Posted tagged ‘iron pioneers’

Recordings from My Books and Play

March 11, 2014

In case you missed my talk at the Marquette Regional History Center a couple of weeks ago, you can now listen to it as well as Jessica Bays doing a dramatic reading of a scene from my upcoming play Willpower about Will Adams, Marquette’s ossified man. Jessica will be playing the role of the older Norma Ross in the play, which will be performed in Marquette at Kaufman Auditorium on September 18th and 19th.

Here is the page at my website about the play. Go to where it says “Listen” and you can find the recording of my talk.

I have also recently made recordings of passages from three of my other books. You can find these on the following pages. Again, just look for where it says “Listen”:

Iron Pioneers – The Prologue:

King Arthur’s Children – The Introduction –

The Gothic Wanderer – The Introduction –

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

Will Adams, Marquette’s Ossified Man, and the subject of Tyler Tichelaar’s upcoming play “Willpower.”


My Buschell and Molby Ancestors

January 8, 2014

Recently, the Marquette Regional History Center published the latest issue of Harlow’s Wooden Man which included a wonderful article about some of the early German families who came to Marquette. This encouraged me to post something about my own Marquette German ancestors, the Buschells. The following is taken from my book My Marquette about a bit of my family history:

My grandmother Grace Elizabeth Molby White’s family settled in South Marquette, and they were among Marquette’s earliest residents. My great-great grandparents John and Elizabeth Buschell were married in Marquette in 1858. Neither John nor Elizabeth are listed on the first Marquette census of 1850 and no relatives appear to have been in Marquette with them.

John was born in 1820 in Saxony, then one of the many little kingdoms and principalities that made up greater Germany, while Elizabeth was born in Massachusetts of Irish parents. No information has been found about their parents or families. John and Elizabeth were to become my inspiration for Fritz and Molly Bergmann in Iron Pioneers. Since John was clearly German, I decided to make Fritz part of the group of German immigrants who arrived in Marquette that first year of 1849 and be among those who came down with typhoid and for whom, Peter White, perhaps Marquette’s most famous pioneer, cared, bathing them in the makeshift hospital. These Germans later started to walk to Milwaukee in December to prevent the rest of the village from having to starve until word was sent after them that the supply ship had finally arrived.

In the novel, Fritz is frequently ill, never having quite recovered from the typhoid. Since I know so little about John Buschell, I used my imagination to fill in the holes. I can find no death record for John. I only know he and Elizabeth had their last child, Thomas Buschell, in 1876 and then on the 1880 census, Elizabeth is remarried to a Jeremiah O’Leary. Perhaps John’s death was not reported and I can find no listing for him in a cemetery. In any case, I assume since Elizabeth remarried and since divorce was not common in those days, especially among Catholics, that John died, and since Fritz therefore would also die young, the typhoid and a lingering weakness as a result was a good way to explain his untimely death.

When I first became interested in genealogy and tried to find information about my Grandma Grace Molby White’s family, I heard stories that we were supposedly related to Mrs. O’Leary, whose cow started the great Chicago Fire. I assume this story comes from Elizabeth’s second husband being an O’Leary. I have not been able to locate much information about Jeremiah O’Leary other than that he was Irish and came to Marquette through Canada—his naturalization and immigration records exist in the Marquette County records. I have not been able to locate any relatives for him, but in Elizabeth’s obituary, it does state that she lived in Chicago for some time, so it is possible that Jeremiah had relatives in Chicago whom they went to visit, but for now a blood connection has not been confirmed between Jeremiah or the Mrs.O’Leary who had the infamous cow.

In Iron Pioneers, I also had Molly remarry, but I deviated from the family history, feeling I had already attested to the presence of Irish immigrants in Marquette, so I married her instead to an Italian, the brutish saloonkeeper, Joseph Montoni. I felt I wanted the novels to represent the wide number of immigrants who came to Upper Michigan, and the Italian population was significant, although that Montoni beats his wife and dies in a saloon brawl would not make his nation proud.

I also wanted motivation for Molly’s character to transform over the course of the novel from an outspoken, sharp-tongued young woman to a rather saintly one by the end, and an abusive husband served this purpose because her marriage thereby taught her about survival, love, forgiveness, and how to strengthen her faith in God. I was inspired to depict Molly as becoming kind and faith-filled by Elizabeth Buschell O’Leary’s obituary in The Mining Journal in 1897 which said, “Among her neighbors and friends Mrs. O’Leary will long be remembered for her many acts of kindness.”

John and Elizabeth Buschell had several children, two of whom particularly have lived on in family stories, notably their son Frank and their daughter Lily, the inspiration for Karl and Kathy Bergmann in Iron Pioneers. Frank Buschell, like Karl, was a logger and he did end up in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Rather than marrying a Finnish wife who died in childbirth, the real Frank Buschell’s wife, Mary, gave birth to several children, most notably for my fiction, Valma Buschell, the inspiration for Thelma Bergmann. Valma was my grandmother’s cousin and like Thelma, she came to live in Marquette. She was a wonderful pianist but she also suffered from epilepsy, which I changed in the novel to multiple sclerosis. I am sure she was much brighter than I depict Thelma as being, but one other aspect of her story is true. As far as I knew, she never married, but one day while looking through the Marquette County marriage records, I stumbled upon a listing for her in the marriage index. Surprised, I went to find the actual marriage record, only to find there was none. The clerk at the courthouse explained to me that the license must have been applied for, but that the couple had never married and therefore, had not returned the document. What happened to Valma’s prospective marriage, I don’t know, but she never did marry. In writing fiction, however, I could always make up stories to fill in the blanks as I did here, having Thelma Bergmann elope with Vincent Smiley to Mackinac Island, only to find out he was a bigamist and her marriage not legal.

Valma never adopted children, but I decided in The Queen City that Thelma would adopt Jessie Hopewell. I was inspired by this plot twist after visiting the historical Honolulu House in Marshall, Michigan. In the house was a photo of a girl who had been adopted by the female owner of the house—only the owners had been white, and the girl was black. Interracial adoptions in the early nineteenth century must not have been common, so again, I thought it would make a great story. Only, Marshall, Michigan was more likely to have black residents—it being near the route of the Underground Railroad that aided escaped slaves. Upper Michigan has very few black residents, and I had given little treatment to the large Finnish population in Upper Michigan, so I decided to make the adopted child Finnish and her adoption explainable since Thelma was herself half-Finnish although her mother had died before she really knew her. It also allowed me, in the person of Jesse’s father, to tell the fascinating true story of how many American Finns had left during the Great Depression to go to Karelia, in Russia.

One last interesting piece about the Buschell Family is that Buschell Lake, just south of Marquette, is named for them. No one seems to know exactly how the lake came to be named for the family—I would assume it was named for John or for Frank and that one of them owned property on it although I have been unable to find property record to confirm this.

As for Frank’s sister, Lily Buschell, she married John Molby, who came to Marquette in 1882. John and Lily would be my grandmother’s parents. Like her counterpart, Kathy, in the novel, Lily would end up going near deaf from the measles. I don’t know when this happened, but I decided to place it during World War I for dramatic purposes. Also, as in the novel, my great-grandparents’ sons went off to fight in World War I. My grandmother, Grace Molby White, said she remembered as a child going down to the train station to see her brothers leave for the war. Both Daniel and William would fight in the war, William going to Camp Custer in September 1917 for training and Daniel to Camp Gordon, Georgia in June 1918. After my grandmother died, we found among her belongings a handkerchief that had “Paris 1918” stitched on it which she had preserved—doubtless the gift of one of her brothers. She would have only been thirteen the year the war ended, although I chose to make her counterpart, Beth McCarey, five years younger so she would be all the more confused in trying to make sense out of the war.

My grandmother said very little about her family whenever anyone asked her questions. She told me her father was from New York, but other records say he was from Canada, and one family story said the Molby family left Ireland because they were rebels. I have found no direct connection to Ireland, but because Great-Grandpa Molby’s past was such a mystery—after nearly twenty years of searching, I still haven’t found out where he was born or who his parents were—I decided to make up information and depict Patrick McCarey as a rebel who did have to flee Ireland. This decision also allowed for the dramatic scenes in The Queen City when he is old and senile, and while hallucinating, he runs from the house, believing British soldiers are after him. John Molby was himself a bit senile and ended up running down the street in his nightclothes at the end of his life, and my grandparents would have to chase after him to bring him home when he was living with them, although what he was thinking during this time remains a mystery. I also made Patrick an atheist in the novel because John Molby apparently did not go to church or at least was not Catholic, while his wife attended St. Peter’s Cathedral and made sure all the children were baptized there. John Molby’s funeral was held at the First Presbyterian Church, although he was not a member there, and he was buried in the Protestant Park Cemetery while his wife and several children are buried in the Catholic Holy Cross Cemetery.

According to my other family members, the older Molby generations never talked about the family. Part of the reason I’m sure is because of the tragedies they experienced. My grandmother was one of ten children, yet none of her eight brothers lived beyond their early fifties. My mother never knew any of her Molby uncles as a result and my grandmother almost never talked about them. Only after we found her brother’s obituaries among my grandmother’s belongings after she died did we know my grandmother’s brother Charles was accidentally electrocuted at his job in his early twenties, leaving behind a wife and daughter with whom the rest of the family lost contact. Other brothers died of heart attacks, or what today sounds like an aneurism, and one brother died of alcoholism. I imagine all these early deaths were painful for my grandmother, who by age thirty-six, only had her sister Mary still alive, and Mary would die in 1958 at only sixty-two of cancer. My grandmother was convinced she would die young like the rest of her family, but surprisingly, she lived until 1992, passing away at the ripe old age of eighty-seven.

In writing The Marquette Trilogy, I found it necessary to reduce Beth McCarey’s siblings down to three brothers—eight brothers and a sister would have been too many for a reader. I had one brother die in World War I, one die in the Barnes-Hecker mining disaster for its historical significance, and the third brother, Michael, become a priest. None of my grandmother’s brothers became priests, but I had my reasons for Michael to become a priest in the novels as I’ll explain later when I discuss St. Michael’s Parish.


My Great-Grandparents Molby’s home on Division St. still stands today.

My Great-Grandpa and Grandma Molby lived at 609 Division Street in Marquette—their house is still standing today although it was sold out of the family in the 1930s when John, then a widower, went to live with his adult children. In the novels, I had the Bergmann and McCarey families live within only a block or so of St. Peter’s Cathedral because of the importance of Catholicism in their lives, and especially, partially to explain how the nearby cathedral’s influence would have inspired Michael’s desire to become a priest—along with the influence of his saintly grandmother, Molly, whose obituary as given in The Queen City closely resembles that of her real-life basis, Elizabeth Buschell O’Leary.

Today, the Molby name still exists in Marquette in the descendants of my grandmother’s brothers. The Buschell name is not found in Marquette, but Frank Buschell’s descendants populate the Keweenaw Peninsula, carrying on his name.

Note, I am always happy to hear from long lost relatives. I would love photos of any of the Molbys or Buschells or any other information people might be able to provide about the families.

My Latest Book Events and Buzz for “Spirit of the North”

July 14, 2012

Spirit of the North: a paranormal romance

My new novel Spirit of the North: a paranormal romance is receiving great reviews and publicity. Readers are telling me it is their favorite of all my books, and they love that many of the characters from my first book Iron Pioneers reappear in it. Here are some of the reviews and interviews I’ve done recently:

If you don’t have a copy of Spirit of the North yet, you can get one at my website Marquette Fiction (links are provided there to e-book versions), or you can find me this summer at:

Waterpalooza, a Lake Superior Day Celebration, Mattson Lower Harbor Park on Sun. July 15th from 11-8. I’ll be joined by U.P. authors Donna Winters of the Great Lakes Romances series and Gretchen Preston, author of the children’s Valley Cats series. (Both of them have been interviewed here on my blog in the past)

Outback Art Fair at Picnic Rocks in Marquette, Michigan on Sat. July 28th from 10-6 and Sun. July 29th from 11-4.

Negaunee Senior Center, Negaunee, MI – I’ll be giving a talk about local history on Wed. August 1st at Noon.

Art on the Lake in Curtis, Michigan at the Erickson Center on Sat., September 1st
from 10-5.

And if you feel lucky, you can also try to win a copy of Spirit of North by signing up for the July Reader Views Book Giveaway.

Thank you for reading and have a great summer filled with books!

Will Bishop Baraga become Venerable?

January 27, 2012
Bishop Frederic Baraga

Bishop Frederic Baraga, circa 1860

This coming February 6th and 7th will be two of the most important days in the history of the Marquette Diocese. For years, efforts have been made to achieve the canonization of Bishop Frederic Baraga, affectionately known as “the Snowshoe Priest,” as a saint of the Catholic Church.

The Cause for Baraga’s sainthood, which the diocese has been supporting for more than half a century, may or may not make significant progress on February 7th. On that date, the Cardinal members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will hold a formal discussion of Bishop Baraga’s heroic virtue, conduct a vote, and make their recommendation to the Holy Father regarding whether Bishop Baraga truly exhibited heroic virtue in his life and is therefore worthy of the title of “Venerable.” If the vote is positive, public veneration of him may take place, and his earthly remains, now in the bishops’ tomb in St. Peter’s Cathedral will be moved to a more prominent location for veneration of the faithful.

Current bishop of the diocese, Alexander Sample, has designated February 6th as a day of prayer and penance for the success of this effort.

If Bishop Baraga does receive the title of Venerable, the next step toward canonization will be for him to be beatified and granted the title “Blessed.” Part of the requirement to achieve “Blessed” status is proof of a miracle, which can occur through the intercession of the prospective saint through the power of prayer. An alleged miracle has occurred and a formal diocesan investigation occurred in July 2010. The Church is currently waiting to have the miracle recognized by the Congregation for Causes of Saints. Once Baraga is beatified, the next step would finally be canonization.

While we await the Vatican’s decision, the people of Upper Michigan already know that Bishop Baraga was a man of God who served the Native Americans and early settlers of Upper Michigan for three decades, snowshoeing and walking across the entire Upper Peninsula, as well as Wisconsin, Northern Minnesota, and Lower Michigan. His impact and his memory will never be forgotten here.

Bishop Baraga’s strength, courage, endurance, humility, and love have always been an inspiration to me, so much that I could not resist in my novel Iron Pioneers to depict him and suggest that he may have been responsible for working a miracle, or rather, having God work a miracle through him. Following is a scene from Iron Pioneers: The Marquette Trilogy, Book One, which takes place when Molly attends Bishop Baraga’s funeral and thinks back to a meeting she had with the bishop:

Molly entered the somber cathedral, now completed and functioning for two years. She clutched Kathy to her, glad to be inside the warmth of the church lit by candles to dispel the gloom of the blizzard raging outside. She felt privileged to attend the saintly bishop’s funeral mass, and when she saw his coffin, she replayed in her mind the day of her miracle, the day she was convinced Baraga was a living saint. It had happened a few months earlier, not long after Kathy’s birth had relieved some of the pain of Fritz’s loss. Molly had found it hard to understand why God had taken Fritz from her, but He had sent her someone equally precious in her long awaited little girl. Then one cold autumn day, Kathy had contracted pneumonia, and Molly was terrified. That day was the worst in her relationship with God; she had never dared be angry with Him before. But even in her anger, she struggled to keep her faith and pray.

Iron Pioneers, The Marquette Trilogy: Book One by Tyler Tichelaar

“Lord, I don’t understand,” she had pleaded. “I pray and trust in You and the Blessed Virgin with all the faith I can muster, yet You keep sending hardship my way. I try to believe my sufferings are a sign of Your favor, and that You will make good on Your promise that the meek shall inherit the earth, yet after all these years of praying, there seems no end to my difficulties. I do not wish to complain, but please, dear God, do not take my little girl from me. I cannot bear her loss.”
That same evening Kathy’s pneumonia had turned into a dangerous fever. Although Molly could scarcely afford the expense, she had sent Karl for the doctor. Kathy’s fever raged for two seemingly endless days. Finally, the doctor had admitted Molly should send for the priest to give last rites. But Molly had adamantly refused; she would not give up hope. And then, the thought of the priest had made her think of the bishop. Ignoring the doctor’s protests, she had quickly bundled Kathy up in a blanket, then run through an October rainstorm to the church rectory.
When the housekeeper opened the door, Molly demanded to see the bishop; the housekeeper replied he was in a meeting with the Ursuline nuns who had recently started a Catholic school in Marquette; could Molly possibly return in the afternoon?
“No, I can’t. It might be too late then,” Molly had cried.
“I cannot disturb His Excellency,” said the overly dutiful housekeeper.
“Please. My little girl is so sick with a fever. I need the bishop to pray over her. I can’t bear to lose her. Only he can save her. You don’t understand. My husband is dead, and I waited so many years for this child. I’ll never have another. Please.”
Molly sobbed as she spoke, and the housekeeper had pitied her, but she also feared Molly’s cries would disturb the bishop.
But His Excellency had heard the disturbance and stepped out to the doorway.
“What’s the matter?” he had asked, although he need not have; he clearly saw a wretched mother clutching the child she loved better than herself.
“Your Excellency, I tried to tell her to come back later,” the housekeeper had apologized, but the Lord’s servant calmly dismissed her with a wave of his hand.
“Molly, your little girl is ill,” Bishop Baraga had said. Molly had never spoken to His Excellency before, save a few times when he gave her communion at Mass. She had not realized he knew her name. Overcome with fear, she heard herself babbling in desperation.
“Yes. Oh please. She has a fever. The doctor said I should have a priest give last rites, but I can’t. I can’t bear to lose her. Please, if you pray over her, maybe—”
The words had scarcely left her mouth before Baraga had taken Kathy in his arms.
“The doctor has given up hope?”
“Yes, he’s attended her for two days and says he can do nothing. But I thought—if you prayed—God would hear your prayer and heal her.”
“You have great faith,” Baraga had said, placing his hand on Kathy’s forehead to feel it burn like hellfire. “Let us pray, Molly.”
She had bowed her head while Baraga whispered, “Lord God, we pray you to heal this child. Cure her sickness that she may grow up like her mother, a faithful servant who does Your will.”
He had then spoken several sentences in Latin. Molly had not understood the words, but she was comforted merely by his gentle voice, his kindness, and the sacred language.
“Now go home and care for her, but remember her soul is saved, and that is what matters most. God bless you.”
Molly had then felt a bit let down, even as the bishop placed the child back into her arms and made the sign of the cross over her. She had muttered, “Thank you” and turned to leave.
Then Kathy had let out a cry.
“She hasn’t cried in two days!” Molly had said as she felt Kathy’s forehead, now soaked with sweat. “The fever has broken! Thank you, Your Excellency.”
“Thank God, Molly. I have done nothing. He must have some great plan for her to heal her so rapidly. Perhaps someday she will be a loving mother like you and bring many servants to the Lord.”
Molly had scarcely heard these prophetic words; she had only had eyes then for her child.
“Thank you,” she had repeated.
“Go home now and keep her warm. Do you have medicine for her?”
“Yes, the doctor has helped with that.”
“Very good,” the bishop had replied and bowed to dismiss her.
She had rushed home to share the miraculous news with Karl. She found him seated with the doctor, both still surprised by her hasty, unexplained departure.
“The fever broke!” she told them.
“Impossible, so suddenly,” muttered the doctor, placing his hand on Kathy’s forehead. He found it cool and drenched with sweat. “Why, she’s breathing regularly now and the color is returning to her cheeks.”
“It’s a miracle,” Molly had said.
The doctor was not a Catholic, but an Episcopalian. More so, he considered himself a man of science. “Often it is at the most critical moment these fevers turn. Perhaps taking her out in the cold air made the sudden difference.”
“It was a miracle,” Molly repeated.
“It doesn’t matter so long as she is better,” smiled the doctor, collecting his bag. “I’ll stop by tomorrow to check on her again.”
It had been a miracle. Molly refused to believe otherwise. Now months later, she knelt in a pew waiting for Bishop Baraga’s funeral to begin. She wondered why God had not prolonged his servant’s life longer, that more souls might come to Him. Then Molly remembered the Bishop’s words that many might come to the faith through Kathy. Perhaps Bishop Baraga had served his purpose on earth and now was rewarded, and it was left to those, like her, whose lives he had touched to win souls for the Church.

Sledding on Ridge Street in January

January 12, 2012

As we experience another winter storm today, I thought I’d post another winter scene from The Marquette Trilogy. This scene takes place in Iron Pioneers January 1884 when Agnes Whitman takes her children sledding on Ridge Street. Enjoy!


            There was no absence of snow that January, and it was the best kind of snow—good for both sledding and snowshoeing. Agnes had already been out with the Marquette women’s snowshoeing club a few times that winter, but somehow she had always been too busy to go sledding with her girls. A fresh snow had fallen the night before, and the day being a surprisingly warm twenty-five degrees, the afternoon was perfect sledding weather. She had to take the children sledding at least once this winter since her son Will was three years old now, and he had never gone before; she had always felt him too little in past years. And she might not have another chance to take him because she was expecting her fourth child; if it were not that bundling up in winter clothes hid what her figure otherwise made apparent, she would not have gone outside at all, but her winter coat would allow her to remain active for another month. Of course, she and Will would have to settle for a safe, small hill, but that was better than an entire winter without a sledding trip.

A good half hour was spent getting everyone ready. Will was her only child who needed help putting on his winter clothes, but Mary and Sylvia insisted on their mother’s constant attention even for such little details as color coordinating their hats and scarves.

“We’re only going sledding girls, not to a party,” Agnes reminded.

“Yes, but you can never be too careful. A young lady must be prepared for every occasion,” Mary replied.

Agnes usually ignored such affected comments from her daughters. Mary was the worst while Sylvia only followed her older sister’s example. Agnes thought Sylvia would be more like herself if not so influenced by Mary, who sometimes reminded Agnes a lot of her own stepmother. She often wondered what kind of women her girls would be while she hoped Will would be as kind and handsome as his father.

“Are we all ready now?” Agnes asked, after helping Will put on his mittens.

“Yes, Mother,” Mary replied. “Hurry, I’m sweating in this warm coat.”

But they were delayed another minute. Kathy Bergmann chose that moment to appear on the doorstep with a fruitcake from her mother.

“Mama meant to bring it over before Christmas,” Kathy said, “but what with the funeral and everything, she didn’t have time.”

“I didn’t expect her to give me anything,” said Agnes, nonetheless touched to be remembered despite Molly’s recent troubles. Except for Montoni’s funeral, Agnes had rarely seen Molly lately. After Agnes’s father and stepmother had moved back East, the Montonis and Whitmans had lost touch with each other. But Agnes knew Molly looked on her as a daughter because her mother and Molly had once been best friends. Agnes had found it hard to visit Molly after she married Montoni because she remembered Molly as a happy young woman, despite poverty and her first husband’s ill health, and Molly’s sadness in recent years had unnerved her into keeping her distance. Now Agnes wished she had done more than just attend Montoni’s funeral and send a gift of money. She should have gone to visit, but Christmas and her pregnancy had kept her occupied. Agnes reminded herself that since her father had moved away, Molly was now the only one left in town who had known her mother well, and Agnes did not want to lose that connection; her memories of her mother were growing dim, and she had recently been surprised to realize she was now several years older than her mother had been when she died.

Agnes accepted the fruitcake, and feeling she should give something in return, offered, “Kathy, we were just about to go sledding. We would love to have you join us.”

Before Kathy could reply, Will grabbed her skirt and shouted, “Do come! Please, Kathy!”

Kathy laughed, and picking up Will, she gave him a big hug. She was sixteen now, and the maternal instinct was strong in her. She yearned for a baby, one as cute as Will, but first she needed a husband. Not even her mother’s second marriage had distorted her romantic notions; Montoni had been a bad man, but Kathy honored the memory of the father she had never known, and she idolized her brother. She even had a secret fondness for Ben, her brother’s attractive business partner; she hoped someday he would notice her. But if not, other men existed who might make good husbands and fathers; she was becoming obsessed with the desire to find one.

“Kathy is going to join us,” Agnes told her daughters as they continued to sweat in their winter clothes.

“Oh,” Mary said. Sylvia sighed. Both noted Kathy’s unfashionable coat.

Seeing that Agnes and Will wanted her to tag along, Kathy overlooked the girls’ lack of enthusiasm and agreed to join the party.

“I don’t think you’ll be warm enough,” Mary tried to dissuade her. “You’re not dressed for sledding.”

Kathy felt self-conscious then, and she hated that Mary, three years her junior, could make her feel that way. “I’ll be warm enough,” she replied.

“I have an extra scarf and some heavier mittens you can borrow,” Agnes said.

“No, I’m fine. I don’t mind the cold,” said Kathy, already regretting that she had agreed to join them.

“Let’s go!” Will screamed and wiggled until Kathy set him down. Then he grabbed her hand and tried to tug her toward the door.

“Girls, fetch your sleds out back. We’ll wait out front for you,” said Agnes.

A few minutes later, they had walked to the eastern end of Ridge Street, where the bluff sloped down toward the lake to make an excellent hill for sledding.

“That’s my grandparents’ house!” said Sylvia as they passed the Hennings’ former home.

“They don’t live there anymore,” Agnes replied.

“No,” said Mary, “they have an even bigger house in New York City because they’re rich!”

Mary looked at Kathy as she spoke, but Kathy ignored the ostentatious child.

“Our grandparents always send us expensive Christmas presents,” Mary said. “This year Sylvia and me each got a dress made in Paris.”

“Sylvia and I,” said Agnes.

“Mary,” Sylvia said, “Kathy has probably never owned a store bought dress, much less one from Paris. I think her mother makes all her clothes.”

“Girls, that’s enough,” Agnes said.

“How will she ever find a husband without a decent dress?” Mary asked.

“Maybe I don’t need a husband,” said Kathy, denying her dearest longing.

“That’s good ’cause rich men don’t like poor girls,” Sylvia replied.

“I’m not poor,” said Kathy, “and even if I were, didn’t a prince marry Cinderella?” Despite this bold retaliation, Kathy was unnerved by the girls voicing her fears.

“Yeah, but Cinderella was at least beautiful,” said Mary.

“Girls, that’s enough,” Agnes repeated. “Do you want to go back home instead of going sledding?”

“No!” cried Will. “Be good. Don’t be bad,” he implored his sisters.

“Apologize to Kathy,” said Agnes.

Each girl muttered, “I’m sorry.” Kathy tried graciously to accept their apologies, but she felt this much-needed festive excursion was spoiled.

They had now reached the top of the sledding hill.

“Girls,” said Agnes, “why don’t the three of you ride down on the big sled, and Will and I will use the small one.”

Mary gave her mother a funny expression, making it clear she did not want Kathy on her sled, but when Agnes glared back, Mary said nothing. Kathy saw the facial exchange and again wished she had not come, but she would not embarrass Mrs. Whitman by acknowledging her daughters’ rude behavior.

“No. Me and Kathy ride,” said Will, unknowingly solving the problem.

“Kathy, do you mind going with Will?” asked Agnes.

“No, Will and I can have a good time by ourselves.”

Mary and Sylvia, relieved of Kathy’s company, climbed onto their sled, ready to go downhill.

“Thank you, Kathy,” said Agnes, feeling more tired than usual from the walk to the hill. “I’m feeling a little worn out so I’ll wait until later. You go without me.”

“I don’t mind,” Kathy assured her.

Agnes stood at the top of the hill. She watched her girls, then Will and Kathy sail down the snow-covered street. She had looked forward to this outing, but her obstinate girls now made her thankful for a moment alone. She looked out at the lake, slowly freezing over as winter progressed. January was her favorite time of year because the snow completely covered the earth; December even in this northern land occasionally could be without snow, and Christmas was so much trouble—although in the end the children’s pleasure made it worthwhile. But January was a month without the bother of holidays, a month that allowed a good long rest, a month to enjoy the snow before it piled up in February and March and seemed as if it would never end. January was the slow return of longer days, the month when each night a minute or two more daylight remained before you closed the curtains, a minute or two that reflected the promise of spring’s inevitable return. Agnes found pleasure in these little things, in marking the rhythm and progression of the seasons; she never complained about the weather, but marveled over the daily variety as one season changed into another, accumulating into a lifetime of natural wonders.

The children were climbing back up the hill, but Agnes still had a couple minutes before they would reach her. She continued to look out at the half frozen, silent lake, so serene this afternoon; a flood of warm sunlight made its iced surface sparkle like diamonds. Some days that massive lake roared like a bellowing monster; some days it was cruel, as when it had taken Caleb and Madeleine. But the lake was a constant in Agnes’s life, something that never failed to revive her spirits when all else came and went. The lake was always there, almost like a family member, someone to quarrel with one day, but ultimately, even if begrudgingly, to love as a familiar extension of herself, its very water flowing inside her. The lake was a part of her as was the snow, the trees, and these hills she loved so well.

She felt an especial fondness for this particular spot with its distinct view of the lake. She vividly remembered one summer day when she and her mother had stood on this hill to collect lady’s slippers—they had filled a whole basket with the delicate flowers, and all the while, she remembered that in the distance, through the trees—trees that were now mostly gone and replaced with large prosperous homes—she had been able to see the lake; back then there had been no grand houses, no real streets, just a small collection of wooden buildings nearly hidden along the shore of Lake Superior. At that time, she had known few children to play with, so she had named many of the trees, pretending they were her friends as much as any little boy or girl in the village. In later years, her father had frequently told her how her mother had loved this land—she wondered whether her mother had also thought of the land as a friend, a real person, a very part of her soul. Agnes loved her hometown, but she liked to remember more what it had looked like nearly thirty years ago when she was a small girl. Everything had changed since that distant spring day when she had come here to pick flowers with her mother, yet for a moment she could forget it was winter and that she stood in the middle of a fashionable neighborhood; for a moment, she could imagine it was spring in the forest and her mother was with her, listening to her childish prattle.

“Mama! Mama! We went fast! Did you see, Mama?”

She awoke from the past and turned to her son.

“Was it fun, Will?” she asked as he ran up to her, his chubby cheeks glowing red from the cold.

“I wanna go again!” he screeched with delight.

“You don’t have to take him if you don’t want to,” Agnes told Kathy.

“I don’t mind,” Kathy said.

“Just don’t scare him by going too fast,” Agnes replied.

She watched Kathy and Will go downhill again. Then Mary and Sylvia arrived at the top for their next trip down.

Agnes perched herself on a low snowbank, simply content to exist in this beautiful place where her mother had once watched her as she now watched her children.

When Will came back, he wanted her to ride with him, so she and Kathy started taking turns going downhill until Will’s little legs became exhausted from climbing back up. Agnes hoped that meant he would take a nap when they got home. Finally, she and Kathy sat on a hard crunchy snowbank while Will curled up in his mother’s lap and fell asleep. She wrapped him in her scarf to keep him warm. She considered taking him home, but the afternoon sun was causing icicles to drip off nearby houses, so she thought it warm enough to let the girls sled down the hill a few more times. Since Kathy waited with her, Agnes asked after Molly.

“Mama’s fine,” said Kathy, not wanting to confess how her mother had moped since the funeral.

“She must miss your stepfather?”

“I imagine so, but she doesn’t really mention it.”

“Do you think she’ll marry again?”

“Not at her age,” said Kathy.

“She isn’t that old is she? Maybe fifty?”

“She’ll be fifty-four this year.”

“That’s not so old,” said Agnes.

“Two husbands were enough for her, especially considering what the last one was like.”

Kathy regretted the words as soon as they were spoken, not wanting to shame her family.

“I always suspected she wasn’t happy with your stepfather,” Agnes replied, “but I remember your own father was a kind man.”

“Yes, but he was always so sick Mama had to work to support us.”

“Your mother did that out of love. It’s worth it for a kind man.”

“Is your husband kind?” Kathy asked. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I want to know these things for when I get married someday.”

“Yes, Jacob’s a good man. He loves me and the children, and he works hard to give us more than we need. Even when he doesn’t say so, I know he loves us by his deeds.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever get married,” Kathy said.

“You will when the time is right.”

“No, I don’t think I want to,” she lied to deny her fear of being a spinster.

“You will when the right man comes along,” said Agnes.

“No, no man will ever notice me,” she said, thinking of how Ben ignored her. “I guess I’m not pretty enough.”

“Of course you are.”

“And I’m not rich or fashionable, just like Mary and Sylvia said.”

“Mary and Sylvia are just silly young girls, and I apologize for their rudeness. I don’t know where they get it from—not my side of the family,” said Agnes. “But Kathy, in another year you’ll be a blooming beauty. I was much more plain than you at sixteen, yet Jacob took an interest in me.”

“I’ll be seventeen in April.”

“Then love could come anytime,” said Agnes. “Just be patient. You don’t want to rush it. Love comes at different times for everyone, but the wait is worth it when it does come.”

Kathy thought it easy for Agnes to say such things when she had a husband and did not have to spend every day wondering whether she were destined for spinsterhood.

“We better move a little, or we’ll freeze sitting here,” said Agnes, trying to stand up without waking Will. “The girls are almost back up the hill now.”

“We can lay Will in the sled to pull him home,” said Kathy.

“That’s a good idea. I’m glad you came, Kathy. It was the perfect day for an excursion. I hope your mother doesn’t mind that you didn’t come home sooner.”

“Oh no, she won’t be worried,” said Kathy. “Thank you for inviting me.” She did not add that she had not enjoyed herself.

“Hurry girls! We’re freezing!” Agnes called to her daughters still a hundred feet down the hill. Then she took another gaze at the lake as the sun began to set. “Kathy, look at how beautiful the lake is with the sky all pink and reflecting on the ice. Even with the snow and cold, how could anyone want to live anywhere else?”

“Yes, it is pretty,” said Kathy, but she was too worried about her future to appreciate the present moment’s glory.

Agnes asked Kathy to come home for a cup of hot chocolate, but Kathy excused herself to turn down Front Street and walk south to her mother’s house. She said she should get home before dark, but truthfully, she did not want to be around Mary and Sylvia any longer. She liked Agnes, but she had not found her comments on love very reassuring. She was terribly lonely, yet she preferred to be alone with her yearnings than to feel a lack of connection while speaking to others. She wanted to be needed, especially by a man, but everyone she knew already seemed to have a full life and not need her. Except for her mother, whose need scared her.


To find out more about Iron Pioneers, visit

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.

Marquette’s Maritime Museum and Lighthouse

July 27, 2011

Thank you to Marquette’s Maritime Museum, especially Director Carrie Fries, for the opportunity to be part of the Tall Ships event this past weekend. My fellow authors (Gretchen Preston, Milly Balzarini, and Donna Winters) and I enjoyed talking to all the tourists, natives, and our readers.

Marquette Maritime Museum

Marquette Maritime Museum

As a thank you to the museum, and in honor of August as Maritime Month (can you believe August is only days away?), here is the section from My Marquette about the museum:

           The sudden lurch catapulted several passengers over the ship’s rail. Sophia, having momentarily released Gerald’s arm, found herself thrown overboard with several other ladies. Panic-stricken, she scrambled in the waves, fighting to keep her head above water while her skirts quickly soaked through, growing so heavy they threatened to pull her under. The lake was calm that evening, the waves nearly indistinguishable, yet Sophia was terrified. She had not swum in twenty years, and she sadly lacked for exercise. The sudden surprise and the biting cold water nearly sent her into shock. Gerald was almost as surprised as he stood clasping the rail and trying to spot his wife. After a few initial screams, the other women thrown overboard began to swim toward the ship. One man, Mr. Maynard, had also been pivoted overboard, and like Sophia, he struggled to stay afloat. Sophia’s terror increased when she saw Mr. Maynard’s head sink beneath the waves. She instantly feared he had drowned, and his failure to resurface made her splash and scream frantically until she began to swallow water. Hearing his wife’s screams, Gerald spotted her and dove to her rescue. — Iron Pioneers

The Marquette Maritime Museum was formed in 1980 and opened to the public in 1982. It is located in the old Marquette Waterworks building designed by D. Fred Charlton in 1890. In 1897, the Father Marquette statue was placed on the waterworks building’s property, although it was later moved to its present location. The construction of a new waterworks building resulted in the old one being converted into the Maritime Museum.

In 1999, when I first conceived the idea to write The Marquette Trilogy, I visited the Maritime Museum to see the exhibits as research for my books. During that visit, I learned about the sinking of the Jay Morse which I knew would make a great dramatic scene since most of Marquette’s wealthiest people were on the ship. The passage above resulted from my visit to the museum. Fittingly, my novels have since found a happy place in the Maritime Museum’s gift shop. The friendly employees have read them and frequently recommend them to their customers, something for which I am always grateful.

The museum includes numerous displays about the early schooners and ore boats on Lake Superior as well as dioramas, old rowboats, and a small theatre with ongoing films. In 2002, the museum also acquired the Marquette lighthouse as part of its property.

Marquette was built to be a port for shipping iron ore from the mines in nearby Negaunee and Ishpeming. Every harbor town requires a lighthouse, and Marquette constructed its lighthouse in 1853, just four years after the town’s founding. No building records exist for this first lighthouse, but it was reputedly thirty-four by twenty feet in size. The lantern room contained seven fourteen-inch Lewis lamps which were used until the introduction of the Fresnel lens in the later 1850s. Because the living quarters and tower were poorly constructed, they were replaced with the present lighthouse in 1866.

The 1866 lighthouse is today the oldest structure of any real historical significance in Marquette. The original structure was a one-and-a-half story brick building with an attached forty-foot square brick tower housing a fourth order Fresnel lens. An identical lens is on display today in the Marquette Maritime Museum. The original lens showed an arc of 180 degrees. In 1870, it was increased to 270 degrees.

The keeper and his family lived in the lighthouse. As long as the keeper’s job was only to maintain the light, a single man was able to do the work. However, when the light at the end of the breakwater was added and a two whistle signal system installed at the end of the point, the work was too much for one person so an assistant keeper was hired and a barn behind the lighthouse was converted into living space for him. In 1909, a second story was added instead for the assistant’s quarters. Additions were also made to the back of the lighthouse in the 1950s.

The Maritime Museum has available on CD the lightkeeper’s log books which reflect some of their interesting experiences. In 1859, Peter White complained about the lightkeeper because “He is a habitual drunkard, frequently thrashes his wife and throws her out of doors.” This lightkeeper also failed to light up until sometimes after midnight which caused great danger for ships.

Just west of the Marquette lighthouse, the U.S. Life-Saving Service established a station in 1891. Led by Captain Henry Cleary, the life-savers performed death-defying rescues on the lake. Their fame grew until they were invited in 1901 to escort President McKinley down the Niagara River during the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York (the following day the president would be assassinated by Leon Czolgosz, who for some time had worked in various lumber camps in Michigan, including in Seney. In 2009, Marquette author, John Smolens, published The Anarchist, a novel about the McKinley assassination). Eventually the U.S. Life-Saving Station was absorbed into the Coast Guard, and it became the building in operation for the longest time that was owned by the Coast Guard until 2009 when a new Coast Guard station was built directly on the south side of the Maritime Museum and in front of the Lower Harbor’s breakwater.

The Marquette lighthouse remains one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks for its bright red walls, and it is probably photographed more than any other place in Marquette. When I worked at Superior Spectrum, a former local telephone company in Marquette, the lighthouse was used in numerous marketing pieces, some of which I helped to design. Today, the lighthouse is open for tours operated by the Maritime Museum, and it is being refurbished to reflect the lighthouse keepers’ living quarters in the early twentieth century.

Be sure to check out my several other posts last August 2010 that celebrated Maritime Month. And of course, be sure to visit the Maritime Museum and the lighthouse this summer!

Early Upper Michigan Literature – a Brief and Incomplete History

July 18, 2011

The U.P. Author Book Tour is in its last week, but several events are still happening. You can find the list of the remaining events at: The book tour has generated a lot of discussion about Michigan, and specifically Upper Michigan authors, both present and past, so I wanted to post a little about the legacy of Upper Michigan literature. I am sure there is much more than what I will post here so I invite others to let me know of any early U.P. literature I forget. Finally, thank you once again to Ron Riekki, author of U.P. for all his work organizing the biggest literary event in Upper Michigan history with more than 60 authors over the course of a month!

The Beginnings

the song of hiawatha

The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Upper Michigan literature really begins with the Native Americans since they were here first. They practiced oral traditions and talked about their myths and the supernatural creatures and beautiful Great Lakes area. Much of this wonderful oral tradition has probably been lost, but some parts of it were preserved. As far as printed books go, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and his half-Ojibwa wife, Jane Schoolcraft, lived at the Sault and wrote down several Ojibwa legends that were collected into book form. Various versions of these works exist today. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used these stories to compose his famous The Song of Hiawatha in 1855. Longfellow never set foot in Upper Michigan, but we can claim him as one of our own for first making Upper Michigan significant in literature on a nationwide level. The poem remains well-known today and the U.P. continues to commemorate the Hiawatha legend in the Hiawatha National Forest that composes a large part of central Upper Michigan as well as the Hiawatha Music Festival held in Marquette every July (coming this weekend July 22-24–visit And any true Yooper knows Lake Superior’s true name is Gitchee Gumee, as Longfellow states:

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

ojibwa narratives charles kawbawgam

Ojibwa Narratives

Once you read the poem, the rhythm never gets out of your head. An interesting sidenote is that Longfellow borrowed the meter for the poem from the famous Finnish epic, the Kalevala–a work also well-known in Upper Michigan because of the large number of Finnish immigrants who have come to this area, although a generation after Longfellow’s poem was written.

Another wonderful collection of Ojibwa narratives are those that Chief Charles Kawbawgam of Marquette and his brother-in-law Jacques LePique told to Homer Kidder in the 1890s (a depiction of this event is included in my novel Iron Pioneers). The manuscript was not published until 1994 by Wayne State University as Ojibwa Narratives, but it is another example of early Upper Michigan literature.

The First Novels

Snail-Shell Harbor Langille

Snail-Shell Harbor by J.H. Langille

I am uncertain what the first Upper Michigan novel was, but for now, my best guess is Snail-Shell Harbor (1870) by J.H. Langille. This novel is set in the bustling early village of Fayette, Michigan, once an iron-smelting town in the Garden Peninsula. Today it is a famous Michigan ghost-town. The novel describes the everyday life in the village of the ironworkers, fishing in the harbor, and the life and death struggles that those early pioneers faced. A reprint of the book is available at Great Lakes Romances. Fayette is today a historic park open to visitors. For more information, visit Historic Fayette State Park.

Anne by constance fenimore Woolson

Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

Another early novel is Constance Fenimore Woolson’s Anne (1882) set on Mackinac Island. Woolson was the great-niece of James Fenimore Cooper. she lived in Ohio but dearly loved to visit Mackinac Island. She was the aunt to Samuel and Henry Mather, owners of the Cleveland Mining Company. Henry Mather’s home still stands in Marquette, Michigan today, although no record exists that Woolson visited any of Upper Michigan other than Mackinac Island. When Woolson died, her nephew Samuel erected Anne’s Tablet on Mackinac Island in her memory. On the tablet is a passage from the novel. The novel itself has beautiful descriptions of Mackinac Island in winter, and frankly the Mackinac Island scenes are the most worth reading. It is a rather conventional romance novel of its time in that the heroine leaves the island and goes to the East Coast where she falls in love with a man in society but is ultimately jilted and returns home to Mackinac Island. It is not a great novel, but it is well worth reading for the descriptions of Mackinac Island alone.

Children’s Books

Much of Upper Michigan’s early nineteenth century literature is in the form of children’s books.

In 1904, Marquette author Carroll Watson Rankin published Dandelion Cottage, which is still considered a minor classic by many children’s literature enthusiasts. She reputedly wrote it because her daughter complained that she had read every book ever written for little girls. The story is about four little girls growing up in Lakeville in Upper Michigan who want a playhouse. The church allows them to use a small rental property it has in exchange for picking the dandelions off the lawn. The novel is based on a real house which still stands in Marquette today. See my previous post on Dandelion Cottage. Rankin went on to write several more books, including three sequels to Dandelion Cottage.

James Cloyd Bowman lived across the street from Rankin on Ridge Street in Marquette. He was the head of the English department at Northern State Teacher’s College (now NMU). He became famous for his children’s book story collections, especially Pecos Bill for which he won the Newberry Medal, but he also published a book about Upper Michigan’s own Paul Bunyan, and Tales from a Finnish Tupa (doubtless because of the Finnish population in the U.P.) and he wrote a little known novel Mystery Mountain, set in a fictional version of Marquette and featuring the Hotel Superior. I imagine he and Carroll Watson Rankin knew each other, living across the street from one another. If only their conversations had been recorded.

Two other children’s authors from Marquette were Dorothy Maywood Bird and Holly Wilson. Bird’s best known book, Granite Harbor (1944) is also set in a fictional Marquette and tells of a girl from Texas who comes to stay in Upper Michigan. Although resistant to her new home at first, she soon discovers how much fun a girl can have in the U.P., especially in winter with skiing and other activities. Bird wrote a couple of other novels as well.

Holly Wilson grew up in Marquette on Arch Street. She wrote several children’s books set in Upper Michigan, and others just set in the Great Lakes region. Among her best books are Clara the Unconquered, which depicts a fictionalized version of Marquette in its early years, Deborah Todd, the story of a girl’s antics based on Wilson’s childhood, and The Hundred Steps, about the hundred steps in Marquette that led from Ridge Street down to the harbor; Wilson uses the steps to depict the class divisions in the town.

U.P. Literature Becomes Famous

Anatomy of a murder by Robert TraverDr. James Cloyd Bowman taught creative writing at Northern, and one of his students was John Voelker, who would publish the bestselling Anatomy of a Murder (1956) under the pen name Robert Traver. Voelker used to bring his writing to where Bowman was residing and go over his stories with him. Wouldn’t we love to have those conversations recorded as well? Of all the novels to come out of Upper Michigan, Anatomy of a Murder remains the best known. It is based on a real murder that took place in Big Bay. Voelker was the defense attorney in the court case, and consequently, he was well-qualified to write a fictionalized version of it. In 1959, it was made into the film of the same name, starring Jimmy Stewart, Eve Arden, Lee Remick, George C. Scott, Ben Gazzara, and Arthur O’Connell.

Upper Michigan Literature Today

Novels set in the Upper Peninsula remained relatively few throughout the rest of the twentieth century, but in the last decade the number has grown tremendously as more and more locals come to appreciate how special Upper Michigan is as well as changes in the publishing industry allow people to self-publish their books.

Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton

Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton

Well-known authors like Jim Harrison have depicted Upper Michigan in books like Returning to Earth. Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat series (The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare etc.) are set in a fictionalized U.P. town. Mystery novelist Steve Hamilton has set several books in the U.P. including Misery Bay . (You can catch Steve Hamilton as part of the U.P. Author Book Tour. He makes his last appearance on Beaver Island on Thursday afternoon, July 21st at the museum).  These authors have all achieved nationwide attention.

The list of UP authors today is far too numerous to list them all. I encourage anyone interested in who is writing about the U.P. today to visit the UP Publishers and Authors Association for a list of all the member authors’ books. Another, far from complete list of U.P. authors can be found at my website

I began writing novels set in Upper Michigan back in 1987, although I did not publish any until 2006. I felt strongly that Upper Michigan is full of stories, wonderful characters, dramatic episodes, significant history, and beautiful settings. The perfect place to write about. At the beginning of my first published novel Iron Pioneers: The Marquette Trilogy, Book One, I inserted the following quote from Ralph Williams’ biography of Marquette pioneer Peter White. I think those words, more than a century old, remain true today about why Upper Michigan literature is and will continue to be significant:

Iron Pioneers The marquette trilogy book one tyler r. tichelaar

Iron Pioneers: The Marquette Trilogy, Book One

“The beginnings, therefore, of this great iron industry are historically important and are of interest to every citizen in the United States, for there is not a man or woman today living who has not been, directly or indirectly, benefited by the great mineral wealth of the Lake Superior country and the labor of winning it and working it into the arts . . . . Has it not the elements in it out of which to weave the fabric of the great American novel so long expected and so long delayed? For the story is distinctly American. Indeed there is nothing more distinctly American.”

—Ralph Williams, The Honorable Peter White: A Biographical Sketch of the Lake Superior Iron Country (1905)

Marquette’s Castle Brewery

May 3, 2011

 The Castle Brewery, built by George Rublein, one of the first residents of Marquette, does not feature in any of my novels. I had initially planned to set a scene in Iron Pioneersthere but later cut it out. Nevertheless, the building has struck a chord with me from early childhood because of my love for castles.

The Castle Brewery, circa 1998

Today I find the brewery’s history interesting because Rublein, like Fritz Bergmann in Iron Pioneers, was one of the German immigrants who came to Marquette in 1849 from Milwaukee. He and his wife Catherine were probably among those who suffered from the initial typhoid outbreak that summer and later in December started walking back to Milwaukee so villagers in Worcester (later Marquette) would not starve to death without their winter supplies. Fortunately, the supply ship arrived on Christmas Day and the Germans were called back to the village.

Rublein bought 160 acres of land for $1.00 on what became County Road 492. There he built his home, farm, and his beer brewery. He later would expand his business to the west end of Washington Street, building the Castle Brewery, of which a small sandstone portion remains today. Quite far from town at that time, the brewery’s beer gardens would have been a fun excursion out of town for residents.

In Iron Pioneers, the scene I did not include in the novel was to center around Karl Bergmann visiting the Castle Brewery as a young man. The visit would make him feel sentimental over his deceased father and inspire him to make his trip to Germany. Although I left out the Castle Brewery, in The Queen City, Karl did go to Germany, and when he returns, he brings home the German pickle Christmas ornament he gives to his sister Kathy. Decades later, John Vandelaare sees the ornament on his grandmother’s Christmas tree and wonders how such a strange ornament came into the family’s possession. Although no one in the family remembers how the pickle was acquired, it serves as a symbol that the past is always with us.

My grandmother never really had a pickle ornament—I just thought it an interesting German tradition, and I do have my own Christmas pickle ornament today. But Grandma always had pickles on the table at parties—bread and butter pickles. I buy them all the time—they remind me of her; we all have our comfort foods.

(The above article is from My Marquette. For more information about the book, visit

“Iron Pioneers” Celebrates Five Year Publication Anniversary

February 26, 2011

Five years ago today, Iron Pioneers was published. I started writing The Marquette Trilogy in 1999 and nearly seven years later, I finally had the first volume published. It was a scary and exciting moment for me as I wondered whether what I had spent so much time writing until I loved the book like it was my own child would be received by the public. Obviously it was since I now have eight books to my name.

To celebrate Iron Pioneers five year anniversary, I am posting not the Prologue or the first scene but the second scene of the novel, following when Clara and Gerald have arrived in 1849 to the little wilderness settlement called Worcester and whose name was soon after changed to Marquette. In this passage, Clara meets the Harlow family and Peter White, who are among the most famous names in Marquette history. To get a copy of the full novel, visit


From Iron Pioneers:

            When Clara woke, it took her a few seconds to remember she was no longer on a boat, or a train, or in her comfortable bed back in Boston. Above her was a wooden roof with a crack that revealed the sky. She crawled out of bed and onto boards laid across a dirt floor. Since Gerald was already gone, she feared she had slept later than she should; from the crack in the ceiling, she could tell it was already daylight. Last night, she had been relieved to have a roof over her head and a bed to sleep in, but now this dingy little partition of a room made her hope Gerald would not be long in building her a decent house.

            Last night, she had hardly more than glanced at the other buildings in the village. She had noted the rough exterior of the Harlows’ house and that of Mr. Harlow’s assistant. Both buildings had been rundown fishing huts moved from farther down the lakeshore to serve as temporary residences. Clara was surprised to find herself envious that Mrs. Harlow had her own house, no matter how dilapidated its condition. Even if at this moment, Gerald were purchasing them a plot of land to build on, she knew she could not expect more than a small one-room cabin this first year. Winters here were supposed to be long and harsh and to arrive early, so Gerald would have to build soon and spare no time for fancy details if they were to have a shelter before the first snowfall. It was August, but as Clara emerged from her makeshift bedroom, she could already imagine the fierce winter winds.

            She found Mrs. Wheelock in the kitchen cooking breakfast.

            “Your husband went to look around the village, but he told me to let you sleep,” said Mrs. Wheelock. “I know how tiring the long journey here can be.”

            Clara thanked her hostess as Mrs. Wheelock placed eggs and bread before her. She wished Gerald were here, but she understood he had work to do. Mrs. Wheelock said he had promised to return by noon, and he had suggested she call on Mrs. Harlow that morning.

            “I’ll visit her as soon as I finish eating,” Clara replied. Mrs. Wheelock planned to go wash up the dishes, but Clara asked her landlady to stay and talk while she ate, in return that she help her with the dishes. Clara had never washed a dish in her life, but she was not so spoiled that she did not understand she would have no servants here as she had in Boston.

            Mrs. Wheelock gladly sat down to rest a few minutes. She told Clara how quickly her boarding house had filled with guests, and that she had her hands full cooking and doing laundry for the inmates. She was thankful to have a female guest if only to have someone to talk with. Clara had nearly finished her breakfast when a young man stepped into the house. He was about her age; Clara assumed he was Mrs. Wheelock’s son until he introduced himself.

            “Hello, I’m Peter White,” he said. “I’m a boarder here. You must be Mrs. Henning.”

            “Yes, I’m pleased to meet you,” she replied, taking his offered hand.

            “Peter is one of the youngest and most active members of our settlement,” said Mrs. Wheelock. “In fact, he helped to build the first dock. Peter, why don’t you tell Mrs. Henning about it?”

            Peter laughed as Clara prepared herself for a humorous tale.

            “Well, any city needs a good dock,” began Peter, “and we were determined ours would be one of the best. Captain Moody was in charge, and in no time at all, he had us hauling entire trees into the water and piling them crossways until we had built two tiers from the lake bottom up level with the water. Then we covered it all with sand and rocks. In just two days, we had the dock finished. We believed we had accomplished the first step in transforming Worcester into a future industrial metropolis. We imagined a hundred years from now our descendants would look upon the dock and praise us for our ingenuity.”

            Clara smiled at Peter’s self-mocking tone.

            “Next morning, imagine our surprise when we discovered one of Lake Superior’s calmest days had been enough to wash the dock away. Not a single rock or log was left behind to mark where it had been. The sand was so smooth you never would have known the dock existed. How easily man’s grandest schemes succumb to Nature’s power.”

            There was a moment’s pause while Peter smirked. Then Mrs. Wheelock scolded, “Peter, be fair. Finish the story.”

            Peter grinned but obeyed.

            “The entire episode was so comically tragic I could not help but feel some record of it should remain for the city’s future annals. I took a stick and wrote on the sand, ‘This is the spot where Capt. Moody built his dock.’ Well, Captain Moody took one look at that and wiped it away with his feet. He was apparently not as amused as I was, and he told me I would be discharged from his service at the end of the month.”

            Clara had been smiling, but the story’s conclusion saddened her.

            “What a shame. You didn’t mean any harm by it, and it was as much your work as his that failed.”

            “I was sorry to offend him,” Peter confessed, “but he hasn’t dismissed me yet. Either he quickly got over his temper or he’s forgotten about it. I’m certainly not going to remind him.”

            “I’m sure Captain Moody has forgiven you by now,” said Mrs. Wheelock. “He realizes what a blessing you’ve been lately. Mrs. Henning, I don’t wish to scare you, but there’s been an outbreak of typhoid fever here. Nearly everyone has now recovered, so there shouldn’t be anything to worry about, but we can all thank Peter for his hard work. He has bravely cared for the sick, even bathing them at risk to himself.”

            Peter ignored the praise to explain further. “We recently had a large number of foreigners arrive in the settlement. Mr. Graveraet brought them up by boat from Milwaukee to work. Most of them are German, but there are a few Irish and French among them. Almost all of them got typhoid on the trip here and several died before they arrived. It’s a sad situation, so I did what I could for them. Everyone has been taking turns helping.”

            “It isn’t as bad as we first feared,” Mrs. Wheelock told Clara. “We thought it might be cholera; that was enough to scare the local Indians into deserting the area, but then Dr. Rogers determined it was only typhoid, though that’s bad enough.”

            “There’s only a handful still recovering,” Peter added. “And no one else has contracted it, so it can’t be contagious anymore. I’m sure it’s nothing to be concerned over, but we could use a little more help caring for the sick.”

            “Oh,” said Clara, terrified at the thought, yet anxious to do her share of work in the new community; she knew she would need friends to lend her a hand in future hardships. “I’d be happy to help with the nursing.”

            “We wouldn’t want you to become ill too,” warned Mrs. Wheelock.

            “Oh, but I can’t let those people suffer if I can help them,” Clara said to mask her fears.

            “I could show you the building we’re using for a hospital,” Peter offered. “Then you can decide if you want to help.”

            “All right, I should be free this afternoon,” Clara replied, “but I promised to call on Mrs. Harlow this morning.”

            Peter agreed to come fetch her after dinner and thanked her in advance for her help; Clara felt a sudden fondness for this young man who seemed so bright and capable. She did not believe even typhoid could lessen his liveliness.

            After Peter rushed off, Clara helped Mrs. Wheelock wash up the breakfast dishes. She also inquired more into Peter’s history.

            “Oh, Peter is quite an adventurer,” replied the landlady. “He’s been all over the Great Lakes working on boats, doing various types of work.”

            “How old is he?” asked Clara.

            “Only eighteen,” said Mrs. Wheelock, “but he’s already an old timer in terms of knowing this country. His family is from New York, but when he was nine, they moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Then when he was fifteen, he basically ran away from home and went to Mackinac Island; ever since, he’s been exploring the Great Lakes and working at whatever he can find. Last spring, Mr. Graveraet hired him to help with the iron company, and he’s been living here since.”

            “What an adventurer,” Clara said. Even Gerald’s courage in coming to this region seemed small beside a fifteen year old boy traveling all over these dangerous lands.

            Once the breakfast dishes were finished, Mrs. Wheelock went to start the laundry before she needed to prepare lunch. Clara decided to act on her promise to visit the Harlows. Mrs. Wheelock pointed the way to their dilapidated hut; then Clara started down the path through the little settlement. Along the way, she glanced at the tall, unfamiliar trees that surrounded the few scattered buildings. She had never before seen so many trees stretching for so many miles. She wondered what ferocious beasts might lurk in those woods. Even in the forests of Massachusetts, it would only be a mile or two until a person saw a house or farm, but here one could walk for days without seeing another human being. Worse, a bear might be encountered. Frightened by the thought, Clara scurried to the Harlows’ hut, wishing someone were in sight in case of danger.

            She found Mrs. Harlow and her mother, Mrs. Bacon, occupied with sorting the new supplies Mr. Harlow had brought from Sault Sainte Marie. After introductions, Clara’s first remark was about how nervous she felt to be outside alone, but Mrs. Bacon assured her she was perfectly safe. “No one will harass you here, and we aren’t established enough to worry about such social proprieties as a woman walking without her husband. You’re as safe here as on the streets of Boston.”

            “But are there any Indians nearby?” Clara asked.

            “Yes, but the Chippewa are perfectly friendly,” Mrs. Harlow added. “They’ve been very kind to us since we arrived a few weeks ago.”

            “Olive, tell her about your first meeting with a Chippewa,” laughed Mrs. Bacon.

            “Oh,” Olive laughed. “My first morning here, I was determined to see everything I possibly could about my new home. I stepped out my front door and practically the first thing I saw was a wigwam. I’d never seen one before, and I was just so curious it never suggested itself to my brain that it might be someone’s home. So I went over and opened up the blanket door, and to my amazement saw two squaws. At first I was surprised, and a little frightened, but they smiled and giggled, and then I giggled back and retreated.”

            “I would have been terrified!” Clara gasped. “You’re lucky they weren’t male Indians.”

            “Oh, the male Indians are just as kind as the women,” replied Mrs. Harlow. “They’ve already assisted us a great deal. Chief Marji Gesick has been very kind by stopping to inquire how we are all coming along, and Charley Kawbawgam has an Indian village not far away on the Carp River. He’s been showing the men the best hunting and fishing grounds, and some white men are even staying in his lodge house. Granted, we’ve only been here about a month, but so far, there’s been no need to worry, and our hearts are strong. Now that my husband has brought us some more supplies, we should have little trouble getting by for several months. I don’t think it’s going to be easy, but I feel this little settlement will grow and prosper faster than one might suspect.”

            “Yes,” said Mrs. Bacon, “the men had the dock built in just three days, and the sawmill and forge should be finished before winter arrives. It may not be until next year that we really become a businesslike town, but it will happen soon enough.”

            Clara smiled, but she was presently more concerned about the settlement’s safety than its prosperity.

            “I can’t believe how this country is changing,” added Mrs. Bacon. “I was born just about the time President Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase, and since then the country has more than doubled in size. When I was a child, no one ever would have imagined Michigan becoming a state, and here it’s already been one for a dozen years. Just imagine, Mrs. Henning, how much this town will have grown by the time you’re my age.”

            “Yes,” said Clara, “but I’m afraid it will be a lot of work along the way.”

            “Hard work is what we’re put on this earth for,” replied Mrs. Bacon. “Besides, we have it easier now than any of our forefathers ever did, and after how they struggled to make this nation what it is today, we have to carry on the tradition of that hard work.”

            Clara recalled her grandmother uttering similar sentiments. She thought again of her ancestress, Anne Bradstreet, trembling upon arrival in the New World, only to become a famous poetess and one of the first ladies of the land, daughter, wife, and sister to colonial governors. Clara wondered whether someday she might equally be remembered as a pioneer of this rugged place. If the iron ore recently discovered made them all as rich as predicted, and Worcester grew as large as Boston, she might delight her mother by becoming a leader of Worcester society.

            But Clara had not come to gain wealth or social position. She reminded herself she had come to support her husband, and to prove she had the courage to surmount challenges rather than settle for the dull social rituals of Boston. For the first time, she felt excited to be living along the shores of Lake Superior. Her travel fatigue was lifting, and she felt anxious to see the rest of her new home, despite what dangers might exist in the forests. So Mrs. Harlow and Mrs. Bacon could return to their work, she soon excused herself.

            “I think I’ll go for a walk along the lake before Gerald returns at noon.”

            “Go ahead,” said Mrs. Harlow. “You might as well enjoy your first day here.”

            “Yes, I told young Mr. White I would go to the hospital this afternoon to help.”

            Mrs. Bacon and Mrs. Harlow exchanged approving glances. Clara’s heart glowed inside her–she had been afraid people would think her some frail young miss from high society, but already she felt she was proving herself.

            As she stepped out of the wooden hut, she scanned the other log cabins under construction. A few wigwams and a lodge house were in the distance; she wondered whether Indians resided in them or had white men taken possession. Scarcely enough buildings existed to qualify as a village. She looked down to the lake where the lone dock stood. The schooner had already disappeared from sight, leaving no chance to escape. Lake Superior stood before her–the only source of communication with the outside world–so large she could not see Canada across it. How long before another ship would come, before ships would come regularly? It might be years before there was a railroad or even paved streets, before there would even be stores in which to buy trinkets, or cloth, or even food. There wasn’t even a butcher–Gerald would have to hunt for their meat, and they would have to plant their own vegetables. She wondered how much land they would have to plant to feed themselves. Mr. Harlow had told Gerald sixty-three acres had been purchased for the village to expand upon, but only a few acres were now cleared. She could not imagine the settlement ever growing enough to cover that much land. The trees would only encroach back in. All around her were towering pines, oaks, and maples. So many trees–a giant unexplored forest all around, full of mystery, perhaps horror.


            She turned to see Gerald walking toward her with Mr. Harlow. He was beaming.

            “I’ve found the perfect place for our house. A few of the other men have agreed to help build it, and when they heard I had a wife, they said we could raise our roof first, and then I can help them later. We should have our own shelter within the week.”

            “That’s good,” Clara smiled. “Then I’ll have a place to put my china.”

            “More than that,” said Gerald, “we’ll have a home, and I’ll fill it with homemade furniture. Isn’t it exciting, Clara? It’s a whole new world for us.”

            She hesitated to reply, but Gerald’s enthusiasm won her over; he was so free from self-doubt, so charismatically able to make others believe in him; she believed in him. His confidence was what made him most attractive to her. If they did not survive here, it would not be through the fault of this brave man she loved.

            Clara took his hand.

            “It’s a fine land, Gerald. I’m sure we’ll be happy here.”

            Mr. Harlow smiled in recognition of the same courage his own wife possessed. Maple leaves rustled in the breeze, as if confirming Clara’s words. Gerald once more felt he had made the right choice in his bride, in this brave, beautiful young woman.