I am fortunate to serve as the regional history curator at Western Michigan University’s Zhang Legacy Collections Center, on Oakland Drive. Although I was new to the position in 2009, I was not new to the collections, as I had used them as a history graduate student at WMU and had continued my relationship with the materials and staff over the years. Along with the Regional History Collection, the center also houses WMU’s University Archives and Rare Books and Special Collections. I have many favorite items in the collections, so narrowing it down to just five was very challenging, but here’s my best shot:
Kalamazoo Columbian Home Register
“Going to the fair” took on a whole new meaning in 1893 for Kalamazoo residents who traveled to Chicago to take in the sights and the sounds of the World’s Columbian Exposition, a five-month extravaganza held from May to October. The Kalamazoo Columbian Home Co., formed in 1892, raised money to build a hotel for local residents to stay in while visiting the fair. The hotel, located two miles south of the fair site, contained 60 bedrooms initially priced at $1 to $1.50 per night, although these rates dropped later in the year. Meals involved a separate charge and were provided by Portage Township resident Charles Smith, who managed the hotel’s dining room. It was Smith who brought the register back to Kalamazoo once the fair ended.
West Michigan Graphic Design Archives
This collection is the brainchild of Linda Powell and Barbara Loveland, who met in Western Michigan University’s graphic design program and had successful careers at the Herman Miller furniture company and Ferris State University, where they taught. Having accumulated a large trove of materials, they created the West Michigan Graphic Design Archives to highlight the rich graphic design history that exists in this area. The collection numbers more than 700 pieces from a variety of companies, organizations and institutions and continues to grow. It includes annual reports, brochures, promotional materials, announcements, catalogs and posters, like this one created in 1977 for Herman Miller’s annual picnics, which can be found at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Ward Morgan Photographic Collection
Photographs contain much information about life in a community, including what people wore, what they did and how they traveled. The collection of Kalamazoo photographer Ward Morgan, who operated his studio for more than 50 years, is one of the largest collections of images in the Regional History Collection. It contains more than 27,000 negatives depicting a variety of subjects and events, from weddings and dances to meetings, and a wide variety of products made in the area. The photograph at left, taken at Otto Kihm Tire Co. on West Kalamazoo Avenue in July 1954, shows many happy children getting a free inner tube for floating in a lake or pool.
In 2007, the center’s largest collection of business records arrived from a company that began in 1886 as The Upjohn Co. and eventually became Pfizer Inc. The Pfizer-Upjohn Collection takes up 166 cubic feet and contains a wide variety of material, including manufacturing records, annual reports, financial information, production records, account ledgers, publications, advertising and marketing materials, promotional and educational films, oral histories and photographs. Individuals from all over the globe have utilized this collection for a variety of reasons and to answer a variety of questions. At the same time as WMU received this collection, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum received artifacts associated with the company, guaranteeing that generations of researchers will be able to learn about the contributions The Upjohn Co. made to the lives of many people.
Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department Mug Shots
In 1962, the State Archives of Michigan designated the WMU Archives and Regional History Collection a regional depository for government records from 12 counties, the vast majority relating to legal matters. From the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department came a collection of material that included five large volumes of mug shots of those arrested for crimes from 1899 to 1934. Along with photographs of those arrested, there is a wide variety of information about each person, including age, height and weight, eye and hair color, occupation, marital status and length of sentence given and location at which the sentence would be served. The offenses ranged from larceny and embezzlement to perjury, forgery and murder and included unusual crimes not occurring much today such as thefts of horses and chickens.