Posted tagged ‘marquette opera house’

Willpower: An Original Play about Marquette’s Ossified Man

February 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

200 E. Ridge ~ The Burt and Adams Home

April 7, 2013

The following is an excerpt from my book My Marquette:

Directly across from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is the Burt house, more commonly known as the Adams Home. The Burt family is one of the most significant in Upper Michigan history beginning with William Austin Burt who discovered iron ore in Marquette County, thus leading to the building of the mines and Marquette as a harbor town. This home was built by William Austin Burt’s grandson, Hiram Burt. Hiram and his wife fell in love with a house in France while traveling there in the 1870s, and they decided to build a replica in Marquette. Hiram owned the Burt Freestone Quarry and used its own brownstone to build his home. It included a Mansard roof with Gothic gables, and a gabled tower. Behind the house, on the sloping hill down to the lake, numerous terraces were built for gardens and a place to hold parties. Hiram Burt decided to sell the house to Sidney Adams, and then he moved to 351 E. Ridge Street.

The Adams home today. The upper floor has been removed and it is currently the Terrace Apartments.

The Adams home today. The upper floor has been removed and it is currently the Terrace Apartments.

Sidney Adams, the house’s second owner, arrived in Marquette in 1850 with only a dollar to his name, but he bought an ax for fifty cents and set out to become a woodsman. He soon could afford to buy a wagon and oxen to deliver wood to his customers. Besides starting a side business as a potato farmer, he received a contract to haul iron ore in his wagons from the mines to Marquette in the years before the first railroad arrived. He also went on to own a sawmill and to invest significantly in land.

When he bought the Burt house, Adams indulged in designing terraces on the hill behind the house and filling them with fruit and vegetables, as well as bridges for people to walk on. He extended the terraces not only behind his property but behind many more houses extending eastward along Ridge Street. Adams also reputedly built an underground tunnel that ran from his house across the street to the Episcopal Church so his invalid adopted son, William Sidney Adams, could attend church without going outside.

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

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

After her parents and adopted brother’s death, Bertha Adams remained in the house for many years, but as time went on, her father’s terraces fell into disrepair and the gardens became overgrown. When the house was sold in 1946, only slight vestiges of the gardens and terraces remained. After the house was sold, the gabled tower was removed, and the house broken up into the aptly named Terrace Apartments, which it remains today.

(photos of the terraced gardens are included in My Marquette)

D. Frederick Charlton – Early Marquette Architect

May 9, 2012

D. Fred Charlton, the architect who designed so many fine buildings in Marquette, resided at 438 E. Ohio St. in Marquette. Like Hampson Gregory, Charlton was born in England, in 1856. He migrated to Canada in 1884 and Detroit in 1886 where he joined the firm of architect John Scott. In 1887, Scott sent Charlton to Marquette to oversee the erection of the Marquette Branch Prison’s buildings. Charlton decided to stay and eventually began his own firm. Among the highlights of his career was in 1893 when he was chosen to design the Mining Building for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. The list of buildings he and his firm built across Upper Michigan is exhausting and a complete list may well be impossible, but among them were:

The Charlton Home – 438 E. Ohio St. Marquette

The Peter White Phelps Home 433 E. Ridge

Dr. O.D. Jones Home 418 E. Hewitt

The Vierling Home 114 W. Hewitt

Bishop Vertin’s home on Superior Street (Baraga Avenue)

The Longyear Mansion

The Waterworks building

The Marquette Opera House

The Guild Hall for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

The Delft Theatre (three total, in Marquette, Escanaba, and Munising)

Marquette’s Delft Theatre, built by Charleton in 1915.

The Clubhouse at the Huron Mountain Club

The Butler Theatre in Ishpeming

The town hall and library in Republic, Michigan

The Masonic Block in Crystal Falls, Michigan

Four buildings and the original design for the Northern State Normal School (today’s Northern Michigan University)

Seven buildings for the Michigan College of Mines (today’s Michigan Technological University)

The Insane Asylum in Newberry, Michigan

Three buildings and two additions for the Marquette Prison

The Marquette, Alger, Ontonagon, and Gogebic County Courthouses

The Escanaba, Ishpeming, and Hancock City Halls

The Negaunee, Escanaba, and Ishpeming Fire Halls

A hotel in the village of Birch, Michigan

Three Carnegie libraries

Sixteen Upper Michigan banks

Nine Upper Michigan churches

Marquette’s Waterworks Building designed by Charlton – today it houses the Marquette Maritime Museum.

Three Upper Michigan YMCA’s

Approximately two hundred fifty different city blocks throughout Upper Michigan

Approximately twenty other public structures

Charlton closed his firm in 1918, citing the lack of building as a result of World War I as the reason. He then retired and passed away in 1941.

A photo of Charlton can be seen in my book My Marquette.

Marquette’s Opera House, the 1938 Fire & Blizzard, & the Episcopal Church Scandal

October 22, 2010

This post is the third and final in a series of blogs about the Marquette Opera House, the 1938 Fire that destroyed it during a blizzard, and the church scandal that began it. The previous blogs were posted on October 16 and 19, 2010. The text is from My Marquette where additional historical photos can also be found.

The 1938 Fire had burnt down the Marquette Opera House and several other businesses during what may have been the worst blizzard the U.P. had ever seen.

To lose a major section of downtown Marquette had to be devastating to the residents, and I can only imagine how my grandparents felt to know a place so important to them was gone forever. I doubt the ensuing scandal that explained the cause for the fire made anyone feel better. The story was broadcast nationwide as described in The Queen City:

            True magazine revealed Marquette’s Episcopalian Diocese had been having financial problems. Mr. Miller, responsible for the church funds, had embezzled church money, then lost it in the stock market. He went to the bishop for help, threatening that if the bishop exposed him, he would commit suicide. In desperation, Bishop Ablewhite sought out an investment counselor named Lyons to help rebuild the church’s lost savings. Mr. Lyons suggested nightclubs would be a good investment, he being a frequent visitor to them since he had quite the eye for showgirls. Soon, Bishop Ablewhite had decided to buy his own little nightclub, the income from which would be used to replace the missing church funds. Gradually, the secret leaked out to the bishop’s congregation.

            Mr. Miller’s office had been in the Masonic building, which also housed the Marquette Opera House. Speculations would never be confirmed regarding whether Mr. Miller had started the fire while burning the incriminating documents of his embezzlement, or whether the fire had just serendipitously destroyed them. People became suspicious when after the fire, Mr. Miller’s safe was found open and everything burned inside it. Within a year, the congregation realized money was missing from several church funds until a legal investigation was deemed necessary. John Voelker, Marquette County’s prosecuting attorney, ordered a grand-jury investigation into the case. By October, Bishop Ablewhite was found guilty as an accessory to the embezzlement of church funds and sentenced to ten years in prison, although he got off after nine months in the Jackson state prison. Upon the bishop’s release, his friend Henry Ford gave him a position as director of personnel in his River Rouge plant. Mr. Miller got off far more easily; he died of a heart attack before the embezzlement was discovered. 

The Morgan Chapel of St. Paul's Episcopal Church

            Time magazine and the Chicago Tribune would also announce the Bishop’s resignation in 1939, noting that the money embezzled equaled $99,000 and that Ablewhite’s name was stricken from the Protestant Episcopal Church’s rolls.

            The Opera House itself was never rebuilt although a new Masonic Temple was constructed and today is upstairs in the Washington Street Mall. Operas are rarely performed in Marquette today and no recordings of those early Marquette entertainments remain. Only memories and photographs testify to the grandeur that once was.

Marquette’s Opera House & the 1938 Fire and Blizzard

October 19, 2010

This post is a continuation of my previous post about the Marquette Opera House, taken from My Marquette.

Like many an opera heroine, the Marquette Opera House would meet a tragic ending. In the early morning hours of January 24, 1938, and during perhaps the worst blizzard in Upper Michigan’s history, the employees at The Mining Journal, working desperately to finish the newspaper, had the electricity go out. In the blackness, they looked down the street and saw fire aglow in the Masonic Building. Here are some passages from the retelling of the story in The Queen City:

Residents near downtown Marquette were rudely woken by the fire brigade’s sirens. People peered out their windows to see an eerie conglomeration of smoke, bright red flames, and hurling white snow. The fire had begun in the Masonic Building. How it began or how long it had already raged would not be determined until much later. For now, the fire must be stopped before the entire downtown crumbled to cinders, before history repeated itself—several residents recalled their grandparents’ stories of another great downtown fire seventy years earlier. By the time the firetrucks arrived, the Masonic Building was counted as lost, including inside it, the Peter White Insurance Agency and the much-loved Opera House. Already the fire had spread along the street, engulfing Jean’s Jewelry, the Nightingale Cafe, the Scott and Woolworth stores, De Hass Builder’s Supply, and the Marquette County law library.

            Had electricity been required to pump water, the fire’s destruction would have been inestimable. Fortunately, the waterworks was powered by gas engines run on batteries. Hoses were quickly unrolled along Washington Street to fight the formidable fire. The bravest men struggled with feelings of panic and loss to see buildings that had stood since before their childhood, where they had spent countless joyful hours—the Opera House, the theatres, the stores—all at the mercy of the raging flames. No one had ever seen such a firestorm, much less been asked to fight it. Firemen dug their footholds into snowbanks and aimed their hoses at the flames, only to have the wind whip the waterstreams straight back into their faces, where ice formed on their noses while smoke choked their lungs. Yet they dared not back down.

….

            Bill, although large and strong for his seventeen years, had to use all his might to brace against the frigid winds and direct the hoses so the water struck the flames. Much of the water froze on powerlines and building fronts just seconds after it spurted from hoses. Heroic efforts appeared ineffective against the blazing furnace that had once been Washington Street. At times, the slush in the street was up to Bill’s hips, making him feel more like he was fishing in the Dead River than fighting a blazing fire. A firetruck froze in the slush and could not be moved. Henry waded through the watery mess to help dig out the truck so it could hose down the bank buildings on the corner of Washington and Front before the fire spread downhill toward the lake.

            As morning broke, Mr. Donckers opened his cafe to provide hot coffee for the firemen and volunteers. Bill and Henry took a quick, welcomed breakfast break after learning the Kresge store was no longer in danger. They emerged from breakfast, refreshed and ready to fight again, just as the west wall of the Masonic building tumbled down. Even though the wall fell inward, glass shot out from its windows, injuring a traffic officer and three firemen, while bricks struck two other men. None were seriously injured, but even the witnesses felt shaken. The accident made everyone fight with greater determination to prevent worse accidents. Curses and prayers were muttered in hopes the blizzard would end so only the fire had to be fought. There would be many more hours of frustrating toil.

Marquette Opera House after the fire and blizzard - from my grandparents' photograph albums

            My only family member that I know actually witnessed the fire that day was my grandpa’s cousin, Myles McCombie. In 1999, The Mining Journal featured a story about the fire and interviewed residents who recalled it. Myles McCombie was just a teenager at the time; upon hearing about the fire, he and a friend walked downtown to see it. When they reached Washington Street, a fireman asked Myles to help for twenty-five cents an hour, so Myles picked up a hose. He told The Mining Journal, “We stood in slush up to our hips and we were pouring water on that side [of Washington] street.” Myles was also one of the volunteers who was served a quick breakfast at Donckers store when it was opened to serve the firemen.

            To lose a major section of downtown Marquette had to be devastating to the residents, and I can only imagine how my grandparents felt to know a place so important to them was gone forever.

What caused the downtown fire that destroyed the Opera House? Stay tuned to my next blog post that will finish the story of the Marquette Opera House and the church scandal that resulted in such tragic consequences.

Marquette’s Opera House

October 16, 2010

            The Marquette Opera House was a stately edifice, the grandest in the Queen City’s downtown. The building had been constructed in 1892 at the instigation of the city’s greatest benefactors, Peter White and John Longyear. The foundation was built of Anna River brick and native Marquette brownstone. The front entrance had a Romanesque arch through which the city’s residents passed in their most elegant habiliments. While the building also housed a storefront and a Masonic Hall, the theatre was the building’s gem. The interior reflected the height of the Italian Renaissance, while the proscenium arch served as gateway to the grandest scenes ever played on a Marquette stage. Ornate boxes filled the walls, and in one such princely seat, Beth found herself seated between her lover and her annoying cousin.

            First Thelma commented about the comfortable seat. Then she fretted over how well she could see the stage. Next she listed the names of everyone in the theatre whom she knew, and since the theatre could hold up to one thousand people, and almost everyone in Marquette knew everyone else, this recital lasted until the lights dimmed and the orchestra began to play.

            Beth hoped Thelma would keep her mouth shut during the performance. She vowed she would never forgive her mother for sending Thelma as her chaperone. But what did it matter? Henry clearly had no intentions tonight of asking her to—

            He reached over to take her hand. Beth hoped Thelma would not notice.

— The Queen City

 

            Of all Marquette’s grand old buildings that were gone before my time, the Marquette Opera House is the one I wish I had seen and the one for which I feel most fond because of its role in my family’s history as well as its sensationally tragic end.

           My grandparents’ courtship was as intriguing a story as any to me. Their religious differences inspired two marriage problems in my novels, first when I wrote The Only Thing That Lasts where Robert’s Grandma and Mr. Carter do not marry in their youth because she is Catholic and he a Southern Baptist, and later in The Queen City when Henry and Beth, based loosely on my grandparents, have a long engagement.

            Despite the religion issue, my grandpa decided to propose to my grandmother. The event occurred at the Marquette Opera House sometime in the late 1920s. My grandmother, her parents being overprotective, had a friend with her as chaperone, although hopefully the friend was not as annoying as Beth’s talkative cousin, Thelma. Although the religious differences would keep my grandparents from getting married until 1934, the Marquette Opera House was the place where their courtship and pending nuptials were confirmed. I doubt a more romantic place existed in Marquette for my grandparents to pledge their love since by all accounts the opera house was a truly elegant structure.

            The Marquette Opera House was built in 1890 with Peter White and John M. Longyear forming a corporation to sell stock to fund its construction. When completed, the building would contain three floors, including not only the theatre but four shops on the first floor, office suites on the second, and a third floor leased to the Masonic order.

Designed by local architect Carl F. Struck, the building’s exterior was of native brownstone and brick with a Romanesque entrance of Portage Entry sandstone. The interior, however, was the most stunning. A stairway led to the ticket office. Hallways led to the dress balcony and the Masonic Hall. The style inside was Italian Renaissance with ornate boxes, frescoes depicting comedy and tragedy, and of course, an impressive proscenium arch with an Italian landscape painted on the drop curtain. The plush chairs—enough to hold 900—were the same as those in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Popular plays and operas were performed including the Victorian favorite, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

            In 1927, the building was bought by the Masons and became known as the Masonic Building. By that time, movies had come to Marquette and the Delft Theatre had been operating a dozen years, so to compete, a variety of performances transplanted some of the more traditional plays and operas. Nevertheless, many performances were played here to great success, and it was not uncommon for national celebrities to visit, including Lillian Russell, Lon Chaney, John Philip Sousa, and W.C. Fields. I only wish I knew what performance my grandparents watched the night of their engagement.

Like many an opera heroine, the Marquette Opera House would meet a tragic ending.

Stay tuned to my next post to find out the dramatic story of the opera house’s end. The full story, complete with a photo of the Opera House’s interior can be found in My Marquette.

The Historic Calumet Theatre

October 9, 2010

The historic Calumet Theatre

Yesterday, I made a trip to the Copper Country to deliver copies of my newest book My Marquette to various stores. I had never been to the Calumet Theatre but often heard of its historic signficance and beauty so I took the opportunity to take the self-guided tour. Here are a few of the photos from my visit. Sadly, they do not really come close to displaying the charm of this historic theatre. In fact, the theatre’s proscenium arch is too large to get a full shot of it, especially considering how the balconies are laid out so that you can’t fully view it from where otherwise you could get a full shot. The arch is 32′ wide, 26′ deep and 26′ high.

The historic Calumet Theatre was constructed beginning in 1898 and opened to the public in 1900. Opening night was considered one of the biggest social events in the Copper Country’s history. In the years that followed, many famous early twentieth century celebrities performed here, including Sarah Bernhardt, Lillian Russell, John Philip Sousa, and Chauncey Olcott (the latter may not be a household name today but

Tyler inside the theatre

he was a great Irish tenor who first made famous the song “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” Many of these celebrities also visited Marquette’s Opera House (see My Marquette for more about it) but while Marquette is the largest city in Upper Michigan today, Calumet was the largest a century ago so it could sustain an opera house and attract such big names.

The theatre has two balconies both of which are of significant sizes, as well as two boxes on the main floor close to the stage, each seating four people. Today the theatre holds 700 people, but on opening night it held 1200 (420 on the main floor, 400 in the  first balcony, and 380 in the second balcony).

The proscenium arch has beautiful murals which were original to the theatre, then removed, and finally restored in recent years.

Box seats

By the 1920s, films were becoming popular and the grand age of opera passing away. Movies began to be shown in the theatre, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs when it debuted in 1937, while plays were also still performed.

Yes, the Calumet Theatre is said to have its ghost. One of the early great actors to visit it was the Polish Madame Helena Modjeska. Rumor has it that in the 1950s another actress was performing but had forgot her line, and she looked up to the balcony and there the ghost of Madame Modjeska was mouthing her lines to her.

In 1971, the theatre was designated as a National Historic Building. With much support from the community, the theatre remains a significant jewel and part of Calumet’s history and social life. In more recent years the Osmonds, Kathy Mattea and the Glenn Miller Orchestra have performed here. Plays including a musical version of Gilligan’s Island have been performed, and later this month Arlo Guthrie will be performing. For more information about the Calumet Theatre and to see a show there, you can visit their website at www.CalumetTheatre.com.

Proscenium Arch

Finally, an excellent recent article about the Calumet Theatre appeared in the June 2010 Marquette Monthly. The theatre has been having problems with its roof, to such an extent that tours can no longer go into the Sarah Bernhardt dressing room. The cost to repair the roof is $200,000. A self-guided tour is only $4.00. Please make an effort if you live in the area to visit this fabulous part of U.P. History. Take a tour (guided or self-guided), or go to their monthly performances, including Dinner and a Movie. If I lived in Calumet, I’m sure I’d be attending performances there every month. The Calumet Theatre not only tells us about Calumet and theatrical history but what life was like at the turn of the century, and perhaps even a glimpse of what Marquette’s Opera House was like. In a future post, I’ll talk about the Marquette Opera House as well.

Taken from the worst seat in the house

If you do visit the Calumet Theatre, just make sure you don’t get a seat behind two poles. I hope you’ve enjoyed my photos and that you’ll visit the Calumet Theatre soon. There’s no place like it in Upper Michigan!

Murals on the Proscenium Arch

Why I Write About Marquette

September 26, 2010

The following essay is the preface to My Marquette, to be released this week.

My Marquette - released Oct 1, 2010

WHY I WRITE ABOUT MARQUETTE

 

            Where do you come up with your ideas? What made you decide to write about Marquette? Ever since Iron Pioneers was first published, my readers continually ask me these questions.

            My answer is that having been born and raised in Marquette, and being so enculturated into the city’s history and its people, as an author I simply cannot not write about it. The best advice a writer is given is “Write what you know” and if I know any place, it is my hometown, where I and generations of my ancestors have lived. I am unable to remember the first time I saw St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Old Savings Bank, or Presque Isle Park. They have always been there, always been a part of my conscious world—always actively influenced my imagination.

            My earliest memories include my grandfather telling me about Marquette’s past, stories I never forgot that made me wonder what it was like to grow up in this town in the early twentieth century, when automobiles were still a novelty, long before television, in days when my grandpa would get a quarter to scrub the kitchen floor, and he would use that quarter to treat himself and a friend to a silent movie at the Delft Theatre and still have change left over for snacks.

            Since I was eight years old, I knew I wanted to write stories, and growing up in a town where my family had lived so long, hearing story after story about the past, I wanted to write down those stories and make the past come alive for people. While in college, I became interested in family history. I learned then that the earliest branch of my family came to Marquette in 1849, the year the village was founded, and my family has lived in Marquette ever since. As I learned more about my ancestors and Marquette’s history, I could not help but imagine what it would have been like for a person to come by schooner across Lake Superior in 1849, to see only a wilderness where a village was to be built, and what it was like after two decades of struggling to build that town, to see it destroyed by fire in 1868, only to spring up again, grander than before. And what of the winters? Feet and feet of snow, and no snowblowers or modern snowplows. What an amazing courage and determination the pioneers had to carry on each day in the nineteenth century. In my novels, I tried to recreate the early settlers’ experiences so readers would understand and appreciate their courage and draw their own strength from the examples of those mighty pioneers.

            The scene in Iron Pioneers that I feel best demonstrates The Marquette Trilogy’s themes of courage and survival is when Molly and Patrick talk about why they left Ireland to come to America. Their discussion reflects the tales of many immigrants who came to Marquette—some like Patrick to escape religious or political oppression—some like Molly, to avoid poverty and suffering. Molly’s daughter, Kathy, after overhearing her mother relate how her ancestors had starved during the Irish potato famine, and knowing that others around the world are far from as fortunate as her, asks her future husband what the past and her ancestors should mean to her.

            “How can we live in America, knowing that others are suffering?” Kathy asked.

            “By appreciating our good fortune and being happy.”

            “Happy?” she asked, feeling it impossible after years of living under her stepfather’s oppression, after the suffering her mother had known. She feared to be happy from fear it would not last.

            “Yes, happy,” said Patrick. “All those people who suffered would want us to be happy, to live and marry and have children who will not know such pain. We are the extensions of our parents and grandparents and all those brave people; we’re a continuation of their spirits, and our happiness helps to validate their struggles, to give meaning to their lives.”

            He only understood this truth as he spoke it, as he suddenly believed the world could be a wonderful place; that everything could work out for the best. He felt like an old Celtic bard who foresaw a hopeful future capable of washing away past grief. 

 

            I wrote my trilogy as a tribute to those pioneers who built Marquette, and those like them in every community who built this nation despite the difficulties they faced. Whether a person has ever visited Marquette should not determine whether they find enjoyment or inspiration from the history of this fine city. The story of Marquette is the story of the American Dream, of dreams for a better future and the struggles to achieve that dream, the hopes and fears of countless American generations of immigrants seeking a better world, and how some achieved it, some failed, and some persevered without giving up. Based on the pioneers’ examples, my novels have hopefully inspired readers with the courage to endure their own trials and overcome them. To give people that courage, and to hear how much my novels have resonated with them, has made the many lonely hours of writing all worthwhile.

            In writing about Marquette, I knew I wanted to capture the magic of one particular place and allow readers to travel there and come to know it as well as I did. I have lived in Marquette all my life except six years when I foolishly thought I would find a better life elsewhere, only to feel exiled. While I was away, Marquette celebrated its sesquicentennial in 1999, and that same year, I, homesick, decided to write about its history.

            I had written other novels, but never satisfied with them, I had left them unpublished. When I began writing Iron Pioneers and its sequels, although I knew the task would be monumental, I finally felt I had found my voice, the books I was actually born to write.

            I wrote about the outdoors—the wild, thick forests, the temperate, green-leaved splendid summers of blueberry picking and daring to enter Lake Superior’s cool waters, the roar of the winter wind, the blizzards that leave behind snowbanks that must be shoveled, and ultimately, the sense of peace one feels among so much natural beauty. I wrote about Marquette’s history, for I could not imagine a more inspiring story than the American Dream played out in a quest to build an industrial empire along Lake Superior, of an iron discovery that produced more wealth than the California Gold Rush, of a mined product that helped to win major wars and change the world. And I wrote about the change and decline of that iron industry, how it affected the people who lived in Marquette, sometimes fulfilling, often destroying their dreams.

            Mostly, however, I wrote about life in a small town, of the relationships between people in a community. Many people think small towns are quiet and dull because they lack the fast-paced lifestyle of metropolitan areas. But small towns have a greater and more personal drama. Willa Cather, author of O Pioneers and one of my greatest influences—my title Iron Pioneers is partly a tribute to her—best described the relationships in small towns in a passage I used as the front quote for Narrow Lives:

 In little towns, lives roll along so close to one another; loves and hates beat about, their wings almost touching. On the sidewalks along which everybody comes and goes, you must, if you walk abroad at all, at some time pass within a few inches of the man who cheated and betrayed you, or the woman you desire more than anything else in the world. Her skirt brushes against you. You say good-morning and go on. It is a close shave. Out in the world the escapes are not so narrow. — Lucy Gayheart

 Relationships are complex in small towns, the layers of social networks dizzying; in the intertwining family trees and the friendships of my characters, I tried to capture this reality. A love affair or a conflict between friends can be of mammoth proportions in the history of a small town—as important to its inhabitants as a world war is on a national or international scale. It was that personal connection to each person and place that one feels living in a small town that I wanted to capture in my fiction.

            I have felt lonely in large cities, walking down streets where not a face is familiar, where no one notices you. In Marquette, although it has grown to where I can go into a store without seeing a familiar face, I know if I stop to speak to any stranger for a minute and name a few friends or acquaintances, the stranger and I will know someone in common. We are only separated by a degree or two in our little city of twenty thousand people.

            Living your entire life in the same place breeds familiarity. Even if I see no one I know when I walk about Marquette, the city is rich with memories and history for me. It is an indescribable comfort to enter the downtown post office and recall that my grandfather helped to build it during the Great Depression. I can walk down Washington Street and see the stone in the sidewalk marking where the Marquette Opera House once stood, where my grandfather proposed to my grandmother before it burned down in the great fire and blizzard of 1938. The First Methodist Church has a stained glass memorial window to honor my ancestral aunt and uncle, Delivan and Pamelia Bishop, who were among its founders in the 1850s. I look out onto Iron Bay and imagine what my ancestors must have felt when they first arrived on its shore. My readers tell me, because of my novels, they now walk about Marquette, equally imagining what life was like here for the generations before them—to me, that is the ultimate compliment to my work—that it has made my readers imaginative and interested in history and especially their own family stories.

            A timelessness settles over a person who grows older while living in the same place. You talk about Cliffs Ridge, the ski hill whose name was changed to Marquette Mountain twenty years ago, yet your old friends know exactly where you mean and do not correct you—it is still Cliffs Ridge in their memories too. As you drive into South Marquette on County Road 553, you turn your head out of habit to look at the old red brick house of the Brookridge Estate, which you have always admired, only to realize it is 2010 now, not 1982, and the house was torn down nearly twenty years ago to build the new assisted living facility, Brookridge Heights.

Moments of joy from your past keep you connected to people. Thirty years ago, the Marquette Mall had a fountain with colored lights—so many people have told me they had forgotten about it, and they were glad when I reminded them of its beauty in Superior Heritage. Every place I step, I remember a dozen moments from my own past—I stop to get gas at a station where once stood the Bavarian Inn where I had breakfast dozens of time. I go to the remodeled Delft Theatre and can still remember the first movie I saw there when I was three years old—memories layer themselves on top of each other. The past never dies—we can travel back to it in our minds, and reading a book is the opportunity to enter another world or an author’s mind and experience another person’s experiences.

Tyler R. Tichelaar

            I imagine such nostalgia and family connections are why people enjoy my books, why some of my readers stay in Marquette despite the possibility of better lives elsewhere, or why many of my readers, exiled from Upper Michigan, find comfort for their homesickness by revisiting Marquette through my words. Books and memories allow you to go home again.

            This deep abiding connection, this sense of place, of belonging, of knowing I am home and knowing how much that is to be valued—that is why I write about Marquette.