then awakened to a pile of snow that started falling after midnight and throughout the following morning. St. Louis reported that it had up to a foot of fresh snow, while other areas in mid-Michigan had at least six to eight inches.

Tree limbs began to bend under the weight of the snow, as did telephone lines. Soon both went down in scattered places across the county, and communication with Saginaw was temporarily lost. Fruit growers feared the loss of the summer crop. However, state experts predicted that most crops would survive as long as the temperature did not reach freezing. They also said that the early snow might be good for killing most bugs and insect pests.

While the temperature in places like Battle Creek dropped from 73 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it did not go low enough to cause severe damage.

For Aaron Bliss and other residents, the accumulated May snow was short-lived at that time. Within a day, the snow had melted due to the warm ground, and it was soon gone. On the positive side, many farmers were happy that the snow provided much-needed moisture for the dry land.

 A week later, Gratiot farmers got another blast from nature that came in the form of heavy rain. This time a total of 3.66 inches of rain came down in Gratiot County over two days, giving the ground even more moisture. 

Not much exists today about the May 9, 1923 snowstorm aside from newspaper accounts. However, those like Julia Rench of Alma and Fred Howes, Sr. of Ithaca, ventured out into the snow and took pictures.

Today, the Rench and Howes photographs remind us of when King Winter visited Gratiot County for a day in early May 1923.

It Happened in Brice: The 1911 Tabor Murder-Suicide

 Above: Brice postcard of the Tabor murder scene; young John Tabor; young Edith Tabor; Edith Tabor’s death certificate; a marker of John Tabor in Payne Cemetery; the picture of the Tabor house as it appeared in the Gratiot County Herald. Someone marked the room where the Tabors met their end.

Could it have been termed a crime of passion? A jealous husband, married to a younger wife, pulls out a large jackknife and viciously slashes her in the back. After she dies, the husband then grabs a bottle of carbolic acid, drinks some of it, and then lays down next to his dead wife. Soon, he, too, is dead.

The small community of Brice, located seventeen miles southwest of Ithaca in North Shade Township,  became the location of one of the most bizarre murder stories in early twentieth century Gratiot County. Almost 111 years ago,  on March 24, 1911, Gratiot County was shocked by the death of a married couple near a crossroads of a farming community that had a store, blacksmith shop, and township hall,  all within one mile of each other.

In the wake of the murder, many in Gratiot County wondered what led to John and Edith Tabor’s deaths, which made an orphan of a young, deaf girl.

The story began with the marriage of John and Edith (Straub) Tabor in 1895. For John Tabor, age 34, it was his second marriage, and Edith, from Hubbardston, was only 15 years old. Edith listed her age as 16 on the marriage record. What drew the two together, and why would a young girl marry a much older man? One story is that Edith, born in Gratiot County, lost her mother at a young age. John Tabor later was considered a man of some substance who eventually owned property in Florida and an estate worth $4,000, a fair sum of money over a century ago.

 After a few years of marriage, the Tabors adopted their daughter, Gladys (also called Minnie in newspaper accounts), after Gladys’ mother died in childbirth. It turned out that Gladys was deaf due to contracting a childhood disease and now required special attention. Edith Tabor determined that her daughter would get help, even if it meant traveling to faraway places.

Along the way, John Tabor, known as a lazy man who labored at odd jobs,  became known in the community for his temper, intense jealousy, and the belief that his young wife was seeing other men. People in the Brice community knew John Tabor his behavior, and they knew Edith for her good and upstanding character. The couple frequently fought and Edith did much of the work at home while John sat around the house.

At one point, John and Edith Tabor took Gladys to Ann Arbor in the fall of 1910 for help and treatment for her hearing loss. During the visit, John Tabor took off for Florida and got talked into buying twenty acres of land. Since the Tabors had previously leased their property in Brice to other people, they had to find a place to live when John Tabor returned from Florida. It was Thursday, March 23, 1911, and it was late winter in Gratiot County.

With no home of their own available, the Tabors ended up renting a small tenant house on the property of Valois Todd. The house was a small, drab place that had a downstairs bedroom that only measured seven by nine feet wide. When the Tabors first arrived, they quickly dumped their belongings inside and then left to tend to a sick neighbor named A.J. Thompson.

The Tabor family spent that Thursday night with their neighbors, and John and Edith quarreled so fiercely that young Gladys believed that her father would eventually kill her mother. The fighting was nothing new, as Tabor’s jealousy existed throughout the marriage.

Early on Friday morning, John and Edith returned home, and John was seen outside the house walking on the lawn as Edith unpacked their belongings. It was sometime before 8:00 A.M. when John Tabor’s fury exploded.

It is unknown what set John Tabor off that morning. Possibly he suspected that his wife had a new romantic interest, or he resented his wife’s attention for their sick neighbor the night before. Perhaps Edith’s continued concern about their adopted daughter drove a wedge between them and caused a breaking point in the marriage. That morning, it ended when John Tabor found a large jackknife and plunged it into Edith’s left side, resulting in a gash that ran along Edith’s back, causing a three to four-inch wound, breaking two ribs and severing her artery. After being attacked from behind, Edith Tabor fell to the floor and died almost instantaneously.

John Tabor stood over his wife’s body, then he went and found a bottle of carbolic acid from inside a medical bag. He opened the bottle, drank a few ounces of the poison, and dropped to the floor. John then crawled to Edith and put his head on her breast. Possibly he listened for her heartbeat, or he tried one last time to demonstrate some affection or guilt for his dead wife. 

Shortly after the attack, young Gladys Tabor came home, entered the house, and found her two adopted parents on the floor in the small bedroom. Still alive and groggy, John Tabor raised his head and looked up at his daughter. Shocked by what she found, Gladys fled the house, screaming for help. However, by the time the neighbors arrived, both Tabors were dead.

The next day, a coroner’s jury was held in Middleton and confirmed the doctor’s analysis that a murder-suicide had taken place in Brice.

 The Brice community and many in Gratiot County wanted to understand what resulted in the two deaths. However, all that people could do was guess as Tabor left no note. The closest explanation that John Tabor provided was that the night before murdering his wife, he lamented to a friend in Middleton about his wife’s supposed unfaithfulness. Edith Tabor was supposedly going behind his back to see other men, and Tabor said aloud that it would soon lead to her demise, possibly that very night.

The burials of the two Tabors represented how different sides reacted to the murder-suicide. Edith Tabor was taken back to Hubbardston, where she was buried in West Side Cemetery. John Tabor was buried with other Tabor family members in Payne Cemetery, south of Middleton.

Young thirteen-year-old Gladys Tabor was left an orphan. One story says that she had a child at a young age, attended the Flint School for the Deaf, and later died near Lapeer, Michigan, in November 1984.

What was the legacy of the Tabor murder-suicide? It calls to mind that women in early twentieth century Gratiot County frequently had few options in leaving a bad marriage. To leave a marriage back then, a woman needed help, either from family or friends. Edith Tabor may have felt that she had neither option, and she decided to endure the marriage for the sake of her daughter. The background of the murder also makes one realize the effects and challenges of the issue of adoption. Edith lost her mother, as had Gladys. Marrying an older man, who was old enough to be Edith’s father and who had money and property, offered a young wife and orphan a haven and stability in rural Gratiot County. In the end, each of these factors led to a tragic ending for Edith and Gladys Tabor.  Soon, the Tabor house became

an image on postcards about Brice. When Gratiot County historian Willard Tucker put together a history of the county in 1913, he included a page about the Tabor incident. Tucker commented that: “North Shade Township has been peculiarly free from serious crimes, nothing approaching this in seriousness ever having been enacted within its borders; and it is earnestly hoped that the time may be far distant when another of like nature occurs.”

For many, the Tabor murder-suicide remained a horrific event in southwest Gratiot County with no clear explanations for two deaths in 1911.

Copyright 2022 James M Goodspeed