The Human Waste Collectors of Kalamazoo, 1900-1908
You thought this kind of work only took place in the 1700s and 1800s, and probably in England or some European country? Well, there was plenty of it in the U.S. as well, and Michigan did indeed have its share of nightsoilers.
'Nightsoil' is – I guess – a more polite term for poop. Let's face it: poop has been around for at least a few years.....or more specifically, from the beginning of life on Earth. Over the centuries it's been responsible for a number of illnesses and countless deaths from typhoid, thanks to nowhere to put it except in the street. There were no sewer systems, septic tanks, flush toilets...so what was one to do?
That's where the nightsoilers came in. The job was created for the removal of human waste; these men were also referred to as nightsoil workers, crap dumpers, scavengers, and crap collectors...they also did other jobs, like sweep chimneys and haul junk. They would do their jobs at night when everyone was supposed to be home in bed – thus the name 'NIGHTsoil'.
One such group of nightsoilers was from Kalamazoo: William Nye, Leonard “Link” Norman, and Hemmo Kroon. These three men did their job, cleaning up the Kalamazoo crud between 1900-1908. The pay was terrible, even by 1900s standards: in the year 1900 they received only $29 dollars and in 1904 the pay was $8.40.
Nye, Norman, and Kroon usually disposed of the waste in the Kalamazoo River on Seminary Street. But in 1908, city officials told the three to dump the waste somewhere else, like outside the city limits. They did, but it didn't matter – the smell still permeated the city. Not only that, but all that waste was blamed for a breakout of typhoid in 1911.
Panicking, health officials recommended sewers for every neighborhood street. As the years went by and more sewer systems were installed, Kalamazoo's odor problem faded, but wasn't completely gone.
In the 1960s, a “water pollution control byproducts solids area” was implemented, but residents in that area gagged at the smell it produced until new techniques provided a solution.
There will always be some kind of problem with waste – overflowing septic tanks, flooded sewers, and even the animals who come poop in your yard.
Kalamazoo's three nightsoilers should be celebrated for the crappy work they did so others wouldn't have to. William Nye passed away in 1909 at 76 years old, and his two accomplices, Leonard Norman and Hemmo Kroon, just faded into obscurity.
Terrible job.....but they were heroes, indeed.