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!