Archive for October 2011

Happy Halloween – Why I Love the Gothic

October 25, 2011

Since Halloween is almost upon us, I thought I’d branch off to something a little different and post a bit of the Introduction to my upcoming book The Gothic Wanderer, which will be a study of nineteenth century British Gothic horror fiction, and should be published sometime in 2012. But in keeping with my autobiographical postings here, this passage talks about my fascination with scary stuff from an early age before I go into the details of Gothic literature. I’m sure many of you, especially those around my age, have similar stories. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Introduction

Our Long Love Affair with the Gothic

While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped
Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,
And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing
Hopes of high talk with the departed dead.
I called on poisonous names with which our youth is fed;
I was not heard—I saw them not—
When musing deeply on the lot
Of life, at that sweet time when winds are wooing
All vital things that wake to bring
News of birds and blossoming,—
Sudden, thy shadow fell on me;
I shrieked, and clasped my hands in ecstasy!

— Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty”

I love the Gothic. Most of us do, even if we don’t know exactly what the term “Gothic” means. It may mean different things to all of us, yet those things are closely related. Some of us might think of the Goth look where teenagers wear all black. Others might think of Gothic cathedrals. And a smaller percentage of us might think about classic Gothic literature—the great eighteenth and nineteenth century novels of Mrs. Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and several others.

Many of us have a fascination with being scared. I love to be scared—I don’t go for the gory horror films of today, but I love suspense and the greatest Gothic literature builds up such suspense. But more importantly, Gothic literature reveals much about who we are, what we fear, and to what we aspire.

I was fascinated with the Gothic—commonly called horror, or simply, when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, what was “scary.” I didn’t know the term Gothic and wouldn’t know it until well into high school, but I knew the Munsters, the Addams Family, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Broom-Hilda the Witch, and countless other characters in popular culture from that time who were often watered down children’s versions of the Gothic.

I remember the “Creature Feature” film being shown Saturday afternoons on TV50 from Detroit, and I loved Love at First Bite (1979) starring George Harrison as Dracula—when it was broadcast on TV for the first time, my brother and I had a big fight over the TV (we only had one in the house in those days) because it shown opposite Yogi’s First Christmas.

Weebles Haunted House

The Weebles Haunted House - unfortunately, I got rid of mine so I had to resort to an image I found online - I wish I still had it - Hours of Scary Fun!

I was the proud owner of the Weebles Haunted House complete with weebles that “wobble but they don’t fall down”—including the witch with a removable pointy hat, a glow-in-the dark ghost, two weeble children to be scared, secret panels, trapped doors, and a treasure chest with bats inside. All of it scary but wonderful!

In fourth grade, I was Dracula for Halloween—I remember still the thrill of running so my cape would flap in the wind, and I can still taste the plastic vampire teeth. Nor did I ever miss going through a Haunted House at the fair, and my friends and I commonly played haunted house, turning our bedrooms or the family room into a mansion of monsters and ghosts. Again, I was always Dracula.

A Story of Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein

A Story of Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein - one of my favorite childhood records

And perhaps best of all, I owned the wonderfully dramatic record The Story of Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein from Power Records. This fabulous 33 1/3 record came with a read along book in graphic novel form (we called them comic books back then) and it combined into one dramatic tale the stories of its title characters. I played this record over and over again and still have my copy today. I constantly quoted it to others, including the pivotal scene when the werewolf (oddly not the Wolfman but Vincent von Frankenstein’s girlfriend Erika—Wolfwoman, I guess) attacks the count, causing him to become enraged and reveal himself by declaring, “You dare!! You dare lay your paws on me! On me?! Low beast, you’ll die for this, die at the hands of the Prince of Darkness…FOR I AM DRACULA!” Recently, when I was working on this introduction, I dug out the record to engage in nostalgia and left I on my coffee table. My brother came over to visit and saw the record there and rolled his eyes. When I asked whether he wanted to listen to it, he said, “No, I never want to have to listen to that record again.” Apparently, I played it one—or maybe fifty—too many times.

But all these details could be dismissed as children’s games and just good fun (despite the fanatics who would ban The Wizard of Oz, or more recently, the Harry Potter books and films because they contain depictions of witchcraft). Only, I think on some innocent level I could not have articulated when I was ten years old, I was even then searching for meaning—to understand the mystery of life, even if it were only the simplified notion of good and evil. I was a very religious child who had read the entire Bible by fifth grade, loved to play at being various characters from the Bible—mostly Moses or Jacob—and wanted to grow up to be a priest. So if I were such a “religious nut”—as one friend called me—how am I to explain my fascination with horror and the supernatural?

And how explain my curiosity over an activity that countless children have attempted over the years? Yes, I am one of those many children who locked himself in the bathroom in the dark, stared into the bathroom mirror, and then tried to find out whether it was true that if I could say, “Bloody Murder!” one hundred times without blinking, the devil would appear in the mirror. But I was never able not to blink before I could say it one hundred times, or I would inevitably lose count.

Still, the quest for forbidden knowledge was strong in me at an early age. The fascination with Good and Evil thrilled me like it does many children, but I wanted proof that the supernatural forces of Good and Evil truly existed. Years later, when I discovered Percy Shelley’s lines quoted above, I was stunned by how perfectly he captured what I felt, his experiences matching mine of nearly two centuries later. And like Shelley, I eventually grew to love Intellectual Beauty….

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Early Marquette Boarding Houses

October 18, 2011

Among Marquette’s earliest establishments were its boarding houses which catered to the growing population, including single men, lumberjacks, sailors, and families. My ancestor Rosalia Bishop White and her sister Lucia Bishop Bignall would both operate boarding houses in Marquette’s early years. While I do not know the name of Rosalia’s boarding house, if it had one, Lucia and her husband Joseph established the Filmore House. Joseph Bignall purchased the property for $100, a great price at the time considering the lot encompassed a quarter block between Third and Front Street. Later city maps however show that it was not that large and several other buildings were located in that portion of the block. The Filmore House was located at 156 W. Baraga Avenue, directly on the corner across from the courthouse and where today the new historical museum is located. Perhaps the boarding house was named for then U.S President Millard Fillmore. Although this cannot be confirmed and the name was spelled differently, the Bishops did have a connection to President Fillmore. Back east, Lucia’s first cousin, the early American artist Annette Bishop, lived for a time with President Fillmore’s family and painted a portrait of the president’s wife, Abigail.

Basil and Eliza Bishop

Basil and Eliza Bishop, parents to two daughters who kept early Marquette Boarding Houses

While the Bignalls lived in Marquette, their daughters attended the first Marquette school with Amos Harlow’s children. Their son, Elbert Joseph Bignall, was the first white child born in the village of Marquette in 1851.

In 1865, Joseph Bignall deeded the boarding house to Tim Hurley, and the family moved to Minnesota. They would later move to Colorado, although Joseph and Lucia’s son, Elbert Joseph, would return to live in Marquette in 1877 and marry Rosalia Corlista King, the daughter of his cousin Eugenia Sylvia White. (Marriages between cousins were not uncommon in the nineteenth century, so it was not out of line in Iron Pioneers when I had cousins Edna Whitman and Esau Brookfield marry). Many of the Bignall descendants still reside in the Marquette area today.

The Filmore House would change hands over the years before finally being torn down in 1952. The site remained empty then until 1963 when the A&P supermarket was built on the property. Later the Marq-Tran bus depot was in that place before the historical museum came to occupy the property.

Basil Bishop attributed the success of both Rosalia and Lucia’s boarding houses to his daughters rather than to their husbands. In an 1858 letter, he writes:

“Bignal has a larg hous well furnished he keeps a boarding hous & is doing well he is worth over $2000 but as one man said who knew it all answer his wife Cyrus White came heare poor  I sent him $100 cash to get him heare he has paid me that & now is worth over one thousand clear & has good furniture rooms carpeted and papered & one sette that cost $20 below & he bought & paid for 5 acres of land adjoining me The question is who erned all this is answered the same as Bignall Rosalia erns a washing $12 pr weak for months together Lutia done that and more for years.”

In Iron Pioneers, I merged Rosalia and Lucia to create Cordelia Whitman (Basil Bishop actually had a daughter named Cordelia who remained in New York). Cordelia’s sister, Sophia, is completely fictional without basis in any Bishop relatives. To make matters more interesting, I had Cordelia’s boarding house destroyed in the 1868 fire where it lies in approximately the same area as the Filmore House. Following the fire, Cordelia is stoic about the loss of her home:

            “Oh Jacob,” said Edna, burying her face in his sleeve, so glad he was safe, “the library is completely gone. Fifteen hundred volumes, and the boarding house—”

            Mention of the boarding house made Jacob think of his mother. He found her in the west parlor. Cordelia’s entire domestic world was upset by the loss of her boarding house, but she smiled when she saw her son. “I’m fine now that you’re safe,” she said, thankful to hug him. “I won’t have to cook and clean for a while. I needed a little break anyway.”

            Jacob smiled at her courage.

Cordelia rebuilds her boarding house north of Washington Street—I imagine on Bluff Street most likely. It is here that her son, Jacob, tries to get her to take in an unlikely boarder, who turns out to be her long lost brother, Darius Brookfield. Darius, who dresses like some mountain man or character from the Wild West, was also inspired by a family story. Basil and Eliza Bishop had a son, Darwin, who went out West as an Indian scout and was never heard from again. I was always curious about what happened to him, and while the family must have mourned him as dead, I thought I would remedy their grief a bit by having Darius track his family down in Marquette. It is Darius’ son, Esau, who marries his cousin, Edna Whitman.

I don’t know how long Rosalia White operated her boarding house. After her husband died in 1896, she decided to move to Tacoma, Washington to live near her daughter. (Her fictional counterpart, Cordelia, later moves West to live near Edna, Esau, and Darius). Rosalia Bishop White would not die until 1918 at age 96. During her lifetime, she saw the entire westward expansion and she herself moved from the East to the West Coast, stopping in Marquette for nearly half a century to run a boarding house.

My New York Vacation

October 12, 2011

Recently, I went to visit friends in Rochester, New York and played the tourist. While New York may have little to do with my usual posts on Marquette and Upper Michigan books, places, and people, there are a few connections.

The French Castle - Fort Niagara

The Haunted French Castle, part of Fort Niagara

My ancestors, the Bishops and Whites, came to Marquette around 1850 from Upstate New York, specifically Essex County, a bit east of where I was, but I enjoyed looking at the countryside and various trees, which would have been familiar to my ancestors. I visited the Erie Canal, which they doubtless would have known well, and for all I know, they may have traveled along it or Lake Ontario to reach Marquette. My ancestor, Basil Bishop, fought in the War of 1812 at the Battle of Plattsburg. I had my own War of 1812 experience visiting Fort Niagara, reputedly haunted by a headless man whose body was tossed down its well. I also visited the George Eastman home. Eastman, who invented the Kodak camera, first became interested in photography after he bought a bunch of equipment for a trip to the Dominican Republic that fell through, so he instead traveled to Mackinac Island to take nature photography.

cannons fort niagara

Cannons at Fort Niagara

Other places I visited included the Susan B. Anthony home. Anthony is best known for her role in supporting the right for women to receive the vote, but she was also involved in the temperance movement–the two movements were closely connected. My own Bishop ancestors who were among the founders of Marquette’s First Methodist Church also founded Marquette’s first temperance society.

And I visited Niagara Falls–beautiful and breathtaking, even if a bit commercialized with skyscrapers rising above it.

In short, I had a wonderful time. Here are a few photos of my vacation.

Tyler at the Erie Canal

Along the Erie Canal

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

George Eastman Home

The George Eastman Home

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Bonanza – a Marquette Classic

October 2, 2011
Bonanza Restaurant - Marquette

Bonanza Restaurant - Marquette

Yesterday I attended the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association (UPPAA – www.uppaa.org) fall meeting. We had to reschedule our location at the last minute and Bonanza Restaurant was kind enough to accomodate us, just further confirmation of the fine business Bonanza has been doing in Marquette for decades, so as a small sign of gratitude, I am posting here the section from My Marquette about Bonanza, one of my family’s long-time favorite Marquette eateries:

Grandpa and Grandma were regulars at Bonanza, which ensured that Chad and John got extra suckers with their little wrangler meals. They all overstuffed their stomachs with steak, chili con carne, salad, french fries, and ice cream.

— Superior Heritage

When Bonanza opened in 1977, it was one of those new restaurants, springing up along U.S. 41 leading out of town and actually in Marquette Township, but today, it is a mainstay as one of Marquette’s longest operating restaurants.

Soon after it opened, my mom and grandma went there for lunch. At that time, Grandma thought Grandpa wouldn’t like it because it wasn’t a “sit down and be waited on” kind of restaurant. Boy, was she wrong!

Grandpa loved Bonanza. Soon my grandparents were going there for supper at least twice a week. They became good friends with Mitch Lazaren, the owner, and all the Bonanza staff. My grandpa made some frames for different maps and posters for the restaurant, and for Christmas one year, my grandparents were given Bonanza jackets with their names embroidered on them.

For years, my grandparents, parents, brother and I could regularly be found at Bonanza on Saturday nights. It was my favorite restaurant as much as Grandpa’s. The Chili Con Carne alone was enough to keep me going back.

How special was Bonanza to my grandparents? So special that during winter blizzards, my mom had to argue on the phone with Grandpa to get him to stay home rather than go there for supper. So special that in 1983, my grandparents celebrated their forty-ninth wedding anniversary there.

Other steakhouses have come and gone in Marquette, but Bonanza has outlived all its competition. The service remains impeccable, the food fantastic, and the atmosphere friendly, if a bit overwhelmed by hungry people crowding around the salad bar—but that’s the sign of a truly good restaurant.