Posted tagged ‘Mackinac Island’

“Castle Nowhere”: Constance Fenimore Woolson’s Great Lakes Gothic

December 18, 2016

In October, my article “Constance Fenimore Woolson, the Mathers, and a Marquette Literary Mystery” was published in the Marquette Regional History Center’s publication Harlow’s Wooden Man. In that article I discussed how Woolson, who was the aunt to Samuel and William Gwinn Mather, probably traveled to Marquette and she also wrote the first stories set in Marquette back in the 1870s. Woolson is more famously known for her novel Anne (1882) set partly at Mackinac Island and for writing about the Great Lakes in general. In this article, I will talk about how she uses Gothic conventions to create some early U.P. Gothic literature.

In 1875, Constance Fenimore Woolson published a short story collection titled Castle Nowhere: Lake Country Sketches. The collection consists of three stories. The first, “Castle Nowhere,” is set off the shores of Lake Michigan and near Beaver Island, and the other two, “Jeanette” and “The Old Agency,” which are connected, are set on Mackinac Island.

Constance Fenimore Woolson was one of the best-selling authors of her day and a close friend to Henry James. She traveled the Great Lakes extensively in the 1850s and wrote about them in her later fiction.

Constance Fenimore Woolson was one of the best-selling authors of her day and a close friend to Henry James. She traveled the Great Lakes extensively in the 1850s and wrote about them in her later fiction.

While Woolson was not the first author to set fiction in Upper Michigan, she was one of the pioneers of regional fiction for the area, and I believe the short story, “Castle Nowhere,” is probably the first Gothic work set in this region. And even the other two stories in the collection have Gothic elements, although I would not classify them as truly Gothic so I will not discuss them here.

From the beginning of “Castle Nowhere,” Woolson applies a Gothic atmosphere. The first character we are introduced to, Jarvis Waring, is a wanderer figure. He is a surveyor sent to Upper Michigan, but he feels like he has no purpose in the world. He also has conversations with “the Spirit of Discontent,” which is his restless wanderer self—in other words, he speaks to himself. (While I don’t think Jarvis Waring’s name has any symbolic connotations, it’s interesting to note that Jarvis was Woolson’s father’s middle name.)

Woolson also clearly sees the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a Gothic place because of its wild forests. This concept of the forest as Gothic is something she borrows from her great-uncle, James Fenimore Cooper, and other earlier American authors like Charles Brockden Brown and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Cooper, especially, took the Gothic out of the castles of Europe and set it in the forests of America where people could easily become lost in the wilderness and where savage Indians threatened white settlers. That said, both Woolson and Cooper were sympathetic to Native Americans and often depicted Natives with redeeming characteristics. “Castle Nowhere” has no Native American characters in it, but the other two stories in the collection do, and Woolson includes other marginalized people in the story.

As the story begins, Waring has entered the woods of Upper Michigan to survey from the Lake Superior shore, but he becomes lost and finally stumbles back onto the lakeshore, not knowing where he is—later he’ll learn he has walked across the peninsula and has arrived on the shore of Lake Michigan, not far from the location of Beaver Island. As he is making camp for the night, Waring, speaking to his Spirit, says he would shake hands with Old Nick (the devil) himself because he is lonely. Soon after, “a phantom skiff” appears on the water, bearing Fog, a man who saw Waring’s fire and stops to visit him. Waring is wary of Fog, who says he comes from “Nowhere” and leads a “wandering life,” but he is polite and lets Fog stay.

Soon after, however, Waring wakes in the night to discover Fog has stolen a book and picture from him. Waring sees Fog making his way out into the water where he has moored his boat. Waring then takes a few days to create a dugout boat of his own and sets off in the direction Fog went to reclaim his property, saying, “I’ll find that ancient mariner,” an obvious reference that equates Fog to Coleridge’s doomed iconic Gothic wanderer figure. Indeed, as the story progresses, Fog reveals himself to be the quintessential Gothic wanderer.

Waring travels on the lake through a fog, but in the morning, the fog lifts and reveals a log house floating on the lake; this structure is the Castle Nowhere of the title, which explains Fog’s saying he was from Nowhere. This moment is interesting because it shows how Woolson is drawing on the Gothic tradition as created by her great-uncle in his novel The Deerslayer. In that novel, “Floating” Tom Hutter lives in a house in the middle of a lake. He also has two daughters living with him, whom he later on his deathbed confesses are not his daughters but stepdaughters. Waring soon discovers that Fog also has a daughter, named Silver, who lives with him (although not until the end of the story will she learn that Fog is not her father), as well as a servant who is a negress.

Woolson again draws on Gothic elements in her depiction of Silver as an innocent young girl who does not know good from evil because she is never allowed to venture off the floating house. She is a sort of Eve before eating the apple, but also a Rapunzel kept by a type of male witch in the form of Fog, and an Immalee, an innocent young woman who lives on an island in Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). Immalee knows nothing of the world save for Melmoth, a cursed supernatural wanderer, who visits her on the island where she is otherwise solitary. Melmoth makes Immalee fall in love with him, and eventually, she ends up entering into a satanic marriage with him. Silver is so innocent that she knows nothing of the Bible and Fog doesn’t want her to. She also has no knowledge of death. Previously, a servant boy, Jacob, and Fog’s sister Shadow, lived with them, but both died of illness and Fog took their bodies away by boat at night so Silver would never have to experience death. Woolson describes Silver in many ways to emphasize her innocence, including calling her a “water-maiden” and a “fair pagan.”

When Waring arrives, Silver is happy to meet him, and they become acquainted before Fog returns from one of his journeys. Fog is not happy at first to see Waring, but when he sees how Silver likes Waring and when Waring understands that Fog stole the book and picture for Silver, he keeps his mouth shut for a while. Later, however, Waring learns that Fog manages to support himself and Silver by being a scavenger and stealing, and worse, he is a “wrecker”—someone who puts lights on the shore to make sailors think it is a safe place to land a ship in a storm and then the ship ends up wrecked on the rocks. Fog then collects what belongings get washed ashore. Fog justifies the fact that he causes death for the shipwreck victims by saying that their lives matter nothing when compared to the pleasure he can give Silver by bringing her their belongings. Waring tries to stop Fog from wrecking a ship and the two end up in a scuffle with Fog hurting his leg. Waring then decides to stay to care for him for Silver’s sake because no one will provide for the family otherwise.

During this time, Fog tells Waring his story—that he committed a crime in New York unintentionally that caused him to become a wanderer, and finally, he convinced his sister to join him in his wanderings. They decided to call themselves Fog and Shadow because both are gone by morning—a wandering metaphor. Fog obviously suffers greatly, saying how his crime only took a minute, but his suffering is endless. Still, he believes God will eventually forgive him and be merciful (this despite how he continues to murder through causing shipwrecks). He claims that when he found Silver as an orphan child, he felt God was letting him know he would eventually be forgiven.

As winter approaches, Fog tells Waring he’s well enough to provide for Silver again, so Waring can leave before the lake freezes and the ice makes it impossible for him to depart. Waring, however, decides to stay because it’s clear he’s fallen in love with Silver. In time, it’s decided that Waring and Silver will marry and Waring will take her back to the real world. They wish to marry before they leave, so Fog and Waring go to nearby Beaver Island to kidnap a former Presbyterian minister who lives there among the Mormons so he can perform the marriage ceremony. This reference to the Mormons on Beaver Island makes it clear the story is set between 1848 and 1856 when the Mormons had a colony there before being driven off the island.

After the wedding, Fog becomes ill and dies, but not before his deathbed confession to Silver that she is not his daughter, but an orphan he found and cared for as if she were his own. This scene is obviously heavily influenced by Floating Tom’s death scene in The Deerslayer, as well as other scenes in Gothic tradition where people reveal family secrets on their deathbeds. As he dies, Fog asks God whether his sin is expiated, but whether he receives an answer is unknown as he dies right after the question is asked. After Fog’s death, Waring and Silver return to the civilized world, taking the negress with them, while Castle Nowhere slowly disintegrates and sinks into the lake until it is, indeed, Nowhere.

“Castle Nowhere” is both a remarkable and gripping story to read in many ways, as well as an early work that shows Woolson is clearly imitating authors she has read. It is also fascinating because of its Gothic, supernatural, and somewhat fairy tale atmosphere. Woolson would go on to write her first novel, Anne (1880), which bears some resemblance to “Castle Nowhere,” although it is more realistic; in that novel, the title character is also a young girl who has lived a sheltered but happy life on an island—although Mackinac Island and so she is isolated but not solitary—and eventually, Anne also leaves to enter the real world, only her experiences will not be happy, while we can predict that Silver and Waring will live happily ever after.

As a resident of the Upper Peninsula who is familiar with many of the locations Woolson writes about, I can say that the area remains heavily forested, and I can definitely see why it would inspire a Gothic atmosphere for a novel. Woolson, who was a close friend of Henry James, would go on to write many more books set in the Great Lakes area as well as the South before her fatal death falling out of a window in Venice. Some speculation exists that she committed suicide. Perhaps Woolson had a bit of the Gothic wanderer’s spirit about her.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, the Children of Arthur series, and numerous novels and nonfiction books set in or about Marquette, Michigan. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com and www.MarquetteFiction.com

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Happy Valentine’s Day from Donna Winters of Great Lakes Romances

February 1, 2012

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, I’ve asked my friend and fellow author Donna Winters to be a guest on my blog. Donna is the author of the Great Lakes Romances® series, which includes many books set in Upper Michigan, including Mackinac Island, Fayette, and L’Anse. Her other books range throughout the Great Lakes, including Traverse City, Saginaw Bay, and currently she is working on a book set in New York’s Erie Canal region. I’ve asked Donna to tell us today a little about writing romance novels and what makes for good romance.

Donna Winters

Donna Winters, author of the Great Lakes Romances series

Tyler: Welcome, Donna. It’s a treat to have you here today. First, will you tell us a little bit about what made you decide to write romance novels, as opposed to other kinds of books such as mysteries or science fiction?

Donna: Back in the early 1980’s, TV newscasters reported that the romance industry was booming and that untrained writers were getting published. I suppose if I’d heard the same thing about the mystery or science fiction genres I might have tried writing those instead, especially if the news reports had claimed that women were having great success.

Tyler: How do you begin with writing a romance novel? Do you first create a female or a male character, or the location, or an incident?

Donna: Because of the regional theme of my series, Great Lakes Romances ®, I always begin with the setting. A standard assumption is that a story springs from the main character. I agree, but I first decide on the setting for the character and delve into the area’s history so I can develop an appropriate heroine and hero.

Tyler: Are there any basic elements that are a must for writing a romance novel?

Donna: Romance must be the focus of the story, and it must have a happily-ever-after ending.

Tyler: What about the Great Lakes area appeals to you as a location for romance, compared to say Paris or regency England or the California Gold Rush?

Donna: Familiarity. I’ve spent my entire life living in states that border on the Great Lakes. Additionally, my husband is a Michigan history fanatic who encouraged me to use Michigan settings.

Tyler: Besides being romance novels, your books are also historical fiction and Christian fiction. Will you tell us a little about how each of those categories shapes your books?

Donna: The times and customs of the historical period determine much about how characters relate to each other romantically. In the nineteenth century, during courtship, couples rarely touched skin on skin. The standards for Christian publishers required that unmarried couples not engage in premarital sex, and for married couples, sex scenes take place behind closed doors, so the reader is never confronted with blatant sensuality.

Tyler: So, can you have good romance without it necessarily being centered on sex? I remember once hearing the famous Dr. Ruth saying that the Victorians had good sex. Do you think that’s true?

Donna: I’m sure the Victorians had good sex, if Queen Victoria is any indication. According to the royal.gov.uk website, her marriage to Prince Albert resulted in nine children between 1840 and 1857. In my opinion, romance can be fabulous without focusing on sex. The Victorians were incurable romantics without being blatantly sexual. They even assigned romantic meanings to flowers so they could send a message of love in a bouquet without ever saying a word! For example, a red rose meant love, but a yellow rose meant friendship. If you were hoping for love and received a yellow rose, you’d have been disappointed back in the Victorian era!

Tyler: Of all of your novels, do you have a favorite in which you think the plot works really well?

Donna: I had a lot of fun writing Bridget of Cat’s Head Point, and I’ve been told by some readers that one of the plot twists took them by complete surprise.

Tyler: Have you ever experienced any stigma with writing romance novels—such as being told they aren’t serious literature—and how do you deal with that?

Donna: There’s plenty of elitism, arrogance, or whatever you want to call it, by readers of serious literature and bestseller fiction. I ignore it and write for one specific readership: those who want a good story that is free of offensive language, sex, gratuitous violence, and main characters with a world view that is not Christian.

Tyler: Besides your own novels, do you have any favorite romance novels or authors?

Donna: One of my favorite authors, in fact the “mother” of the inspirational romance genre for our times, is Janette Oke. I especially enjoyed her “Love Comes Softly” titles which were made into movies.

Tyler: Do you have any advice to give your readers about how to find romance in their own lives?

Donna: I’ve been married for forty years, having found my mate before the Internet, dating services, and other modern social options were the norm. One thing I would stress is that whatever your social venue, look for someone who shares your faith and moral values. Those are the core of a successful long-term relationship.

Tyler: Any big plans for Valentine’s Day?

Donna Winters novelsDonna: Not that I’m aware of. Maybe my husband should answer! We usually swap cards and kisses and tell each other how successful we’ve been with our romance. He’s the hero in every book!

Tyler: When can we look for your next book, Donna?

Donna: I plan to release a new title in June: Bluebird of Brockport, A Novel of the Erie Canal, set in my hometown of Brockport, N.Y., and on the canal in 1830. Here’s a little about the story:

Dreams of floating down the Erie Canal have flowed through Lucina Willcox’s mind since childhood. Yet once the boat is purchased and her family begins their journey, unexpected tribulations and challenges arise. An encounter with a towpath rattlesnake threatens her brother’s life. A thief attempts to break in and steal precious cargo. Heavy rain causes a breach and drains the canal of water. Comforting thoughts of Ezra Lockwood, her handsome childhood friend, temper the rough times, and also give rise to an ever increasing desire to be with him.

Ezra Lockwood’s one goal in life is to build and captain his own canal boat, but two years into the construction of his freight hauler, funds run short, progress stalls, and a renewed acquaintance with Lucina Willcox causes an undeniable longing to make her his bride. Can he somehow find a way to finish his boat and build a future with her?

Tyler: Donna, I’m struck by the difficulties of life in this period from your book’s description. Is romance then a comfort for people in times of turmoil? Do you think that’s why romance novels appeal to readers?

Donna: Readers of romance novels often say they prefer the genre because of the guaranteed happily-ever-after endings. They know the story will be uplifting and therefore fulfill their needs where “escape fiction” is concerned.

Tyler: What would you say is the reason you keep writing romance novels rather than try your hand at something else, or do you have a murder mystery or science fiction novel up your sleeve?

Donna: Actually, my novel about the Erie Canal is better classified as historical fiction with a strong romantic thread than straight “historical romance.” I say that because several chapters go by when the hero and heroine are far apart geographically, dealing with separate challenges while longing for the time when they will be together again. As for writing a murder mystery or science fiction, I have nothing up my sleeve at the moment, but I haven’t ruled anything out. I’d more likely attempt writing humorous fiction, fantasy, or fiction for mature women.

Tyler: Donna, will you tell us about your website and how to find out more about your novels?

Donna: Visit www.greatlakesromances.com to learn about my books and enter the ongoing book giveaway. Each week, I give away a different book from my series to one of the readers who enters following the instructions on the home page. Connect with me also on twitter @bigwaterpub, and on Facebook at my book page, Great Lakes Romances books

Tyler: Thank you for letting me interview you today, Donna. Best of luck with your writing and may you and Fred have a very happy Valentine’s Day.

The Fayette Trilogy by Donna Winters

Blog readers, Donna has graciously offered to give away one autographed set of her Fayette trilogy titles, Fayette—A Time to Love, Fayette—A Time to Laugh, and Fayette—A Time to Leave, to one of the commenters on this post. To enter the drawing for the trilogy, leave a comment that includes your e-mail address, eg. Donna [at] webmail [dot] com.

The deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. on February 14, 2012.

Thanks for stopping by!

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: http://rariekki.webs.com/apps/blog/. 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 www.hiawathamusic.org). 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 www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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)

Appreciating My French Canadian Ancestors

February 17, 2011

I recently visited the exhibit about Canadians in the Upper Peninsula at the Beaumier Heritage Center in the Cohodas Building at Northern Michigan University. It’s well worth a visit to come to a better understanding of our Canadian neighbors, and it is clear many of us have roots in Canada, either reaching far back, or just an ancestor who travelled through Canada before coming to Europe. I have numerous ancestors on both sides of my family who came through Canada, including Irish, Scottish, Swiss, and French Canadian ancestors, and even some who were from New England, moved to Nova Scotia, then later came to Michigan.

Here is the section from My Marquette about my father’s side of the family, which includes my French Canadian ancestry and how that influenced the creation of some characters in The Marquette Trilogy:

The Bertrand and Tichelaar Family Branches

            One other family is mentioned in Iron Pioneers, the French-Canadian Varin family. The influence of French-Canadians in Upper Michigan could not be overlooked, and while my father’s family is not from Marquette, they are French-Canadian long-term residents of Upper Michigan. In Iron Pioneers, the first fictional character to appear is Pierre Varin, a voyageur traveling with Father Marquette. He is later the ancestor of Jean Varin, husband of Suzanne Varin, who comes to Marquette in the 1850s.

My paternal grandmother was Harriet Bertrand, and her French-Canadian ancestors had been in Montreal since the 1600s and in Menominee, Michigan since the 1880s. In fact, the name Varin is among my ancestral surnames, but a few generations earlier than my grandmother. While my mother’s family has the long history with Marquette, my father’s family has a far longer history in the Great Lakes region. My most notable paternal ancestor was the famous explorer and Governor of the Wisconsin Territories, Nicolas Perrot. Consequently, I created an early voyageur character in Pierre Varin, and then reintroduced the Varin family to Marquette. I chose to have Jean Varin die in the Civil War so Suzanne could marry Lucius Brookfield, as my ancestor Basil Bishop had remarried a younger woman after his wife’s death, although Basil’s second wife was in her early sixties at the time, not a young twenty-something. Suzanne’s family moves away from Marquette to Wisconsin, but over time her descendants move back to Michigan, and one descendant, Marie Varin, marries a Dutch immigrant named Vandelaare. My Grandpa Tichelaar was a Dutch immigrant, and so consequently, I connected a fictional version of my father’s family into The Marquette Trilogy when Tom Vandelaare, son of Marie Varin and her Dutch husband, marries Ellen Whitman, daughter of Henry and Beth Whitman.

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Needless to say, French Canadians had a huge influence on the building of America. Nicholas Perrot, my most noteworthy French Canadian ancestor had countless descendants, and if you are one of his relatives, you may be interested in the society for his descendants: http://nicolasperrot.org/

French Canadians descendants have spread across the world. Another fascinating example is my ancestor Jean Guyon (1592-1663), one of the first settlers in Quebec. Not only is Jean Guyon my ancestor, but he is also the ancestor to Hilary Clinton, Alanis Morrisette, Celine Dion, Angelina Jolie, and Camilla Parker-Bowles the Duchess of Cornwall. Here is one story about their relationships: http://www.suite101.com/content/common-ancestry-of-hillary-madonna-and-camilla-a80094

Our Canadian neighbors have given us much to be grateful for in the building of the United States. In future posts, I’ll mention some of my other Canadian roots.

The Mather and Jopling Home – 321 Cedar Street

February 2, 2011

The Mather and Jopling Home

Henry Mather, the original owner of this home, was part of the prominent Mather family which has been so involved with the iron industry in Marquette County. The Mather family had already been famous since the seventeenth century in New England where their ancestors included prominent Puritan ministers Increase and Cotton Mather. The Mathers moved to Cleveland, Ohio from where the family would operate their interests in Upper Michigan’s iron mines. The Cleveland Iron Mining Company, today Cleveland-Cliffs, was begun by the Mather family.

Samuel Livingston Mather Sr. was a co-founder of the Cleveland Iron Mining Company, today known as Cleveland-Cliffs. Samuel Sr.’s first wife, Georgiana Woolson, would give him two sons, Samuel and Henry, and his second wife, Elizabeth Gwinn, would be mother to William Gwinn Mather. William Gwinn Mather would be head of Cleveland-Cliffs from 1890-1940 and would name the town of Gwinn, Michigan for his mother.

Samuel Sr.’s first wife, Georgiana Woolson, was the sister of Constance Fenimore Woolson. The sisters were great-nieces to the novelist, James Fenimore Cooper. Readers of The Only Thing That Lasts may remember Robert O’Neill’s visit to Anne’s Tablet on Mackinac Island and how it inspires his literary aspirations. Anne’s Tablet is a monument to Constance Fenimore Woolson, author of Anne and several other novels set in the Great Lakes area. Woolson lived in Cleveland where her nephews often visited her, and Samuel Jr. would later become her financial advisor. Although no record exists that Woolson ever visited Marquette, I count her as a literary predecessor for being one of the first authors to depict Upper Michigan—specifically Mackinac Island—in fiction, and she certainly would have known about Marquette. She also did well picking Samuel Jr. as her financial advisor; he became not only the richest man in Ohio, but he also had Anne’s Tablet built in her memory.

As for Henry Mather, he married Mary Hewitt, sister of Ellen Hewitt White, thus making him Peter White’s brother-in-law. Henry Mather built his home at 321 Cedar in 1888 and had it designed by Charles VanIderstine. Mather later sold the house to James Jopling, who had married his daughter Elizabeth “Bessie” Walton Mather. James Jopling had first come to Marquette in 1881 as a civil engineer. His brother, Alfred.O. Jopling, would marry Peter White’s daughter Mary. Over twenty-six mining companies would employ Jopling as a mining engineer before he went to work exclusively for Cleveland Cliffs for forty years. James Jopling would be hired by the city to build the road to Presque Isle, which included filling in the swamp that separated it from the mainland.

James and Bessie’s only child, Richard Mather Jopling, was born in Marquette but attended school back East. He reputedly loved Marquette and returned home frequently to visit. His aspirations as a writer were cut short when he died in World War I while serving in the ambulance corps in France. His only book Prose and Verse by Richard Mather Jopling was published posthumously in 1919. His parents signed a copy they gave to Alfred.O. Jopling, his uncle, which is now part of the Peter White Public Library’s collection. The Jopling home would later belong to Dr. Fred Sabin, an ophthalmologist for nearly fifty years. It has since been sold again.

The home is approximately 4,000 square feet in size, contains a formal dining room, large butler’s pantry and an enclosed sun porch with a south view of Lake Superior, five bedrooms and baths and several stately fireplaces. It retains its original woodwork, oak wainscoting, and French pocket doors.

For more about Marquette’s historical homes, read My Marquette.

Father Marquette Statue

December 29, 2010

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

Tyler in front of the Father Marquette Statue in April 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Marquette by Tyler R. Tichelaar

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

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

Marquette’s Hotel Superior

November 4, 2010

The following is an excerpt from My Marquette. The actual book includes a photo of the hotel. And if you haven’t done so already, check out the My Marquette video at YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EItghh5yKzU

My Marquette

HOTEL SUPERIOR

            “There’s the Hotel Superior!” shouted Clarence.

            “That’s a hotel?” asked Gerald as Will turned the wagon up its driveway.

            “Yes,” said Will. “It was built to be a fashionable health resort. Marquette is considered to have the healthiest climate in the world because of its fresh air and clean water, so people come from all over the country to spend summers here.”

            “I can see why,” said Gerald, straining his head to see the top of the Hotel Superior. “It looks like you could fit the entire population of Marquette into this hotel—probably all the livestock from the surrounding farms as well.”

            “Only the richest people can stay or eat here,” said Clarence.

            “Well,” said Gerald, raising his eyebrows, “I hope they’ll let us in then.”

— Iron Pioneers

            Today, all that remains of the Hotel Superior are a few foundation pieces at the terminal points of Blemhuber and Jackson Streets. There is little point in going to the site and trying to locate these—they are not easy to find. Better to look at a photograph of the grandest hotel Marquette has ever known.

            The Hotel Superior was built with the belief that Marquette could be celebrated as a health spa environment full of fresh air, clean water, and refreshing lake breezes that would invigorate people. It was the northern answer to the doctor’s urging a sick person to spend the summer at the seashore. A visit to Marquette was touted as able to relieve hay fever sufferers, and also as the perfect place to summer if you were wealthy and traveling on the Great Lakes. The intention was for the Hotel Superior to outrival all other hotels on the lakes, including the recently built Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

            The Hotel Superior’s enormous tower rose up two hundred feet, while its pointed arches resembled a Bavarian castle. Inside, visitors were treated to the latest innovations in plumbing and electric lighting. Even Turkish baths were available. The spacious porch was sixteen feet wide, and the porch and rooms provided a view of scenic Lake Superior as well as South Marquette. Lush gardens filled the grounds. Nothing like the Hotel Superior had ever been seen, or ever again would be seen, in Marquette.

            But right from its opening in 1891, the Hotel Superior would have its troubles. When I wrote the original draft of Iron Pioneers, I set in 1894 the scene where Gerald Henning takes his grandsons to lunch at the Hotel Superior and they are pleasantly surprised to be joined by Peter White. Later, in double checking my facts, I discovered that as early as the summer of 1894, the hotel had closed because of financial troubles. Fortunately, it reopened in 1895, so I moved the scene to that year.

            Considering how few years the Hotel Superior actually operated, I set as many scenes as possible there—two. The second scene is in 1897, when a ball was held in the hotel following the unveiling of the Father Marquette Statue—at this grand ball, thirteen year old Margaret Dalrymple is annoyed that handsome seventeen year old Will Whitman is dancing with a “hussy” (Lorna Sheldon, who would eventually be the mother of Eliza Graham in The Only Thing That Lasts). By the time of The Queen City’s opening in 1902, the Hotel Superior was already closed. Neither the hay fever sufferers, nor the rich and famous came frequently enough to keep the magnificent summer resort in business.

            From 1902 onward, the Hotel Superior stood vacant. As long as it remained standing, Marquette residents dreamt of it someday reopening, of its two hundred rooms filled, of people once more strolling along its five hundred foot veranda. But as the years passed, twenty-seven acres of gardens became grown over and the orchestra music could no longer be heard.

            The Hotel Superior became the stuff of mystery in its last years. Boys would reputedly break in to roller skate in the hallways and have pillow fights which resulted in feathers flying out of the high windows and covering south Marquette. Then after it was torn down in 1929, a task Will and Henry Whitman assist with in The Queen City, it became the stuff of legend. Local English professor and author, James Cloyd Bowman, whose book Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time was a Newberry Honor book in 1938, used the Hotel Superior as the subject of his 1940 children’s novel, Mystery Mountain.

            The glory of the Hotel Superior lingered long in the memories of Marquette’s residents. My great-aunts and uncles who remembered it from their youth frequently mentioned it to me, although it would have already been long closed by the time they were all born.

Anyone who sees a picture of the Hotel Superior today marvels that it ever stood in Marquette. We can only now imagine what it was like to stroll its veranda or to sit in its dining room and have lunch with Peter White.