In honor of Independence Day, here is the passage from the end of my novel The Queen City: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Two, depicting the 100th anniversary of Marquette and Fourth of July Fireworks. Happy 4th to all!
In small towns, people depend on each other. In Upper Michigan, through long, harsh winters and economic woes, people form bonds even without blood ties. On this day of civic pride, an entire city became one family, a city filled with people descended from a handful of brave pioneers who came to Iron Bay a century before to build a community which still prospered. Even Jimmy Whitman, who today would rather be in California, and as an adult would live miles from Marquette, would in later years look back on this day with fondness.
The picnic broke up all too soon as everyone looked at their watches and realized it would soon be time for the fireworks. People went their separate ways. Bill wanted to be alone with Sally. Thelma was tired so Jessie brought her home. Harry Jr. had promised to take his children over to a friend’s house. Some decided to go home rather than attend the fireworks, but Sylvia insisted on seeing the finale of the city’s celebrations, and Eleanor, finding her daughters’ enthusiasm matched that of her aunt, agreed to take them all. Margaret told Roy he had no choice but to drive her to Memorial Field for the fireworks. “It won’t hurt you to take me and then stay at your mother’s house another night before going back to that old cabin of yours,” she insisted. Roy knew better than to argue. Henry and Beth talked Michael into piling into their car with the children. Then they followed Roy’s vehicle while Eleanor and company brought up the rear. Once the three automobiles reached Memorial Field, the Whitman clan found thousands of people crowded together, eagerly awaiting the finale to the centennial celebrations.
The Boy Scouts of Racine, Wisconsin entertained the crowd with their drum and bugle corps. Then a Vaudeville show made the crowd laugh and join in singing.
Gazing at the crowd, Sylvia felt overwhelmed. “I never saw so many people in my life. Everyone in Marquette must be here.”
“Yes, this city sure has grown,” said Margaret, remembering as a girl how she had thought Marquette much too small. Now amid a sea of jubilant faces, she scarcely recognized anyone. Proudly, she said to Sylvia, “Unlike us, most of these people don’t have their names in The Mining Journal as Marquette residents for over fifty years.”
“No, I guess not,” said Sylvia. “I’ve lived here my whole life, that’s seventy-seven years. I was born in Marquette’s twenty-third year, so I feel as if I belong more to the little village of a hundred years ago than to this big modern city.”
As they found a place to set up chairs and lay a blanket for the children to sit on, Margaret asked her sister-in-law, “Do you remember the day they unveiled the statue of Father Marquette? There was a big crowd that day, but nothing like this.”
“Yes,” said Sylvia, “I remember that, and I remember when the streetcars were put in; we were all so excited to have them, and now they’ve been ripped out for I don’t know how many years. I can even remember when we first got electricity.”
“I can remember the days before electricity,” said Margaret. “I’m sure glad those days are over.”
“Life was harder then,” said Sylvia. “But back then, since we had no idea there would one day be electricity, and automobiles, and movie theatres, we didn’t miss them. I don’t think people are as polite and courteous as before the wars either. I do miss that.”
“People don’t have the class they had back then,” Margaret agreed. “All these young girls running around with skirts above their knees.”
Eleanor and Beth chuckled, knowing this comment was pointed toward Bill’s girl Sally, who had come to the picnic with her knobby knees on full display.
“And this modern architecture,” sighed Sylvia. “Houses look like boxes now, and each one is painted a dull white. Houses had more color when I was a girl. I remember my grandparents’ house on Ridge Street—my grandparents moved away when I was only four, so maybe my memories aren’t exact, but my parents often told me what a beautiful house it was. Inside there was ornate woodwork and elaborate colored wallpaper and stenciling on the walls and borders along the ceiling. It was so beautiful you never wanted to leave it. Now we have these puffy sofas and metallic kitchen tables with pop-up leafs and—”
Sylvia could not finish her sentence but just shook her head.
“Which grandparents’ house are you talking about?” asked Henry. “Your Grandpa and Grandma Whitman?”
“No, they had a boarding house when I was a girl,” said Sylvia. “Not that their house wasn’t nice, but the house I’m talking about was my Grandpa and Grandma Henning’s house. They built one of the first and finest homes on Ridge Street, but they only lived there a few years before they moved away. I wonder what happened to all their money. I never saw any of it. I bet Grandma Henning left it all to Aunt Edna.”
“You mean that big sandstone house, don’t you?” said Margaret. “I remember Will pointed it out to me one time.”
“Is the house still there?” asked Henry, his carpenter instincts awakening.
“Oh, yes.” Sylvia described it until Henry suspected it was the same as Robert O’Neill’s house, where he had fixed the porches during the war.
“Aunt Sylvia, why did your grandparents move away?” Lucy asked.
“Well, their daughter, my Aunt Madeleine, drowned in the lake. I can’t really remember how; I was just a little girl then, but my grandparents were so upset they sold their house and moved back East. I never saw them again except once when my grandpa came to visit just after I was married. I don’t remember much about him either. I wish now I knew more, but my mother died when I was just a girl and my father died when I was in my twenties, so I guess I was too young to think about asking them many questions then.”
“I know what you mean,” said Margaret. “My grandfather always said the Dalrymples were related to the royal family of Scotland, but I was too lazy to ask exactly how and write it down. Just think, I might’ve been a Scottish princess.”
“I do remember,” said Sylvia, ignoring Margaret’s pretentious claim to the Scottish throne, “that my father said my mother’s family came to Marquette the year the city was founded.”
“You know,” said Michael, “my Grandma Bergmann used to tell me she came to Marquette during its first year. How odd. I bet our families have known each other a long time.”
“They have,” said Sylvia, taking his hand. “I remember being at your parents’ wedding when St. Peter’s Cathedral was just being built. I must have been about twelve then.”
“Someone,” said Roy, “should write all this down. Marquette is the finest city ever, and since our family is part of its history, neither should be forgotten.”
Everyone nodded in agreement, but writing Marquette’s history seemed too daunting a task for any of them. Not one felt confident with pen and paper.
“Hello, Roy,” said a young man passing by. “How are you?”
“Hi, Fred. Everyone, this here is Fred Rydholm,” Roy introduced. “He works with me up at the Club. He drove the Club’s car in the parade today.”
Everyone greeted Fred. Introductions were made and remarks exchanged about how impressive the parade had been. Then Fred said goodbye and walked away. One day, Fred Rydholm would pen two mammoth volumes detailing the history of the iron ore industry, the founding of Marquette and the Huron Mountain Club, and the Upper Peninsula’s important role in American history.
“How long before the fireworks start?” asked Ellen.
“Can’t we go home?” Jimmy complained. “It’s cold out here, and fireworks are boring anyway.”
“Don’t be a creampuff,” his grandmother teased. “The fireworks will be marvelous. This has been the best Fourth in the North.”
At that moment, the first loud cracking thunder broke. Memorial Field was packed with thousands of city residents and visitors who lifted their eyes to the glorious explosions in the night sky. Pink blazing sparks spread in every direction. Then a burst of blue, an explosion of green, a shot of white, a spray of orange, then yellow, then blue again, and red, and green, and blue, and orange, and yellow, and pink, and white. Burst after burst, straight firing white lines, kaleidoscopic green, pink, purple, all at once. One separate firework to mark each year of Marquette’s history. Up into the sky they shot in shimmering streaks like a hundred candles blazing on a bombastic birthday cake. Ellen covered her ears; the fireworks were so delightfully loud.
Henry leaned over to kiss his wife’s cheek.
“Ouch, that tickles,” Beth giggled. “When will you shave off that silly beard?”
“First thing tomorrow morning,” he promised, “but you have to admit it looks pretty good for having been grown so quickly.”
“Shh, Daddy, you’re missing the fireworks,” Ellen scolded.
Henry and Beth both chuckled, glad to see their daughter happy. They were happy themselves. They were back where they belonged, in their hometown for its centennial, which they would not have missed for anything. Henry thought back on all of Marquette’s remarkable history, the raising of the courthouse, the library, the banks, the houses, the bravery of its people, the struggles through fires and blizzards, economic woes and wars. He thought of the ore docks, those formidable giants of the iron industry, stretching out into the world’s greatest lake as emissaries to distant lands. For a hundred years, from Iron Bay, the Upper Peninsula’s riches had been shipped out to bolster a nation, yet Marquette had scarcely received mention in a history book. Many people could not even pronounce its name, much less find it on a map. But its Northern sons and daughters knew the great privilege they shared in living here. They knew Nature had blessed them by giving them this land of pristine beauty, mighty forests, fresh air, and remarkable weather. Henry and Beth were grateful to have been born here, and thankful they had been wise enough to return. Thousands that night felt in their hearts what Henry spoke as he turned to Beth.
“We truly do live in THE QUEEN CITY OF THE NORTH.”
Tyler R. Tichelaar, seventh generation Marquette native, is the author of The Marquette Trilogy, My Marquette, and numerous other books about Marquette and its past. For more information, visit his website www.MarquetteFiction.com