Hear ye, hear ye: Holland town crier to retire

Ottawa County

HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s the end of a long-running era for an one Holland man known for his unmatched personality and voice.

The city’s town crier, John Karsten, is retiring after 40 years of performances at the Tulip Time Festival.

“I said to myself, John, quit while you’re ahead and let some young buck do it,” Karsten told 24 Hour News 8.

“I enjoyed every minute of it and I feel kind of sad to say it’s time to quit, but at the same time, I look forward to relaxing and see what the other guy does,” he added.

He won’t turn in his bell until after the festival’s 90th celebration, which begins this weekend and features an international town crier competition.

Karsten is only the fourth person to ever serve as Holland’s town crier. After four decades, he has perfected his commanding voice and boisterous movements.

“This very hat, the pants — not the jacket — belonged to the first town crier,” he explained Thursday afternoon.

Karsten’s voice and face are well-recognized by Tulip Time visitors, who have long heard him kick off parades with proclamations both in Dutch and English.

Karsten was born in the Netherlands. After serving in the military, he moved to the U.S. in 1957. He’ll soon celebrate 62 years of marriage to the woman he came here for.

Karsten told 24 Hour News 8 that there are only about 500 town criers in the world. He has competed all over the world in town crier competitions, including events in Belgium and Australia.

“Everywhere I go, I do a cry like this so that everybody wants to come to Holland, Michigan,” Karsten revealed.

Four decades later, he’s still full of zeal.

“Hear ye! Hear ye,” he yelled as he gave 24 Hour News 8 an early look at his welcome cry for this year’s Tulip Time festival.

Organizers of the festival said it was only right to hold an international town crier competition this year. Seven criers from England, Canada, the Netherlands and as close as Saugatuck will compete Friday, May 10. The event will run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Holland Civic Center. All of the competitors will be judged based off of an exhibition performance by Karsten.

“The competition is not who’s got the loudest mouth,” Karsten said, “but they’re judged on all sorts of categories.”

One of the competition judges will be the president of the American Guild of Town Criers.

Karsten also be one of the grand marshals for this year’s Tulip Time Muziekparade on May 11.

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