May 30, 2021

FTV:  Weird, Wonderful, & Obscure

     Those who know me best find the easiest gift giving solution to send my way for birthdays or Christmas are books, music, or more books.  While sorting through last year’s stash of new reading material, I happened upon a 2019 book by Kath Usitalo:  Secret Upper Peninsula – A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure (Reedy Press).  In her early life, she hailed from Detroit but Usitalo now resides in the eastern U.P. hamlet of Naubinway.  The backpage bio says, “She explores, writes about, and photographs the Great Lakes State for print, online publications, and her own e-zine,”  She has previously released two other Reedy Press books entitled 100 Things to Do. . . Before You Die, one deadicated to . . . in the Upper Peninsula as a whole, and the other exclusively about . . . on Mackinac Island.  

     As I paged through Secret U.P. it dawned on me that I have been to a lot of the places she writes about.  As the old song says, I’ve been everywhere man, I’ve been everywhere, so I decided to see how my U.P. travels stack up when compared to Usitalo’s book.  Perhaps I could make a CD mix for exploring and include Bob Seger’s Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.  On the other hand,  the Allman’s Ramblin’ Man would also fit the bill here as I haven’t really been ‘everywhere’.   I have been to enough places mentioned in Secret U.P.  to keep the traveling tales to brief so they all fit.  I won’t get into the places I haven’t been or have just driven by in the past (with minor exceptions), so please bear with me as I ramble through Usitalo’s latest book from front to back – I will identify the sections by the chapter number and name of the location or attraction.

     Chapter 1 – Fort Wilkins near Copper Harbor.  This is a place I know well as Bruce Johanson and I hauled bus loads of seventh graders there as part of our annual junior high field trips.  Each and every time I visit the fort, I learn something new.  Now that I am retired, I still go there.  My wife and I also made it a point to arrange a yearly trip as her brother Matt was a big history buff.

     Chapter 3 – Alberta.  Growing up in Marquette, I drove past this quaint little ‘model town’ (established by Henry Ford on US 41 south of L’Anse) a zillion times between 1958 and 2016.  I finally got a chance to tour the sawmill and gift shop in the spring of 2017 as part of  tree farm group meeting sponsored by Green Timber Forestry (see FTV:  Timber! 10-11-17).  The informative display in the gift shop about birdseye maple and the sawmill tour offered make this a bucket list item for anyone who has only driven by it in the past.

     Chapter 4 – The Paulding Light – I took my first trip there in the daylight on another Johanson/Raisanen field trip.  We took our charges to visit Jerry Koski and his Forest Service crew as they restored survey corner posts in the Paulding area.  We decided that as long as were were in the neighborhood we had to show the kids the Paulding Light viewing area.  Soon after, my kids and I took a night trip to see the fabled ghost lights and to hear every spooky story Bruce could regale us with.  Some years later, daughter Elizabeth and her friend Michelle launched a full blown, data gathering, report writing expedition about the light and yours truly was drawn into the study.  The results of their little paranormal research trip remain unpublished so Paulding’s mystery can remain a popular tourist drawing mystery.  Let us leave it at that.

     Chapter 5 – Lake of the Clouds – I remember visiting this with my family when I was young.  The next time I saw it was on a camping trip with some Marquette pals two months before being summoned to Ontonagon for a job interview.  I have seen the view from both ends of beautiful Carp Lake (I mean, Lake of the Clouds) as the old mine and stamp mill site on the east end were also great field trip stops.  I visited once on an early winter evening by snowmobile (several years before the path there became a groomed trail).  It is hard to imagine traveling the whole distance and back without seeing another snowmobile these days, but that is how it was in 1976.

     Chapter 6 – Point Abbaye – now this is a little trickier because I haven’t driven past Point Abbaye or even driven the road to the end of the peninsula.  I have seen it from the waters of Huron Bay, flown over it,  and driven across the peninsula’s base traveling between our camp and Pequaming.  The name comes from the French phrase that identifies it as a ‘point between two bays’, so forget any romantic ideas about some belle named ‘Abbaye’ being responsible for the name.  The facilities there have been recently upgraded for those who venture to the tip.

     Chapter 8 – The Italian Hall Arch – in Calumet.  I have seen it and still marvel at this horrific tradgedy.  Hearing Arlo Guthrie sing his dad’s song about the event at the Calumet Theater was an honor my wife and I got to be part of twice.  The first time, Arlo intrupted himself part way through and noted, “I messed up.  I told the guys we should have practiced this more.  We can’t play in Calumet without playing 1913 Massacre.”  They restarted the song and played it with no further hitches.

     Chapter 9 – Mount Arvon – This one is another tricky entry involving Bruce Johanson.  Soon after it was named the highest peak in Michigan (a new elevation survey stripped the title from nearby Mt. Curwood in 1982), we mounted a small expedition to climb it with a few students.  My experiences hunting and snowmobiling there made me the ideal guide (almost).   After climbing to the top on a hot and humid June day, we took a good look at the map.  I discovered what I had called Mount Arvon all my life was the firetower hill between Curwood and Arvon.  Bruce has pictures to prove he has now been at the top of the ‘real’ Mount Arvon (it only took him 30 years) and I will get there one of these days:  there are nice blue signs pointing the way now!

     Chapter 10 – Copper Peak ski flying hill – A breathtaking view awaits at the top.  I also discovered one should not discuss the dynamics of having a ski lift cable break while riding to the top of the hill with one’s spouse.  If it is windy, the tower also sways a bit.

     Chapter 15 – Big Louie Moilanen – On one of our seventh grade field trips through the Copper Country, we made it a point to stop at the Houghton County Historical Museum where they have a nice display about the 8 foot 3 inch, 560 pound giant of a man.  I will now make it a point to find the marker erected in his honor near Hancock’s Finnish American Center. 

     Chapter 17 – Douglas Houghton Memorial in Eagle River – if you are thinking this sounds like another likely field trip stop, you are correct.  We would annually gather at the base of this large stone monument and have a student read the story on the marker plate.  A nimble student would climb to the bend between the base and upper section of the monumennt so Bruce J could have them point to the spot where Houghton lost his battle with the lake.  The marker mentions that his dog was able to make it back to shore.

     Chapter 23 – Jacobsville Sandstone – This is a subject we frequently discussed in my class – I always enjoyed explaining how this rock formation came to be.  Many do not realize Jacobsville Sandstone was used for many buildings still in use today.  It was fascinating to hear the late Vera Laakko of Mass City talk about her early life in the community of Jacobsville.  I am surprised the book didn’t mention the Arvon Slate Quarry on the opposite shore near the head of Huron Bay.  Many of the buildings made from Jacobsville Sandstone were also roofed with Arvon Quarry slate.  The sandstone formation itself dips under the Great Lakes and should one want to see where the southern part resurfaces, one will have to travel to Kentucky.

     Chapter 24 – The 1978-79 snowfall record marker on US 41 – one can not miss this when passing it on the way into Keweenaw County.  I have sent postcards of this monument to others and shown the marker to many students on trips.  It also reminds me of the vast amounts of snow I shoveled at my soon-to-be mother in law’s house in Mass City.  The record was set the winter before we married.  It even impressed my wife’s uncle from Finland and if a tourist marker like this can get a reaction from an engineer of Finnish extraction, then count it as a winner.

     Chapter 25 – Nee-Gaw-Nee-Gaw-Bow – If the name doesn’t ring a bell, this is the name of the giant carving located on the shores of Sunday Lake in Wakefield.  Artist Peter Wolf Toth set off to put one of his Trail of Whispering Giants carvings in all fifty states and we are lucky enough to have one of them in our neighborhood.

     Chapter 28 – Quincy Mine – Once upon a time, we took the seventh graders to the first version of the Adventure Mine tour in Greenland.  When the Adventure was between owners, we began testing other mine tours.  The Hoist House next to the iconic Quincy Shaft house is truly impressive and worth a stop.  Usitalo doesn’t make mention of the Delaware Mine a little farther up the road, but that was another one of our must stop destinations for a period of years.

     Chapter 29 – The Bishop Barage Shrine – also known as the Shrine of the Snowshoe Priest.  I distinctly remember when this was being assembled as support cribbing inside part of the statue burned and it made big news.  It was dedicated in 1973 but it took me twenty years before we took the time to drive off US 41 and take a peek.  If there is a better memorial to pioneering missionaries, I would like to see it.  For some reason, Usitalo places the statue ‘near Assinins’ but it is really located between Baraga and L’Anse, on a bluff of Jacobsville Sandstone overlooking the head of Keweenaw Bay.  Assinins is located off US 41 north of Baraga.

     Chapter 30 – The A.E.Seaman Mineralogical Museum –  The new museum was opened just off Sharon Avenue in Houghton in 2010.  It sits atop two shafts of the Mabbs Vein, a mine started by two brothers in 1864.  I have yet to visit this location.  The original Seaman Museum was located on the seventh floor of a building located on the part of the Michigan Tech campus located closer to the Portage Canal.  We always made this our first stop on our trans-Keweenaw field trips.  We warned our students we would be spending a full hour there so don’t act bored (they never did because the place is fascinating).  We would give the field trippers a scavenger hunt and send  them into every section searching for displays featuring specimens from Ontonagon County.  Bruce and I laughed at how quickly some of the ‘whiners’ gave up searching but the local history geeks loved finding items from our area.

     The most memorable stop there was in 1987 when the original Ontonagon Boulder was displayed there.  It had already been brought to Ontonagon and seen by everyone who attended the annual Labor Day Festival parade.  The famous Boulder was displayed on the back of a high bed truck replete with armed guards, but seeing it up close and personal at the Seaman Museum was different.  Yes, there were the usual rope-like barriers surrounding the iconic chunk of copper, but to be close enough to touch it was something else (and yes, I will confess to having touched it  when no one was looking).  When one can again stop at the Ontonagon County Historical Society Museum in Ontonagon, there is an exact replica of the boulder on display there.  Word has it that some years ago when Johanson was the president of the local society, he received a letter from the Smithsonian asking for the OCHS museum to surrender the replica.  I am not sure what the reason was, but I applaud Bruce for his tactful reply:  “Sure.  You send the original back and we will send you the replica.”  As of this writing, neither side has budged.

     One last note about the old Seaman Museum.  If you encounter Fred Rydholm’s excellent book Michigan Copper – The Untold Story, flip it open to page thirty.  On one of our field trips, I had Bruce snap a picture of me near a 500 pound slab of float copper in the courtyard near the building.  It was included with a group of photos I had sent to Fred with an open offer to use them as he saw fit.  It is a younger, thinner me, but it is also one of my favorite memories of visiting the Seaman Museum on our yearly round of touring the Keweenaw with the seventh graders.

     I find myself thirty entries short of my goal so the rest of my personal Secret Upper Peninsula tour will be concluded in Part 2.

Top Piece Video:  At little travelin’ music!