Sixty-five years ago, this was the picture of the week in the Oct. 5, 1953, edition of Life Magazine, titled “Four Acres of Carp Corpses on the Kalamazoo.”

65 years ago: The Year of the Big Stink in Allegan (Part I)

Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

This is Part 1 of a two-part series marking the 65-year anniversary of a gruesome chapter in Allegan’s history.


Life Magazine’s “Picture of the Week” for Oct. 5, 1953, was titled “Four Acres of Carp Corpses on the Kalamazoo,” and featured a fish kill that clogged Dumont Creek.

Dubbed “The Year of the Big Stink” by The Allegan Gazette, it led not only to mills complying with anti-pollution measures but Plainwell and Otsego both approving bond issues for municipal sewage disposal plants.

According to Life Magazine, “The carp, a fish that is extraordinarily tenacious of life, was losing a battle for survival in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River valley. Their corpses gorged the valley’s streams, as in Dumont Creek where 4 acres of carp choked the waters in glistening, smelly death.

“The carp’s plight was caused chiefly by the paper mills along the river. Stepping up production, they were increasing the organic waste dumped into the river, squeezing off the carp’s oxygen.

“Fighting for oxygen, the carp made their way into the small streams which empty in the river. At the stream mouths, the fish were soon packed so solid they were literally crawling over each other to get inside.

“Once into the stream the carp were momentarily restored by the cool, pure waters. But as more and more fish fought their way in, they were pushed farther upstream. Then abruptly the stream came to an end. Ahead lay the death-giving land. Behind lay thousands of other carp cutting off the way back.

“Jammed together, weakened by their rugged journey, the carp died, but of an entirely new cause—starvation, for the tiny streams could not feed them.

“Back down the Kalamazoo Valley the aroused citizens sought injunction to halt the paper mills’ pollution of the river.”

The Life Magazine photo was taken by Allegan resident Joe Armstrong and first appeared in the Sept. 17, 1953, edition of The Allegan Gazette.

Part 2 next week: Otsego mayor finds a partial solution to getting rid of the mill waste by using it as road binder on city streets.



For the full story, pick up a copy of the Sept. 27, 2018, issue of The Allegan County News or subscribe to the e-edition.

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