Reading an interview you did with someone can be scary. “Did they quote me right? Did I say something stupid they are going to focus on? Bla bla bla…” All of these questions and more go through my head after an interview. You always hope the outcome is good and in the case of this REVUE article, it’s awesome! I couldn’t be happier with this cool article they wrote about Wicked Grand Rapids.
Uncovering the Dark Side of Grand Rapids
Written by Kyle Austin
Amberrose Hammond presents Wicked Grand Rapids
Schuler Books and Music – Grand Rapids
July 29, 7 p.m.
schulerbooks.com, (616) 942-2561
Let’s face it: the winners write the history books. That’s why Grand Rapids’ history books are filled with the rise of the furniture industry, pictures of Gerald Ford and a whole lot of just good ol’ fashioned niceness. But for local author and history buff Amberrose Hammond, the full story lies beneath the surface.
“In West Michigan there’s this misconception that it’s always been so Dutch Reformed and pure and nothing crazy has ever happened here,” Hammond said.
With her latest book, Wicked Grand Rapids, she sets the records straight, exploring the region’s more unsavory side through a series of shocking events and seedy characters that have been largely omitted from the popular narrative.
The events chronicled in Wicked Grand Rapids will turn traditional notions of history on their head. Clem Blood was a career criminal who was arrested and tried so many times that it became near impossible to find jury members who didn’t have a preconceived notion about him. Georgie Young was a prominent brothel owner who made her fortune in the prostitution business before opening a Home for Fallen Women in the late 1800s. And those are just two examples in the book.
Hammond has been infatuated with the strange, the sordid and the macabre since childhood.
“It was probably the horror movies,” she said. “My dad let me watch way too many movies that I shouldn’t have as a little kid.”
What intrigued her most were films like The Amityville Horror that were based on true stories.
“That became more interesting to me, that question of why something could be haunted. There’s this whole story behind it, and while the haunting itself can never be proved, the history can.”
Later, as an English major at Grand Valley State University, Hammond preferred to study literature through the lens of history.
“I was always more interested in the things that were happening while the books were being written that influenced the author in some way,” she said.
Wicked Grand Rapids is centered on the idea that for better or worse, every historical event shapes the community in which it happens.
“The world was so much smaller then, so these were things that everyone would read about in the paper,” Hammond said. “How did the community deal with these events? How did they react? How did that change things?”
There’s the story of seven year-old Charlie Pohlman, who was accidentally shot in the head while playing with some neighborhood boys in 1903. Scared to death and inspired by the pulp murder mysteries they frequently read, the boys placed Pohlman’s body on the train tracks to stage in an attempt to disguise his death as an accident, sparking community-wide outrage about the corrupting influence of nickel fiction.
Hammond unearthed so many unbelievable stories while working on Wicked Grand Rapids that her biggest challenge was whittling her immense body of research into a digestible book. Even after the book’s release, her insatiable curiosity remains. Attend one of Hammond’s author talks and you’ll find her ready and willing to swap stories until closing time.
“Research never stops,” she said. “You always wonder what could be sitting there in another library somewhere on a dusty microfilm that you haven’t seen yet.”