Posted tagged ‘marquette’

The Introduction to “Haunted Marquette”

December 5, 2017

In case you’re not yet intrigued enough by my new book Haunted Marquette, here’s the introduction to the book:

Introduction: The Ghosts of Marquette

Let me begin by stating that I have never seen a ghost. I cannot personally say for sure whether they exist or not. I do, however, know several people whom I believe to be reliable and honest who claim to have seen one. And for this book, I interviewed many people who struck me as both completely sincere and having a hard time grappling with the possibility that they had seen a ghost.

“Haunted Marquette” highlights more than forty places in Marquette that may be haunted.

My interest in the supernatural has always been strong ever since I was a young boy fascinated with Dracula. For my doctoral dissertation, I wrote about nineteenth century Gothic novels, exploring how we use the supernatural as a metaphor for our real world difficulties and concerns. But there is more than metaphor to the supernatural. There are many things we simply cannot explain. As humans, we remain both the most intelligent species on this planet and largely clueless about the universe’s many mysteries.

I do not intend this book to provide any answers as to whether or not ghosts exist. It is a question that is impossible for me to answer and remains open to debate. I will simply provide the evidence of those I interviewed, and I will relate the stories I have gathered from other people—in many cases, stories that have been passed down in Marquette’s history and cannot always be verified, although I have tried my best to document sources and suggest what the truth behind a story might be. Some of the stories have clearly been made up for reasons I cannot fathom other than to shock, entertain, or possibly trick the gullible. Others I believe are very likely true.

As someone deeply in love with Marquette and its history, I have often wondered what it must have been like to have lived during Marquette’s early years. What I wouldn’t do to be able to spend just one day walking around Marquette, perhaps circa 1865, so I could talk to Peter White, Chief Kawbawgam, Bishop Baraga, Amos Harlow, and some of my own ancestors—what I wouldn’t give to know these people personally and to see what Marquette was like then.

We have not yet perfected the ability to time travel, but wouldn’t it be fabulous if we could do the next best thing and communicate with those who came before us? The concept of ghosts suggests that some of the dead may also wish to communicate with us. It opens up a whole new realm of possibility for what we might term Marquette’s history. What might we learn if the ghosts of Marquette’s past could tell us what that past was like?

The same is true of any place, for ghosts are found all over the planet. Therefore, I do not think there is anything particularly special about the ghost stories I have compiled about Marquette compared to stories from other cities. I will admit, however, that I never expected to find enough stories to write a whole book on the subject. And I do think Marquette’s history itself is remarkable, so while it may not explain why so many ghosts apparently choose to remain here, a little summary of Marquette’s history may help us better understand whom its ghosts are.

Long before Europeans came to what would become known as Iron Bay and the city of Marquette, the Ojibwa had settled this land. They had their own legends, religion, and beliefs that included various supernatural spirits. While some of these stories were recorded, notably at the end of the nineteenth century by Marquette resident Homer Kidder, who interviewed Chief Charles Kawbawgam, his wife Charlotte, and his brother-in-law, Jacques LePete, for what would later be published as the book Ojibwa Narratives, they do not specifically qualify as what we would term ghost stories today. Native Americans believed in human spirits that could remain behind after a person’s death, but none of these stories associated with the Marquette area appear to have come down to us.

All the stories I have traced surround people of European descent who began settling in the area predominantly in the 1840s and after. In 1844, iron ore was discovered west of Marquette in what is today the city of Negaunee. A port on Lake Superior was needed so that the iron ore could be shipped to cities like Buffalo and Cleveland where it could be turned into steel; as a result, Marquette began in 1849 as a harbor town from which to ship the ore. Amos Harlow, the town founder, came from Worcester, Massachusetts, to establish the town as an agent for the Marquette Iron Company. Originally, he named the city Worcester after his hometown, but the tradition that Father Jacques Marquette, the seventeenth century Jesuit missionary, had visited the area was already strong among ship captains, and so, eventually, Marquette became the city’s permanent name.

Over the succeeding decades, the small harbor town grew until by the late nineteenth century, it became known as the Queen City of the North. That growth continued at a much slower rate throughout the twentieth century. Today, Marquette is a small but bustling city of just over twenty-thousand people, the largest city in Upper Michigan, and one known nationally as one of the most desirable cities to live in and a popular biking and winter sports destination.

Despite Marquette’s prosperity, however, life here has not always been easy. People have died in cave-ins in the nearby mines; they have died in logging accidents in the nearby woods; they have drowned in Lake Superior or been lost in shipwrecks. They have worked hard to tear the iron from the ground, to survive through brutal winters, and to feed themselves during difficult economic times. And like anywhere else, they have loved and married and had children, and they have fought and argued with one another, been greedy, lied, cheated, committed adultery, and even occasionally committed murder. Any degree of tragedy, passion, anger, or accident could cause a ghost to linger and haunt a place or other people because of unfinished business or a guilty conscience over past misdeeds. Therefore, it is not surprising that Marquette, like every other place where humans have settled, has its fair share of ghosts.

Some people have theorized that Upper Michigan has a large number of ghosts compared to other areas because of some special energy source in the land, perhaps resulting from the rich mineral deposits of iron, copper, gold, and silver. Others believe that ghosts have an affinity for water, so the Great Lakes have caused a larger number of ghosts to manifest here than in most other regions. I have to dismiss both of these ideas because, although I was surprised by how many ghost stories I found in Marquette, I am sure the number of ghosts in larger cities like San Francisco and New York far surpasses the number in Marquette. Furthermore, ghost stories appear to exist in every culture and in every country in the world. I don’t think Marquette is somehow special because of the number of its ghosts.

But I do think Marquette’s ghosts are special. They are another link for us to our past, and each of them has a story to tell, just like each person does, and each of those stories matters. Perhaps some of these ghosts do not rest because they are still waiting for someone to tell their stories, to witness that they, too, lived significant lives. Perhaps we can give them some comfort and help them rest by hearing their stories, trying to get at the truth of those stories, or just witnessing that yes, they do exist, and they are as real as we are.

At the beginning of this book I quote the great eighteenth century British author Dr. Samuel Johnson. Another great British author, Thomas Carlyle, wrote in the nineteenth century of Dr. Johnson:

Again, could any thing be more miraculous than an actual authentic Ghost? The English Johnson longed, all his life, to see one; but could not, though he went to Cock Lane, and thence to the church-vaults, and tapped on coffins. Foolish Doctor! Did he never, with the mind’s eye as well as with the body’s, look round him into that full tide of human Life he so loved; did he never so much as look into Himself? The good Doctor was a Ghost, as actual and authentic as heart could wish; well nigh a million of Ghosts were travelling the streets by his side. Once more I say, sweep away the illusion of Time; compress the three-score years into three minutes: what else was he, what else are we? Are we not Spirits, shaped into a body, into an Appearance; and that fade away again into air, and Invisibility? This is no metaphor, it is a simple scientific fact.

Carlyle wrote this passage in his famous book Sartor Resartus in a chapter titled “Natural Supernaturalism.” According to Carlyle, the supernatural is natural, and we ourselves are ghosts just like those who may appear to us—we are just ghosts in fleshly form while they are fleshless. By this definition, I believe we can see ghosts as our human brothers and sisters, our ancestors, too, so perhaps it is time that rather than fear them, we embrace them. They are no more “the other” than people of another race or culture. We are all human—even if we are not all still in human form.

In these pages, we will get to know our ghostly brothers and sisters. We will meet some spirits who were the victims of tragic and sudden deaths. We will meet people who have had surprising paranormal experiences they never expected, and we will also meet paranormal investigators and mediums who purposely search for ghosts or have had ghosts choose to contact them. Hopefully, all these stories will help us individually make up our minds about ghosts and broaden our understanding of them.

I ask my readers to peruse these pages with open minds. Ultimately, I did not write this book to scare anyone—if I wanted to do that, I would have written a horror novel. Admittedly, some of the stories are a bit scary. Others are very entertaining, and still others contain many unanswered questions. I hope my readers will read them with the intent to understand our existence a little better, perhaps to come to new spiritual understandings of the afterlife, and, ultimately, to admit to the wonder that is the mystery of life—a mystery we all share in, even as we have yet to solve it.

Haunted Marquette is available at www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is a seventh generation resident of Marquette, Michigan. He is the author of Haunted Marquette, My Marquette, The Marquette Trilogy, and numerous other novels and nonfiction books. You can visit Tyler at www.MarquetteFiction.com

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Lyla and Bel’s 4th of July

July 1, 2014

For this Independence Day holiday, I thought I would post one of the scenes from my novel The Best Place in which the main character Lyla Hopewell and her eccentric best friend, Bel, celebrate the holiday.

 

So on the Fourth of July, Bel comes over for breakfast, and I have to admit she tries really hard. I tell her when she gets there that I’m making scrambled eggs, but she says, “No, that ain’t festive enough for the Fourth of July.” Then she sticks in a video of this silly musical called 1776 that has that bad film look like most of those movies made in the ’60s and ’70s. And it seems like it’s all about Thomas Jefferson’s sex life from what little bit of it I actually pay attention to—and she tells me just to sit there and have my coffee and enjoy myself while she makes pancakes. So I says, “Okay,” to make her happy, and I drink two cups of coffee and pretend to watch half the movie, and I’m just about ready to keel over from hunger when she finally tells me she’s done.

So I drag myself out of the chair and go over to the table and I think, “What the hell did she bake a cake for?” Only, it’s not a cake. It’s a stack of pancakes, and she’s covered the top one in strawberry and blueberry jam and whipping cream so it looks all red, white, and blue, and then she’s got a little American flag on a toothpick attached to it. “I wanted to put in a sparkler,” she says, “but I was afraid it would set off the fire alarm, and I didn’t think we’d use a whole box of them—they don’t sell them separately,” she says.

The Best Place - the story of two women who grew up in Marquette's Holy Family Orphanage and their lifelong friendship.

The Best Place – the story of two women who grew up in Marquette’s Holy Family Orphanage and their lifelong friendship.

“It’s pretty, Bel,” I says, “but I don’t like whipping cream, you know.”

“That’s okay. I’ll eat the top one—oh, I forgot the candle I bought to replace the sparkler.”

And then she grabs two giant birthday candles off the cupboard of the numbers “7” and “6.” They’re the same ones she used for my birthday cake last year.

“What’s that for?” I asks.

“It’s America’s birthday today,” she says. “It’s the Spirit of ’76. Don’t you remember that from history class?”

I remember birthday cakes have candles to represent a person’s age, not the year they were born, but I s’pose she couldn’t do the math to figure it out—two hundred and…and…twenty-nine it would be—2005 minus 1776.

“Let’s eat,” I says, but first I have to use the bathroom from drinking all that coffee while I waited.

I go in the bathroom and sit down, and can’t help laughing to myself about the pancakes covered in jam with “76” sticking out of them. That’d be one to take a picture of if my Kodak disc camera hadn’t broken. I haven’t bought a new one—those new digital things are just too expensive as far as I’m concerned. And I don’t have a computer to read them on.

Well, we have a nice breakfast. I eat far more pancakes than I normally would, but Bel says we need to eat extra to keep up our strength for walking to the parade. It’s on Washington Street, just two blocks from Snowberry, but whatever.

After breakfast, I wash up the dishes while she watches the rest of 1776. For the rest of the day, I’ll hear her humming that song about Jefferson playing the violin.

“We can watch Yankee Doodle Dandy tonight, Lyla,” she says.

“Great,” I think, but I just says, “Okay.” Maybe I’ll be lucky and fall asleep by then.

“While we wait for the fireworks,” she says.

I’d forgotten about the fireworks, but I can see them great where they shoot them off over the old ore dock right from my window. It’s one of the few advantages of living high up in a skyscraper—well, at least the closest thing to a skyscraper that Marquette’s got.

When it’s time for the parade, we put on suntan lotion at Bel’s insistence, and we get out our old lady straw hats, and then we take the elevator down to the lobby. We go out into the parking lot to Bel’s car where she’s got a couple fold-up lawn chairs in her trunk. Then we start up the hill to Washington Street, a bit before the crowd, so we can get a spot in the shade, usually in front of the buildings on the south side of the street between Fourth and Fifth.

We find a good shady spot, right next to a little tree and where we can see up Washington Street where the parade will come down. There aren’t any kids nearby to run in the street and grab candy and get on my nerves, so that’s a good sign, though it’s a good half hour before the parade will start down by Shopko, and probably another half hour after that before it’ll get to where we are downtown.

At least we’re in the shade so I don’t have to listen to Bel complaining about the heat, though it’s turning out to be a hot summer, which I can do without. No true Yooper likes hot weather—anything over seventy degrees and I start sweating, and when you spend your life walking back and forth to work and working on your feet all day, it doesn’t take much to get you sweating. I’m sweating just from the walk up the hill to here.

I guess a lot of other people must not like hot weather either considering all the guys walking around with their shirts off and the girls in their skimpy shorts and those tank top things that show off their cleavage—well, I’d like to think it was because they don’t like to sweat, but I know better. Bunch of tramps is what we would have called these girls in my day. And the guys, they look like babies mostly, they’re so young. I admit some of them might be good-looking, but they spoil their looks with all those God-awful tattoos. I can see maybe having one on your arm, but not on your back, chest, and especially on your neck. Just makes me want to puke. And then there are the young teenage boys riding around on their bikes, trying to attract the “chicks,” but mostly just making asses out of themselves—only the tramps they’ll attract are too stupid to know they’re asses. “Male sluts—that’s what they are,” I mutter to myself as a trio of them go by, trying to do wheelies for whatever girls might be in the crowd.

“What?” Bel asks.

“Oh, nothing. I just don’t understand the younger generation,” I says.

“Oh, Lyla, how could you? You never were young yourself.”

“What do you mean by that?” I asks.

“Here, have your Diet Coke before it gets too warm,” she says, pulling two drinks out of her gigantic purse.

I take the pop and crack the cap just enough to let the fizz out so it doesn’t explode. I’m not going to ask her again what she means by my never having been young. I was young until I was about ten, but I was never the age of those teenage boys on their bicycles. I never had the freedom to be young like that. I was milking cows at the orphanage and then taking care of two old ladies, and then taking care of a store, an old man, and a woman with a baby and a drunken husband all my teen years. By the time I turned eighteen, I was on my own again, and had my own apartment, but I was busy working constantly so I’d have enough to pay the rent. I had plenty of guys around my age who would try to hit on me when I walked around town, but I just ignored them, and I never went to the bars or anything—I saw what marriage did to people—my father abandoned my mother, or at least that’s what we all thought, and I’m sure her heartbreak over that contributed to her death, and then Bel married an alcoholic who beat her, not to mention she lost her child. Why would I want to go through that pain? And then there were the rich ladies I cleaned house for, always fussing over their rich husbands who brought home the bacon, and most of them were scared of their husbands too. What the hell did I want with that kind of a life?

Finally, we see the cop cars starting to come down the street—a sign that the parade is about to start.

———————————————————————

Find out what happens next in The Best Place, available at www.MarquetteFiction.com

Marquette’s Molbys and Modern Maccabees

March 24, 2014
The Modern Maccabees picnic in not-so-modern times.

The Modern Maccabees picnic in not-so-modern times.

This photograph was found among my grandmother’s belongings when she passed away in 1992. My grandmother, Grace Elizabeth Molby White, was the daughter of John Molby (originally spelled Mulvey) and Lily Ann Buschell. We believe this may be the only photo that exists Lily Molby (we have one other poorer quality photo of John), and we aren’t even positive it is them. My mom remembers my grandmother showing her the photo when she was a girl and pointing out her mother in it. We believe the large man in the middle is John Molby and the woman beside him is his wife Lily. We also believe the young man, who has the man with the older seated mustached man between him and the alleged John Molby, is John and Lily’s son George. No one else in the photo’s identity is known.

This is not a family photo but rather a group photo for the Modern Maccabees. If you look closely you’ll see George Molby and some of the others are holding flags that say Modern Maccabees on them. Lily’s obituary also notes that she was a member of the Lady Maccabees. Who were the Maccabees? They were a fraternal organization founded in Ontario, Canada in 1878 and named for the biblical Maccabees. Originally known as the Knights of the Maccabees, in times other branches were formed–the Lady Maccabees and the Modern Maccabees in 1892. The organization was most popular within the state of Michigan. Their major efforts were to provide a form of low-cost insurance.

I believe this photo was probably taken sometime between 1906 and 1915 because George Molby was born in 1886 and he has to be at least age twenty here and the clothing clearly dates to the World War I era or earlier. Furthermore, the group was renamed in 1915 to the Women’s Benefits Association. I don’t know where the photo was taken–probably some sort of park in or near Marquette.

If anyone can provide further information about the photo and the people in it, I would love to hear from you so please leave me a comment.

The Peter White Home – 460 E. Ridge, Marquette

February 28, 2013

The following is from my book My Marquette. Photos of the Peter White Home are included in the book:

In 1867, Peter White was the first person to build his home on Ridge Street and he lived there until his death in 1908. The home was inherited by his daughter, Frances P. White, and her husband, George Shiras III. George Shiras III was the son of Supreme Court Justice, George Shiras II and his wife, Lillie, another of the Kennedy sisters. George Shiras III would be famous as a naturalist who engineered the ability to photograph wildlife at night. At the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, his work took first prize. Shiras Hills, Shiras Pointe Condominiums, and Shiras Pool at Presque Isle are named for him, but I think he would have been most pleased to be remembered with Shiras Zoo at Presque Isle. George Shiras III would also become a congressman for Pennsylvania and become a friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, having a major influence on Roosevelt’s conservation efforts. Roosevelt would stay at the Shiras home when he visited Marquette, most notably in 1913 during his famous trial at the Marquette County Courthouse. George Shiras III died in 1942 and was buried in Marquette. The Shirases would have two children, George Shiras IV and Ellen Shiras. Ellen would marry Frank Russell Sr., owner of The Mining Journal.

The Frazier Home stands where formerly the Peter White Home stood

The historic Peter White home was torn down by the family in the late 1940s because it was considered too expensive to heat. The current home was built in 1949 by Lincoln and Ann Frazier. Ann Reynolds Frazier was a cousin of the Shiras family and the daughter of Maxwell Kennedy Reynolds and Frances Q. Jopling (Frances’ mother was Mary White, Peter White’s daughter). This new home was the first Ranch style home in the historical residential district of Marquette, which makes it historic in its own right despite its looking out of place among its neighbors. The house was featured in Home and Garden as a model modern home. The entire home is built on one level—no upstairs, no basement—and provides spectacular views of the lake from several rooms. Behind it is the original carriage house and Peter White’s terraced gardens. One can imagine Peter White entertaining his guests there with his famous Peter White punch. Today, the home is owned by Lincoln and Ann Frazier’s son Peter White Frazier and his wife, Peggy.

Summer Memories: Remembering the Hot Pond

August 20, 2012

The following post is taken from my book My Marquette. Unfortunately, I could not find a photo of the Hot Pond when writing my book.

When I was a kid in the early 1980s, the Hot Pond was the place to swim rather than the Shiras Pool. The Hot Pond existed for a short time because the Dead River wound its way under the bridge north toward the ore dock, cutting through the land, thereby creating a warm swimming hole between two beaches. People would often float down the Hot Pond on inflatable rafts and inner tubes, and it was perfect for swimming since it was no more than five feet deep in the middle so parents felt their children were safe swimming there. But rivers flow as they will, and soon a hard winter changed the river’s flow back into a relatively straight line under the bridge into Lake Superior. The Hot Pond was no more.

Had winter not changed the river’s course, doubtless the Flood of 2003 would have. In May 2003, heavy spring rain and rapidly melting snow caused water levels in the Dead River to rise, and the water pressure from the current became too strong for the Silver Basin Dam to withstand. The dam broke, releasing some 90 billion gallons of water. Not only did the river overflow its banks, but trees and boats plummeted downstream. The Dead River flows through the Silver Basin to the Hoist Dam. Fear that the Hoist would also break as water poured over its top caused the evacuation of homes from the Silver Basin and McClure Basin and all along the river. The Dead River flows just north of Marquette’s Wright Street along the Holy Cross Cemetery and then under the Dead River Bridge out into Lake Superior, so that meant all of Marquette north of Wright Street was evacuated—two thousand people total.

Fortunately, the Hoist Dam withstood the flooding and no one in Marquette lost a home, but the flood did wipe out the Dead River Bridge, making Presque Isle inaccessible. The Presque Isle Power Plant was out of commission, resulting in power to the mines being shut down—it would be a month before it was operating again at full capacity. All residents north of Marquette including Big Bay lost power. Marquette’s Tourist Park’s dam and levee just a mile west of the river’s mouth also failed. The Tourist Park’s landscape would forever be changed—the water from the small lake where so many people swam flowed down the river, leaving behind naked land that had once been underwater. The park has never been the same.

Flooding in Upper Michigan is not uncommon in the spring due to melting snow and rain, but the 2003 Dead River Flood holds the record for being the most traumatic ever seen in Marquette County. The damage was estimated at $100 million. Hopefully, the flood’s like will never be seen again.

Happy 100th Birthday to Presque Isle’s LS&I Ore Dock

June 24, 2012

2012 marks the 100th birthday of the Lake Superior & Ishpeming Railroad Ore Dock in Marquette’s Upper Harbor at Presque Isle Park. Cleveland-Cliffs has been airing a commercial commemorating its significant history, and on July 15th the tall ship the Niagara will be arriving to celebrate its birthday.

In honor of the ore dock’s birthday, I am posting the passage about it from my book My Marquette:

LS& I Ore Dock in winter – photo credit – Sonny Longtine

Then John took Wendy on a walking tour around Presque Isle. Luckily, an ore boat was in the harbor, so they walked out on the breakwall to watch the boat load its cargo from the pocket dock. — Superior Heritage, The Marquette Trilogy: Book Three

By the late nineteenth century, three ore docks operated in the Lower Harbor. Then in 1912, an ore dock was built in the Upper Harbor. Nearly a century later, it is Marquette’s only operating dock and nineteen years older than its Lower Harbor sister which sits silently.

The Upper Harbor’s LS&I Dock, belonging to the Lake Superior and Ishpeming Railroad, unloads ore from the mines onto ships bound for Canada and various ports in the Great Lakes. The dock stands seventy-five feet high and projects 1,200 feet into Lake Superior. Nearly 10,000 timber piles are driven twenty feet deep to support the dock’s size and weight. Workers must climb 103 steps to the dock’s top to help load the ore. Lucky tourists will see a ship along either side of the ore dock with the dock’s chutes open to load the ore, a process that can take several hours.

Marquette’s last remaining operating pocket dock is considered so important that following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the government was concerned it would be a target by terrorists to disrupt shipping on the Great Lakes.

The LS&I dock remains a testament to Marquette’s raison d’etre—to carry ore to industrial centers like Buffalo and Cleveland so it can be made into steel. Upper Michigan’s iron ore has played an integral part in the United States’ modernization from its use to build cannons and ships in the Civil War to over a century of constructing automobiles. As long as the mines operate and ore boats pull up to the LS&I dock, Marquette will remain connected to its past.

The LS&I Ore Dock in summer – Photo credit – Tyler Tichelaar

My 25 Year Author Anniversary

June 4, 2012

Today is my 25th anniversary as an author. I count today as my anniversary because it was on this day, June 4, in 1987 that I started writing the first novel I would complete. I had made a couple of other false starts prior to that date, but that day I decided I was going to write my first novel and I was going to be dedicated about it. It was the first day of summer vacation following my sophomore year of high school, and every day that summer, I religiously sat at my desk from 10-12:30 every morning working on my novel, titled Marquette: The Life and Times of Robert O’Neill. I did not finish it until a couple of years later, and that rough draft was then revised and sent out to receive rejection letters before later being revised and finally published as The Only Thing That Lasts in 2009.

I have a special fondness for that novel, although I don’t think it my best, because it was my first completed book. It is the book from which I learned what writing a novel was about. Through its many versions, there were chapters that were cut out as extraneous, passages I wrote and rewrote, and ultimately, I learned the craft of tightening sentences, writing believable dialogue, and developing a plot that kept moving.

Of course, I spent a lot of time wasting time, but in those days I didn’t have a TV in my room to distract me, or a computer. I wrote by hand with a pencil on lined notebook paper, and my biggest distraction was stopping every 20-30 minutes to flip over the record I was listening to–usually one of many old Broadway musicals which I credit with teaching me a lot about character development and pacing, and opening up favorite books to read over passages I thought I could learn from, like Catherine’s death scene in Wuthering Heights which I could use for creating Robert’s mother’s death scene (that scene was later cut from the novel anyway). I was also, especially in writing this novel, heavily influenced by Gone With the Wind, which is why the Southern element creeped into the book–something I had no firsthand experience with, although I later drew on my experiences living in South Carolina from 2000-2001 to make it a bit more authentic.

Looking back, I’m surprised I was as committed as I was to writing every day. But I lived in Stonegate by the Crossroads where I didn’t have a car and not many friends at that time who lived nearby so I had no distractions really like I might have found had I lived in Marquette or Gwinn where I went to school. I stopped at 12:30 each day to eat lunch and then throughout the rest of the day, I would think about my book so I could figure out the next scene to write the next day.

So to celebrate my anniversary, I present the first chapter of that first novel, although this first chapter was written much later in about 2005 when I heavily revised the novel. The original manuscript had three quite boring chapters that this chapter replaced so it could get the story moving much more quickly.

Chapter 1

Going North

            “So, you’re going up North to live with those damn Yankees. How do you feel about that?”

Mr. Carter turned his head to spit out a wad of tobacco, then turned back to look me straight in the eye. We were sitting on my parents’ front porch. I had known Mr. Carter all thirteen years of my life—he was an old family friend, having known my grandparents on both sides of the family—yet I had never felt overly comfortable around him. Since my father’s parents had long since passed away, he had come over to our house often, to “check up on” my dad, and to give him some fatherly, if unwanted, advice. My father was always cheerful toward Mr. Carter, my mother always polite—yet many times I had caught the irritated glances my parents exchanged when they heard Mr. Carter’s knock on the door. Because my parents had raised me to respect my elders, I usually did not become riled by Mr. Carter’s comments—if today were different, perhaps it was because my mother had died a couple days before—or perhaps because my father was away fighting in the Great War in Europe, and we had not heard from him in weeks—or perhaps because in a couple hours I would be boarding a train with my aunt, to go live with her and my grandmother in the North, until my father returned home.

None of these events had caused me to lose my temper in the last few days—not even when Mr. Carter continually spat tobacco juice on my mother’s whitewashed porch. But his comment that I would be living among “damn Yankees” now stirred me enough to retort:

“My family are Yankees!”

I sneered out the damning word “Yankees” in mockery of how all good South Carolinians spit it out. Even if my family were half-Yankees, I would not have them insulted.

Mr. Carter frowned.

“No, they’re not,” he said slowly, pulling out his tobacco can and putting another plug into his mouth. “Your family comes from good Southern blood—your father was born here, as were both your mama’s parents, even if your mama was born up North. Your folks were probably ashamed to tell you so, but your grandpa’s family were deserters of the Cause; they moved up North before the war, and then your grandmother went and married your grandfather when he was down here as part of the occupying Union Army during Reconstruction. So I guess you could say she deserted too. But your grandmother comes from one of the oldest and finest families in the South—her aunt, Abigail Richmond, could have been the first lady of the Confederacy had she wished. But instead she chose to associate with Northern carpetbaggers and scalawags. That’s how your grandma met your grandpa, at some fancy party her Aunt Abigail held for those damn Yankee soldiers.”

I felt incensed. How dare he spout off my family history to me, as if I did not know it! But truthfully, I knew none of this. I had never thought to ask why my mother’s family lived in Michigan, or how she came to meet my father who was from South Carolina, or why we lived in the South and not the North. And now my mother was dead, and my father was overseas, so I might never be able to ask him about these things. Oddly, my parents had never spoken of the Civil War, and while I had learned plenty about it in school, somehow I had never thought to ask about our family’s role in it. My schoolmates all knew about their family’s roles in that war; they all could list with great pride every battle a grandfather or great-uncle fought at. I always remained silent during these discussions—perhaps because I sensed that in the South where the Confederacy lived on in so many hearts, something must be wrong with my family never to mention the war.

Could my grandmother have really married a Yankee soldier? Was I the grandson of a Yankee? Were my mother’s relatives really traitors to the Cause? I could not believe any of it. I would never be able to hold my head up again at school if it were true—only I would not be going back to the local school. I would go to school in the North with Yankees! I felt my family pride dying inside me. Mr. Carter couldn’t possibly be right, could he?

“Ha!” chortled Mr. Carter. “I bet I know more about your family history than you do!” He let out another stream of tobacco juice as if to affirm the statement.

I was angry, but I could not argue—he probably did know more about my family history, yet he had no right to call my family members Yankees and deserters.

Mr. Carter was about my grandmother’s age—in his early sixties—too young to have fought in the war. He was of that unfortunate group of Southern boys who had hoped the war would last long enough for them to join up, so they could restore the failing Confederate Army, but by the time Mr. Carter was ten years old, Lee was defeated, the Union restored, the South occupied by Northern soldiers. But Mr. Carter could remember the South’s defeat, and he had been a friend of my father’s father in his boyhood—if that were the case, then he probably did know all the details of my family’s history during the war, and perhaps he did speak the truth now, but he had no right to throw it in my face, to dishonor my family the day after my mother was laid in her grave.

“Excuse me,” I said and went into the house.

“Robert, I’ll be ready to go in ten minutes,” said my aunt as I came in the door.

For a second, I considered that she might know the truth—she was my mother’s sister; she lived in the North, unmarried, with my grandmother—who probably knew everything about the family. I thought of asking my aunt whether Mr. Carter’s words were true—were our family deserters of the Southern Cause? But if it were true, I was not yet prepared to hear it. I went into the bathroom to be alone with my thoughts.

My mother’s family Yankees? How could I think of them that way? But they did live in the North. I had seen them so rarely that I had never thought about why they lived so far away, and now I was going to live with a grandmother who had married a Union soldier, and worse, that Union soldier had been my grandfather! My father must have known this, yet he had married my mother, the daughter of a Yankee soldier. I wished I could contact my dad. I wondered whether he would have consented to my living up North if he were aware of my mother’s passing. We had sent him word, but who knew when he would receive it?

Maybe I didn’t have to go. Maybe I could stay with Mr. Carter until my father came home—but living with Mr. Carter wouldn’t be much better than living with Yankees. Could I live in my parents’ house by myself? I was thirteen now, and Nellie, my parents’ Negro servant, could still come over to check on me and cook my meals.

But I knew the grownups would think such a plan impractical at my age.

I stared out the bathroom window, at the beautiful willow trees and my swing hanging from an oak. I wondered whether I would ever see our magnolia tree blossom again. I knew the North didn’t have magnolias. From what Aunt Louisa May had told me, they didn’t have much of anything except snow.

“Robert, we’re ready!” my aunt called. “Hurry or we’ll miss the train.”

Who was she to decide where I lived? But I couldn’t be rude to her any more than to Mr. Carter. And she had always been kind to me, and I knew my grandmother was kind as well. It was not my aunt’s fault if she were born a Yankee—she could not help where she was born, and she had been born long after the war. I could blame my grandmother, but she was taking me in now. I felt rather relieved to think I wouldn’t be going back to school here—I would have been ashamed if my friends found out about my Yankee connections—imagine what they would think when they heard I was going to live among Northerners? Perhaps the North was the only place I would be accepted now. But that was silly—all our neighbors knew my mother was from the North. I was making too much out of it all. The war had ended over fifty years ago—it probably didn’t matter to anyone now except an old man like Mr. Carter.

“Robert!”

“Coming!” I shouted. I flushed the toilet so no one would think I had simply gone into the bathroom to avoid Mr. Carter. Why did he have to tell me all this the very day I was leaving? Why couldn’t my parents have told me this before? Was our past so besmirched that they had thought it best to keep it from me?

When I stepped out the front door, Aunt Louisa May was standing on the porch.

“There you are,” she said. “Hurry and say goodbye to Nellie so we’re not late for our train.”

Nellie stood by Mr. Carter, handing him luggage to place in his wagon so he could drive us to the train station.

I went down the front steps and walked up to her. “Goodbye, Nellie.” I held out my hand, but she did not blink until Mr. Carter took the suitcase from her. Then she buried me in her arms. “Be good for your aunt, Robert,” she said.

She had been like a second mother to me. I had known her all my life. Three times a week she had come to help my mother with the cooking and cleaning, and often she had postponed her work to chat or play a game with me. Now I felt as if I were losing my mother all over again.

“I wish you could come with me,” I said as she released me.

She laughed and said, “What would I do up North? Besides, you know I’m a married lady now.”

She had married just a year ago. I held a fierce hatred toward her husband whom I did not think good enough for her. But secretly, I felt he had partly stolen her from me.

“Then I wish I could stay, and you could look after me,” I said.

I felt the childishness of this remark—I was practically a man, after all. But I had been unable to stop myself from speaking the words.

“You’re getting too old to need looking after. And you’ll be back before you know it—your father will be coming home soon.”

She was trying to cheer me, but from all accounts, the war in Europe was far from over.

“Here’s the key, Nellie. I locked the door,” said Aunt Louisa May. “Let us know if you hear from Robert’s father. I’ll write to him again as soon as we reach Marquette.”

“Don’t you worry none, Miss Weesa May,” she replied. “I’ll keep a good eye on the place.”

“So’ll I,” said Mr. Carter, although he had not been asked. I think he resented that my aunt had given Nellie the key over him. But it did not matter—he would stick his nose in our business anyway by driving over every few days to check on the house.

“Let me give you a hand, Miss O’Neill,” he offered, helping my aunt into the wagon.

I crawled into the back with the suitcases, wishing instead we could ride to the train depot in my father’s automobile. Would I ever get to ride in it again?

We had barely waved goodbye to Nellie and pulled away from the house when my aunt, as if reading my mind, said, “I’m surprised, Mr. Carter, that being such a prosperous landowner, you haven’t bought yourself an automobile.”

“Don’t believe in ’em,” Mr. Carter replied. “Dem contraptions is jus’ a passin’ fad.”

“Well, I imagine they’ll be around longer than this horse of yours,” Aunt Louisa May said. Jeb Stuart was a rather run-down nag.

Mr. Carter began whistling “Dixie” to ignore her. I think it was the only tune he knew. My aunt and I exchanged amused glances. Mr. Carter was a stubborn old man, set in his ways and unlikely to change. He would not have driven that old nag any faster to the train station if Sherman’s army were after him. But his whistling reminded me that I wouldn’t be in the land of cotton anymore. Marquette seemed an unimaginable place, from all I had heard about it. It was like a fabled land where the snowbanks reached six feet high, where people had to snowshoe or ski to get around in winter, where even on the hottest summer days, the temperature scarcely exceeded eighty, and Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake, was within walking distance from everywhere in the little town. I could not imagine living amid such cold weather, in a place so contrary to everything I had previously known.

Mr. Carter kept up his whistling all the way to the train station. We had no conversation—I think my aunt and I were both exhausted from the long days of preparing for my mother’s funeral, the thought of the long trip North, and the all-consuming grief in our hearts. I had not even cried for my mother, except the day of her death; I felt numb all over, as if the world were moving on, as if I were going through the motions of living, merely going to Marquette because I was told, not really caring what became of me. I fell into a melancholy daze until Mr. Carter coughed, and then I saw we were pulling up to the train depot.

“Well, Robert, hope ya have a good time up North, and that ya come back here soon,” he said, after pulling our luggage out of the wagon and handing it to my aunt and me.

“Thank you, Mr. Carter,” I said. “You’ve been a good friend to my parents, and I thank you since they are not here to do so.”

I felt very adult saying such words. Mr. Carter had always hung around our house, eating our food, amusing and occasionally annoying my parents with his shiftless ways, but I thought it best to be polite when we were parting. I felt I was being very big and gracious considering his recent degrading remarks about my family.

“Don’t ya worry none. I’ll keep an eye on the house while you’re gone.”

“Goodbye, Mr. Carter,” said Aunt Louisa May. “Thank you for everything.”

He tipped his hat to her, and for a moment, I saw their eyes meet and an odd smile of approval cross Mr. Carter’s face. My aunt, seeing him smile, looked bewildered and quickly reached for my hand. Mr. Carter turned to spit out his tobacco.

“Well, see ya,” I said to him, as Aunt Louisa May pulled me toward the train.

We quickly got on board, found our seats, and waited silently for the train to pull away. In a few minutes, my childhood world was left behind.

I felt lonely as the train headed North and familiar sites disappeared. My aunt sat quietly for a while, doubtless exhausted from all the urgent arrangements she had been forced to make. She stared out the window until long after we had crossed the border into North Carolina. Once or twice I heard her sigh. After half an hour, I pulled out a book and tried to read—I remember nothing of the book now, except that a mother was in it, which immediately made me think of my own mother. I felt less grief-stricken now than angry that my mother’s death meant I must live up North. And again, I felt anger stir in me over Mr. Carter’s words—what did he know? He was always exaggerating the truth—my own father had said so on more than one occasion. I could not trust Mr. Carter’s words.

“I’m sorry, Robert. I’ve been day-dreaming,” said my aunt, turning toward me. “It’s just so hard for me to imagine your mother being gone. I’m sorry your life has to be so disrupted like this, but I don’t know what else can be done since your father is away. We’ll just have to make the best of it. I wish your grandmother hadn’t twisted her ankle—I imagine she’d make a better traveling companion for you than me.”

“It’s all right, Aunt Louisa May,” I said, wishing to soothe her. Her eyes looked red, as if she were holding back tears. “During times like these, we have to do our duty, and mine is to cause as little trouble for everyone as possible.”

I was proud of how brave I sounded. I told myself that even if I were going to live with my grandmother and aunt, I would be man of the house.

She smiled. “You’re a good boy, Robert. Your grandmother and I will be happy to have you with us. I still can’t get over how much you look like your mother.”

She meant the words kindly, although I would have preferred to resemble my father. And the mention of my mother again reminded me of Mr. Carter’s words—that my mother’s family had deserted the South and sided with Yankees. I decided it was time I knew the truth.

“Aunt Louisa May, how come my mother was from Marquette, yet she married my dad who was from South Carolina?” I asked the question although I was afraid of the answers. “Isn’t your side of the family also originally from the South? I’ve never really understood that, although I know at one point my mother told me she and my father are cousins of some sort.”

“Your parents are second cousins,” my aunt replied. “They met when we came down South once to visit my Great-Aunt Abigail. When your parents got married, your mother decided to live down here with your father.”

“But then,” I said, “if they’re cousins, why does half the family live in Marquette and half down South?

“To explain all that would make a long story,” Aunt Louisa May said.

“It’s a long train ride to Marquette,” I replied.

I would rather hear a long story, and know the full truth of it at once, before we reached Marquette; hearing of my family’s dishonor seemed preferable to sitting in silence and ignorance, alone with my grief and fears.

“I just want to know,” I added, “if we’re really Southerners or Yankees?”

My aunt laughed. “I never thought of it that way. I don’t think anyone in Marquette would label himself a Yankee, but you Southerners have a different perspective I suppose.”

Her saying “you Southerners” gave me hope; even if she were a Yankee, I was a Southerner. Yet I waited patiently for further explanation.

“I guess by rights you could say your mother’s half of the O’Neill family are expatriate Southerners.”

I did not like that term “expatriate” but it was less harsh than “deserter” or “traitor.”

“How long have we lived in the South?” I asked. “Aren’t we originally Irish?”

“Oh yes,” said my aunt, “although I don’t know anything about the family when they lived in Ireland. I only know that my father’s grandfather was Seamus O’Neill, and he came to America around 1820 or so and settled in South Carolina. I don’t know anything else about him except that he had two sons, Edmund and James. Edmund O’Neill was your great-grandfather on your mother’s side, and James O’Neill was your great-grandfather on your father’s side, but I don’t really know anything about James’s family, so you’ll have to ask your father about that.”

“But how did your side of the family end up in the North?” I asked. “When did that happen?”

“Edmund and James tried to make a living off the land their father left them, but while James was headstrong and strict about business, Edmund had no interest in farming. They owned a few slaves—not more than a dozen I would say. James insisted they would need more slaves to make the farm profitable, but Edmund refused to buy more. On his honeymoon, he and his wife Dolly had traveled to Washington D.C., where they had heard an abolitionist speaking. From that time on, he began to feel more and more that slavery was wrong.”

“I don’t know how anyone could ever doubt it,” I replied. Yet I was surprised by my reaction—why was I so upset that my family should desert the Southern cause when I believed slavery was wrong? I would have been incensed if anyone had treated Nellie like a slave.

“Well, we live in a more enlightened age now,” said my aunt. “In those days, people quoted the Bible to support slavery. James apparently didn’t care whether slavery was immoral—he just knew he needed more hands to make the farm profitable. To ease his conscience and still not disagree with his brother, Edmund sold his land to James.”

“What difference did that make?”

“Edmund freed the slaves he had. He said he couldn’t bear to see them remain in bondage. But I doubt it made any difference because my father said the slaves couldn’t find work anywhere in the county, and when Edmund offered them money so they could go North, they said they weren’t going to leave their home, so they stayed at the farm, working for the minimal pay James gave them. I’m sure Edmund meant well, but his actions didn’t really make any difference. Only the war made the difference.”

“So then what happened?”

“James was infuriated with his brother—he purposely paid the ex-slaves low wages, and he called his brother a traitor. He said he could not operate the farm and pay wages and that he would go bankrupt, although I guess he managed to get by until the war. But I don’t think the two brothers ever spoke again.”

I could see James’s point—why should he pay for what he had really inherited? His brother, rather than helping with the farm, had only cost the family more. Yet, I felt rather proud that my great-grandfather had stood by his principles.

“And then Edmund moved to the North?”

“Yes. He had heard about the iron ore discoveries in Upper Michigan, and somehow he got it into his head that he could make a great deal of money up there without having to own slaves, so he came to Marquette back when it was just a little village of a few hundred people. That was about the mid-1850s I guess. My father, whom you’re named after, and his sister, my Aunt Carolina, were just children then. Of course, my father has been dead for years, but you’ll meet Aunt Carolina when we get to Marquette.”

“It must have been hard,” I said, “for our family to leave everything they knew in South Carolina to move to a new town.” I was thinking of my own situation.

“I’m sure it was,” said Aunt Louisa May. “Edmund must have loved the South or he wouldn’t have given his daughter the name of Carolina. I wish before he died, I had thought to ask him more about it, but you never think to ask those questions when you’re young.”

I felt proud of myself to be so young and asking questions—but I might not have asked if Mr. Carter had not riled me up.

“What happened to James during the war?” I asked.

“He must have gotten by somehow, even after his slaves were freed. I guess the farm had to be sold eventually by your father’s father after James died, but I don’t know much about that. That was before I ever knew that side of the family.”

I thought about this for a while, wondering what it was like to own a farm full of slaves, only to lose it all.

“Your grandmother might know something about it too,” Aunt Louisa May added. “She could tell you stories about life during the war since she lived through it down here.”

“She wasn’t born in the North?”

“Oh no, she grew up not far from where your parents live now. During the war, her parents both died, and Yankees burnt down the family plantation. She was an only child, and just a little girl during the war, so she went to live in Charleston with her Aunt Abigail. That’s where she met my father.”

“And your Father fought for the Union?”

“No, not quite. My father was Edmund’s son. He was just a boy during the war, but afterwards, he joined the army and ended up being stationed in Charleston during the Reconstruction. My mother’s Aunt Abigail was from one of the oldest families in South Carolina, and somehow, her fortune came through just fine during the war—rumor said she and her husband were trading with the Yankees. I doubt that’s true. I think that after the war, they just accepted what most Southerners wouldn’t—that they would have to befriend the Yankees if they wanted to survive. They had a great big house in Charleston, so they had gigantic parties for the Yankee officers; my father was invited to one of her parties where he met your grandmother. She’ll tell you that the neighbors thought it bad enough she would marry a Yankee, but to marry a man whose parents had been Southerners and deserted the cause—well, that would have made her a social outcast in Charleston. But Aunt Abigail told your grandmother that she would have a better life in the North, so she married my father anyway, and once his military duty was over, they moved to Marquette.”

“And then my mom and dad met when Grandma came back to the South to visit her aunt?”

“Yes, and that was a bit difficult for them as well, just as it was for my parents. My mother thought your father was a good young man, but his father, Jefferson Davis O’Neill—you can imagine why James O’Neill picked that name for his son—very much opposed the thought of his son marrying the granddaughter of his traitor uncle. Jefferson Davis O’Neill had only been a baby during the war, but he ranted and raved that no son of his would marry a Yankee. Your parents insisted they would marry anyway. My mother tried to talk sense into your father’s father, but he flew into such a conniption fit that he had a stroke and died two days later. That was a depressing start for a marriage, but once the mourning period for him ended, your parents got married anyway.”

“I’m sorry my grandpa died that way,” I said, “but it sounds like it was his own fault.”

“He was a proud man,” Aunt Louisa May replied, “and his father had poisoned him against our side of the family.”

“I’m glad my father isn’t ornery like his father and grandfather were.”

“Well, maybe they weren’t always that way,” said Aunt Louisa May. “Your father knew them better and can fill in any holes in my version of the story.”

It all sounded so foolish to me—that James O’Neill would refuse to speak to his brother for the rest of his life, that Jefferson Davis O’Neill would oppose his son marrying because of a feud between his father and uncle. Why couldn’t people let the past rest? And why had I been so worried about it—these events had all happened years ago, so why should I care what Mr. Carter or anyone else thought?

“So,” my aunt finished, “I don’t know whether that answers your question about us being Yankees or Southerners. I think you could just say we’re an American family.”

“Mr. Carter doesn’t think so,” I said. “He’s the one who told me your side of the family were Yankees and deserters of the Southern Cause.”

My aunt pursed her lips. “Mr. Carter is a foolish old man. He—” But then she held her words, thinking better of it, and instead said, “The Civil War has been over more than fifty years. People who hold onto the past like that only hurt themselves. I think once Mr. Carter’s generation is gone, no one will care whether someone’s family fought for the North or the South. We’re all one nation now.”

I agreed with Aunt Louisa May, yet I knew plenty of Southerners who thought differently—I knew the stubborn pride of my neighbors—and I had heard the stories of hunger and homes burnt down by Yankees during the war. If the South had treated the North that way, the same anger would have existed on the other side. Would another fifty years heal the pain better than the last fifty?

“I often thought,” my aunt mused, “that your mother was a brave woman to move down here, especially when she was a Yankee and descended from an apparently despised Southerner family. I give her and your father both a lot of credit for staying steadfast in their love, despite the prejudice surrounding them.”

I felt pride well up in me at these words. My father had been brave to stand up against his own father and not let guilt over his father’s death stop him from following his heart. And my mother had left the only world she had known in Marquette, so she could live with my father in South Carolina, in what must have been a strange place to her when she was used to Lake Superior and snow. South Carolina had no real lakes, only rivers; on the rare occasion when it did snow, it would only last for an hour and then melt, and in summer, the temperature could soar over a hundred degrees. I felt proud of my mother, and of all my family who had been willing to move from the South to the North and back again. Now, by going to Marquette, I was doing the same.

I wondered what it would be like to live in Marquette; I wished I had paid more attention to my mother’s stories about her hometown, but Marquette had always seemed such an unbelievable place to me. I was about to ask my aunt to describe Marquette when she suggested we go to supper in the dining car, and once we had ordered, she began asking me about school, and telling me I would be enrolled at Bishop Baraga, the Catholic school in Marquette. We had no Catholic school back home—almost all the neighbors were Baptists—but both sides of my family had been Irish Catholic—at least there had been no religious conflict in the family. I wondered what the children in Marquette would be like—would they teach me how to ski or snowshoe? Would they make fun of me because I was from the South? Would they be smarter than me? No, they couldn’t possibly because the South had such fine schools, but then, if Southerners were so smart, wouldn’t they have won the war? The thought of going to school with all those Yankees made me nervous until I reminded myself they were not Yankees, just Americans.

After supper, my aunt and I retired to bed in our sleeper car. The next day, we talked little, both tired from the long journey. I wanted to ask her about Marquette, but finally decided I would just wait to see it for myself. I was too tired and anxious to read, so I mostly just stared out the window. The land of the lower Midwest was so bare and level. I had grown up in the foothills, surrounded by trees—I hoped Marquette would not be flat and lifeless like Ohio.

I kept repeating over in my mind the family story my aunt had told me; I struggled to remember all my ancestors’ names—Seamus O’Neill, his two sons, who were my great-grandfathers, Edmund and James, and then Edmund’s son was Robert, the grandfather I was named for, and James’s son, my other Grandpa O’Neill, had been Jefferson Davis, the one who had opposed my parents’ marriage. I tried to imagine what all their lives had been like, the anger some of them had felt, and the courage others had displayed. Where did I fit in amidst this family? My roots were in the North as well as the South; somehow I felt I would be more whole, more myself, once I had lived in both lands. Yesterday, I had feared being a Yankee; now I anticipated that living in Marquette would be a brave new adventure. I had promised my father I would be brave. I wanted him to be proud of me. I wanted to be good so God would make sure my father came home. And whatever obstacles faced me, I hoped my mother was watching over me from Heaven, and that the courage she had shown in moving South would now be mine as I moved North.