Howard Longyear – Marquette’s Most Famous Drowning
In the last three weeks, five people have drowned in Lake Superior, in Grand Marais, and at Marquette’s Presque Isle Park and Picnic Rocks. If you are going to swim in Lake Superior, remember always to swim with a buddy; do not swim in bad conditions, even moderate waves, and know the conditions.
In celebration of August being maritime month, I thought I would post here about Marquette’s most famous drowning, as retold in my upcoming book My Marquette:
The Longyear Mansion’s residence in Marquette would be short-lived as the result of family tragedy. In 1900, Howard Longyear and his friend Hugh Allen drowned in Lake Superior while canoeing between Marquette and the Huron Mountain Club. The Longyears were devastated and walked the entire shoreline from the Huron Mountains to Presque Isle Park, hoping to find their son still alive.
Once they accepted Howard’s death, the Longyears decided they would donate their property below the bluff to the City of Marquette to build a memorial park named for their son. When the Marquette and Southwestern Railroad announced it wanted to run a railway through the property, the Longyear family entered into a legal battle with the railroad which was settled in the railroad’s favor.
When the blasting for the rail bed began, the Longyears decided to go to Europe. Mrs. Longyear was so angry at the railroad and the City of Marquette that she vowed never again to set foot in Marquette. Mr. Longyear agreed to move back East, but he did not want to leave behind their fabulous home, so while the couple was riding down the Champs Elysees in Paris, he suggested they actually bring the house with them when they moved to Massachusetts. Mrs. Longyear readily agreed.
The undertaking was massive. In January, 1903, the dismantling began and by June, the house was starting to be reassembled in Brookline, Massachusetts, three miles inland from the ocean because Mrs. Longyear did not want to hear the ocean’s pounding surf, which would remind her of Lake Superior’s roaring waves that had claimed her son. The move would take three years, longer than it took originally to build the house. Each stone block had to be cleaned, numbered, carefully wrapped in straw and cloth and then shipped east. In all, 190 train cars would be used to transport the house. The move was considered an engineering miracle at the time and listed in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” Before reassembly was completed, it was decided the house would not look well on its new property in its current shape, so it was laid out differently. When the newer version of the home was completed, new additions were made until it contained one hundred rooms.
My great-great grandfather, William Forrest McCombie, was among those hired to disassemble the house. My great-grandmother, Barbara McCombie White, wanted to see the house, so her father told her if she would bring him his lunch about noontime when most of the workers were on their lunch breaks, she wouldn’t be in the way and could look around. Once she started walking through the house, she became lost and her father had to go find her. This family story inspired a scene in The Queen City where Margaret gets lost in the mansion.
The Longyears lived in their Brookline home until their deaths. John M. Longyear passed away in 1922 and Mrs. Longyear in 1931. Mrs. Longyear bequeathed the home to the Mary Baker Eddy Foundation—Mary Baker Eddy was the founder of the Christian Science religion. After the Longyear children contested the will, the home became both the headquarters for the Longyear Foundation and a museum for the Christian Science church. In 1985, an episode of the popular television show Spenser for Hire was filmed there. In 1996, the expense of maintaining the home as a museum became too high and it was sold for $6.5 million to a developer who turned it into luxury condominiums.
Mrs. Longyear never did set foot again in Marquette, but because Mr. Longyear needed to continue doing business there, he built a home at Ives Lake at the Huron Mountain Club where the Longyears would stay whenever they were in Upper Michigan, and Mr. Longyear would often stay overnight in Marquette as needed. Today, many of the Longyears’ descendants continue to live in Upper Michigan.
For more information about the Longyear Family, including photographs, read my upcoming book My Marquette and visit my website www.MarquetteFiction.com.
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