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.

IMG_8042 (002)

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!

 

Advertisements

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.

IMG_7945 (002)

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.

A Pretty Dry and Dusty Town Full of History

I would not want to malign anyone’s hometown, but there didn’t seem to be a lot to Fort Stockton. It seems today and yesterday to be mostly a stopping off point. Today Interstate 10 runs through it so it is an east/west artery. The town is clustered on both sides of the interstate. Otherwise, Fort Stockton is pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  The land is flat. It is hot and dry and dusty. For the most part the town seems unremarkable except for the history which had been respectfully and passionately preserved by its inhabitants.

Fort Stockton was a garrison during much of the mid to late 1800’s. It had originally grown up around Commanche Springs which was the major source of water in the area and what drew those who chose to settle nearby. The fort had boom and bust times. During the Civil War the fort was all but abandoned and then later reclaimed and re-settled. Ultimately, the fort was de-commissioned in the late 1880’s.

Only a little of the original fort survives, but local forces are working to restore it and to create a museum on the site. We wandered around the fort buildings which have been restored to date and it was possible to get a sense of life on this outpost.

The soldier’s barracks and officer’s quarters were not open to the public, but the jail had been restored and was open to visitors. Our footsteps made satisfying clopping sounds as we walked the boards of the porch. The limestone walls were cool to our touch and impenetrable. Manacles hung from the walls and the lone solitary cell looked dark and frightening. Even Dakota seemed to peer into the building with cautious interest.

Out on the parade grounds stood a lone wagon. Despite its exposure to the elements, it was a famous wagon having appeared in two films with the Duke.

There was also the local episcopal church and next to it an old one room schoolhouse. Living near the fort and the soldiers was probably a fairly safe place to be in more troubled times. Citizens had probably as much reason to fear local outlaws as any stray wandering tribes.

Being stationed at this fort out in the middle of nowhere had to be a fairly tough life. Riding patrol in the heat and storms of west Texas didn’t leave a lot of room for creature comforts.

Over in another part of town we found the “historic district.” A clutch of buildings formed what must have been the center of town long ago. The courthouse stood on a small rise. The building we see today is a newer courthouse, the former one burned down about a hundred years ago.

Kitty corner to the courthouse was the Grey Mule Saloon. Run by a notorious man who moved his family to Fort Stockton in the wake of a murder, he established a ranch and later was elected Sheriff proving how thin the line between lawless and lawman was back then. Today the saloon is a tasting room.

Along with his deputy, the Sheriff intimidated and terrorized the town until both ended up murdered. His deputy was a fellow by the name of Barney Riggs. Riggs was the second husband of Annie Riggs, a mother of ten. In the wake of her second husband’s murder, she seemed to have thrown in the towel on matrimony and at the turn of the 1900’s bought a hotel situated across the street from the Grey Mule Saloon and the courthouse.

This former hotel is now the Annie Riggs Memorial Museum. The hotel sits up high in town and has wide porches front and back. Once guests at the hotel would relax on those porches catching the breezes to counter the west Texas heat. Visitors to the hotel would also enjoy the cool waters of Commanche Springs.

Entering the hotel through the front door there is a reception area. To the right of the reception area is the front parlor complete with piano. Today the parlor features a simply produced but compelling video on the history of Fort Stockton and Commanche Springs.

A guest would continue through the reception area to reach the dining room where guests would take their meals. The dining room has two doorways, one leads to the kitchen and a door to the right leads to an inner courtyard.

IMG_0175

Mrs. Riggs was known for her cooking. Looking at the kitchen today with its period pieces, it is hard to imagine the ceaseless hard work which must have gone into preparing three meals a day for her guests. In the height of the summer heat it must have been very uncomfortable to toil over the woodstove. As soon as one meal was prepared and served, it would be time to get started on the next. Biscuits and bread would be left to rise as pies were prepared and a roast cooked in the oven. I was tired just contemplating the toil and thought how much Annie Riggs would have loved to order out for pizza or chinese. That didn’t happen back then.

IMG_0179

The interior courtyard reached from the right of the dining room was the access point for the guest rooms. The guest rooms today feature exhibits of local historical items: collections of arrowheads, a safe, old typewriter and desk and pictures of local personages. The rooms are cool and dark and must have been a welcome respite from the hot sun and wind.

The courtyard today features a collection of old branding irons hung from the walls. Above each iron the mark has been burned into the wooden beam. It is an attractive and fascinating display. An old carriage sits in a corner of the courtyard.

Fort Stockton itself seems to suffer boom and bust cycles. Sheep and cattle ranching took hold in the early 1900’s. Those occupations were followed by the addition of oil and agriculture. Today the economy is focused on the chief west Texas occupations of oil and ranching. The vital life force that was Commanche Springs, which had been the reason the area was originally settled, is no more. In the 1950’s, despite local opposition, use of the springs for irrigation managed to dry the aquifer forever leaving only the dust, heat and west Texas wind as its legacy.

We enjoyed poking around the town, but we were ready to head west on Interstate 10 and our next adventure.

 

IMG_1944

 

Tampa Times

The final installment in our string of family visits was a long weekend in Tampa with my cousin, Carrie. With no state parks in the immediate area, I had been elated to find an rv resort which seemed very close to her apartment. When we arrived at Bay Bayou RV Resort, it turned out we were so close we could almost wave. While the park was adjacent to a busy road, it was quite nice and the proximity to Carrie more than made up for any possible faults.

We arrived on Thursday in the late afternoon. We had invited Carrie to be our first Airstream dinner guest and we broke all speed records setting up so I could get dinner ready for our esteemed guest. The entertaining was successful. A delicious dinner was followed by wine out under the awning in the warm evening air. This sequence was repeated each evening of our visit except for the night we went out for Cuban food.

Carrie and I were born exactly one week apart. Carrie is, of course, much older than me—a fact I drive home with annoying frequency during that one week each year. We were both adopted. It is family lore that my mother called her big sister to exult that, after a long wait, she and my father had just found out there was a baby available and her sister responded that, after their own long wait, she and my uncle had just brought their own bundle of joy home! During our visit we celebrated our combined birthdays with champagne, steak dinner and copious amounts of red wine.

The first day of our visit featured a hike. We had a warm and sunny walk along a rails-to-trails path, the Upper Tampa Bay Trail. Carrie modeled her new Pussy Hat despite the sun and heat. After our hike, we headed to an Irish pub for lunch to insure we would suffer no caloric deficit. It was a perfectly gorgeous day and we were able to sit outside so Dakota could annoy all of our fellow diners by barking ferociously at every small dog who passed by.

IMG_4962

Right next to the restaurant was a dog-grooming spot called Woof. I popped in to ask if they could trim Dakota’s nails. The victim was duly handed over and as he was led away, I told the man that Dakota was a bit of a chicken. Seconds later screams began erupting from the back of the store. A request for reinforcements was issued. My favorite moment of mortification was after a particularly high-pitched, terrified scream, I heard the woman say, “Dakota, we haven’t even touched you yet…” I wasn’t kidding, he is a big chicken.

After the hike, our lunch and nail trimming, Jim and I headed back to the trailer park. Carrie would be over later, but first I had something to attend to. I won’t mention any names, but after a month on the road, one of us was smelling a little…doggy. Bay Bayou’s welcome packet mentioned having dog parks with dog baths. Dakota and I grabbed his shampoo and conditioner and headed over.

IMG_4958

Dakota has never been to a dog groomer. I have always bathed and groomed him myself. We call it “beauty parlor.” He enjoys it. He enjoys baths a little less, but afterwards you can tell he is very happy to be clean and gorgeous. The dog bath at Bay Bayou was a raised, elongated tub with the back cut out. There was a harness to which you could hook the dog and he could stand in the tub while being shampooed and hosed. It beat the pants off of the back break in leaning over a bath tub. With a nail trim, bath and brushing, I like to think of our weekend in Tampa as Dakota’s spa weekend. He did look and smell mighty fine.

On the Saturday of our visit, Carrie and I headed over to the Salvadore Dali Museum in St. Petersburg to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit. The boys stayed back at the trailer doing manly things. St. Petersburg is a beautiful town and the exhibit was really good and sadly topical. The show was completely packed. How great that on a perfect Florida day so many people would be enjoying a museum. Carrie says there is so much great weather in Florida, they don’t think twice about possibly squandering one of those days with inside activities. She might not admit it, but Carrie is an unabashed Floridian.