Venturing into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – Marquette MI


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June 16th 2015
Published: July 31st 2015
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The drive from Cheboygan State Park in Cheboygan MI to the Tourist Park Campground in Marquette MI on Wednesday, June 10, 2015 was under densely overcast but nonproductive skies and was totally uneventful. After I had completed set-up and was tweaking my agenda for the next few days, I spotted a skunk wandering through the zip code. I went out to snap a picture and struck up a conversation with the neighbors (who had returned immediately after I had gone into the Pilgrim). They were from Minnesota and were taking, essentially, the same itinerary through Michigan as I had but in reverse. We had selected many of the same stops, so we shared some tips on what was in store for each other. Very nice!

A few days later in the late afternoon/early evening, four kits (baby skunks – yeah, I had to look up that one) wandered past my window but they were too far away to get a good picture. The next day, two kits strolled past and were well within camera range. Pretty cool for me, but the neighbor behind me, who was tent camping, decided to move since a pattern was developing, and they were not interested in having an encounter between their dog and a doe (yup, had to look up that one as well) . I can’t say I blame them.

Thursday, June 11, 2015 found me heading for the Marquette Regional History Center in Marquette. The visitor first encounters mounts of native animals, such as the wolf and the beaver, and the geologic forces that generated the minerals found in the region. A very interesting exhibit about the Native peoples who inhabited the area offers one of the best explanations of the convergence of two completely different views of the world. "Indian culture did not just respect nature; it was shaped by nature;" whereas, "Europeans did not see themselves as part of an interlocking, animate universe. Instead, they were commanded to control nature - to harvest what was useful and to subdue what was not." The fur trade was the mechanism that caused those contradictory ideologies to converge in the greater Marquette area.

The attraction continues with more generic exhibits about nineteenth century surveying, mining, logging and farming but then addresses contemporary (twentieth century) topics with a narrower focus but with a distinct local connection. The Marquette County Electric Railway; an 1899 three-week automobile
The “Wooden Lung” I Noted In The NarrativeThe “Wooden Lung” I Noted In The NarrativeThe “Wooden Lung” I Noted In The Narrative

Marquette Regional History Center - Marquette MI
trip to Marquette from Cleveland OH by two local men; and the arrival of a boxed airplane by rail, its assembly and first flight are covered. Other subjects include the nuclear arsenal on hand at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base (unbeknownst to most locals) during the Cold War, the life and death in Vietnam of a popular local former high school athlete and the origins of the moniker Yooper (U.P.er). Many of the artifacts are punctuated with a narrative that links the item to an area resident. For example, a wooden “iron lung” is accompanied by an account of the perils of receiving a bath – "They used to open the respirator (to bathe me) and when I turned blue, they'd shut it for a while. I'd pass out every time." This attraction is one of the best efforts I have seen in my travels to convey the character of the community.

My next stop was the Marquette Maritime Museum also in Marquette. The attraction is really a two-fer since the Marquette Maritime Museum is also the headquarters for tours of the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse. Why? I’m so glad you asked. The lighthouse is an active aid to navigation, is owned by the Coast Guard and is located adjacent to the museum on U.S. Coast Guard Station Marquette. The keeper’s quarters was last used by the Coast Guard in 1998 as a residence for its personnel. In 2002, a thirty-year lease on the lighthouse was finalized between the Coast Guard and the Marquette Maritime Museum which plans to place memorabilia and artifacts on the first floor of the dwelling and to restore the second story as a turn-of-the-twentieth-century keeper’s residence. When, I’m not sure! The Coast Guard Station is secured, but museum staff has a key to access the property from a footpath; however, all lighthouse tours must be accompanied by a staff member and, therefore, are conducted at scheduled times. The lantern room is off limits and is secured.

My timing was such that I checked out most of the museum, took the lighthouse tour and then finished the museum. This museum contains many of the topics and artifacts I (and my regular readers) have encountered in other maritime museums in the last few weeks – the U.S. Lifesaving Service, commercial fishing, both Lake Superior and Marquette shipwrecks, specific shipwrecks (the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Henry B. Smith), the Fresnel lens
The U.S. Lifesaving Service Is Not IgnoredThe U.S. Lifesaving Service Is Not IgnoredThe U.S. Lifesaving Service Is Not Ignored

Marquette Maritime Museum - Marquette MI
and the Storm of 1913 – but contains two unique exhibits. The first is a comprehensive, well done layman’s explanation of the harvesting of iron ore, the transformation of the ore into pellets and the loading of the pellets onto the freighters.

Briefly, the iron-bearing rock is crushed, the iron is oxidized and separated from the waste rock, the iron oxide is combined with clay (which serves as a binder) and formed into marble-size pellets. The pellets are loaded onto railroad hopper cars and transported 15 miles to the iron ore “pocket dock” and onto one of two parallel railroad tracks on the top of the dock where the pellets are dropped into the pockets for storage. When the freighter arrives, the cargo hatches on the ship are opened, the chutes from the pockets are lowered and the pellets fall into the cargo compartments. The compartments are loaded in a specific order to assure the ship's load remains balanced.

At one time, there were two ore loading docks in the lower harbor and one in the upper harbor. Only the LS&I Presque Isle Ore Dock in the upper harbor remains functional; however, the remains of the Duluth South Shore & Atlantic Railway Dock No. 6 or the Soo Line Dock still stands. A model/diorama c. 1950 of the Soo Line Dock is on display which vividly demonstrates the integral relationship between the City of Marquette and the shipping industry. The museum calls the dock daily to ascertain which freighters will be in port for loading and the arrival time of each. That data is posted in the museum, but the staff related that the information is willingly shared via a phone call.

Some of these numbers completely blew me away. The pellets are 68% iron oxide and weigh 130 pounds per cubic foot. The LS&I Presque Isle Ore Dock was built in 1912 at a cost of $1.2 million and is 1200 feet long (nearly a quarter mile), 75 feet high and 54 feet wide. The dock has 100 pockets on each side (two freighters can be loaded simultaneously), and each pocket can hold about 3-½ railroad carloads of pellets. Each chute is 35 feet long and weighs 8200 pounds. The average freighter capacity is 300-350 railroad cars and takes 6-8 hours to load. It takes about 12 hours to “recharge” the dock for the next freighter. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll include the series of photographs I photographed at the museum at the end of the blog for those who are interested. I found the entire process fascinating and wish I could participate in a tour of the facility. Oh, yes, that second unique exhibit in the museum – an actual WW II-era periscope. The sign posted at the artifact makes a totally subjective claim, “The periscope now offers spectacular views of Lake Superior and the Marquette Lighthouse."

As noted earlier, part way through my museum visit I was notified by my docent that it was, “Tour time!” She and I (yup, another personalized tour) exited the museum. She related some historical and background information as we made the short walk to the gate, entered the Coast Guard property and ascended the stairs to the lighthouse. We made a circuit through the dwelling and stopped to examine a disjointed collection of artifacts from vintage outboard motors to a diver’s helmet and saw the circular stairs that access the “off limits” lantern room. One interesting exhibit was a collection of nine hand painted tiles. One photograph had been dissected, and one piece
The Assembly Of The Nine Tiles Produced An Interesting CollageThe Assembly Of The Nine Tiles Produced An Interesting CollageThe Assembly Of The Nine Tiles Produced An Interesting Collage

Marquette Harbor Lighthouse - Marquette MI
of the photograph had been given to nine local artists with instructions to recreate their section of the photo on their own tile. The assemblage is quite unusual.

We exited to a walkway leading to the tip of the point. She related that the catwalk had serviced the fog signal building but that, when the building was slated for demolition, some overzealous destructionists had blasted the brick building into utter oblivion. Pieces of brick can still be found dotting the beach. I had one question which I had been musing for several weeks but had never thought of it when a potential responder was at hand – until now. “Given the size of the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Superior, do the lakes have “tides?” In fact, she replied, there is a phenomenon in the lakes called a seiche or a standing wave which can be found in an enclosed or partially enclosed body of water. The event was first observed in Lake Geneva, Switzerland, and the word originates in a word of the Swiss-French dialect that means "to sway back and forth." I was impressed!

For as awesome as was the Marquette Maritime Museum, the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse
The Old Grey Beard, And The Lighthouse, As Seen From The PointThe Old Grey Beard, And The Lighthouse, As Seen From The PointThe Old Grey Beard, And The Lighthouse, As Seen From The Point

Marquette Harbor Lighthouse - Marquette MI
was exactly the antithesis. My initial “ho-hum” reaction was based on my impression that the thirty-year lease agreement with the Coast Guard was recently negotiated. When I learned (as I was writing this blog) that the agreement had been reached in 2002, I became irritated! Hello, it 2015. The lease is almost half expired. When do you plan to start? Virtually NOTHING has been done by the museum to create quality exhibits or to restore the property. Indeed, it appears the additional square footage is functionally nothing more than a warehouse for nice artifacts that are too good to liquidate. Visit the museum, it’s fantastic. Don’t go out of your way to incorporate a lighthouse visit unless, perhaps, it’s a beautiful day when the views from the catwalk might make it worthwhile.

From the museum, I headed to the LS&I Presque Isle Ore Dock. Two freighters were moored dockside, but both had the hatches secured. Indeed, one departed the dock during my brief stop. Only distant views are available, and I can’t imagine how one could get a good view of the loading operation. The freighters are huge, and the short trip is worth the drive. Like I said
A Stream Engine Used To Move The Ore CartsA Stream Engine Used To Move The Ore CartsA Stream Engine Used To Move The Ore Carts

Michigan Iron Industry Museum - Negaunee MI
earlier, I sure wish I could get a tour of the dock loading facility.

I had three stops planned for Friday, June 12, 2015. The first was the Michigan Iron Industry Museum in Negaunee MI. This museum begins with a mining disaster and then provides background about Henry Ford’s incursion into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula when he purchased iron mines, bought large tracts of forest and built freighters to transport those goods to his Dearborn facilities. Next are exhibits about the need for and the use of iron in the waging of WW II. Following that display is an exhibit about the concentration of low grade iron ore into high grade pellets which is followed by the history and the production of iron from as early as 3700 B.C. The three major iron ranges in the Upper Peninsula follow and then there are short biographies of some of the major players who shaped Michigan’s iron industry. FINALLY, the geology of iron and the types of iron ores are provided. To call the museum disjointed would be kind.

The exhibits are well done and interesting; however, there was no flow. I considered comparing the presentation to a yo-yo, but a yo-yo (in my
A Miner Lunching On One Of My Favorites – A PastyA Miner Lunching On One Of My Favorites – A PastyA Miner Lunching On One Of My Favorites – A Pasty

Michigan Iron Industry Museum - Negaunee MI
hands) travels in only two directions. The museum is, roughly, 30% history, 30% products, 30% process and 10% people. There are some extremely interesting aspects of the museum such as the story of a Chippewa chief, Marji-Gesick, who was paid with a stock certificate to help locate an iron ore deposit. After his death and the discovery of the stock certificate, his heirs' claim was denied by the company because the chief's descendants had been born of a polygamous relationship which was legal under tribal law but illegal under Michigan law. The courts decided for the heirs.

The story of how iron ore was portaged around the falls between Lake Superior and the Lower Great Lakes before the Soo Locks was completed in 1855 and of how that technology reduced the cost of iron ore from $8.00 per ton to $3.00 per ton is intriguing. The story of how the lone survivor of Michigan’s worst mining disaster, the 1926 Barnes-Hecker Mining Disaster, escaped rising mud and water levels by climbing a 600-foot (or 800-foot, depending on the source) wooden escape ladder in less that fifteen minutes is powerful. In either case, that is equivalent to a 60 or 80
That Was A Big Bucket In Its DayThat Was A Big Bucket In Its DayThat Was A Big Bucket In Its Day

Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum - Ishpeming MI
story building. A timeline that integrates Exploring, Moving Ore, Working Conditions, Mining Methods and Processing helps bring the fragments into a single panorama, but the timeline precedes several exhibits including unionization of the mines and the conversion from underground to open pit mining.

I understand that an attention-getter might be found near a museum entrance, but I was well into this museum before I was exposed to the geologic processes that caused me to be in the facility in the first place. There are too many great artifacts, stories and learning opportunities for me to nix the attraction, but it could be so much more. Yes, visit, but be prepared to bounce around like a pin ball.

My next stop was the Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum in Ishpeming MI. The information I had recorded showed the attraction open for business, but a sign in the door window announced it would open on June 16. So near, but yet so far. Fortunately, there is a memorial to the victims of the Barnes-Hecker Mining Disaster and their families, a timeline that chronicles the Cleveland-Cliffs Mining story and a nice outdoor display of vintage mining equipment, so the trip was not a total loss.
State Champs – Hurrah!!!State Champs – Hurrah!!!State Champs – Hurrah!!!

Negaunee Historical Museum - Negaunee MI
My final stop of the day was the Negaunee Historical Museum in Negaunee. The small, local museum highlights local characters, state sporting championship teams and local businesses. For me, the most interesting display was affixed to a blacksmith’s bellows and provided a great explanation of how hand drills were used to make holes for explosives including explanations of the terminology as used by the miners of the day.

Saturday, June 13, 2015 found me taking a scenic drive to Grand Marais MI to visit two attractions that are only open for three hours on Saturdays (many attractions in the Upper Peninsula are open weekends in June and September and daily during July and August). My experience told me to keep my expectations in check, but I also realized Grand Marais is not at the crossroads of anything, is not on the beaten path to anywhere and, indeed, is a destination and not an accidental encounter. Perhaps, the attractions on my list are hidden jewels – “Onward Great Adventure!”

On the way to my first planned stop, the The Lightkeepers House and Museum in Grand Marais, I discovered there was a hootenanny in progress. I’ll have to investigate that later. When I arrived at the attraction, I found signage touting the Grand Marais Historical Society Museum. Call it whatever, but the moniker “The Lightkeepers House and Museum” arouses my interest more intensely. There is a harbor light adjacent to the museum, but it’s nothing to visit unless you’re a lighthouse repairman. The collection includes several artifacts I have seen but do not see frequently – not “one of a kind” but not commonplace either. Probably the most interesting was a harness-maker’s bench. The docent and I engaged in an interesting discussion about life in Grand Marais from September through June. Obviously, the peak tourist season is very atypical, and I was interested in the norm. We had a very nice conversation which made the stop well worth the effort.

The Pickle Barrel House is one of the most unique structures I have ever seen. It was built in 1926 as a summer cottage for author/illustrator William Donahey. Donahey created the Teenie Weenies cartoon feature which debuted in the Chicago Tribune in 1914 and continued until his death in 1970. It featured tiny people who lived in a world of life-sized objects. To these tiny people, the objects in the real world were huge. He also did
To Call The Attraction Unique Is An UnderstatementTo Call The Attraction Unique Is An UnderstatementTo Call The Attraction Unique Is An Understatement

Pickle Barrel House Museum - Grand Marais MI
several advertising campaigns for Monarch Foods, and Teenie Weenies were on many of the Monarch food products labels including pickles. One ad featured a small pickle keg that was used as a house by some of his Teenie Weenies children characters.

One day in 1926, as a surprise for his wife, Mary Dickerson Donahey (an author as well), Donahey had a duplicate large version of the keg house built that they could actually use as a summer cabin at Grand Sable Lake to inspire their writing. The Donaheys’ "barrel house on the lake" received a lot of attention since nobody had ever seen anything like it; however, after 10 years, the curiosity seekers made the cabin a burden because people wanted to see how they lived. The Pickle Barrel house was moved to downtown Grand Marais in 1936. It served as a visitor information center, an ice cream stand and a gift shop until the Historical Society purchased the building in 2003 and restored it to its original 1920s condition. The cottage contains a living area with a loft bedroom, a detached kitchen and a connector that serves as a pantry.

The barrel house museum displays old pictures of the Donaheys in their one-of-a-kind cottage, and some of these old photos of the 1920s even show the curiosity seekers at the property. Several books about Donahey and his Teenie Weenies, samples of his Teenie Weenies artwork and vintage Monarch product containers are on display. Today, the barrel house pretty much recreates the appearance and atmosphere when the Donaheys spent their summers at the cabin. Heretofore, I could only lay claim to having been in several pickles but not to having been in a pickle house!

The docent at The Lightkeepers House and Museum had told me the extravaganza was a seaplane pilot competition where the pilots would land the aircraft, come to a complete stop and take off again. The pilot performing the fete in the shortest distance would be declared the winner. He told me the starting time of the competition (considerably after my planned departure) and stated that the pilots were currently in the practice mode. I found my way to a vantage point, chatted with a local couple and took a few pictures before heading for the Grand Sable Visitor Center of the Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore. My intent was to get enlightened about the three mile
A Nice Waterfall At The End Of An Enjoyable WalkA Nice Waterfall At The End Of An Enjoyable WalkA Nice Waterfall At The End Of An Enjoyable Walk

Miners Falls - Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore - Munising MI
round trip walk to the Au Sable Point Lighthouse. I learned the trek was on a sand road. I have encountered sand roads, and I have encountered sand roads from hell. Self to self, “If it’s not packed enough to drive on, I’m probably not going to enjoy walking on it.” Since the last tour was at 4:30, I would have to hustle to be there on time. Since the weather was to be nasty on Sunday and since the attraction offers no tours on Monday or Tuesday, I decided to forego the lighthouse unless Sunday’s weather forecast changed. (It didn’t change and was totally accurate.)

Sunday and Monday, the weather kept this lightweight home but Tuesday, June 16, 2015 found me heading to Munising MI. The plan was to visit a couple of waterfalls, take an afternoon cruise to view the Pictured Rocks and get a pasty for supper. Yeah, the country folks have dinner at noon while the city folks have lunch at noon, and the country folks have supper in the evening while the city folks have dinner; however, NOBODY has supper at noon or lunch in the evening! So long, confusion! My first stop was the main Pictured
The Castle Is Pretty But Not Breath-TakingThe Castle Is Pretty But Not Breath-TakingThe Castle Is Pretty But Not Breath-Taking

Miners Castle - Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore – Munising MI
Rocks National Lake Shore Headquarters in Munising for some advice regarding several waterfalls I had in my crosshairs – i.e., water flow and hiking difficulty. I then headed for Miners Falls and nearby Miners Castle. According to the signage at the trailhead, the falls is a 0.6 mile trek. That’s not too bad. The falls and the walk both are nice, but I have to keep reminding myself that this is not Oregon, North Carolina or Vermont. Numerous recovery benches are provided along the trail for the return (uphill) trip. Signs specifically prohibit use of the benches on the outbound or downhill trip. LOL

I returned to the Ram and completed the drive to Miners Castle. Again, the rock formation is nice but is not earthshaking. Ditto for the last two water falls I visited – Munising Falls and Wagner Falls. By that time, my stomach was engaged in serious protest, and sneaking lunch into the mix before the departure of the two-hour duration boat tour to view the Pictured Rocks would be tight. Holding my stomach at bay until the boat returned was not an option, so I headed for the pasty shop. The ads proclaim theirs as the best pastys in the UP. The proof is in the pudding. Pastys are baked ahead of time and kept in a warming oven so service is frequently quicker than at a traditional fast food joint. Also, pastys are like apple pie – they’re all the same but, simultaneously, they’re all different. Apple pies have more cinnamon or less cinnamon, a lattice crust or a full crust and some are deep dish whereas others are not. Personal preference prevails, and, so far in Michigan, I have been unable to beat the offerings at Jean Kay's Pasties & Subs in Marquette MI.

By the time I finished my lunch, the boat departure time was about 4-5 minutes hence (depending on which timepiece I checked), I had a 2-3 mile drive (away from the RV park) to reach the dock and needed to purchase a ticket. In the planning stages, I had nixed the boat ride because of my flawed color perception, but had been asked several times if I had been on the boat ride YET! I came to believe the cruise was a rite of passage; however, if I were to “miss the boat” for the 2 PM cruise, I really didn’t want to wait for the 4 PM cruise. I decided to return to Plan A, to call it a day and headed to the RV park.

I had a nice time in Marquette in spite of the weather which was not bad but surely not wonderful. The people were friendly, the downtown and the older residential neighborhoods have some phenomenal turn-of-the-twentieth-century buildings and my safety was never in question. The streets are in deplorable condition (I had my fillings rattled several times) and would be difficult to navigate without a navigator (mine is Irene, my GPS). For the most part, the roads of Michigan have been great; however, the city streets in some of the cities such as Marquette, Lansing and Grand Rapids are a total contrast to other cities such as Traverse City and Cheboygan where the roads have been in great condition. Bottom line, the weather cannot be blamed.


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Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore – Munising MI


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