Ottawa County’s ‘wicked’ past recounted in new book

Mark Brooky • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:11 AM

In the introduction, Hammond writes about her great-great-grandmother, who immigrated from Yugoslavia to the United States in the early 1900s. Grandma Volovlek and her husband eventually bought a farm along M-45 in Robinson Township, where she raised “chickens, pigs, horses, fruit trees, grapevines and plenty of homemade booze to supply some of the notables around Grand Haven during the Prohibition era.”

“Those are the stories that circulate about great-great-grandma Volovlek,” said Hammond, 30.

“Wicked Ottawa County, Michigan” was published by The History Press of Charleston, S.C., and released at the end of September.

After her first book — “Ghosts & Legends of Michigan’s West Coast” — came out in 2009, Hammond said she began looking at some of the other books published by The History Press. That inspired her, she said, to dig up similar “cool stuff” about the county where she lives.

“I was surprised by some of the weird stuff I dug up,” Hammond said. “Because, one of the things that everyone thinks is that violence only happens today, (but) it happened then. Everybody was just as messed up then as they are now. It just happened less because there was less people.”

Hammond said “Wicked” is a combination of “True Crime”-like tabloid fare and “true history” accounts of local events.

“You can’t write a book about ‘Wicked Ottawa County’ without mentioning the (1933) bank robbery” in downtown Grand Haven, she said. “There are still people today who ... are unaware that even happened.”

Hammond said she spent about five months researching nearly every day for the book. Her sources included old Grand Haven Tribune and other local newspapers, local history departments in Ottawa County public libraries, and a trip to the state library in Lansing.

The book is dedicated to Jeanette Weiden, the local history specialist at Loutit District Library, where Hammond works as a clerk.

“She was just so helpful and helped me learn how to find all this stuff, and look through old Census records, and try to make sense of things,” Hammond said of Weiden.

Hammond said she was told by some people that they wouldn’t read her first book because it was about ghosts, but they would be interested in the true accounts of local crime and misbehavior — even when it’s a gruesome account.

Hammond said her favorite story in the book is the one titled “Argument over cows ends in death.” Back in 1909, 26-year-old George Seelman shot Josephine Faylor — the 60-year-old woman he co-owned a Chester Township farm with — in the back with a shotgun after bickering about the farm’s cows.

“It burned the clothes right off her back because he was so close with the gun,” Hammond said. “When he finally got out of jail, he still married the woman’s daughter that he killed. When he died, he was buried between the mother-in-law that he killed and his wife. This is so weird.”

Hammond has worked with several ghost-hunting teams around Michigan and helped form The Great Lakes Paranormal Research Organization in 2003. She helps maintain the group’s website, www.michigansotherside.com.

Her next project will encompass the entire state, Hammond said, but it will take some time to put together.

“It will take another two or three years,” she said. “In the meantime, I keep collecting stories.”

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