STRANGE GH: Serenaders destroy newlyweds’ home

When John Zylstra married at the end of April 1920, he fixed up and redecorated his southern Ottawa County farmhouse for his new bride. The couple had pride in the nice nest they made.
Kevin Collier
Oct 22, 2012

 

Zylstra was 40 years older than the former Maggie Diephorst, his blushing 18-year-old bride. But gossip soon after their union wouldn't be about their vast difference in age, it would be about the serenading out-of-control mob that destroyed their home.

It all began Monday evening, May 24, 1920, when a group of about 15 men showed up at the Zylstra residence with the intention to serenade the newlyweds. When the group asked for $20 for their wedding treat for services rendered, Zylstra refused, stating he could not afford that much money. The men departed in disgust.

Later that evening, the same men returned with others. The group that now gathered out front of the Zylstra farmhouse numbered between 50 and 60. The men now demanded $40 for serenading the newlyweds. Zylstra refused to pay anyone. That's when things got out of hand.

Part of the mob planted dynamite in the front yard close to the house, setting off an explosion that broke nearly every window in the house, the Grand Haven Tribune reported. The blast blew up Zylstra's newly planted garden, sending debris in every direction.

Members of the marital greeting mob then filled up buckets with water and took to the roof of the farmhouse, pouring their pails down chimneys. The water, streamed with soot and dirt, ruined the new wallpaper John and Maggie Zylstra had weeks earlier put up.

A group of the revelers then took a long pole in hand and charged the front door, breaking a new decorative door. Other partying souls raided the chicken coops, pulling the birds off their roosts and tossing them through the broken windows of the house. They also made scrambled eggs, smashing the chickens’ entire laid product.

During the melee, debris struck Maggie Zylstra, knocking her unconscious. Her husband, days earlier, had loaned his shotgun to a neighbor, but used a pitchfork to hold the men back.

Once the farmhouse was thoroughly trashed, the men left. Zylstra took his wife to the hospital at Grand Haven. She recovered.

“If the authorities expect to issue warrants for the whole charivari party, they'll have some job on their hands,” one of the accused men said. “The total number will exceed 50.”

Two days later warrants were issued by Ottawa County Sheriff Cornelius Dornbos for the arrest of seven of the revelers. Some of the men who were in the mob had disapproved of their friends’ actions and turned in the names of others. Most, if not all of the men, had been drinking. And most, if not all of the men, were friends and neighbors of John Zylstra.

On June 2, the seven men went on trial for destruction of property at the City Hall in Holland. More than 500 attended the event, which was described as a circus. Even though the defendants were presented as good old boys, all were fined and a few spent time in jail ranging from 10 to 31 days. Restitution was also rendered for damages to the Zylstra home.

The couple's marriage endured until John Zylstra died on Aug. 23, 1942 at nearly age 80. Besides his wife, Maggie, survivors included a daughter, Mildred, 7.

 

Comments

Tri-cities realist

With "friends" like that...

 

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