Archive for October 2010

Marquette’s First Ghost

October 28, 2010

Happy Halloween everyone! To celebrate the holiday, here is a ghost story from my novel The Queen City that Will Whitman tells to his grandchildren about Marquette’s first ghost.         

The Queen City: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Two

“All right, then,” said Will, winking at his granddaughters. “This story was first told to me by my father many years ago, but it’s completely true because I saw the ghost myself.”

            “Really?” asked Jimmy.

            “Yes, it all began back when Marquette was just a little town, newly settled. There were only a few buildings surrounded by large, scary forests.”

            “What year was it?” Jimmy asked.

            “Oh, it was way back in the 1800s–the 1850s I think.”

            “Almost a hundred years ago!” Jimmy gasped.

            “Yes, but first I have to tell you about when I was a boy, just a few years older than you. Back then, I lived on the farm with my father and my brother and my sisters.”

            “Barry’s grandma is your sister, right Grandpa?” said Jimmy.

            “Yes,” said Will. “We all lived on the farm with my father, a few miles out of town, but my grandparents lived in town. They lived up on top of the hill. Sometimes I would go visit them on the way home from school. My brother Clarence would usually go with me, but that day he had been too sick to go to school so I had to walk home by myself. That was partly why I went to visit my grandparents. They didn’t know Clarence was sick so I wanted to let them know–that, and I wanted to ask them what I should buy my pa for Christmas.

            “I wasn’t going to stay long, but my grandmother, like all good grandmothers, insisted I have some cake, and my grandfather started telling me one of his stories. He was always full of stories and could talk for hours.”

            “Sounds like someone I know,” laughed Ronald.

            “We’re all big storytellers in our family, I guess,” said Will, “my father was the same too. So anyway, by the time I left my grandparents’ house, it was getting dark. It was also starting to snow. Now that I think back on it, I’m surprised my grandparents even let me leave because it looked like a storm was brewing, but back in those days, hardly anyone had a telephone so I couldn’t call my father, and I didn’t want him to worry if I didn’t make it home.

            “Just as I set off for our farm, the snow picked up. I only walked a couple blocks before I was huffing and puffing as I struggled against the blowing wind and tried to see where I was going. When I reached Park Cemetery, I decided to take a short cut through it. By then, the snow was up to my knees and–”

            “Oh come on, Pa, within three blocks of walking the snow was up to your knees!” laughed Ada.

            “You don’t know how bad the winters were back then,” said Will. “Anyway, I got into the cemetery, but the snow was so high by then I was walking on top of the gravestones.”

            Jimmy looked alarmed at the thought of walking over the dead.

            “Then I tripped on a stone sticking up out of the snow. I remember falling forward and my face landing in the snow. That’s all I remember. I think I passed out from exhaustion. When I woke, I found myself huddled up inside the door of a crypt where I was sheltered from the wind. For a second I was confused, but then I looked out into the storm. There was a young girl, about my age, walking away from me.

Annabella Stonegate's Grave

            “At first, I thought she was also lost in the storm. I called to her, but she only looked back and smiled. I remember thinking it was odd I could see her smile so clearly when the snow was coming down so hard I couldn’t see anything else. A sort of glow about her made her stand out despite the storm. Then, all of a sudden, she just disappeared. I couldn’t believe it. I sat there, wondering whether I had ever really seen her, or whether the storm just made it look as if she had disappeared. At that very second, the snow stopped, so I got up and looked for her footsteps. I tried to follow them, only to discover they disappeared at a gravestone sticking up out of the snow.”

            “The snow probably drifted and covered the rest of her footprints,” said Louis.

            “And the snow can play tricks when the wind whips it around,” said Thelma. “You probably never saw an actual girl. Why, I’ve often seen gusts of snow that looked like angels floating over the earth.”

            “Now listen,” said Will. “I can’t explain it, but let me tell the rest.”

            The grownups smiled good-naturedly, but the children’s eyes widened as he finished his tale.

            “When I got home, I told my father what had happened, and then he told me the story of Annabella Stonegate.”

            “Who’s she?” asked Lucy.

            “Just listen and you’ll find out,” said Will.

            “Annabella’s a dumb name,” said Jimmy. “And why does it have to be a girl ghost?”

            “Well, Jimmy, I’m sorry,” said Will, “but since I’m telling you what really happened to me, I don’t have any control over it being a boy or a girl ghost.”

            “So what did your father tell you?” asked Jessie.

            “He told me Annabella Stonegate is buried in Park Cemetery. She met an early death as a little girl, and several people have seen her ghost since then.”

            “How did she die?” asked Jimmy, hoping for a gruesome death to make up for a girl ghost.

            “Well,” said Will, “Marquette was so small during the first few years when it was founded that Annabella had no other little girls to play with, and she was very lonely. Her parents lived outside of town, but sometimes they let her walk a mile to a nearby farm to go visit some other little girls. Her mother made her always promise to be home before dark.”

            “How far did she have to walk?” asked Lucy.

            “About a mile I said,” Will replied.

            “How far is a mile?” Jimmy wanted to know.

            “About halfway from here to downtown,” said Will.

            “That’s far,” said Jimmy. “She might get lost.”

            “Not if she followed the road,” said Lucy.

            “Will you let me tell the story?” asked their grandfather, thinking he never would have started to tell one if he had known it would mean so many interruptions.

            “Well, Pa, they just want to understand better,” said Eleanor.

            “Well, they can ask questions after I finish,” said Will. “Now, one day, just before Christmas–since this is a Christmas ghost story you know,” he said, winking at Ellen, “Annabella went to bring Christmas presents to her friends, Virginia and Georgianna Ridge. She stayed a couple hours at the house while she opened her present from the Ridges, and they had a little tea party like little girls love to have.”

            Lucy smiled; she loved playing tea party with her dolls.

            “When it started to get dark, Mrs. Ridge told Annabella she had better head home. Mrs. Ridge was sorry her husband was not home to drive Annabella back, but Annabella was a brave girl, as little girls growing up in the Northwoods have to be, so she put on her winter coat, and picked up the Christmas present she had gotten from her friends, and she was–”

            “What was the Christmas present?” asked Maud.

            “Ah, I was just coming to that,” said Will. “She had gotten a lovely new doll for Christmas, a doll the likes of which had never before been seen in Marquette in those early days. And Annabella loved it. She carried it beneath her coat because it had a china face, and she didn’t want to drop and break it or even for the cold weather to crack it. But she had barely left the house when a snowstorm started up, and as it got darker out, and the snow got fiercer, she lost her way. She wasn’t sure which direction she was going, but she just kept walking, hoping to see the light from her parents’ window. Instead, she saw an Indian. Now all the Indians around Marquette were friendly to the settlers, but Annabella was just a little girl, and the boys at school had told her that Indians like to scalp little girls.”

            “Sound like typical boys,” laughed Ada.

            “What’s scalp?” asked Maud.

            “To cut off your hair,” said Will, giving a mild description that relieved Eleanor, who did not want her girls to have nightmares.

            “What’s so bad about getting a haircut?” asked Maud.

            “Maybe she had really beautiful hair, so she didn’t want it cut off,” said Judy.

            “So,” said Will, “when Annabella saw the Indian, she was so scared she ran out into the storm and never was seen alive again.”

            “Did the Indian get her?” asked Jimmy.

            “No, but the Indian tried to find her because he was a good Indian, and he knew she was going the wrong way. Only he couldn’t see her footsteps because of the blowing, drifting snow. Finally he went to her parents’ house to tell them he had seen her. Then her father walked to the Ridges’ farm to try and find her. He and Mr. Ridge searched for Annabella all night, but it was an Indian who found her and brought her home, frozen to death.”

            “Oh no,” squeaked Ellen.

            “Yes. It was very sad,” said Will. “She was such a sweet little girl that everyone in Marquette cried when they heard she had died.”

            Beth could not help shedding a tear, as she remembered how her own father had died from being caught in a blizzard.

            “Is that the end?” asked Jimmy.

            “Almost,” said Will. “Annabella was such a good girl that people say God blessed her by letting her come back to earth to help people who are lost in blizzards. That’s why I saw her ghost in Park Cemetery. She must have pulled me from where I fell over in the snow and laid me in the doorway of the crypt where I would stay warm.”

            “So she’s not really so much a ghost as an angel,” said Jessie.

            “I guess so,” said Will. “They say good people tend to become angels.”

            Most of the grownups smiled, appreciating the story’s moral ending, but Henry only laughed.

            “Pa, you told me that story when I was little, and I remember going to Park Cemetery to look for Annabella’s gravestone, but I never could find it.”

            “You must not have looked hard enough,” said Will.

            Henry laughed again, but Jimmy, despite his initial dislike for a girl ghost, said, “There are lots of gravestones in the cemetery, Daddy. You probably missed it. We should go look again.”

            “Why do you even need to look?” asked Will. “Don’t you trust your grandpa?”

            “If he’s smart, he won’t,” Henry smiled.

            “Well, the gravestone is there,” said Will. “And furthermore, I went to school with one of the Stonegate boys. He told me about Annabella–she was his father’s older sister–and when I told him the next day at school that I had seen her ghost, he verified it was her.”

            “You’re too much, Pa,” said Henry.

            “Can we open our presents now?” asked Maud.

Advertisements

Marquette’s Opera House, the 1938 Fire & Blizzard, & the Episcopal Church Scandal

October 22, 2010

This post is the third and final in a series of blogs about the Marquette Opera House, the 1938 Fire that destroyed it during a blizzard, and the church scandal that began it. The previous blogs were posted on October 16 and 19, 2010. The text is from My Marquette where additional historical photos can also be found.

The 1938 Fire had burnt down the Marquette Opera House and several other businesses during what may have been the worst blizzard the U.P. had ever seen.

To lose a major section of downtown Marquette had to be devastating to the residents, and I can only imagine how my grandparents felt to know a place so important to them was gone forever. I doubt the ensuing scandal that explained the cause for the fire made anyone feel better. The story was broadcast nationwide as described in The Queen City:

            True magazine revealed Marquette’s Episcopalian Diocese had been having financial problems. Mr. Miller, responsible for the church funds, had embezzled church money, then lost it in the stock market. He went to the bishop for help, threatening that if the bishop exposed him, he would commit suicide. In desperation, Bishop Ablewhite sought out an investment counselor named Lyons to help rebuild the church’s lost savings. Mr. Lyons suggested nightclubs would be a good investment, he being a frequent visitor to them since he had quite the eye for showgirls. Soon, Bishop Ablewhite had decided to buy his own little nightclub, the income from which would be used to replace the missing church funds. Gradually, the secret leaked out to the bishop’s congregation.

            Mr. Miller’s office had been in the Masonic building, which also housed the Marquette Opera House. Speculations would never be confirmed regarding whether Mr. Miller had started the fire while burning the incriminating documents of his embezzlement, or whether the fire had just serendipitously destroyed them. People became suspicious when after the fire, Mr. Miller’s safe was found open and everything burned inside it. Within a year, the congregation realized money was missing from several church funds until a legal investigation was deemed necessary. John Voelker, Marquette County’s prosecuting attorney, ordered a grand-jury investigation into the case. By October, Bishop Ablewhite was found guilty as an accessory to the embezzlement of church funds and sentenced to ten years in prison, although he got off after nine months in the Jackson state prison. Upon the bishop’s release, his friend Henry Ford gave him a position as director of personnel in his River Rouge plant. Mr. Miller got off far more easily; he died of a heart attack before the embezzlement was discovered. 

The Morgan Chapel of St. Paul's Episcopal Church

            Time magazine and the Chicago Tribune would also announce the Bishop’s resignation in 1939, noting that the money embezzled equaled $99,000 and that Ablewhite’s name was stricken from the Protestant Episcopal Church’s rolls.

            The Opera House itself was never rebuilt although a new Masonic Temple was constructed and today is upstairs in the Washington Street Mall. Operas are rarely performed in Marquette today and no recordings of those early Marquette entertainments remain. Only memories and photographs testify to the grandeur that once was.

Marquette’s Opera House & the 1938 Fire and Blizzard

October 19, 2010

This post is a continuation of my previous post about the Marquette Opera House, taken from My Marquette.

Like many an opera heroine, the Marquette Opera House would meet a tragic ending. In the early morning hours of January 24, 1938, and during perhaps the worst blizzard in Upper Michigan’s history, the employees at The Mining Journal, working desperately to finish the newspaper, had the electricity go out. In the blackness, they looked down the street and saw fire aglow in the Masonic Building. Here are some passages from the retelling of the story in The Queen City:

Residents near downtown Marquette were rudely woken by the fire brigade’s sirens. People peered out their windows to see an eerie conglomeration of smoke, bright red flames, and hurling white snow. The fire had begun in the Masonic Building. How it began or how long it had already raged would not be determined until much later. For now, the fire must be stopped before the entire downtown crumbled to cinders, before history repeated itself—several residents recalled their grandparents’ stories of another great downtown fire seventy years earlier. By the time the firetrucks arrived, the Masonic Building was counted as lost, including inside it, the Peter White Insurance Agency and the much-loved Opera House. Already the fire had spread along the street, engulfing Jean’s Jewelry, the Nightingale Cafe, the Scott and Woolworth stores, De Hass Builder’s Supply, and the Marquette County law library.

            Had electricity been required to pump water, the fire’s destruction would have been inestimable. Fortunately, the waterworks was powered by gas engines run on batteries. Hoses were quickly unrolled along Washington Street to fight the formidable fire. The bravest men struggled with feelings of panic and loss to see buildings that had stood since before their childhood, where they had spent countless joyful hours—the Opera House, the theatres, the stores—all at the mercy of the raging flames. No one had ever seen such a firestorm, much less been asked to fight it. Firemen dug their footholds into snowbanks and aimed their hoses at the flames, only to have the wind whip the waterstreams straight back into their faces, where ice formed on their noses while smoke choked their lungs. Yet they dared not back down.

….

            Bill, although large and strong for his seventeen years, had to use all his might to brace against the frigid winds and direct the hoses so the water struck the flames. Much of the water froze on powerlines and building fronts just seconds after it spurted from hoses. Heroic efforts appeared ineffective against the blazing furnace that had once been Washington Street. At times, the slush in the street was up to Bill’s hips, making him feel more like he was fishing in the Dead River than fighting a blazing fire. A firetruck froze in the slush and could not be moved. Henry waded through the watery mess to help dig out the truck so it could hose down the bank buildings on the corner of Washington and Front before the fire spread downhill toward the lake.

            As morning broke, Mr. Donckers opened his cafe to provide hot coffee for the firemen and volunteers. Bill and Henry took a quick, welcomed breakfast break after learning the Kresge store was no longer in danger. They emerged from breakfast, refreshed and ready to fight again, just as the west wall of the Masonic building tumbled down. Even though the wall fell inward, glass shot out from its windows, injuring a traffic officer and three firemen, while bricks struck two other men. None were seriously injured, but even the witnesses felt shaken. The accident made everyone fight with greater determination to prevent worse accidents. Curses and prayers were muttered in hopes the blizzard would end so only the fire had to be fought. There would be many more hours of frustrating toil.

Marquette Opera House after the fire and blizzard - from my grandparents' photograph albums

            My only family member that I know actually witnessed the fire that day was my grandpa’s cousin, Myles McCombie. In 1999, The Mining Journal featured a story about the fire and interviewed residents who recalled it. Myles McCombie was just a teenager at the time; upon hearing about the fire, he and a friend walked downtown to see it. When they reached Washington Street, a fireman asked Myles to help for twenty-five cents an hour, so Myles picked up a hose. He told The Mining Journal, “We stood in slush up to our hips and we were pouring water on that side [of Washington] street.” Myles was also one of the volunteers who was served a quick breakfast at Donckers store when it was opened to serve the firemen.

            To lose a major section of downtown Marquette had to be devastating to the residents, and I can only imagine how my grandparents felt to know a place so important to them was gone forever.

What caused the downtown fire that destroyed the Opera House? Stay tuned to my next blog post that will finish the story of the Marquette Opera House and the church scandal that resulted in such tragic consequences.

Marquette’s Opera House

October 16, 2010

            The Marquette Opera House was a stately edifice, the grandest in the Queen City’s downtown. The building had been constructed in 1892 at the instigation of the city’s greatest benefactors, Peter White and John Longyear. The foundation was built of Anna River brick and native Marquette brownstone. The front entrance had a Romanesque arch through which the city’s residents passed in their most elegant habiliments. While the building also housed a storefront and a Masonic Hall, the theatre was the building’s gem. The interior reflected the height of the Italian Renaissance, while the proscenium arch served as gateway to the grandest scenes ever played on a Marquette stage. Ornate boxes filled the walls, and in one such princely seat, Beth found herself seated between her lover and her annoying cousin.

            First Thelma commented about the comfortable seat. Then she fretted over how well she could see the stage. Next she listed the names of everyone in the theatre whom she knew, and since the theatre could hold up to one thousand people, and almost everyone in Marquette knew everyone else, this recital lasted until the lights dimmed and the orchestra began to play.

            Beth hoped Thelma would keep her mouth shut during the performance. She vowed she would never forgive her mother for sending Thelma as her chaperone. But what did it matter? Henry clearly had no intentions tonight of asking her to—

            He reached over to take her hand. Beth hoped Thelma would not notice.

— The Queen City

 

            Of all Marquette’s grand old buildings that were gone before my time, the Marquette Opera House is the one I wish I had seen and the one for which I feel most fond because of its role in my family’s history as well as its sensationally tragic end.

           My grandparents’ courtship was as intriguing a story as any to me. Their religious differences inspired two marriage problems in my novels, first when I wrote The Only Thing That Lasts where Robert’s Grandma and Mr. Carter do not marry in their youth because she is Catholic and he a Southern Baptist, and later in The Queen City when Henry and Beth, based loosely on my grandparents, have a long engagement.

            Despite the religion issue, my grandpa decided to propose to my grandmother. The event occurred at the Marquette Opera House sometime in the late 1920s. My grandmother, her parents being overprotective, had a friend with her as chaperone, although hopefully the friend was not as annoying as Beth’s talkative cousin, Thelma. Although the religious differences would keep my grandparents from getting married until 1934, the Marquette Opera House was the place where their courtship and pending nuptials were confirmed. I doubt a more romantic place existed in Marquette for my grandparents to pledge their love since by all accounts the opera house was a truly elegant structure.

            The Marquette Opera House was built in 1890 with Peter White and John M. Longyear forming a corporation to sell stock to fund its construction. When completed, the building would contain three floors, including not only the theatre but four shops on the first floor, office suites on the second, and a third floor leased to the Masonic order.

Designed by local architect Carl F. Struck, the building’s exterior was of native brownstone and brick with a Romanesque entrance of Portage Entry sandstone. The interior, however, was the most stunning. A stairway led to the ticket office. Hallways led to the dress balcony and the Masonic Hall. The style inside was Italian Renaissance with ornate boxes, frescoes depicting comedy and tragedy, and of course, an impressive proscenium arch with an Italian landscape painted on the drop curtain. The plush chairs—enough to hold 900—were the same as those in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Popular plays and operas were performed including the Victorian favorite, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

            In 1927, the building was bought by the Masons and became known as the Masonic Building. By that time, movies had come to Marquette and the Delft Theatre had been operating a dozen years, so to compete, a variety of performances transplanted some of the more traditional plays and operas. Nevertheless, many performances were played here to great success, and it was not uncommon for national celebrities to visit, including Lillian Russell, Lon Chaney, John Philip Sousa, and W.C. Fields. I only wish I knew what performance my grandparents watched the night of their engagement.

Like many an opera heroine, the Marquette Opera House would meet a tragic ending.

Stay tuned to my next post to find out the dramatic story of the opera house’s end. The full story, complete with a photo of the Opera House’s interior can be found in My Marquette.

Check out the latest buzz about “My Marquette”

October 13, 2010

In the two weeks since My Marquette came out, I’ve had so many wonderful responses from people telling me it is “beautiful” and “informative.” And already bookstores are calling me for second deliveries of the book. I’m glad it’s received such a good response from people because to me Marquette is such a wonderful place that I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, and I’m glad to know that feeling resonates with others who love this city.

What is harder to believe is the response I’m getting from people outside of the area who have already read it.

I have already gotten two great reviews posted at Amazon. One is from Debbie Glade, author of  The Travel Adventures of Lilly P. Badilly. The other is from Irene Watson of Reader Views.

And today was posted my interview with Wandering Educators about writing a travel book about your hometown. You can read it at: http://www.wanderingeducators.com/best/stories/one-step-time-write-guidebook-about-your-home-town.html – beyond my tips are some great photos of Marquette.

If you live in Upper Michigan, you can also see me at my upcoming book signings this fall:

Saturday, November 6 9am-3pm CST Christmas Show, Bay College, Iron Mountain

Saturday, November 20, 1-3pm Snowbound Books, Marquette

Friday-Sunday, December 3-5, TV 6 Christmas Show, Superior Dome, Marquette

Saturday, December 11, 12-2pm, Falling Rock Cafe, Munising

Sunday, December 12, 7pm, The Joy Center, Ishpeming – reading, talk, and book signing

I have a few more in the planning, so for the latest event dates, visit the Author Events page at http://www.marquettefiction.com/events.html

Thank you everyone for your enthusiasm. I look forward to seeing many of you at my book signings and hearing your own stories about Marquette.

The Historic Calumet Theatre

October 9, 2010

The historic Calumet Theatre

Yesterday, I made a trip to the Copper Country to deliver copies of my newest book My Marquette to various stores. I had never been to the Calumet Theatre but often heard of its historic signficance and beauty so I took the opportunity to take the self-guided tour. Here are a few of the photos from my visit. Sadly, they do not really come close to displaying the charm of this historic theatre. In fact, the theatre’s proscenium arch is too large to get a full shot of it, especially considering how the balconies are laid out so that you can’t fully view it from where otherwise you could get a full shot. The arch is 32′ wide, 26′ deep and 26′ high.

The historic Calumet Theatre was constructed beginning in 1898 and opened to the public in 1900. Opening night was considered one of the biggest social events in the Copper Country’s history. In the years that followed, many famous early twentieth century celebrities performed here, including Sarah Bernhardt, Lillian Russell, John Philip Sousa, and Chauncey Olcott (the latter may not be a household name today but

Tyler inside the theatre

he was a great Irish tenor who first made famous the song “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” Many of these celebrities also visited Marquette’s Opera House (see My Marquette for more about it) but while Marquette is the largest city in Upper Michigan today, Calumet was the largest a century ago so it could sustain an opera house and attract such big names.

The theatre has two balconies both of which are of significant sizes, as well as two boxes on the main floor close to the stage, each seating four people. Today the theatre holds 700 people, but on opening night it held 1200 (420 on the main floor, 400 in the  first balcony, and 380 in the second balcony).

The proscenium arch has beautiful murals which were original to the theatre, then removed, and finally restored in recent years.

Box seats

By the 1920s, films were becoming popular and the grand age of opera passing away. Movies began to be shown in the theatre, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs when it debuted in 1937, while plays were also still performed.

Yes, the Calumet Theatre is said to have its ghost. One of the early great actors to visit it was the Polish Madame Helena Modjeska. Rumor has it that in the 1950s another actress was performing but had forgot her line, and she looked up to the balcony and there the ghost of Madame Modjeska was mouthing her lines to her.

In 1971, the theatre was designated as a National Historic Building. With much support from the community, the theatre remains a significant jewel and part of Calumet’s history and social life. In more recent years the Osmonds, Kathy Mattea and the Glenn Miller Orchestra have performed here. Plays including a musical version of Gilligan’s Island have been performed, and later this month Arlo Guthrie will be performing. For more information about the Calumet Theatre and to see a show there, you can visit their website at www.CalumetTheatre.com.

Proscenium Arch

Finally, an excellent recent article about the Calumet Theatre appeared in the June 2010 Marquette Monthly. The theatre has been having problems with its roof, to such an extent that tours can no longer go into the Sarah Bernhardt dressing room. The cost to repair the roof is $200,000. A self-guided tour is only $4.00. Please make an effort if you live in the area to visit this fabulous part of U.P. History. Take a tour (guided or self-guided), or go to their monthly performances, including Dinner and a Movie. If I lived in Calumet, I’m sure I’d be attending performances there every month. The Calumet Theatre not only tells us about Calumet and theatrical history but what life was like at the turn of the century, and perhaps even a glimpse of what Marquette’s Opera House was like. In a future post, I’ll talk about the Marquette Opera House as well.

Taken from the worst seat in the house

If you do visit the Calumet Theatre, just make sure you don’t get a seat behind two poles. I hope you’ve enjoyed my photos and that you’ll visit the Calumet Theatre soon. There’s no place like it in Upper Michigan!

Murals on the Proscenium Arch

The Bavarian Inn – Best Pancakes in Marquette

October 6, 2010

The following is from My Marquette – a perfect time to post it when October is in its golden height, so I offer it as an Oktoberfest tribute to Mrs. Latour who was from Germany. Note that in My Marquette, there are also pictures of the Bavarian Inn.

My Marquette - On Sale Now

            Bonanza was John’s favorite place to eat supper, but the Bavarian Inn was the best place in Marquette for breakfast. Even if there were a wait to be seated, it was well worth it. John would have waited an hour for those pancakes, just a bit thicker than crepes and topped with whipping cream and a choice of apples, peaches, or blueberries. He and Chad never had anything else. Let the grownups settle for eggs and coffee. Pancakes with whipping cream and fruit and hot chocolate with more whipping cream was his idea of a German cultural experience.

            The Bavarian Inn itself was very German. Four dining rooms were darkly paneled as if the wood itself had come from the Black Forest, while red trim, Alpine decorations, and pictures of Bavarian villages decorated the rooms. The dining rooms were separated by walls containing shadow boxes made to resemble windows looking out upon German landscapes; the windows had ornate red shutters with hearts carved into them for an Alpine flavor. Arranged along the windowsills of the boxes were several little Hummel figures for added effect.

            Presiding over this Bavarian world transplanted to Marquette was Ernestine LaTour. She had immigrated to the United States from Germany, and now that her husband, who had helped found the restaurant and its motel, was deceased, she had rented out the restaurant for others to manage, but a day never passed that she was not there, making sure all was well. Her husband had hired Henry to do some carpentry work when the hotel was first built, and since then, the families had been friendly. Many times she had been included in family parties at the Whitmans’ house when John was younger, but now he was at an age when her friendliness embarrassed him.

            After saying hello to everyone, Mrs. LaTour asked, “John, do you remember that time you wanted to play hairdresser and I let you comb my hair?”

            John smiled and nodded his head politely. He had not played hairdresser since he was five, and he could not imagine what had possessed him then.

            The adults laughed, while Mrs. LaTour pulled up a chair, lit a cigarette, and visited with the family. Henry and Beth invited her for a Sunday drive that afternoon. Then she went to ensure her other guests were content while the waitress brought those delicious pancakes. — Superior Heritage

What I wouldn’t do to go back one more time to the Bavarian Inn to have the pancakes, rolled up almost like crepes, complete with loads of whipping cream and fruit topping!

But far more than the food made the Bavarian Inn special.

This German looking restaurant and motel was owned by Sherman and Ernestine LaTour. The Bavarian Inn was built in 1965, and while I don’t know all the details, my Great-Uncle Jolly was among those who helped to build it, and the LaTours were so happy with his work that on the front of the building when they painted the German boy and girl in traditional costume, Uncle Jolly (without a drop of German blood in him) was the model for the boy.

Then in 1976, the Bavarian Inn Restaurant was built in front of the motel. My grandfather was hired to do much of the restaurant’s fancy interior woodwork. The restaurant had shadow boxes in the walls separating the four different dining rooms, and these boxes contained pictures of Bavaria; to make the boxes look like windows with views of Germany, Grandpa made shutters with hearts carved into them. He would use the same heart pattern to make the shutters for my parents’ house. Grandpa also designed the wooden porch awning that ran inside the restaurant. The result was one of the most distinctive and beautiful restaurants in Marquette.

The Bavarian Inn Restaurant featured such German foods when it opened as weinerschnitzel, sauerbraten, and rostbraten. Eventually, however, the restaurant made a shift and became instead famous for its breakfasts and was renamed the Alpine Pancake House until 1986 when management changed and it became The Chalet Restaurant. In either case, throughout the 1980s it was always packed on Sundays for breakfast and remained open through the 1990s.

Because my grandparents became good friends with the LaTours, they always attended our family parties. Mr. LaTour was a short little man who was content to sit on a stool that was almost like a high chair at the kitchen table. He died in 1981 when I was only ten, so I barely remember him, but Mrs. LaTour I knew well. She had been born in Germany and retained her German accent. My grandparents would take her for Sunday drives after her husband died, and she was frequently at their house. One day when I wasn’t much more than five, she came over and let me play hairdresser with her hair. That was a mistake on my part. She never let me forget it. For years after that, she would always ask me whether I wanted to play hairdresser.

After my grandparents died, we did not see Mrs. LaTour very often. In the summer of 1998, when I came home from downstate to visit, I went with a friend to the Bavarian Inn for lunch. Mrs. LaTour was in a wheelchair by then and sitting on the other end of the restaurant. I was too embarrassed to go over and say hello to her from fear she would embarrass me in front of my friend by asking the usual hairdresser question.

Later, I felt guilty that I had not made a point of speaking to her. She died only about a month later. Her daughter who lived in Germany—we had no idea she had a daughter—came for the funeral, but since she lived in Germany, the Bavarian Inn was sold. It was soon after torn down. Today a Citgo gas station occupies where once it stood on the other side of Werner Street across from the Westwood Mall’s parking lot.

            But I can still taste those pancakes with whipped cream and peaches on them—they really were that good.

Read more about Marquette’s history in My Marquette, available from www.MarquetteFiction.com and in bookstores throughout Marquette County.