June 3, 2021

FTV: Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure – part 2


     Part 1 of W,W, & O began my attempt to take a personal tour through the weird, wonderful, and obscure places and things mentioned in Kath Usitalo’s book Secret Upper Peninsula.  (Reedy Press – 2019).  Even though I promised to keep each segment short, Part 1 still ended up thirty some entries (or about halfway) short of the book’s end.  The places that I have not personally encountered have been bypassed (with some noted exceptions).  We left Part 1 after discussing  Chapter 30 about the A.E. Seaman Mineralogical Museum at MTU.

     Chapter 31 – The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge – Another place that I had driven by on many occasions.  Our good friend Bill and I decided to give the nine hole golf course a try.  This August date can be marked by the news we heard on the way home:  Elvis had died.  I also remember it because it was a rather difficult golf course yet I managed to find more golf balls than I lost.  The view of Brockway Mountain Drive from the golf course is worth the green fees.

     Chapter 32 – US 41 Begins Here sign – Located just beyond the entrance to the Fort Wilkins State Park is a tourist stop marking the northern end of US 41.  I have always been fascinated that ‘our’ US 41 is the same one celebrated in song (by the Allman Brothers in Ramblin’ Man) but I have no real desire to see the southern terminus in Florida.  My wife and I have been to the actual tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula thanks to a back roads trucking expedition courtesy of our buddy Dan, but not enough people get that far so no commemorative sign has been erected there.

     Chapter 33 – The Jampot – Very few people make it past The Jampot near Jacob’s Falls on the way to Copper Harbor without stopping.  The Monks have truly carved their Monastery out of the wilderness funded initially by their labors making and selling products at their highway side store.  They also do a brisk mail order business but in the time of COVID, just about everyone else is, too.  Local merchants were skeptical they were a legitimate religious order at first, but over time they have been accepted as another popular tourist draw in Keweenaw County.

     Chapter 34 – Wilber Salani’s ‘Kowsit Lots’ road sign on top of Quincy Hill in Hancock.  We just couldn’t resist having a student read this sign aloud everytime we passed.  Enough said.

     Chapter 38 – The Adventure Mine – When Jack Neff first began running tours in the old Adventure Mine in Greenland, it became a regular stop on our seventh grade adventures around Ontonagon County.  When my schedule changed after my twenty-fifth year in the trenches, I went for a number of years teaching only eighth and ninth grade (Geography-Earth Science to the former and Physical Science 9 to the latter).  When GES 7 returned to my schedule, the Adventure was between owners.  The Adventure had been taken over by new owner Matt Portfleet about the same time the OASD sixth grade students were moved into the Jr-Sr High building.  With a change in the State Certification laws, Grade 6 was added to my teaching credentials.  Faced with a new curriculum to build, I stopped by to inquire if Mr. Portfleet would be interested in having my new sixth grade students take a mine tour.  As the new owner, I can only assume this was new to him as he replied, ‘Sure.  How would we do this?”

     The sixth grade the first year I taught them was rather large so we split them into three groups and staggered the tour departure times by fifteen minutes.  It worked well the first year and the next year, we added a self guided scavenger hunt in the Maple Grove Cemetery to help kill some of the wait time.  Eventually we added a walking tour over some of the trails Portfleet had established on the property that included a visit to the old Powder House.  From there, we would continue on the old tote road around the bluff into beautiful downtown Mass City where we would take our lunch and restroom stop at the Greenland Township building.  After lunch, we would give the students a brief history of the old and new Mass City schools (the newer one is now used as the Township offices and fire department) before departing for more adventures in the Rockland area.  In that this trip usually fell right around (and sometimes on) my birthday, it is one of the things I miss the most since I retired three years ago.

     Chapter 39 – The NASA rocket site – I have told this story before but have never visited the site.  My old buddy and NASA In The Schools presenter Ralph Winrich told me the story long before the memorial plaque was installed there in 2000.  The first time I asked him about the site, Ralph said, “Yes, I have been to the site, but not during a launch.  Not much to see there.  The better view was from the observation platform they set up higher on the ridge, back from the lake.”

     Chapter 40 – The USS Kearsarge – this is the rock boat everyone drives past when traveling US 41 as it winds through the community of the same name.  It was built in 1933-34 by workers in the Civilian Works Administration, the forerunner of the WPA.

     Chapter 41 – The Yooper Tourist Trap – Located between Ishpeming and the Westwood location, it is the most visible manifestation of that renowned group of U.P. musicians, The Yoopers.  I haven’t stopped in at the Trap, but I have heard many stories from my son-in-law’s father who grew up with The Yoopers founding drummer, Jim DeCaire.  Back in high school, I bought my first microphone from a guy who played in The Joe Arkansas Band.  He told us that on really slow nights, they would mess around by singing some of their songs with a thick UP-Finnish accent.  He also mentioned they had started writing some of their own songs and could now fill an hour with that schtick if they wanted to.  This turned out to be the beginnings of what would become the best Yooper band in the land.  With the addition of the ‘reggae-shottish’ band, Conga Se Menna, we now boast two very popular yet different U.P. based bands.

     Chapter 43 – The Superior Dome – Okay, everyone still calls it ‘The Yooper Dome’, but it is still a marvel.  What better place to put a domed facility than in the snowy U.P.?  When it opened in 1991, we took our entire flag football program to see an NMU game there and I still try to get to at least one game a year when the schedule fits.  It is great that the 8-Man Finals are now held there.

     Chapter 44 – The Teddy Roosevelt Libel Trial – this entry speaks about Teddy visiting Marquette in 1913 after being libeled in the press.  Having spent a semester walking the halls of this grand old courthouse during my Urban Planning Internship, it is still fun to watch Anatomy of a Murder and see places the where it was filmed.  In one scene, Jimmy Stewart opens a door on a stairwell landing to talk to his research man working in the ‘law library’.  I remember this door opening into a men’s restroom.  Ah, the wonders of Hollywood film editing!

     Chapter 46 – Trenary Toast – Yoopers drink coffee – Yoopers dunk TT.  It has been that way since the bakery was founded in 1928.  They, too, have a thriving mail order business. 

     Chapter 48 – Rich Branstrom’s Found Object Art – I have one piece inspired by Rich in my garage.  It was created by our son Daniel when he was a student in Branstrom’s class at NMU.

     Chapter 49 –  Anatomy of a Murder – Besides my experiences noted in Chapter 44, I remember the semi truck rumbling down Lincoln Avenue with “Otto Preminger presents Anatomy of a Murder”  emblazoned on the side.  It premiered in 1959 when I was in first grade, so it took my mother some explaining to fill me in about why this Otto guy had such a big truck.

     Chapter 50 – Fox River – our daughter Elizabeth was thrilled when she found out I had fished on the Fox River north of Seney.  She was in grad school and teaching a segment about Hemingway.  She liked the part about Hemingway writing about The Big Two-Hearted River because he didn’t want people to know he actually liked to fish on the Fox.  Even Papa H was a true fisherman – never tell them where you catch the big ones!

     Chapter 56 – Cudighi – It is usually a little spicy for me (not so for son-in-law Todd), but I have found that it isn’t the only great food served at Ralph’s Deli on the outskirts of Ishpeming.

     Chapter 59 – Brockway Mountain Drive – The first time I drove my mother-in-law Ruth’s car over Brockway on a little family adventure, she commented, “My car doesn’t like this.”  Imagine how the bus drivers we directed to take this same route felt on our many field trips to Copper Harbor.  The little gift shop at the top is now gone, but I think the lady who worked there all those years looked forward to our little mob visiting her each October.  My dad and his partner out of the L’Anse State Police Post buried their cruiser in a snow filled dip in the road one spring.  They were on the way to investigate a car accident, but apparently the car in the accident had come up from the Copper Harbor side of the Mountain and not the end they were driving up.  It took some digging to get out of this swale and dad said he never drove into a situation like that again.

     Chapter 61 – The Kingston Plains – I spent two summers rambling the plains while taking classes at NMU’s field station at Cusino Lake.  Some of these adventures have already been discussed in past FTVs and there are a few more that will make it to print one day.  

     Chapter 62 – The Mackinac Bridge – This I crossed the first time on a school bus when we traveled to march in two Traverse City Cherry Festival parades in the summer of 1970.  One hasn’t lived until you look over those tiny guard rails from the windows high up in a bus.  Having now made two bus trips and seven car crossings of Big Mac, I haven’t been to the LP in at least thirty years. 

     Chapter 64 – Mackinac Island Fudge – They have been making it since 1887 and I have a new appreciation of it now that it has been used in the greatest ice cream flavor ever!

     Chapter 66 – Yooperlight – The true name is ‘syenite clast containing fluorescent sodalite’ and it was discovered by accident in 2017 by gem hunter Erik Rintamaki.  He was using a blacklight to try and find certain types of agates when he stumbled upon this new specimen.  When I saw him on one of those ‘weird things’ TV shows, I was disappointed that they pronounced his last name as

‘Rint a mocky’.  Tsk Tsk.  ‘RINT a mackey’ as all good U.P. Finlanders would say it.  Maybe I am just sensitive about it because our second house in Marquette was built by a Finnish carpenter named, you guessed it, Rintamaki.

     Chapter 71 – The Tower of History – When my buddy Wayne got married in Sault Ste. Marie, we had a couple of hours to kill between the wedding and the reception.  We got some funny looks being dressed to impress for the wedding, but we wandered over and took the elevator ride to the top.  There was a cold, brisk wind coming off the lake that summer day and we would have been happy to have our gloves and chooks on as well.

     Chapter 75 – The Newberry Tablet – this is another artifact that I learned about from Fred Rydholm.  When TV investigator Scott Wolter went in search of it for his show, he was sent via the Yoopers Tourist Trap to a museum in St. Ignace where the (now) badly eroded stone is housed.

Again, more details can be found in Fred’s Michigan Copper – The Untold Story book.

     Chapter 86 – Tahquamenon Falls – I have only been there once and it was more of a ‘oh, as long as we are here’ visit.  A class I was taking at NMU’s Field Station was scheduled to take a canoe paddle on Betsy Lake to see how the DNR managed this wildlife area.  It was so windy that day the two to three foot swells on Betsy Lake put the kibosh on that expedition.  As a consolation prize, we went to see the falls instead. 

      We drove across a swampy area on a narrow causeway to the Betsy Lake parking lot.  We were going to pick up our gear there before canoeing on Betsy Lake.  The truck toting the canoes ended up slipping off the edge of the causeway nearly blocking the road we had to take out to the main road.  Our professor was worried he would put the university van into the swamp trying to  squeeze by the truck which was half on and half off the causeway. The DNR guys weren’t about to volunteer so it was suggested I drive the van out.  As the student manager of the NMU Field Station that summer, I had a chauffeur’s license which allowed me to drive university vehicles.  Perhaps he figured it would be better if I rolled the van into the swamp instead of him, but at least Dr. Niemi asked politely if I would do it.  The rest of the class were losing patience and all but demanded that I do it.  I pulled in the driver’s side mirror and with a little help from a fellow student (who kept holding his fingers a couple of inches apart to show me how close I was to the edge), we made it past the obstruction and were off to see Tahquamenon Falls.

     There you have it, my brief tour of the places mentioned in Kath Usitalo’s book, Secret Upper Peninsula.  As always, there are more tales to tell about some of these places than room allows, so those will need to be told another day.  If you are finding yourself a little shack happy as we start moving on from the COVID-19 restrictions, try a few day trips around the U.P. – there are plenty of interesting places to visit.


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