Julia A. Moore, the Sweet Singer of Michigan
The old log house located near the bridge just north of the Scout Cabin was a tumbledown wreck. The farm owners were about to tear it down a few years ago when Miss Edna Haner heard about it. She took her camera and hurried to the location to snap a picture. This photographic record and a slight depression in the ground where the house stood for perhaps 80 years; are the only evidences of the birthplace of Rockford's widely known citizen — "The Sweet Singer of Michigan."
Here, during the Reconstruction Period that followed the Civil War, and during the era of corruption and financial panic that went hand in hand with that era, flourished Z an impressionable young Miss who was later to be known to her public as Julia A. Moore.
The country was new. The woodsman's axe and the hum of the saw mills disturbed the primeval fastness of the pine land. Money was scarce, schools were few and far between. Grand Rapids was a boisterous lumber town where river-men went to spend their month's pay. Town meeting was the year's important political-social function. If a farmer bought a new halter for the young, colt he was breaking, the news was reported throughout the north east section of the township.
The report of a fight between the lumberjacks caused the dark eyes of the young Miss to open wide and saddle her with a childish sense of shame. She shuddered and climbed deeply into the straw tick of her bed to sleep fitfully, when she heard the neighbors tell about an acquaintance who choked to death on a piece of beef. Drunkenness and the wild orgies of the lumberjacks did not coincide with her sense of values even as a young girl in her early 'teens. In horror she listened to the stories of the ravages of black diphtheria, of sudden deaths and tragic endings; she was a part of the frontier when the lumber barons were pushing back the stand of pine.
These early impressions were carefully hid in her heart by the sensitive Julia A. Moore until the great day came along when she found her voice. Almost simultaneously she discovered that she could sing and jot her down thoughts in rhyme. It was the beginning of a career which was as symbolic of her day as the perisphere and trylon typify the present.
From the very beginning, Julia A. used the tragedies of the township, as a favorite theme. She wept in poetic meter with grieving parents and bereaved children. The pent-up emotion took the form of obituaries in rhyme. Tears were nothing but the milk of human kindness rolling down her cheeks. Julia's lamentations caused many eyes to swell and redden, but her public invariably clipped the verses and filed them away in the back pages of Dr. Chase's Receipt Book or in the family Bible. Her productions were always effusively sentimental.
Her interest was not limited entirely to tragedy and death. She praised the Centennial at Philadelphia in 1876. She raised her voice on national issues to cry for social justice and the election of Grant and Hendricks. She urged men to give up the demon rum and join the Good Templars. And the vibrant voice took on a new strength and tonal quality when she urged her hearers to forsake evil and do good.
But the obituaries were her forte. She wept aloud with those in sorrow and suffered vicariously with those in pain. The lower corners of her apron were wet with tears when she told about the young lovers who were separated by death. The story of the little girl in a pink sunbonnet who fell in a fit while at play, wrenched at her heartstrings and tugged at her soul. She put it in verse. It remains a masterpiece and typical of the emotional era of frontier literature, which started with the assassination of Lincoln and ended shortly after the Johnstown Flood.
Julia A. Moore was primarily a product of the time and age in which she lived. Her clear, strong voice was truly the voice of the people in the pine area who coped with the elemental and often unfriendly forces of nature in grubbing a livelihood from forest and field. There was but little chance for self expression except at quilting parties and husking bees, and when one in the neighborhood climbed to poetic heights there was wonderment, applause and adoration. She was a prophet. She spoke the common language. She grieved with the neighborhood through the medium of printer's ink and the people liked it. They understood the heart and soul of the woman. There was no sham; no make believe in the person of Julia A. She spent a valuable portion of her life cultivating kindness.
Julia A. Moore belonged to the 1870's, which was about the time the effete east began to grow decadent. Strangely enough, Julia owes much of her fame to the intelligentsia with mutton chop whiskers who lifted bushy eyebrows when they found her meter faulty. The literary critics who lived on the right side of the railroad tracks, believing that copious tears were messy and untidy, coughed in a falsetto note behind neatly folded and perfumed handkerchiefs. Stately dowagers who grubbed their learning from books thought Mrs. Moore a quaint person.
But these estimates of the "Sweet Singer of Michigan" do not detract one whit from her true worth!
With remarkable fidelity she recorded the emotions of the great mass of people out here in the hinterland. She is the national representative of an era in our nation's development, — a decade that has its own history, its own literature. She is the nation's truest interpreter of the maudlin sentiment that characterized the 1870 decade.
Transcriber: Jennifer Godwin
Created: 3 March 2000