Marquette’s Hotel Superior
The following is an excerpt from My Marquette. The actual book includes a photo of the hotel. And if you haven’t done so already, check out the My Marquette video at YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EItghh5yKzU
“There’s the Hotel Superior!” shouted Clarence.
“That’s a hotel?” asked Gerald as Will turned the wagon up its driveway.
“Yes,” said Will. “It was built to be a fashionable health resort. Marquette is considered to have the healthiest climate in the world because of its fresh air and clean water, so people come from all over the country to spend summers here.”
“I can see why,” said Gerald, straining his head to see the top of the Hotel Superior. “It looks like you could fit the entire population of Marquette into this hotel—probably all the livestock from the surrounding farms as well.”
“Only the richest people can stay or eat here,” said Clarence.
“Well,” said Gerald, raising his eyebrows, “I hope they’ll let us in then.”
— Iron Pioneers
Today, all that remains of the Hotel Superior are a few foundation pieces at the terminal points of Blemhuber and Jackson Streets. There is little point in going to the site and trying to locate these—they are not easy to find. Better to look at a photograph of the grandest hotel Marquette has ever known.
The Hotel Superior was built with the belief that Marquette could be celebrated as a health spa environment full of fresh air, clean water, and refreshing lake breezes that would invigorate people. It was the northern answer to the doctor’s urging a sick person to spend the summer at the seashore. A visit to Marquette was touted as able to relieve hay fever sufferers, and also as the perfect place to summer if you were wealthy and traveling on the Great Lakes. The intention was for the Hotel Superior to outrival all other hotels on the lakes, including the recently built Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.
The Hotel Superior’s enormous tower rose up two hundred feet, while its pointed arches resembled a Bavarian castle. Inside, visitors were treated to the latest innovations in plumbing and electric lighting. Even Turkish baths were available. The spacious porch was sixteen feet wide, and the porch and rooms provided a view of scenic Lake Superior as well as South Marquette. Lush gardens filled the grounds. Nothing like the Hotel Superior had ever been seen, or ever again would be seen, in Marquette.
But right from its opening in 1891, the Hotel Superior would have its troubles. When I wrote the original draft of Iron Pioneers, I set in 1894 the scene where Gerald Henning takes his grandsons to lunch at the Hotel Superior and they are pleasantly surprised to be joined by Peter White. Later, in double checking my facts, I discovered that as early as the summer of 1894, the hotel had closed because of financial troubles. Fortunately, it reopened in 1895, so I moved the scene to that year.
Considering how few years the Hotel Superior actually operated, I set as many scenes as possible there—two. The second scene is in 1897, when a ball was held in the hotel following the unveiling of the Father Marquette Statue—at this grand ball, thirteen year old Margaret Dalrymple is annoyed that handsome seventeen year old Will Whitman is dancing with a “hussy” (Lorna Sheldon, who would eventually be the mother of Eliza Graham in The Only Thing That Lasts). By the time of The Queen City’s opening in 1902, the Hotel Superior was already closed. Neither the hay fever sufferers, nor the rich and famous came frequently enough to keep the magnificent summer resort in business.
From 1902 onward, the Hotel Superior stood vacant. As long as it remained standing, Marquette residents dreamt of it someday reopening, of its two hundred rooms filled, of people once more strolling along its five hundred foot veranda. But as the years passed, twenty-seven acres of gardens became grown over and the orchestra music could no longer be heard.
The Hotel Superior became the stuff of mystery in its last years. Boys would reputedly break in to roller skate in the hallways and have pillow fights which resulted in feathers flying out of the high windows and covering south Marquette. Then after it was torn down in 1929, a task Will and Henry Whitman assist with in The Queen City, it became the stuff of legend. Local English professor and author, James Cloyd Bowman, whose book Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time was a Newberry Honor book in 1938, used the Hotel Superior as the subject of his 1940 children’s novel, Mystery Mountain.
The glory of the Hotel Superior lingered long in the memories of Marquette’s residents. My great-aunts and uncles who remembered it from their youth frequently mentioned it to me, although it would have already been long closed by the time they were all born.
Anyone who sees a picture of the Hotel Superior today marvels that it ever stood in Marquette. We can only now imagine what it was like to stroll its veranda or to sit in its dining room and have lunch with Peter White.
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