This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

That Gal in Kalamazoo

24 May 2013

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H
I got a gal in Kalamazoo
Don't want to boast but I know she's the toast of Kalamazoo

Years have gone by, my my how she grew
I liked her looks when I carried her books in Kalamazoo
written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren ~ 1942

This girl is a puzzle. As she stands holding her cornet with a confident poise, her direct gaze at the camera captures our attention. Like the sphinx, that hint of a smile poses a question. "Can you guess my name?"

After many months of trying, I think I have the answer to her riddle.

Her name is Mary. That's certainly what the photographer, F.P. Ford of Kalamazoo, Michigan called her when he focused the lens on her brooch. The yellow sepia tone of the image is now very faded, so I improved the saturation and contrast levels with digital software. I imagine her blouse as green, but what color do you see? 

(Remember you can always click any image to see it larger.)

Just to make it doubly clear, someone added the name Mary in pencil on the back of this cabinet card.

Mary from Kalamazoo.

~  ~

The second piece of the puzzle came with the first. The girl in this photo looks very like Mary, but she is posed only from her shoulders up and she has no cornet. It came from the studio of Wood at 134 S. Burdick St., Kalamazoo, Mich. Conveniently Mr. Wood prints the year under his initials TEW  - 1889.    

Note the owl eyes in WⵙⵙD.  Do you think he wore spectacles?

This photo has an even better identification written in ink on the back, Mary Berghuis.

Mary Berghuis from Kalamazoo in 1889.

~ ~ ~

The third puzzle piece came along with the other two. This photo, with the initials JMR of the Reidsema studio of  Kalamazoo, Michigan, also shows a young girl with a cornet. She wears a white blouse with a dark color skirt, and her face has a slightly goofy quality. There is enough difference in the facial features to make the puzzle challenging.

Is this the same girl? Or are they all different persons?

On the back is another inscription but it is in soft pencil and the card stock is grey so it is very hard to read. When digitally enhanced, it looks like
Miss Mary StJohn
Kalamazoo, Mich.

At least that's how I read the name until a week ago.

~ ~ ~ ~

The 1889 city directory for Kalamazoo listed several photographers including: Frank P. Ford at 119 S. Burdick; Thomas E. Wood at 134 S. Burdick; and on the other side of the river - John Reidsema at 103 E. Main.

There was a Mr. Garland B. St. John, president of the St. John Plow Co., and a Sylvester G. St. John - night watchman who lived at the same address as Miss Ada E. St. John - church organist. But no Mary St. John.

And no Mary Berghuis either. Only a Peter Berghuis - celery grower.

It's a brain teaser. Which Mary is Mary?

The 20 years between the 1880 Census and the 1900 Census are a great void of missing American history, because in 1921 a fire in the basement of the U.S. Commerce Building destroyed almost all the records of the 1890 census. Thoughtless bureaucrats shredded the rest in 1934. Every name, birth, death, marriage, occupation, and address notated on the census takers' handwritten data sheets are gone. There are still ways to track people down, but a history detective must always stumble through this very long tunnel in the dark.

Today the Internet provides vast archives that seem like an infinite reference library, but that is an illusion. Some records are incomplete; some are only at one place, while others are kept somewhere else. For all it's power, Google can't find everything.

So I have subscription to several commercial archives, and sometimes they will update the available records and add new sources. When I'm feeling lucky I might go back and repeat a search that was unsuccessful several months ago.

That's what happened this week.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Kalamazoo Gazette
July 2, 1897

A new search for Mary Berghuis produced a new hit from records of the Kalamazoo Gazette. In 1897, Menno P. Berghuis 27, and Mary Spohn 24, both of Kalamazoo applied for a marriage license. The difficult handwriting on the back of the third photo reads Spohn, not St.John. The flourish in the SP made me assume an English name when a German name was what I should have seen! This was the Ahh Ha! moment that every puzzle enthusiast strives for.

Mary was the middle daughter of three girls belonging to William and Barbara Spohn. William was a stone cutter in the 1880 census and came from Baden, Germany, and his wife was from Württemberg. Mary was born in Michigan in 1873.

Menno Berghuis, born in 1870, was the son of Peter and Nellie Berghuis, both from Holland. In the 1880 census they lived on Vine Street only a few blocks away from the Spohn family on Third St.

But wait, there's more. A second hit in the Kalamazoo Gazette of 1897, turned up the Spohn-Berghuis wedding announcement, complete with a description of the bride's dress. 

Kalamazoo Gazette
June 25, 1897

It all fit very neatly now. Tracking a woman's married name through this decade is very difficult. Mary Berghuis of 1889 was actually only Mary Spohn at age 16. And surely the Mary who posed so nicely for Mr. Ford must be the same Mary Spohn Berghuis.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Kalamazoo Gazette
December 10, 1892

Finally a third hit from the Kalamazoo Gazette flips the final letter and solves the riddle.

In December of 1892, Madam Jannasch Shortt produced a recital of her music students. This was the 7th annual event she had given, and there would be many more. Mme. Shortt began her career as a music teacher in Kalamazoo in 1880 and was still teaching in 1920. She offered lessons at her Musical Institute on piano, organ, violin, cello, clarionet, cornet, flute, piccolo, bass viol, mandolin, guitar, banjo, etc.

She was born in Germany where she received her musical training and immigrated to Kalamazoo sometime in the 1870s. Her student programs were announced regularly in the Kalamazoo Gazette, and in 1892 the newspaper printed the entire program of nearly two dozen selections, including a snare drum solo played by the unfortunately named
Master Clyde J. Bates.

In the second half, just after a banjo solo by Miss Edith Pearl Root, was a Cornet Duet - Po'ka with Quickstep performed by Miss Mary M. Spohn and Mr. L. J. Carrington. A second report a few days later said the concert was well received and the cornet duo was roundly encored.

(Master Bates gave his solo in good form)

Mary Spohn would be age 19 that year and surely her proud parents would want a photograph to celebrate her musical accomplishment. So I think the first photo was taken just before this concert, as of the three photos Mary seems the most mature in this one.

The third photo seems to me to be the youngest image of Mary. Perhaps at age 14 when she was first taking up the cornet.

That photographer, John Reidsema, was born in 1865 and was described in the account of his 1891 wedding as a young photographer. (He married Edith Pearl Root's sister that year, and Edith played the wedding processional music. It's not reported if this was on the banjo.) If he started his photography business at age 20 in 1885, that would seem to fit the timeline.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Image from

Mary and Menno Berghuis had a long and hopefully happy life. They had 6 children, but we can never know if Mary continued to play the cornet, or if making a family took priority over making music. Perhaps one of her children took up the instrument. Menno died in 1934 and Mary in 1943 at age 70.

In a German-American household of the late 19th century, learning a musical instrument was a valued talent. It was the mark of a refined and educated person of culture. Though a few of Madam Shortt's pupils may have gone on to professional careers, most students like Mary did not take lessons at this kind of music school to learn a trade. Music was about personal achievement. It was about the pride and fulfillment that comes from playing a musical instrument you enjoy. That's the answer to Mary's riddle behind her shy smile.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone has portraits on display this weekend.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Think of this as the encore. In 1942, Glenn Miller and his orchestra had a big hit with the Kalamazoo song in the film Orchestra Wives. It features two versions, the first with Tex Beneke and The Modernaires, and for a very special treat, The Nicholas Brothers immediately follow with a reprise that adds their spectacular dancing. There is nothing on film or television today that even comes close to matching the quality and class of this performance.

I wonder if Mary might have seen it. 


I'm gonna send away, hoppin' on a plane, leavin' today
Am I dreamin'? I can hear her screamin'
"Hiya, Mr. Jackson"
Everything's OK, A-L-A-M-A-Z-O

Oh, what a gal, a real pipperoo
I'll make my bid for that freckle-faced kid I'm hurryin' to
I'm goin' to Michigan to see the sweetest gal in Kalamazoo


Sharon said...

Wow. That is great detective work and patience researching Mary. I love it. Well done.

So is it family member or have your tried to find family members to pass your research on to?

If I was her descendant, I would be very grateful to you for your hard work.

Kristin said...

I would not have guessed that the third Mary was the same. Her hair looks darker and the face is a bit strange.

Teresa Wilson Rogers said...

Wow! That was fun! I wish you would solve some of my family mysteries.

I would not have guessed at first glance that the 3rd girl was the same too, but faces change when people age, even in just a few years. I have some photos of people where this you can see this.

barbara and nancy said...

what a great post. Not only did we get the answer to the puzzle of Mary, we also were totally entertained by the Kalamazoo number.

Brett Payne said...

Good things come to those who wait. Like you, I get tremendous satisfaction from seeing the peieces of the puzzle slipping into place like this. That gap of two decades has proved most troublesome for me too, on many occasions, while researching the subjects of photographs. It's also been the source of much frustration while looking for family connections in Chicago around the time as my grandfather was born there in 1892.

Wendy said...

Encore! Encore! I very much enjoyed your study of one face.

Postcardy said...

Excellent post and detective work. I'm glad I stuck with the video because the dancing at the end was so good.

Liz Needle said...

That is an amazing piece of research. Where do you find all that stuff? And waht patience to track it down I was pretty sure before i read on that the three Mary's were the same girl at different ages - the mouth gives it away, even though she does look a bit 'odd' in the third photo. Thanks for that piece of detective work. Gives me something to aim at.

Peter said...

Speaking of "roundly encored" ... again a fine piece of Pinkerton work, Mike!
As you rightly say the Berghuis surname originates in Holland. I found a possible candidate Pieter Berghuis in the province of Groningen with a father-in-law named Menne. Possibly P(i)eter's son was named after him. The name of his wife was KorNELIE Meijer.
But also the name Reidsema originates in the same province. There is a Jan Martens Reidsema (JMR), a merchant, who disappears from the archives here after 1843. So that could be your photographer.
Needless to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post.

Nigel Aspdin (Derby, UK) said...

The Youtube is still playing and I am loving it. I know the song of course, but as a retired accountant I know the name Kalamazoo better from seeing it over the years as a printed logo on various business documents. So what is the connection to Kalamazoo, Michigan I wondered? Well I can't find out any..but perhaps someone else knows. The Kalamazoo I know is...."Kalamazoo Secure Solutions Limited is a leading supplier of security print solutions tailored for businesses in the UK and overseas markets. Founded in 1896 in Birmingham, UK, the business has developed a reputation over the last century for innovation and quality in its business critical solutions."

Bob Scotney said...

A real pipperoo of a post with great music at the end. You must have really had to work on this post, Mike. I never knew Kalamazoo was in Michigan either.

Alan Burnett said...

A Masterclass Mike. You could take some of your searches and investigations and turn them into a wonderful half-hour TV programme - I would happily subscribe.

Patrica Ball Morrison said...

Very very interesting, at first I thought how could there be so many women (3 is not many, I know) with the Mary name in Kalamazoo with cornet's? That seems an odd instrument for women at that time and place. You have done amazing research; I still get hints from late 1800 census documents on our relatives so somewhere the census records exist.

Kathy Morales said...

Ah shoot - I thought I could keep listening while typing my comment! Now I'll need to go back and finish listening. I can't add much to the previous comments. Good work! Most enjoyable!


That gal from Kalamazoo had your heart on a string, for you to pursue her so intently throughout history. Great findings!!


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