America’s Best Known ‘Bearded Lady’ Is Buried in a Ghost Town near Kalkaska, Michigan
The ghost town of Leetsville can be found down a dirt road in the Kalkaska County, Michigan township of Rapid River.
Leetsville began as a post office in 1875 and was a station on the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad, just a few miles north of Kalkaska. Other than a depot, there wasn't much else in the town except for a general store, school, the Tiffany Shingle Mill, and sawmill, which manufactured both hardwood and pine.
1905: Population 100.
1918: Population, still 100.
Other than that, Leetsville would be pretty much your ordinary, average former Michigan lumber town.....except for one thing...a certain person buried in the local graveyard.
In 1876, Grace Gilbert was born in Ohio and gained fame as one of the first 'bearded ladies' to be featured in American circuses. Grace was promoted in the circus sideshows as “The Female Esau”, “Girl with the Golden Whiskers”, “Princess Gracie”, and “The Wooly Child”.
At birth, Grace was covered in a bed of very “fine, silky hair” that thickened as she grew older. Newspapers picked up on this and exploited her in their articles. They claimed that when she was 1½ years old, the hair on her head was a foot long. When reaching teenhood, Grace came to the realization that her chances of getting married were very slim - given her condition - so she joined the circus in 1901.
Grace and her family moved to Kalkaska that same year and she took up with Ringling Brothers Circus. Two years later, she left and joined up with the Barnum & Bailey Circus. She joined a different circus in 1905 and traveled through Europe.
In 1910, romance and marriage finally came Grace's way...she married her childhood boyfriend, Giles Calvin.....who was also her cousin.
After retiring and un-retiring, Grace and Giles spent their free time in Kalkaska. In late 1923, she got laid up with a sore throat...it was more fatal than she expected, and she died on January 25, 1924 just a couple of weeks before her 48th birthday. She was buried in Maple Grove Cemetery in Leetsville, five miles away from Kalkaska.
By 1968, Leetsville had some buildings left, but no population.
Today there are a few old original buildings that have been renovated into homes, down the dirt trail called Leetsville Road, intersecting with the railroad tracks. This is one of those places you really need to add to your Michigan roadtrip itinerary. Drive thru, get some pictures, and visit Grace at Maple Grove Cemetery.
You can see Grace at the :52 second mark of this video of circus performers of the era:
Take a look at the town in the gallery below.
PHOTOS OF LEETSVILLE AND GRACE GILBERT