To write about a century of the Gazette van Detroit, about three generations, more than 4,000 issues and almost 50,000 pages, is no small feat. We do not want to succumb to an enumeration of facts and events, nor do we want to rehash “old news” as it appeared in the newspaper. Rather we want to paint how people on both sides of the Atlantic have dealt with the opportunities and problems involved with migration, and how these processes were covered in the Gazette van Detroit. Hence the chosen title: The Story of the Gazette. Some history and a few anecdotes, pictures and drawings, poems and advertisements will, we hope, make for light and easy reading.
Weekly at first, later on every two weeks, and in recent years monthly, the Gazette van Detroit has continued to provide an interesting view on what happens in America and in Belgium. The first generation of immigrants maintains close ties to the home country, in subsequent generations this becomes more arduous, and grandchildren are often totally Americanized, with little to no affinity with the land of their predecessors. Yet exceptions here and there remain: young people who with a “Heritage Essay” prove that they would like to know more about their origins.
Kayla Vincent recounts thus in the Gazette van Detroit in 2012: “Visiting Ellis Island gave me a great understanding of the hard-life endured by many immigrants and their dream for a better life. [ ... ] My grandmother has shared many memories and stories about my great-grandfather, and my mother thinks my hard work and dedication comes from him. [ ... ] I truly cherish the Belgian traits and traditions of my heritage, like grandpa’s waffles and grandma’s Belgian lace doilies on the coffee table, and making lukken cookies at Christmas.” Margaret Wendell formulated it in her “Heritage Essay” thus, also in 2012: “I am very grateful to have such an interesting Belgian background and a grandmother who takes great pride in it. I can just see her face light up anytime we are talking about our Belgian culture.”
The background of this book with its immigration of so many Flemish to America reframes our perspective when we look at current migration from Eastern-Europe, Asia and Africa to “rich” and quiet Europe.
What brings the future for the Gazette? These texts could spark revitalization. The flame of interest is real, but it has to be fanned; how such fanning can occur, with technology as a guiding force, will later become apparent. But to everyone this remains self-evident: that the Gazette van Detroit is a pillar of cultural heritage, one to cherish, because like a mirror it reflects who we are, on both sides of the Ocean.
Camille Cools, founder of the Gazette van Detroit, was born in Moorslede on April 13, 1874. At the age of nine, he and his family moved to a farm in Oekene. When two of his uncles migrated to the U.S., the family’s appetite to do the same was probably whetted. Camille and his relatives left in the middle of March 1889 on the Westland steamer of the Red Star Line. In early April they arrived in Detroit.
Camille was a busy bee. He had started off as a mold-maker and a furniture-maker. Afterwards he founded a grocery store, which he left ten years later to start a furniture store. There he sold, among other things, cane and rattan furniture, kitchen and rocking chairs (!), tables and beds. For pigeon hobbyists from his home country he crafted pigeon baskets. He also rented out furnished rooms, equipped with water, gas and bath, mainly to service Belgian immigrants. And last, he was also the agent of a mustard factory as well as a salesman of Red Star Line tickets for whoever wished to travel to Belgium.
In his spare time (did he have any?) he was a member of an archery society, a gymnastics club and two drama societies, as well as of the Belgian marching band of Detroit. In the beginning he was member of the East Detroit Band (in 1893). June 10, 1910 a new band was formed: ‘Eendracht maakt Macht’ (‘Lunion fait la Force’) where Camille taughtmusic to the beginners. It goes to show that he was passionate about the preservation of his own culture in distant America. He also revolted against dealing only in French with Belgian immigrants. This became very apparent in the articles he submitted to Flemish papers that appeared there, first in De Volksstem and later in De Gazette van Moline, for which he became both agent and correspondent for Detroit and its immediate vicinity.
An important story in this context is that which the Gazette published on October 19, 1923: during a march of some 1200 French prisoners-of-war through Roeselare Jules Carbonez as a spectator shouted, “Vive la France!”, which was quickly taken up by some fifty bystanders. Prasse, the local German Kommandant, was enraged. He sentenced Carbonez to three years of prison in Germany, and he sent the local mayor, Mahieu-Liebaertin, a letter saying that his city would be punished, followed by this threat: “if this happens again, Roeselare shall burn to the ground”. The mayor asked Prasse if he could translate this warning and distribute it, as a pamphlet, to the inhabitants.
One of those pamphlets that contained the warning ended up 4,000 miles away: at the offices of the Gazette van Detroit, which promptly published it. Shortly thereafter, a nervous Kommandant asked the mayor if he still had the letter about burning down the city. The mayor coldly replied that he did not have it any more: “Do you really believe that I keep all of those papers?”.
What happened? A copy of the Gazette had travelled 4,000 miles in the other direction, into the headquarters of the German forces at Charleville, at the very time when Germany stood accused of barbaric practices. Meanwhile the Germans had a great campaign going, in the hope of winning over hearts and minds to Germany’s cause., for instance, by publishing pictures of German soldiers sharing rations with local children. The publication of this letter endangered these efforts, hence their demand for the original copy of the letter. Mayor Mahieu-Liebaertin feigned ignorance, and the Kommandant had to slink off. From then on never another word was openly uttered about the case. Some draw the conclusion that the Germans’ charm offensive paved the way for Father Syoen to mount his rescue operation.
Eyewitnesses were evoked on a regular basis, as we see from an anonymous contribution in the Gazette issue of October 20, 1916, under the title “On the Belgian Front”:
“Not too long ago a Belgian arrived in Detroit from the front; he lived in a village in Flanders where huge and terrible fights occurred. He was young, probably too young to stand by his brothers in battle to free the Fatherland. Since he arrived directly from the battlefield where bombs and mortar shells had been whistling over his head, he had initially been afraid to be arrested as a spy in Belgium. [...] Near Diksmuide Belgians and Germans are only forty-two feet apart. In one location the Belgians speared a loaf of bread on their bayonets, the Germans waved a ham on theirs, which made the Belgians assume that it was stolen from their people, and which gave them more courage to fight. [...] In the moonlight airplanes arrive, the engines are easily heard. The armies of the French and the Belgians have strong searchlights, and when a plane was seen, guns and cannons started their bonfires. [...] On the entire battlefront over the course of almost an hour not a single tree, not a single house is seen, everything is destroyed, one empty, ravaged plain. The Belgians join their trenches through underground gangways, in some places for forty-five minutes before arriving at their destination. The village of Ramskapelle is completely flooded, as are many other villages; soldiers gain their positions via long, narrow bridges. Soldiers at the outposts of the front are replaced every two hours, and the Belgian ones are extremely watchful. Seawater is regularly purged from the river Yser to obliterate the foul odor arising from thousands of soldiers whose corpses are rotting and stenching.”
Here are striking examples of mixed news bits and news flashes from the old newspapers, sometimes followed by a personal comment from the author:
“Death at the Wheel
“A car with a dead man at the wheel stopped in front of the police station of Los Angeles, California, on Monday. In the car were two dead people as well as a severely wounded police officer. The two bodies were Edward Ehron and Harry E. Binham. They were arrested by Police Sergeant A.W. Bethel. The car contained costly jewelry and furs. Sergeant Bethel who was pursuing the two bandits, jumped into the car, pulled his gun and ordered them to drive to the police station. After a few blocks the driver turned around and fired at the police officer, wounding him in the left leg. Feeling threatened, the officer returned fire and hit both bandits, killing them instantly. The body of the driver fell on the horn: the horn was blaring when the car with the dead driver continued to drive into the crowd. The car came to a standstill at the police station. The police officer will recover.
“Contesting eight-hour day – Women’s Organization gearing up to demand longer workdays for men from Legislators
“One of the newest Organizations in the country is the “Association of Overworked, Underpaid, Dishwashing Housewives” (Vereeniging van Overwerkte, niet genoeg betaalde, schotelwasschende Huisvrouwen) recently established in Washington with the purpose to promote longer workdays for men. According to them, an eight-hour workday for a laborer is not enough, because … the husband gets in the way at the house and interferes in their wives’ housework. That’s what they claim. [...] As we said before, not all women are so inclined, and especially among the Belgian women, safe a few exceptions, we would not encounter them. So it is not against these that we aim these rules, but rather against the ones born here whose sole goal it is to treat their husbands as a slave or use him as a horse or pack animal so they can act on their crazy whims.
“Cigarettes banned from Utah
“On Tuesday the executive power of the state of Utah approved the law to ban cigarettes statewide. It is now illegal there to offer cigarettes or to buy them. This same law also prohibits smoking in public places in the state, and both offenses are punishable. After liquor this is foremost intended to deprive people from tobacco as well. The fanatic teachers are trying to push this through and if the people are not protesting this, it is to be expected that this freedom curtailment will be implemented.
“Against loiterers in Flint
“The city council of Flint accepted a law prohibiting loiterers to stand in front of commercial places, public buildings or street corners if not waiting for public transportation. Loiterers are also prohibited to accost women in the street or to interfere with their activities. The law provides for a fine of $100 or ninety days of jail for infractions and it comes into effect immediately.
“Members of the jury take drink at the court
“In Miami, Florida, Harry S. Black, a millionaire from New York, was summoned in front of a jury on Saturday accused of being in possession of a large amount of whiskey when taken into custody by the police. After the proceedings the case was handed to the jury, who started by taking a sample of the confiscated whiskey after which they began deliberations. After three minutes of deliberations the members of the jury returned to the court and declared that Black was innocent. Here we have another example of the rottenness of society and the prohibition laws. A poor soul who commits the mortal sin of being in possession of a drop of alcohol gets caught and thrown in jail for months. However, when it is a millionaire, a capitalist in possession of a few cases, then members of the jury sample the wares and declare the accused to be innocent because he was lucky enough to be born rich. There’s an example of equality before the law of rich and poor!?!
“A new traffic law is in force (1926). In the first week a lot of drivers were arrested and even jailed. Some good advice: our readers who do not want to meet the judges should do best to sell their car or leave it in the garage […] Following are the most important changes that were not part of the old code:
“Number in the ‘front seat’: no more than two people. Nobody can ride on the driver’s lap, not even a child. While driving he cannot put his arm around someone else; other people cannot hold their arms around the driver either. All passengers should be inside the car.
“Speed: not over fifteen miles an hour in ‘business’ areas and not over twenty in residential areas. In alleys, required speed is ten miles an hour.
“Honking the horn: strictly prohibited, unless to signal or to avoid accidents. Beware night-time disturbers, or those using their horn to express impatience when having to stop for a passing train or other.”
In conclusion, a notable advertisement from that same period:
“Rene Andries, living in Ida, Mich. at F.A. Gildea farm, has to leave his farm, because he does not want to be a witness for the man from whom he leases land against people from his own region. Such is a wonderful choice for a Belgian wanting to farm.”
You can read the whole exciting story in the book that is still available.