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History Lives Here Text

Saugatuck - Douglas

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[Featuring publications on area history, both present day and in thepast. Offeredas a guide and inspiration for those who peruse used book stores.]

 

Saugatuck Art Colony [1945?] n.p.,5 1/2 x 8 1/2, saddlestitched. Translatedby Rae Dalvin.

 

George Coutoumanos was part owner of theAthenian Tobacco Co of Chicagotobacco that went out of business during the Depression and moved to Saugatuckin 1939. He was born in Greece and,although he learned enough English for ordinary conversation, he continued towrite poetry in his native tongue. His poems were published in America for theGreek-speaking reader. A later collection by an Athenspublisher received considerable critical acclaim in Europe.

 

In 1944 the Greek American Tribune of New

York Citypublished a small prose work written by George Coutoumanoscalled Saugatuck Art Colony, inseveral installments. Greek literary critics called it a new literary style,prose with a touch of poetry. Thefollowing year it was translated into English by Rae Dalvin,formerly of the theater department of Yale University.

 

Coutoumanos was amuch-loved fixture in Saugatuck. He was tall, with a straight back, and alwayswore a full suit. With his cane punctuating the way he would walk for miles,often hanging out at park benches along Butler Street. He was considered the townphilosopher. Wally Peirce, who rowed the ferry scowin the 1940s wrote later that on slow days Coutoumanos would sometimes go back and forth on the boat."We would talk about beautiful things that surrounded us that he could seeand I was trippng over. It was rather like rowingPlato across the river, and coming back with Bernard Baruch."

 

George andJenny had seven children. A daughter, Anna, opened a restaurant in Saugatuckand a son, Clarence, was for a while associated with the Sand Bar on Butler Street.Jennie died in 1942 and George later moved to a house on Lake Street where he lived with hisbrother Annis. "The place always smelledstrongly of Greek-style lemon soup," a young neighbor recalls.

In the 1950she published three books of Greek poetry. Their titles are translated Songs of the Soul, TheLullabies and Trilogy: Truth, Life,Money. All were printed by the Cosmos Greek-American Printing Co., buttheir title pages listed "Saugatuck, Mich." as the place ofpublication. The designation was the only English on a page of Greek. A numberof these Greek poetry books still exist in Saugatuck, especially among Coutoumanos' friends at All Saints Episcopal Church, thoughfew who were honored with copies of the volume know what the words within itsay.

 

The smallvolume Saugatuck Art Colony receivedmuch wider distribution in town, and some of the copies that have been locatedhave notations that would indicate that at least two resorts placed a copy ineach room. The imagery is poetic:

 

The romanticand magic Kalamazoo River, crowned by itsmorning and evening shadows and by the uninterrupted proud watersheds of thesand dunes around it, leaves the great modern bridge, laughing, and entersjoyfully into the tiny crystalline lake baptized with its name. Then it crossestriumphantly through Saugatuck, makes two or three serpentine, smooth curvesthat close the triangle, gazes thrice-desolate, sullen and sad at its familiar riverbed that greeted her for thousands of years ... crosses the new arms of theharbor, bidding a fond farewell to the lighthouse, then spills like theplaintive tears of a small tot slowly rolling around his mother's apron, intothe freshwater sea Lake Michigan.

 

George died in1962 following a fall at the age of 82. He and Jenny are buried in Riverside Cemetery, Saugatuck.

 

Just beforeChristmas, 1996, the widow of the youngest Coutoumanosson, Steve, and her son who is now a resident of Oregon, visited the area seeking familyroots. They have, and will share for the upcoming exhibit, a painting done byChris,

 

another son of Georgeand Jenny. Also, tucked away in a big cardboard box, is a large body ofcorrespondence, in Greek, written by George during his time in Saugatuck. Thegrandson is now taking steps to have it translated and promises to sharerelevant results with Saugatuck, the Greek poet's adopted home.

 

Copies of the little booklet Saugatuck Art Colony are quite common inSaugatuck, but few who knew him want to part with their copy. In organized bookstores they sell for $7 to $10. In less organized stores a copy can often befound in an ephemera box for less.

The author's name, in English usuallyrendered George Coutoumanos, is on the top line. Thelast two lines list "Saugatuck Mich. 1950" as the place anddate of publication. The rest is Greek to us.

 

Old Newspaper Items

Did you everhave anyone snitch goodies you had stashed for later consumption at home or atwork? Some mill hands in Saugatuck back in 1877 did, and here's how they solvedthe problem and caught the thief (from the June 29, 1877, SaugatuckCommercial):

 

IPECAC -- Themen in the old Johnson Mill have missed their lunch frequently of late, andwere much troubled to find who was perpetrator of the nightly thefts. Finallyyoung Ripley, who was one of the victims concluded to try and find him out. Sohe carefully concealed some Ipecac in some jelly. The goodies were missed asusual, but it was not long before one of the boys at work in the mill began tobe fearfully sick and was compelled to admit that he had eaten the jelly, butthat it was a mean trick to serve a fellow so. One day in bed was sufficient toput his stomach in order and it is hoped that the lesson will not soon be forgotten.

 

I remember asa boy my grandmother used to talk about being put in the poor house if wedidn't mind our p's and q's.I always thought this was an imaginary place, but apparently it was not. Theyreally existed as the Commercial Record forJanuary 18, 1878, attests:

 

There are 67persons, of all ages and sexes in the Allegan CountyPoor House, and the number is increasing rapidly. No less than nine wereadmitted to that refuge for the unfortunate last week. Never before has thisCounty had so many poor in its charge.

 

Times must havebeen very hard then as a place such as that is unheard of in this countrytoday. Makes one a little grateful for all the benefits we have here inAmerican today.-- BK