City archivist publishing book about Grand Rapids’ ‘hidden history’

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – As one of the city’s archivists, Grand Rapids native Matthew Ellis has seen his fair share of historical oddities.

Now, Ellis is releasing his first book, “Hidden History of Grand Rapids,” on January 2, 2023. The book reveals historical information about the city, such as local food trends, street layouts the town and some of the colored inhabitants of the town. .

“”I would describe it as the history of the city but looking at history in a clear light, things that people wouldn’t necessarily see,” Ellis told MLive/The Grand Rapids Press. “I have a chapter on animals, I have a chapter on food, that sort of thing. I tried to stay away from normal history.”

Ellis said that in his daily work he preserves​​​​​​​​ and makes available to the public all the records created by the city of Grand Rapids since the 1800s. He also conducts research on historical topics at the request of city staff.

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“In my day job, I’ve seen so many interesting stories that just had to be put together,” Ellis said.

The book is 128 pages long and retails for $23.99. It is published through Arcadia Publishing. The book will be sold at Barnes and Noble, Target, Amazon and local bookstores, including Books and Mortar at 966 Cherry St. SE.

Ellis joked that he is excited to be able to share all the stories in “Hidden History of Grand Rapids” with a wider audience once the book is released. He said he is looking forward to seeing his book on bookshelves in the area.

“It’s going to be wild, it’s good to be able to share that experience with people,” he said. “I think my wife will be glad she’s not the only one I’m telling these historical facts anymore.

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Along with information about the history of animals in Grand Rapids and stories about the materials used to build the city, Ellis said he found some historical curiosities that he can’t wait to show others.

“One of the most fascinating was detailing the life of the first town surveyor,” Ellis said. “I had found his diary from the 1850s, and he was very interested in séances. He told about talking to the ghost of Napoleon Bonaparte and we have all the official city documents from him, while he participates in these sessions. “

Another major historical event for Ellis was the discovery of a special arrest report from the early 1900s. At the time, the city of Grand Rapids was struggling with a regional food supply trying to make more profits.

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“The city was wrestling with food vendors who were narrowing their products to cut corners and costs,” said Ellis. “So a coffee roaster was arrested for substituting 25% of his coffee beans with roasted peas. He thought no one would notice.”

To celebrate the release of his book, Ellis will be hosting a booth at the Grand Rapids History Detectives event at the Grand Rapids Public Library on Wednesday, January 21. More information about the event is available online at https://historydetectivesgr.org .

Ellis is a trustee of the Grand Rapids Historical Society and lives in the Boston Square area of ​​southeast Grand Rapids with his wife, Ashley, and their four huskies.

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