Kalamazoo – American Travel

I HAD but one reason for visiting Kalamazoo : the name has always fascinated me with its zoological suggestion and even more with its rich, rhythmic measure. Indian names containing “K’s” are almost always striking : Kenosha, Kewanee, Kokomo, Keokuk, Kankakee. Of these, the last two, having the most “K’s” are most effective. Next comes Kokomo with two “K’s.” But Kalamazoo, though it has but one “K,” seems to me to take first place among them all, phonetically, because or the finely assorted sound contained in its four syllables. There is a kick in its “K,” a ring in its “L,” a buzz in its “Z,” and a glorious hoot in its two final “O’s.”

I wish here to protest against the abbreviated title frequently bestowed upon the town by newspapers in Detroit and other neighboring cities. They call it “Ka’zoo.”

Ka’zoo, indeed ! For shame ! How can men take so fine a name and treat it lightly ? True, it is a little long for easy handling in a headline, but that does not justify indignity. If headline writers cannot handle it conveniently they should not change the name, but rather change their type, or make-up. If I owned a newspaper, and there arose a question of giving space to this majestic name, I should cheerfully drop out a baseball story, or the love letters in some divorce case, or even an advertisement, in order to display it as it deserves to be displayed.

Kalamazoo (I love to write it out!) Kalamazoo, I say, is also sometimes known familiarly as “Celery Town”—the growing of this crisp and succulent vegetable being a large local industry. Also, I was in-formed, more paper is made there than in any other city in the world. I do not know if that is true. I only know that if there is not more something in Kalamazoo than there is in any other city, the place is unique in my experience.

From my own observations, made during an evening walk through the agreeable, tree-bordered streets of Kalamazoo, I should have said that it led in quite a different field. I have never been in any town where so many people failed to draw their window shades, or owned green reading lamps, or sat by those green-shaded lamps and read. I looked into almost every house I passed, and in all but two, I think, I saw the self-same picture of calm, literary domesticity.

One family, living in a large and rather new-looking house on Main Street, did not seem to be at home. The shades were up but no one was sitting by the lamp. And, more, the lamp itself was different. Instead of a plain green shade it had a shade with pictures in the glass, and red bead fringe. Later I found out where the people were. They were playing bridge across the street. They must have been the people from that house, because there were two in all the other houses, whereas there were four in the house where bridge was being played.

I stood and watched them. The woman from across the street—being the guest, she was in evening dress—was dummy. She was sitting back stiffly, her mouth pursed, her eyes staring at the cards her partner played. And she was saying to herself (and, unconsciously, to us, through the window) : “If I had played that hand, I never should have done it that way!”

Kalamazoo has a Commercial Club. What place hasn’t? And the Commercial Club has issued a booklet. What Commercial Club has n’t? This one bears the somewhat fanciful title “The Lure of Kalamazoo.”

“The Lure of Kalamazoo” is written in that peculiarly chaste style characteristic of Chamber of Commerce “literature”—a style comparable only with that of railway folders and summer hotel booklets. It is the “Here-all-nature-seems-to-be-rejoicing” school. Let me present an extract :

Kalamazoo is peculiarly a city of homes—homes varying in cost from the modest cottage of the laborer to the palatial house of the wealthy manufacturer..

The only place in which the man who wrote that slipped up, was in referring to the wealthy manufacturer’s “house.” Obviously the word called for there is “mansion.” However, in justice to this man, and to Kalamazoo, I ought to add that the town seemed to be rather free from “mansions.” That is one of the pleasantest things about it. It is just a pretty, unpretentious place. Perhaps he actually meant to say “house,” but I doubt it. I think he missed a trick. I think he failed to get the right word, just as if he had been writing about brooks, and had forgotten to say “purling.”

But if I saw no “mansions,” I did see one building in Kalamazoo the architecture of which was distinguished. That was the building of the Western Michigan Normal School-a long, low structure of classical design, with three fine porticos.

Having a Commercial Club, Kalamazoo quite naturally has a “slogan,” too. (A “slogan,” by the way, is the war cry or gathering cry of a Highland clan—but that makes no difference to a Commercial Club.) It is: “In Kalamazoo We Do.”

This battle cry “did” very well up to less than a year ago; then it suddenly began to languish. There was a company in Kalamazoo called the Michigan Buggy Company, and this company had a very sour failure last year, their figures varying from fact to the extent of about a million and a half dollars. Not satisfied with dummy accounts and padded statements, they had, also, what was called a “velvet pay roll.” And, when it all blew up, the whole of Michigan was shaken by the shock. Since that time, I am informed, the “slogan” “In Kalamazoo We Do” has not been in high favor.

Among the “lures” presented in the Commercial Club’s booklet are four hundred and fifty-six lakes within a radius of fifty miles of the city. I did n’t count the lakes myself. I did n’t count the people either—not all of them.

The “World Almanac” gives the population of the place as just under forty thousand, but some one in Kalamazoo—and I think he was a member of the Commercial Club—told me that fifty thousand was the correct figure.

Now, I ask you, is it not reasonable to suppose that the Commercial Club, being right in, Kalamazoo, where it can count the people every day, should be more ac-curate in its figures than the Almanac, which is published in far-away New York? Errors like this on the part of the Almanac might be excused, once or twice, on the ground of human fallibility or occasional misprint, but when the Almanac keeps on cutting down the figures given by the Commercial Clubs and Chambers of Commerce of town after town, it begins to look like wilful misrepresentation if not actual spitework.

That, to tell the truth, was the reason I walked around and looked in all the windows. I decided to get at the bottom of this matter—to find out the cause for these discrepancies, and if I caught the Almanac in what appeared to be a deliberate lie, to expose it, here. With this in view, I started to count the people myself. Unfortunately, however, I did not start early enough in the evening. When I had only a little more than half of them counted, they began to put out their lights and go upstairs to bed. And, oddly enough, though they leave their parlor shades up, they have a way of drawing those in their bedrooms. I was, therefore, forced to stop counting.

I do not attempt to explain this Kalamazoo custom with regard to window shades. All I can say is that, for whatever reason they follow it, their custom is not metropolitan. New Yorkers do things just the other way around. They pull down their parlor shades, but leave their bedroom shades up. Any one who has lived in a New York apartment house in summer can testify to that. Probably it is all accounted for by the fact that in a relatively small city, like Kalamazoo, the census takers go around and count the people in the early evening, whereas in New York it is necessary for those who make the reckoning to work all night in order to—as one might say—get all the figures.