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History Detectives

Sleuthing for Local History

Saturday, January 19, 2019

9:30 am – 4:00 pm | Main Library | 111 Library St NE

A day-long event made up of six programs exploring various aspects of Grand Rapids history. Presented by area historians and members of historical and cultural organizations, topics are varied and reflect the unique heritage of West Michigan. 

9:30 – 10:15 am

Lawrence C. Earle is Grand Rapids’ First Artist

Don Bryant

“But dis art is serious business, my boy, and you must learn to traw goot first of all and traw, traw some more, and always traw, traw, for dat is de foundations of everything.” Master Dutch painter Marinus Harting wrote those words in 1857 to a 12-year-old student here in Grand Rapids. This inspired Lawrence C. Earle to dedicate his life to artistic expression. Earle went on to motivate others over the next five decades. Don brings this artist’s fascinating life and diverse art career to light through glimpses and illustrations of Earle’s family, upbringing in Grand Rapids, training in Chicago and Europe, and career highlights in Chicago, New York, and West Michigan.

Sponsor: Western Michigan Genealogical Society

10:30 – 11:15 am

Undercurrent: African American Women in Turn-of-the-20th-Century Grand Rapids

Sophia Ward Brewer

African American women have received little attention for their cultural and political contributions to 19th century reform movements. Sophia will explore the undercurrents created by a small community of African American women in Grand Rapids as they made their marks on local history. Sophia will uncover who they were, reveal where they came from, and describe how they impacted their period’s fight for civil and women’s rights. Just beneath the surface, these Grand Rapidians made local waves that swelled into national consequence.

Sponsor: Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council

11:30 am – 12:15 pm

What Did They Know and When Did They Know It? Grand Rapidians and the Holocaust

Rob Franciosi

Scholars have established that American political leaders knew a great deal about the fate of millions of Jews under Nazi occupation. Contrary to popular myth, so did average Americans. Events, as they happened, found their ways into many American daily newspapers between 1933 and 1945. Rob and GVSU students researched the two Grand Rapids newspapers to discover what our community knew as the Holocaust was being perpetrated. His talk will explore how local coverage developed as events unfolded.

Sponsor: Kutsche Office of Local History at Grand Valley State University

12:15 – 1:00 pm

Lunch – Reserve ahead of time!

Boxed lunches are $10 and must be ordered in advance. Choose a turkey, ham, or vegetarian sandwich (or make any of these gluten-free). Also included in the lunches are a fruit cup, pasta salad, cookie, condiments, and bottled water. Pop will be available for an additional $1.00.

To reserve a lunch, call 616.988.5492 or email rsvp@grpl.org by Tuesday, January 15. Cash payment is due at the event.

Lunches provided by Cherry Deli; afternoon cookies by Lomonaco Sicilian Cookies.

1:00 – 1:45 pm

Hot Spots in a Cool City: Evening Entertainment in Grand Rapids, 1940-1970

M. Christine Byron

Today Grand Rapids is known as a “cool” city for ArtPrize, craft beer, farm-to-table restaurants, and live music. But even in the mid-twentieth century the city offered a “cool” range of evening entertainment scenes—cocktail lounges, music venues, dining-and-dancing spots, and movie theaters. Chris will take us back to such venues as the Log Cabin Cocktail Lounge, Club 21, Hattem’s Cafe & Cocktail Bar, Roma Hall, the Parkway Tropics for the music of Bennie Carew, and Civic Auditorium to imagine Louis Armstrong’s performance there. Or maybe we’ll catch a movie at the Regent Theatre, bowl at the Fanatorium, or roller skate at the Coliseum!

Sponsor: Grand Rapids Historical Commission

2:00 – 2:45 pm

Fresh Air, Thrift, Exercise, and Innocent Delight: School Gardening Programs in Progressive Era Grand Rapids

Jayson Otto

In the growing movement of urban gardening in the early 20th century, Grand Rapids became a model city for its successful school-led gardening programs. By the 1920s the movement was in full bloom and every grade school in Grand Rapids had its own school garden. Jayson will walk us through the school garden programs and the multiple organizations and individuals throughout the city and state, including women’s clubs, local banks, and the Michigan State Agricultural College.

Sponsor: Grand Rapids City Archives

3:00 – 3:45 pm

WWII: When Patriotism Was The Norm

Sandra Warren

We Bought a WWII Bomber: The Untold Story of a Michigan High School, a B-17 Bomber & The Blue Ridge Parkway author Sandra Warren was a student at South High in the 1960s, long after the federal government’s “Buy a Bomber” program was over. She was inspired to dig deeper into the story of South High students purchase of an airplane during WWII after she discovered that plane met its demise less than three hours from her home in North Carolina. She will discuss the twists and turns of this fascinating story and her journey to uncover this uniquely Grand Rapids story.

Sponsors: Grand Rapids Historical Society and the Grand Rapids Public Museum