Father Marquette Statue

The history of Marquette’s own Father Marquette statue, as reprinted from My Marquette.

Tyler in front of the Father Marquette Statue in April 2010

            In another second, the figure of Father Marquette was clearly revealed to all the residents of his namesake city. The crowd applauded and the people murmured with delight that the statue faced the town. The figure of the Jesuit priest stood atop a pedestal of sandstone, and on its base was a relief of Father Marquette preaching to the Indians at Lighthouse Point. But most striking was the statue itself. Father Marquette stood looking about him with wonder, as though admiring the beauty of the land he had visited; his brow spoke of determination to carry out his Christian mission to the Indians. His bearded face and large forehead suggested wisdom beyond his years. History had lost all record of the Jesuit missionary’s appearance, only knowing he had died at the young age of thirty-eight, but here he was portrayed as a figure of indestructible and eternal force. His left hand clutched his robe, as if he had just stepped out of a canoe and was steeling himself against a harsh northern wind; in one hand he held a piece of paper, perhaps Marquette’s city charter.

            Margaret looked at the statue and saw a romantic hero, but the older residents of Marquette, saw a pioneer like themselves; someone with a harsh, grim look who had known years of hardship; Father Marquette was one of them, the very first to experience the rigors of this land. Molly Montoni looked at the statue and remembered her first husband who like Father Marquette had also died young, but who would be proud of the community’s survival. Charles Kawbawgam saw in the statue a symbol of how much his world had changed, and that change had begun with the coming of this black robe. Jacob Whitman looked at the statue and saw the immigrant spirit of all those pioneers, his parents and grandparents, his in-laws, cousins, aunt and uncle, his precious Agnes, and even himself, when he had come as a boy to a village of a few wooden buildings on the shores of Lake Superior. That moment of the statue’s unveiling seemed a little eternity as everyone contemplated the changes of Marquette’s half century. — Iron Pioneers

            Father Marquette first arrived on the shores of Marquette in 1671, where in 1849 a city would be founded in his honor. By the 1890s, Marquette was a prosperous town with several prominent city buildings and a significant role in the nation’s industry. Out of civic pride, the time had come to erect a statue to its namesake. Marquette’s citizens were aware that Wisconsin had just commissioned a statue of Father Marquette for Statuary Hall in Washington D.C., so they wanted a similar statue for themselves. Peter White was opposed at first to the statue because of the financial panic of 1893 and initially did not donate money to the cause, but later, he did support the cause, and when the statue was unveiled, rumors would surface that the statue looked like Peter White.

At the time, no one knew what Father Marquette looked like. Not until the 1960s did a portrait surface, which the Marquette County History Museum received from a museum in Paris. The portrait was supposedly drawn just before Father Marquette left France in 1666. He would have been in his late twenties at the time, although the portrait makes him look like a balding middle-aged man.

The statue was placed near the new waterworks building across from the foot of Ridge Street. It was a beautiful part of town at the time, with the Longyear Mansion overlooking it and the lakeshore nearby. Controversy ensued as to whether Father Marquette should face the lake or the city, so not until the unveiling in 1897 was it revealed he would face the town.

The day of the unveiling, as described in Iron Pioneers, was a day of great civic pride in Marquette. Peter White was so proud of the statue he raised money to have a similar one placed in Marquette Park on Mackinac Island. (A photo of the unveiling is included in the print copy of My Marquette.)

My Marquette by Tyler R. Tichelaar

In 1912, the statue was moved to its current location in Lakeside Park near the current Chamber of Commerce building. The move occurred after railroad tracks laid near the Waterworks building ended plans for a park along the lakeshore. The giant cast iron flowerpot by the new City Waterworks building is the only sign remaining of the statue’s original foundation.

In her 1906 children’s novel The Girls of Gardenville, local author Carroll Watson Rankin depicts a young lady first learning how to drive an automobile. Losing control of her vehicle as she comes down a large hill, she smashes into a statue. Rankin must have imagined a car bolting down Ridge Street’s hill into the Father Marquette statue. History has not preserved any actual automobile assaults to the statue but that same year, discussion about moving the statue began. Hopefully, Father Marquette feels safe today on a small hill, far from the reach of any out-of-control vehicles.

Explore posts in the same categories: Marquette History, Tyler's Novels, Upper Michigan History

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