The Mysterious Disappearance of the Man Who Popularized Kalamazoo in a Famous Song
Most people who live in or around Kalamazoo, Michigan, and across the rest of state, are familiar with the classic 1940s song that references the city several times and actually helped popularize Kalamazoo. But what some may not be aware of is a still ongoing unsolved mystery about the man who disappeared just two years after the song was recorded.
Glenn Miller and His Orchestra first recorded "(I've Got A Gal In) Kalamazoo" on May 20, 1942, in Hollywood. It eventually went to #1 on the Billboard charts, spending eight weeks in the top spot, and was the year's best-selling musical recording in the United States. It appeared in the 1942 movie Orchestra Wives which also earned the song a nomination for an Academy Award in the Best Music, Original Song category.
The song's catchy play on words in the lyrics (Kalamazoo-zoo-zoo-zoo-zoo-zoo) and even letters (K-K!-A-A!-L-A-M-A-Z-oh-oh-oh) has many still humming the tune today. It helped people to at least become familiar with the name 'Kalamazoo', even if they didn't know exactly where the city is located, although the song does give a clue when the singers shout "I'm going to Michigan..."
Glenn Miller, who joined the Army during World War II in 1942, was promoted twice for his patriotic entertainment of Allied Forces overseas by modernizing several traditional military marches with his jazz/blues style. On December 15, 1944, Miller was scheduled to fly from Bedford, England to Paris, France to help ready his band to move there for future performances. The plane he was on disappeared in the fog while flying over the English Channel. Miller, along with two other U.S. military officers flying with him, were never seen again.
News of his disappearance was not reported until Christmas Eve a week and a half later, but it was only said that he would not be conducting a scheduled radio broadcast the following day. The confirmation of his disappearance and presumed death came later. The official explanation was that Miller and the others on the plane fell victim to bad weather. Several other flights had been canceled around that time due to the poor weather conditions.
Despite that seemingly rational explanation, several conspiracy theories and other explanations surfaced about what exactly happened to Glenn Miller.
One was given by a British pilot named Fred Shaw who believed that friendly fire in the area brought down Miller's plane. Shaw was part of a fleet headed to Germany for a bombing raid on that December day, but it was canceled due to the weather. Since they already had live explosives on board, they were ordered to circle the English Channel and dispose of them by detonating them over the water. He says during this operation, he noticed a small plane flip, go into a spin, and splash into the water. He says the downed plane was reported over the intercom when the crash was witnessed. Some have contested this theory saying it would have been impossible for anyone to see a small plane crash during those conditions among other reasons.
Another even more fantastical theory is that Glenn Miller wasn't even on the plane that went down that night. In fact, it claims that secret government documents were discovered in 1997 by a German journalist and conspiracy theorist. In those papers, it is said that Miller did indeed arrive in Paris and that his death happened at a brothel when he had a heart attack while in the company of a prostitute. The actual cause of death was kept secret, as not to damage his reputation in the military. Those who support this theory say that the lag in time between the night of his disappearance and the announcement on Christmas Eve helps validate some of it. But that theory was all but squashed when the German journalist walked back some of the claims that he had documents asserting this and instead said he had been told about it off the record by an intelligence specialist.
Another theory came from Miller's own brother, who said Glenn had died in a hospital. Miller was a heavy smoker and apparently sent his brother Herb a letter in the summer of 1944 complaining of breathing issues, saying he was feeling gravely ill. This theory has some validation, at least related to Miller's health, as it was confirmed that he had lost a lot of weight and others had become concerned about his health as well. But otherwise, this one is unproven too and there is no record of any hospital he might have been in or where.
Various other theories such as him faking his death, being caught up in espionage, or being assassinated by Germans have also been made.
In 2019, CBS News published an article that had some very interesting new potential and leads to close the mystery once and for all. And it also would circle all the way back to the original, most widely accepted explanation. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery told CBS that an English fisherman pulled up a plane from the English Channel in 1987.
At the time, he called the Coast Guard and described the plane. The fisherman was told that if it is a World War II-era plane, that it may be part of a war grave and to get rid of it. So he dropped the wreckage back into the water. It wasn't until years later that the fisherman, who has remained anonymous, made the connection to what he may have discovered in 1987.
At last report, the area has been narrowed down to a three-square-mile radius, but there are no reports of any dives that have been made or planned to try to find the wreckage again. In 2020, it was reported that a fundraiser was underway to try to raise $30,000 to search for the plane but it has not been reported if they ever made their mark.
But if they do search and find the plane someday, it will solve one of the biggest mysteries in the history of aviation, and music.