See What It’s Like to Be Holland’s Town Crier

Tulip Time 2014 in Holland, MI kicks off May 3rd! This year, the Town Crier Competition is one of the festival’s iconic events. Town Criers from around the world gather in Holland to compete during Tulip Time, adding a touch of old-world charm with their colorful costumes and clever cries. Guest blogger, Ann Van Heest from Discover Holland caught up with Holland’s own town crier, John Karsten, to talk with him about the competition and what it’s like to be the town crier in Holland. 

Photo courtesy of Discover Holland

Photo courtesy of Discover Holland

John Karsten wears the town crier hat with aplomb. After all, it is original. “The hat they gave me is the original hat they bought for the town crier in 1940,” he explains. John is the fifth town crier to don the official cap at the behest of Tulip Time organizers, and has fulfilled the role since 1979.

One of the most important roles Holland’s town crier has is to make the official announcement that kicks off Holland’s beloved Volksparade (May 7, 2014). Holland’s early Tulip Time traditions embraced the ethic of “Dutch clean,” and now every year Holland’s “volks” gather to scrub the downtown streets with brooms and water. (Early efforts to use the Dutch Cleanser powder resulted in a cloud of dust over the parade route!) The morning of the parade, the Mayor and City Council inspect the downtown streets. Mayor Kurt Dykstra declares the streets of Holland in need of scrubbing, and instructs the town crier to make the announcement that the streets must be cleaned. This is John’s favorite task as town crier. “I declare the streets are dirty…” John makes the announcement in both English and Dutch, and has even attempted to make it in Spanish!

yellowtulipsThe job of town crier is no small-time commitment- John is a member of both the American and Netherlands’ Town Crier Guilds. Last year he placed 11 out of 35 contestants at a world championship competition in Canada, his best finish ever. This year, he will step back from competition and host twelve guests to Holland, Michigan’s very own town crier competition (May 10). Hosting is a job he clearly relishes. “I invite them to come here and compete,” he explains, detailing the competitive events. Competitors from the Netherlands and Bermuda will attend, sharing their very own take on their special role. Historically, town criers would use a gong or bell to alert townspeople to their announcement, but the contestant from Bermuda will bring his bagpipes. John Karsten will supply a “benchmark cry” for the judges, and then each contestant will be judged on how their own cry measures up.

We invite you to join us in Holland for the competition on May 10 at Windmill Island Gardens.

See the town crier competition in action below:

Screen-Shot-2014-04-21-at-11.56.07-AM-150x150Ann Van Heest is the information coordinator at the Holland Visitors Bureau. Her first job was selling fudge at Windmill Island Gardens. Follow her @DiscoverHolland on Twitter and Instagram.

Take a Look Inside DeZwaan Windmill in Holland, Michigan

The Tulip Time Festival returns to Holland, MI May 3-10, 2014! To get us excited for the event, guest blogger Ann Van Heest from Discover Holland gives us a look inside of one of Holland’s iconic sights – DeZwaan Windmill. 

Photo courtesy of Discover Holland

Photo courtesy of Discover Holland

Windmill Island Gardens is one of Holland’s true gems.  A visit to this 36-acre park adjacent to Holland’s downtown area is like stepping two centuries back in time, as you’ll find authentic Dutch architecture framing a view of the Island’s crown jewel: DeZwaan Windmill. Today we’ll tour five stories of this remarkable windmill, learning its story and how our Dutch-certified miller grinds wheat into flour using centuries-old technology.

DeZwaan (The Swan) Windmill was brought to Holland, Mich. from the Netherlands in 1964. It opened to the public in 1965 and enjoys the unique status of being the United States’ only authentic, working, Dutch windmill, as well as the last windmill to leave the Netherlands.

Photo courtesy of Discover Holland

Photo courtesy of Discover Holland

We’ll begin on the ground floor of the mill, where we see that we’re surrounded by thick brick walls. These bricks were laid in the traditional Dutch style, sloping downward to drain water from the building. The two sets of double doors on the ground floor allowed farmers to drive their horse and wagon full of bagged wheat right into the mill. The flour is ground on the fifth story of the mill, so farmers would have to use the “elevator” to convey the bags up to the grinding floor. The elevator is a wind-powered pulley that hoists bags of wheat through an open elevator shaft. The shaft is also where the miller’s wooden-shoe telephone is found.  Traditionally, millers spent most of their days in the upper floors of the mill and visiting farmers would send their messages to the miller via a wooden shoe attached to a rope! They could slip a note or payment into the shoe and the miller would pull up the rope when he had a chance.

Photo courtesy of Discover Holland

Photo courtesy of Discover Holland

The tour continues through packaging and storage floors, where we might see the miller and her assistants bagging DeZwaan-ground flour that is sold at the gift shop or distributed to local restaurants for use in their baked goods and pizza crusts.

Take a look at some of the original pieces and parts of the mill, mounted on the wall for us to touch and examine. Your guide will share the story of some of these pieces and how they were made, and she will also tell you how the blades of the mill were used to convey information for communities and also used as signals during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in World War II.

On the fourth floor of the mill, we’ll look around and see that there are no longer surrounded by brick, but by the mill’s original wood timbers. The Dutch imported Norwegian fir beams to construct the mill in 1761, and you can see how they were hand-planed. Look for the Roman numerals carved in the sides of the beams, which helped the millwrights who originally assembled the mill know how the beams fit together. They also guided the modern millwrights who re-assembled the mill in Holland, Michigan! This floor is known as the “milling floor,” and is where the milling process is fine-tuned – the miller can regulate the grinding process by raising or lowering the top millstone.

Out on the gallery deck, we can see how truly immense the blades are! This is my favorite part, as we can get a great view of the tulip fields planted adjacent to the mill, but also get up close and personal with the blades, which are 80 feet long and six feet wide. From this gallery deck, the miller can rotate the cap of the mill so the blades are facing into the wind, and she can also engage the brake and stop the blades from turning.

Photo courtesy of Discover Holland

Photo courtesy of Discover Holland

We will climb up to the fifth floor of the mill, which is noticeably tight quarters as the mill narrows towards the top and the two massive sets of grindstones take up most of the floor space. There are three gears on this floor, which the miller must engage in order to operate the elevator pulley we first learned about on the ground floor, or to begin the grinding process. When the miller releases the brakes and allows the blades to turn, the massive gear in the middle of this room begins to turn. Despite the many tons of gears now turning, the sound is just a whisper, as the wooden gears are lubricated with beeswax and turn very quietly. When the grinding gears are engaged, the noise is still much quieter than you’d expect!

Photo courtesy of Discover Holland

Photo courtesy of Discover Holland

Thanks for joining us on a tour of our graceful DeZwaan. We hope you will come and experience it with us! During the Tulip Time festival (May 3-May 10), visitors will be able to experience the more than 100,000 tulips blooming at Windmill Island Gardens, guided tours of the mill, the authentic Dutch street organ and a short film screened every thirty minutes in the post house building. Take time to tour the antique tropical green house, the “Little Netherlands” historic display, and visit the gift shop which also sells homemade fudge. There is plenty of parking, and Windmill Island Gardens is open daily from 9am-7pm during the festival, and 9:15-5 during the summer months.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 11.56.07 AMAnn Van Heest is the information coordinator at the Holland Visitors Bureau. Her first job was selling fudge at Windmill Island Gardens. Follow her @DiscoverHolland on Twitter and Instagram.