Willpower: An Original Play about Marquette’s Ossified Man

Yes, the rumors are true. I have written a play titled Willpower. The play is about Will Adams (1878-1909) who lived in Marquette and was ossified. What is ossified? Think petrified and paralyzed. When will you be able to see the play? It will be produced by the Marquette Regional History Center at Kaufman Auditorium on Thursday, September 18th and Friday, September 19th at 7:00 p.m. It will be directed by Moire Embley and will have a stellar cast.

The Adams home at 200 E. Ridge St. in Marquette where Will lived with his parents, Sidney and Harriet Adams, and his sister Bertha.

The Adams home at 200 E. Ridge St. in Marquette where Will lived with his parents, Sidney and Harriet Adams, and his sister Bertha.

But if you can’t wait that long, you are invited on Wednesday, February 26th to the Marquette Regional History Center’s Annual Meeting, where besides the annual business meeting, introduction of new board members, and presentation of the Peter White and Helen Longyear Paul Awards, I will give a short talk about my process of writing this play and then Jessica Bays will offer a dramatic reading of a scene from the play. The meeting is at 7:00 p.m. at the History Center and free to members and the general public.

Below is some more information about the play from the MRHC’s events listing:

There are some stories that deserve to be told.  As a young boy Will Adams’ soft tissues were becoming harder, turning him into a living statue.  Others faced with such a dark future might have felt sorry for themselves, turning inward.  Not so for Will, his disease brought about an amazing creative burst of energy.  His story is as inspiring today as it was 100 years ago.  With a stellar cast and direction, this will be a “do not miss” production! Tickets in advance are $15; $20 at the door.

Will Adams with his parents, sister Bertha, and close friend Norma Ross (seated), with whom he wrote an operetta.

Will Adams with his parents, sister Bertha, and close friend Norma Ross (seated), with whom he wrote an operetta. (Photo courtesy of the John M. Longyear Research Library)

And here is some more about Will Adams, taken from my book My Marquette:

Will Adams, the adopted son of Sidney and Harriet Adams, was born in 1878 to Detroit parents who died while he was an infant. In his youth, Will was a soloist in the boys choir at school and church and enjoyed athletic pursuits, but a baseball injury resulted in soft tissue becoming hard until eventually he ossified into a living statue. By his mid-teens he was confined to a portable couch and only his face remained mobile. By sheer willpower, Will survived to the age of thirty-one. No longer able to perform athletics, he became one of Marquette’s first literary figures, starting his own magazine business. His family hired him an attendant to whom he could dictate his magazine. He named his magazine CHIPS. Besides his own text, he included political cartoons and even caricatures of such town leaders as Peter White, Nathan Kaufman, and John M. Longyear. The paper was largely supported by advertising, so a phone was installed in the Adams home, and his attendant would hold the phone to Will’s mouth so he could talk up his bi-monthly magazine to prospective advertisers.

Will also composed an opera with his childhood friend, Norma Ross, then the directress of the Marquette schools’ music program. Will hummed melodies and Ross wrote them down. Their end result was the production of Miss D. Q. Pons an opera which premiered at the Marquette Opera House on July 3, 1905 with Ross in the title role. Will viewed the opera from the wing in his portable bed, and when its success led to the troupe traveling for sellout performances in Ishpeming, Hancock, Calumet, and Sault Ste. Marie, Will traveled with them by train. In 1906, Will also founded another newspaper, the Marquette Chronicle to which he contributed an original article each day. He died on August 10, 1909, preceded by his adopted father, Sidney Adams in 1906. Will once joked about his literary efforts, “Every specimen of writ is a silent story of how the author was saved from cerrebrius combustion.”

I hope you will join me in celebrating one of Marquette’s most fascinating historical figures, both at the MRHC’s annual meeting and when the play is performed in September. As Will himself wrote in one of the ads for his own operetta, Miss D.Q. Pons: “you will finally have the chance to enjoy yourself for once in your life.” See you there!

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4 Comments on “Willpower: An Original Play about Marquette’s Ossified Man”

  1. Blaine Betts Says:

    Congratulations, Dr. Tichelaar! This is fabulous news. Will Adams’ story has intrigued me from the start and, because he was a musician/dramatist, a play is the perfect vehicle to tell his story. His determination, talent, and optimism are virtues to be admired in any age; I think that you may have a hit on your hands after contemporary audiences discover the power Will’s spirit on stage. I’m sorry to miss the annual meeting and sneak preview but you can be assured that I’ll support this project in any way that I can.


  2. Thanks so much, Blaine. You can make up for missing the meeting by sending some of that warm Florida weather to Marquette! Seriously, I appreciate your support. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and Gretchen!

  3. Kristy Basolo Says:

    Awesome! I’d love to help somehow … maybe I can take a group of my seniors on a day trip to see it? So exciting!


    • Hi Kristy,

      Thanks for the comment. I’m not sure how that would work out since it’s only being performed two evenings but maybe something could be arranged to come to a rehearsal or something? Check back with me or the museum maybe in July or when we get closer.


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