Digging Deep

The Michigan Iron Ore Museum dovetailed nicely with our previous local museum visits throughout the UP. The themes of life in the UP and Marquette were all intertwined. Shipping across the Great Lakes, the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the increasingly huge freighters carrying taconite iron ore pellets, the great ore docks which still dominate the Marquette harbor, and the discovery by Burt of iron ore in the UP and the struggle to settle this harsh, but breathtaking wilderness and tame it—these themes all converged in the story this museum had to tell.

This museum was created and is run by the DNR as an ode to the iron resources which dominated the economy of the UP for a century from the mid-1800’s to after WWII. There is still some mining going on today, but only two mines remain active.

The museum features exhibits on the now familiar story of William A. Burt and Douglass Houghton’s discovery of the huge mountain of iron just west of Marquette on the shores of Teal Lake. This was the backbreaking four-day trek through woods so dense they had to leave their horses and pack their supplies on their backs as they slogged their way on foot. Suddenly their compasses went haywire and Burt enjoined his men to look around…what they found charted the course of history for the region.

 

We got to see Burt’s Solar Compass, invented to compensate for the iron ore’s magnetic field disrupting their ability to survey and which proved to be the most accurate surveying tool.

We learned about the Landlookers. These were men who were tasked with backpacking out in search of new iron ore deposits. Struggling through the dense brush and fighting the mosquitoes and black flies so thick they literally could and did drive men insane, the landlookers wrapped their faces in bandanas and flailed with handsfulls of brush to switch the voracious insects away.

 

The museum also gave a stark accounting of the hardships of mining the iron ore. Six days a week, twelve hours a day, the men hauled ore. At first it was all surface mining and the equipment was primitive and the work absolutely backbreaking.

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Later, as the easily reached iron ore gave out, pit mining brought its own set of dangers and hardships. One of my favorite photos was of a miner enjoying his mid-day pastie.

 

 

 

The building of the first locks at Sault Ste Marie to allow iron ore and cargo to be ferried through the dangerous, but beautiful rapids.

And once the locks existed, they needed to build bigger locks which could accommodate larger and larger freighters carrying ever greater cargoes to the insatiable iron ore smelters way down state.

They dug deeper and deeper into the earth to continue to mine the iron ore.

It was a compelling history of the economic imperative to exploit these rich resources and the toll it took on thousands of men over decades to do the backbreaking work which made extraction possible. The miners, the sailors, the men who built the locks and worked the docks, the landlookers who scouted new ore deposits, and the merchants who supplied the goods and food necessary to fuel so much activity–they all had a role to play in this terribly dramatic story.

The museum finished up with a mock mining tunnel. My short walk through the dark and grimy tunnel made me ever so glad not to have been a miner!

 

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Of Ships and Tales of Yore

Wednesday was Staple Removal Day! In the hospital my surgeon had been brusque and distant. He would sweep into my room with his entourage, fire off a few questions and sweep back out again. One on one, he was charming and funny and ready to answer any and all questions. He really did use a staple remover of sorts. I was so beguiled I left my purse in the examining room and had to circle back hours later when I finally noticed it missing.

The Marquette Maritime Museum is housed in the former water works building. The full tour includes the Marquette Harbor Light Station as well. Until fairly recently the Coast Guard was responsible for the water works and the light station. In 2016, the 150th anniversary of the light house, the Coast Guard formally deeded the light station to the museum.

Our tour led us across a parking area to the lighthouse. On our way we passed the former coast guard barracks house and a second house constructed in the 1940’s when the former coast guard commandant could stand bunking with his men no more.

The lighthouse is perched on a hill with a commanding view of harbors on both sides. To the right is the Marquette harbor and the town. To the left in the distance is Presque Isle and closer in a beach with intrepid surfers enjoying the rough waters.

The light house is still an active light house, but, of course, no one lives there anymore. It does, however, have its own ghost—during renovation an overnight visitor left her small footprints on a newly painted floor. There were no recorded deaths of a young girl in the structure, but subsequent visitors report seeing the apparition of a young girl staring out a second floor window.

That’s not the only local ghost story. A woman was staying in the Coast Guard Quarters as a guest. She woke up from a nap and as she lay there she became aware of a man standing next to her bed. He was dressed oddly and sternly ordered her to “lock the door” and disappeared. Still half asleep, but terrified the woman stumbled to the front door and threw the lock. Some time later there was a huge banging at the front door and someone tried to break it in. The police came and took a deranged derelict from town into custody. As the shaken woman told her story, she happened to see an old photo of a former Coast Guard Commander hanging on the wall. “That’s the man! That’s the man who told me to lock the door!”

In 1983 the Coast Guard decided to demolish the fog signal building at the tip of the lighthouse. They blew that fog signal building to smithereens, without a permit, and bricks rained down as far as main street in town. Broken fragments of bricks are still strewn around the grounds. Understandably, the town was pretty upset and a settlement was brokered between the Coast Guard and the town. The initiators of the explosive incident were shipped off to parts unknown.

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Explosive is an adjective which works equally well in describing the color of the light house. At one point it was a softer red and one brick is left in the former color. This new red certainly is a zippy color and the light house is visible for miles because of it.

 

 

The museum has an excellent collection of shipwreck information and memorabilia.

This includes our old friend, the Edmund Fitzgerald. One new scrap of information was the intimation that perhaps the Edmund Fitzgerald was doomed from the start. Named for the president of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, owner of the ship, apparently it took three tries for Mrs. Fitzgerald to break the champagne bottle on its bow during the launch. Subsequently, the ship made such a racket sliding into the water that one bystander had a heart attack and died. Forbidding omens indeed.

The museum has several Fresnel lenses from lighthouses on display. The most famous and largest of the lenses came from the Stannard Rock Light House. This light house was known as the loneliest spot on earth as the closest shore was 24 miles away. Perched high on blocks of stone, it was a formidable structure. Boats were raised or lowered from the rough seas on to the light house foundation, a dangerous exercise on its own. The light house keepers were in residence from March to December during shipping season and woe to anyone falling ill or in need of supplies. It could be weeks until a boat could reach them.

It wasn’t until after WWII that the lighthouse was electrified. Several years later a huge explosion of propane and gas destroyed much of the structure killing one man and stranding three others for days until rescue. In 1962 the Coast Guard dis-assembled the huge 2nd order, 12 bulls-eyed Fresnel lens and automated the light. The lens was packed away in six crates, mis-labeled and disappeared for thirty years until it was finally discovered in New London, CT at a Coast Guard warehouse. It now sits in all its glory at the Marquette Maritime Museum.

Making It in Marquette

So we had a great place to stay and we had a plan. We would remain in Marquette while I convalesced. My staples were set to be removed the next week and there were lots of things to see and do in this city. We would build my strength up while we enjoyed all the town had to offer. We made a list and planned to do one item per day.

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Marquette is the largest city on the UP and is known as “the Queen City.” It is a major port city, mostly iron ore, and has been since the mid-1800’s. It has just over 20,000 inhabitants and is also home to Northern Michigan University. It is the third snowiest location in the continuous states. Snow begins in October and does not leave until May.

The town grew up after William A. Burt’s discovery of what would become the Marquette Iron Range just west of the future town’s location. William Burt is the same Burt for whom Burt Lake was named. He was quite a man. He invented the precursor to the typewriter, an equatorial sextant and the solar compass which he used in his own surveying expeditions. He is credited with surveying the Upper Peninsula as well as much of the northern portion of the Mitten.

Marquettians are sports crazy. They engage in all summer and winter sports and the town reflects this. Running all along the lake front are paths and trails. There are numerous signs pointing to yet more trails. Hunting is huge here as is snowmobiling, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Swimming, boating, fishing, hiking and biking consume the warmer months.

The town is quite pretty. The lake front is a key feature as is the now-defunct, but historically important iron ore packet dock which graces the harbor in town. There are lots and lots of restaurants, wine bars and fun places to congregate. With the university on hand, the culture is young and vibrant.

First up was the Lakenenland Sculpture Garden. We had heard about this from several different people as an absolute must see. Tom Lakenen, an iron worker, started the park about twenty years ago when his wife told him to quit drinking. Instead he began bringing scrap iron home from his jobs and creating fanciful sculptures in his garage.

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Eventually, he had a backyard crammed with sculptures. He bought some land and began this amazing place. Gathered along a ½ mile track are his creations. They range from whimsical to social or political commentary. Visitors are heartily welcomed when they arrive at the sculpture garden and can choose to drive or walk the road. In the winter, Tom welcomes snowmobilers with a bonfire and hot coco. While once Tom had a rocky relationship with the local town council, now all is smiles as his sculpture garden has become a major tourist attraction.

After visiting a sculpture garden, one needs sustenance and we knew exactly what to do. Jilbert’s Dairy has been operating since 1937. Marquettians seem to love ice cream and this place is hopping even on a somewhat cool and cloudy day.

The ice cream was excellent and somehow I knew we would be returning again and again before we left Marquette.

We had done a credible job of touristing for our first day, but there was one more stop we just had to make. Along M-41 were posted signs for Da Yoopers Tourist Trap and Gift Shop featuring free batrooms! This demanded immediate inspection.

The gift shop was filled with unspeakable schtick and we poked around, but the best part of the whole thing (besides the free batrooms) was the yard outside filled with crazy things to see.

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And one small item did accompany us home–just perfect for our front stoop at Bear Hill.

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And now it was time for a little campfire and some knitting. An excellent first day of sightseeing had come to a close.