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Post Grand Rapids and Its Dutch Influence
Created by John Eipper on 09/19/20 8:45 AM

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Grand Rapids and Its Dutch Influence (Patrick Mears, -Germany, 09/19/20 8:45 am)

This note responds to Rodolfo Neirotti's kind and interesting post of yesterday about his five-year sojourn in the Netherlands. I remember being surprised by a note posted by Rodolfo long ago that he and his family lived in Grand Rapids for a time that partially overlapped with my life there (1980-2014).

Concerning the Dutch, I second the reflections of Rodolfo about the Dutch, their history, and the "quality of (their) education and social cohesion." I have had the great pleasure of making friends and working with some insolvency law professionals from the Netherlands since moving to Germany in 2014, and I have found them to be highly intelligent, friendly and fun people to spend time with at work or at play. Reacting to Rodolfo's note and then writing this post now reminds me that I need to pick out from my library and read An Embarrassment of Riches, Simon Schama's history of the Netherlands' "Golden Age," which has been both highly praised by many and criticised by others, by the latter group especially for omitting "much or all of their colonising story."

I am interested in Rodolfo's comment that "moving from Amsterdam to Michigan required a long period of adaptation for (his) family," and I suspect that my experience and that of my deceased wife may have been similar to what Rodolfo touches upon. First, my background and that of my first wife and the mother of my two children (née Geraldine O'Connor) did not prepare us for a very conservative place in which to live. Gerry had been born in New York City and had Irish and ethnic Polish roots, as I have. Her father, Edward, had been the "head" of the Manhattan Robbery Squad for years and had investigated and solved many, well-publicised crimes there, including the Pierre Hotel Robbery, a heist of precious coins from the American Numismatic Museum, and other, high-profile cases. Edward was nothing, if not highly intelligent, savvy and street-smart. He had seen it all during his long career in law enforcement. Here is a link to a tribute in the New York Times to him on foiling an attempted jewel robbery just prior to his retirement. https://www.nytimes.com/1979/12/18/archives/police-work-on-jewel-plot-has-a-certain-brilliance-we-began.html . My background was growing up in Flint, Michigan, during the hey-day of the auto industry, when Flint was an overwhelmingly Democratic and union town. Those influences were reinforced by my seven years at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and my four-year stint as a young, law-firm associate in Manhattan.

Without pointing to any surveys or statistics, it seems fair to say that most of the Dutch who settled in Grand Rapids during the 1800s and early 1900s were very conservative Calvinists, and because of their numbers, influenced the culture of Grand Rapids in a significant way--in the realm of politics, religion and everyday culture. One good example is our current US Secretary of Education, who has a history of advocating for privately owned and operated, religious schools. This difference in cultural background and overall mood was something that took some adjusting to by me, Gerry and my children during the time that we lived in the area.

JE comments:  The Grand Rapids oligarchy has a Dutch accent:  Van Andel, DeVos, Meijer.  And nearby Holland is the Dutchiest city in America--home to the Tulip Festival and Klompen (wooden shoe) dancing.  I'm still confused why the Dutch Reformed who settled in Michigan retained their strict Calvinism, while the Church in the Netherlands lost its original fervor.  The DRC in the Mother Country has transformed into the very secular Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN).  Wikipedia reports that non-theists comprise 42% of the PKN membership.

Pat, I enjoyed the 1979 article on how the good Lt O'Connor brought a ring of fur thieves to justice.  As a lifelong coin collector, I'd love to know more about your father-in-law's role in solving the American Numismatic Museum heist.

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  • Remembering a Heist at the American Numismatic Society (Patrick Mears, -Germany 09/20/20 12:14 PM)
    This is in response to John E's question about a heist at the American Numismatic Society, New York.

    Being a former coin collector too, I perked up when my father-in-law mentioned the heist, which at the time was located in the famous Audubon Terrace complex on Broadway between West 155th and 156th Streets in the Washington Heights neighbourhood of uptown Manhattan. My memory of our conversation back then has dulled quite a bit, but I will tell you what I do remember about it--or at least, what I think I remember about it.

    Apparently, the "perp" was a master thief who had made important robberies before this job, and the Robbery Squad had not been able to take take him down. This particular theft was successful and one of the treasures obtained was, if I recall correctly, an 1804 US Silver Dollar. The Squad eventually caught the mastermind of the heist, but he was at first unwilling to talk and the Society sought to quash all attempts at news coverage of the crime. My father-in-law said that the gang leader finally gave in and told the Squad where to find the loot, which had been buried in Central Park under a large tree. The coins were successfully recovered and the criminal gang served time.

    That is the best of my recollection. I hope that there are no "false memory" shards within my story. I did a quick Internet search just now for some record of this crime, but couldn't find any. It must have occurred sometime either in the 1960s or 70s, before my father-in-law retired from the force.

    JE comments:  Pat Mears included this excellent essay on the Audobon Terrace Cultural Center, in Washington Heights, which originally housed the American Numismatic Society museum.  The Hispanic Society of America remains.  This stuff is right up my alley!  How is it I've never visited?  Rarely does the tourist make it as far north as 155th Street, Manhattan.


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