Cukezilla makes headlines

Ottawa County resident Hezekiah G. Smith, a freed slave famous for his green thumb and namesake of Smith's Bayou, once made headlines for his unusual cucumbers.
Kevin Collier
Jan 7, 2013

 

One might brand them as Cukezillas today due to their astounding size. The stunt didn't get Smith into a pickle, although a few Picklezillas were created in the process, as well.

In November 1854, Smith presented his most monstrous cucumber to the Grand River Times newspaper office. It wasn't uncommon in the day for a newspaper office to display oddities to attract the public. Thus, the newspaper announced the cucumber's presence and the curiosity went on public display.

Smith's cucumber measured “four to five feet long,” the Grand River Times reported, “and well proportioned.”

“The vine on which it grew is enormous, running entirely over his (Smith's) house,” the Times added.          

While Smith's success with selling cucumbers dealt with considerably smaller-sized produce, he did process some of his mini-monsters in dill and vinegar. Thus, it's likely Hezekiah Smith holds an Ottawa County record for the largest pickles ever made — 2 feet in length.         

“He pickled a half barrel of these cucumbers when they were about two feet in length,” the Times wrote. “Smith says, that for making pickles, his cucumbers are without parallel.”          

The article did point out that “when partly grown” of more a traditional size, Smith's cucumbers “make excellent pickles.”          

A Gallipolis, Ohio, newspaper, which ran “Great Cucumbers” as a news brief headline, stated “Hezekiah G. Smith, in Ottawa County, Michigan, raises some queer kind of cucumbers.” Other out-of-state newspapers slugged the story with “Queer Cucumbers” to describe Smith's oversized oddities.          

Smith, an African-American born into slavery in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1814, married Lucinda J. Sisco, of Ohio, in 1835. After the Smiths were freed by their Kentucky owner, the couple settled in Spring Lake in 1847.    

Smith purchased and cleared land in Sections 10 and 16 in Spring Lake Township for the purpose of raising fruit, especially apples and peaches, along what would eventually become his namesake, Smith’s Bayou.    

After a period of time, perhaps in the early 1860s, it was reported that Smith “left the area [possibly under duress], and returned two or three years later.”  It was reported white neighbors had targeted Smith for founding a black settlement in Spring Lake. Smith resided for a time in Ohio, and one of his four children, Annabel, was born there in 1863.    

Smith returned shortly after Annabel's birth, and resided in Spring Lake and Ferrysburg. Mainly a fruit grower, Smith's green thumb was often recognized by the Secretary of State Horticultural Society of Michigan. He was interviewed in a volume published in 1874 concerning peach growing in Ottawa County.    

Smith is also recognized for his efforts in the early equal rights movement for African-Americans, representing Ottawa and Kent counties.    

In 1894 Smith was elected as one of the delegates to the Equal Rights Convention, which met in Grand Rapids on April 10-11 that year.    

“The convention has a number of purposes, but aims at the advancement of (African-Americans) of Michigan,” the Grand Haven Tribune reported.    

The Tribune reported Hezekiah G. Smith was “very ill” in its Dec. 19, 1895, edition. Smith passed away at his Ferrysburg home the morning of Jan. 7, 1896, at the age of 81.    

“With his death, another of the characters of pioneer days passes away,” the Tribune reported.

    

 

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