Posted tagged ‘Samuel Mather’

Constance Fenimore Woolson, the Mathers, and a Marquette Literary Mystery

July 31, 2020

Few people who visit Mackinac Island today ever see Anne’s Tablet or even know it exists. It’s a large plaque in the woods by Fort Mackinac, overlooking the lake. The main plaque contains the image of a young girl and has a quote on it from the novel Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson. In a half-circle around the main plaque are three benches with the titles of Constance Fenimore Woolson’s novels and nonfiction works engraved on their seats.

Although little known today, Constance Fenimore Woolson was a popular American author in the late nineteenth century who was often compared to Harriet Beecher Stowe and George Eliot. Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist by Anne Boyd Rioux reminds us that Woolson was far more than just a writer and a lover of Mackinac Island. Because she was a friend of the great novelist Henry James, she has often been reduced to a footnote in his story, but her own story is fascinating, including the role she played in the development of regional Great Lakes literature. Not only did she write about Mackinac Island, but she also wrote about Marquette County, a fact not so surprising since Anne’s Tablet was placed on Mackinac Island in 1916 by Woolson’s nephew, Samuel Mather Jr., one of the major players in the early iron ore industry in Upper Michigan. In fact, Woolson was probably the first author to write fiction set in Marquette, more than three decades before Carroll Watson Rankin published Dandelion Cottage in 1904. The question remains, however, whether she ever visited Marquette.

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

Woolson was born in 1840 in New Hampshire, but the family soon moved to Cleveland. Her mother was the niece of James Fenimore Cooper, author of Last of the Mohicans. Woolson’s middle name of Fenimore would later help her break into the literary world. In the 1850s, the family frequently visited Mackinac Island and had a summer cottage there. During this time, it is likely she also traveled widely on Lake Superior. Woolson and her family lived in Cleveland until her father’s death in 1869. She then turned to her pen to help support her mother. They also moved to St. Augustine, Florida, and spent summers in North Carolina. During this time, Woolson began writing and publishing stories about the Great Lakes. After her mother’s death, Woolson moved to Europe in 1879 and lived a wandering life, setting up households in Oxford, Florence, and eventually Venice, where she died in 1894. During these years, she wrote novels and stories set in the American South and Europe, and she published her most popular novel Anne (1882), partly set on Mackinac Island, which sold over 300,000 copies.

Whether Woolson ever set foot in Marquette, Michigan, is unknown, but the evidence suggests it is likely. Woolson’s interest in the area probably began as a result of her sister Georgiana marrying Samuel Livingston Mather in 1850. Mather would later be president of the Cleveland Iron Mining Company (which eventually became Cleveland Cliffs) with interests in Marquette County. Georgiana was the mother of Samuel Mather, Jr. and Katherine Livingston Mather. After Georgiana’s death in 1853, Samuel Livingston Mather married Elizabeth Gwinn, the mother of William Gwinn Mather. Despite her sister’s untimely death, Woolson remained close to her brother-in-law’s family all her life. She likely visited Marquette in the 1850s either during or shortly after her sister’s lifetime, as evidenced by the stories she wrote. In all, Woolson wrote at least three short stories set in Marquette as well as scenes in two of her novels.

Woolson’s first short story set in Marquette is “On the Iron Mountain,” which appeared in Appleton’s Journal on February 15, 1873. The story is about a young woman, Helen Fay, who journeys with a small party of visitors from the East to Marquette. Once there, they decide to see the Iron Mountain, which was a large pile of iron ore located at the mines. Woolson describes the setting as:

Marquette, on Lake Superior, is now a busy town, soon to be a city; it has railroads on shore and fleets of steamers and vessels on the water, people to do business and business to do, all coming from the Iron Mountain behind it. But, in 1853, it was a lonely settlement in the woods, with one little stamping-mill stamping on the ore with wooden legs; a few houses of those hopeful pioneers, who so often sow the seed in the West and so seldom reap the harvest; and a swampy, rocky, sandy, corduroy road, inland to the mine. The Iron Mountain stood there, great and wonderful, waiting for capital. Capital has come, and dug and blasted into its sides for years; but it remains great and wonderful still.

A second story, “Peter the Parson,” appeared in Scribner’s magazine in 1874 and was later reprinted in Woolson’s story collection Castle Nowhere, which includes other stories set on Mackinac Island and in the Great Lakes, including Beaver Island. This story takes place in a mining town named “Algonquin” on the southern shore of Lake Superior. It includes a furnace, stamping mill, and saloon. The story tells the tale of a preacher who is killed by the miners, being struck on the head with a piece of iron ore while the “Iron Mountain” rose behind him. The story received complaints about its ending, but it showed Woolson was striving to do more than create conventional story endings.

The third story, “The Old Five,” was published in Appleton’s Journal in 1876. It is set in a mining town named “Dead River” on the southern shore of Lake Superior. The title refers to the name of the mine in the story. The story includes references to Cornish miners, blueberries, a birch-bark box of Indian sugar, beach agates, and other items of local color. Since the Dead River is just north of Marquette, the fictional town is clearly meant to be Marquette.

Woolson’s novel East Angels (1886) is set in Florida, but the main character, Winthrop, invests in an iron mine on Lake Superior and goes to visit it, seeing a “mountain” of iron ore. In Woolson’s novel Jupiter Lights (1889), part of the setting is in a town called Port aux Pins on Lake Superior, which also seems a likely candidate for Marquette.

One additional piece of Woolson’s published writing that leads to the conclusion she may have visited Marquette is an essay she wrote entitled “Lake Superior,” published in 1876 in Picturesque America, edited by William Cullens Bryant. In this essay, Woolson takes the reader on a circle tour of Lake Superior, describing everything from Sault Ste. Marie to the Pictured Rocks, Keweenaw Peninsula, Apostle Islands, and the north Canadian shore. Of Marquette, she writes, “Marquette comes into view, a picturesque harbor, with a little rock islet, the outlet for the Iron Mountain lying back twelve miles in the interior, a ridge of ore eight hundred feet high, which sends its thousands of tons year after year down to the iron-mills of Cleveland, Pittsburg, and Cincinnati, and scarcely misses them from its massive sides.” The essay is written in third person and is solely descriptive without Woolson offering any hint of personal experiences with the places described, but the descriptions are so detailed, especially of the Pictured Rocks, that it is hard to believe she did not view everything about which she wrote.

Other evidence that Woolson likely drew upon personal experiences for her fictional treatments of Marquette can be found by reading a fragment of a journal that her sister, Georgiana Woolson, wrote (published in the first volume of Five Generations Past, a family history, by Woolson’s niece Clare Benedict). Georgiana kept the journal from June 8 to 29, 1853, during which time her husband, Samuel Livingston Mather, left her in Marquette on her own for two months. The journal includes mention of the Carp River, the forges, and Presque Isle, which she calls “an emerald upon the blue water!” She also mentions two residents, a Miss B— who went with her and an Indian for a ride in a birch-bark canoe, and Ellen who “went in the afternoon to the Carp River with the children of the house.” Ellen may have been Ellen Hewitt, Peter White’s future wife, who would have been sixteen and like Woolson’s family, was from Cleveland, or Ellen Harlow, daughter of town founder Amos Harlow, who was eight at the time. No mention of Woolson is made in the journal, but is it a coincidence that “On the Iron Mountain” is set in 1853, the same year Georgiana visited Marquette?

While Woolson no doubt read Georgiana’s journal, it does not contain descriptions that equate to those in Woolson’s short stories. This distinction suggests Woolson did not rely on family documents but her personal experiences in writing her stories. That said, Woolson must have learned much about Marquette from her Mather relatives. She certainly knew about Peter White from them, which isn’t surprising since her brother-in-law Samuel Livingston Mather’s brother, Henry Mather, lived in Marquette and was married to Mary Hewitt, the sister to Ellen Hewitt, Peter White’s wife. What is surprising is that the one time we know Woolson met Peter White was when she was living in Florence, Italy. In The Complete Letters of Constance Fenimore Woolson, edited by Sharon L. Dean, Woolson writes to her nephew Samuel Mather, Jr. on March 20, 1880:

We saw the Peter Whites before leaving. I was in a book store one day when a gentleman came up and said smilingly, “Is’nt [sic] this Miss Woolson?” I answered that it was, but of course had no idea who he was, as I have never seen Mr White. What follows will be hard for Kate to bear; but tell her to brace up. He then said “I knew you at once from your resemblance to Kate Mather!” I met him again a day later, this time with Mrs Senter, who had just arrived. So Clara and I went over to call upon them, because of their being friends of yours. They were staying in the West Bay two miles and more from our Bay. We saw Mrs White, all the others having gone on some excursion. She looked very delicate and said she was not able to walk at all. She had just received a letter from her sister Mary, and was rejoicing over it. She seemed to us a little homesick, but perhaps that was temporary. She was very pleasant; I have not seen her since I was Clare’s age; I see she has the same fine eyes, and gentle voice she had as a child. They drove over to return our call, but we were unfortunately out, and so did not see them again.

At the time of this letter, Woolson’s niece, Clare Benedict, was eleven, which would suggest Woolson last saw Ellen Hewitt White about 1851. Ellen Hewitt, of course, grew up in Cleveland, so she and Woolson might have known each other as children, or Ellen might have visited Cleveland again after moving to Marquette, or they saw each other in Marquette. Since Woolson had not met Peter White before, her previous meeting with Ellen was in all likelihood before the couple married in 1857. That said, the Whites probably visited Cleveland many times, given that they were spending time with Mrs. Senter, who is likely Delia Wheaton Senter, the widow of George B. Senter, a former mayor of Cleveland.

Some of Woolson’s other letters offer additional clues that she likely visited Marquette. On May 1, 1875, she writes to Paul Hamilton Hayne about her first book, Castle Nowhere, “as I had lived in the Lake-country I wrote of what I knew; the descriptions are all from reality, written down as exactly as possible.” Since “Peter the Parson” was included in Castle Nowhere, does it verify that she visited Marquette?

Another letter to Samuel Mather, on January 17, 1893, testifies that she must have traveled on Lake Superior as far as Minnesota. “I did see prairies in all their splendid wildness; (you were with us,—a baby a few months old). And I did see thousands of wild Indians gathered at La Pointe for their payment a few years later.” The prairies Woolson mentions are likely in Minnesota while La Pointe is in Wisconsin where there was an Indian agency. If Samuel Mather was a baby at the time, this trip to the prairies must have been in the fall of 1851 since Samuel was born July 13, 1851 and autumn was when the government typically made annuity payments to the Native American tribes. Woolson would have only been eleven at the time. The second trip to La Pointe a few years later likely was to the Indian agency in either Sandy Lake, Minnesota, or Superior or Bayfield, Wisconsin. The agency moved around a lot in the 1850s, and despite its name, it was not always in La Pointe. If Woolson traveled so far west on Lake Superior with her sister and baby Samuel, she likely would have stopped in Marquette as well.

If Woolson did not visit Marquette—and it’s important to note she never said that she didn’t—the other probability is that her fiction was inspired by stories the Mathers told her. The Mathers seem to have been storytellers themselves since in an April 25, 1875 letter, Woolson suggests to her nephew Samuel that he write his own stories, saying he has “every qualification” to do so. She certainly encouraged her Mather niece and two nephews in their love of literature. In a letter dated September 13, 1888 to Mary Mapes Dodge, author of Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates and editor of a children’s magazine, she writes, “all of my life—long before I began to write—I have been a teller of stories to children. Endless stories; stories that went on for months & years,—oral serials. One of my nephews, a man six feet high, with a black beard, re-told to me one of my serials (in outline) at Sorrento, some years ago, so that his young bride could also hear it!” This nephew is Samuel, who visited her in Italy on his honeymoon.

Samuel Mather, Jr. also must have mentioned Marquette in his letters to his aunt because on January 22, 1888, Woolson asks him, “Did the Marquette Fay really discover a gold mine?” This comment probably refers to James S. Fay, President of the Lake Superior Iron Company, who found a vein of gold and silver on the Ishpeming gold range in the summer of 1887.

But perhaps most fascinating of all is when Woolson writes to Samuel on January 9, 1893, sending him part of the draft of her last novel Horace Chase (which not surprisingly also has a passing reference to Marquette) and asking him to give her advice and make corrections to it. Her primary concerns are whether the conversation is natural and whether the threat that one character makes to another is realistic. She asks Sam to read the novel aloud so “Will” (William Gwinn Mather) can give his advice also. Sam apparently did as requested because on March 14, 1893, she writes to thank him for his “excellent corrections” and says “They went to N.Y. an hour after their arrival here.” Sam’s corrections could not have been too extensive since Woolson made them so quickly, but the situation makes one wonder what other literary advice or material Mather provided for his aunt.

Less than a year after this letter, Woolson died on January 24, 1894. At the very end of her life, Woolson had been very ill, having spent many years suffering from hearing loss, chronic depression, and insomnia, but she also came down with a major illness after Christmas, for which her doctor gave her laudanum. Scholars still debate whether her final illness was influenza, a gallbladder inflammation, a bowel obstruction, or pancreatitis. In any case, perhaps drowsy or dizzy from the laudanum, she got out of her bed in her apartment in Venice that last night and opened her window. She then either accidentally fell out of the window or intentionally committed suicide, landing three stories below on the pavement.

Following Woolson’s death, her sister and niece, Clara and Clare Benedict, went to Venice to clean out her apartment, and they were helped by Henry James. According to Sharon Dean, the editor of her letters, Woolson probably burned many of her letters for her own privacy and that of her correspondents, but the Benedicts and James may have also burned letters. Those letters might have included some from the Mathers that would have offered more information on Woolson’s treatment of Marquette in her fiction.

Woolson’s death made international news and was not unnoticed in Marquette. On Tuesday, January 30, 1894, the Mining Journal carried a small story stating that Samuel Mather, Jr. had heard of her death two days before in Cleveland. The newspaper noted “Her death has caused great sorrow among her many admirers in this vicinity.” While the article goes on to mention several of Woolson’s books, it does not state whether Woolson ever visited Marquette. Perhaps the source of Woolson’s information about Marquette will never be solved, but regardless, Woolson can be considered Marquette’s first author.

More information about Woolson can be found at the Constance Fenimore Woolson Society’s website at, including links to the three short stories referenced here. Woolson’s novels are all still in print and a new collection of her short stories has just been published.

Special thanks for their help in researching this article are due to Woolson scholars Anne Boyd Rioux and Victoria Brehm, to Beth Gruber at the Marquette Regional History Center, to Dawn Gallo at Peter White Public Library, and to Anne St. Onge at the Mackinac Island Public Library. Thanks is also owed to Jennifer Lammi for editing an earlier version of this article which appeared in 2016 in Harlow’s Wooden Man, the quarterly publication of the Marquette Regional History Center.

Tyler Tichelaar at Anne’s Tablet on Mackinac Island, Summer 1999


Tyler R. Tichelaar is proud to be a seventh generation resident of Marquette. He is the author of eight novels set in Marquette, including The Marquette Trilogy and When Teddy Came to Town; the history books My Marquette: Explore the Queen City of the North and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City; and the play Willpower, about Will Adams, Marquette’s ossified man, which was produced by the Marquette Regional History Center at Kaufman Auditorium in 2014. His next book Kawbawgam, a biography of Ojibwa Chief Charles Kawbawgam, will be released in November 2020. For more information on Tyler and his books, visit

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

December 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Early Upper Michigan Literature – a Brief and Incomplete History

July 18, 2011

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

The Beginnings

the song of hiawatha

The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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

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

ojibwa narratives charles kawbawgam

Ojibwa Narratives

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

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

The First Novels

Snail-Shell Harbor Langille

Snail-Shell Harbor by J.H. Langille

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

Anne by constance fenimore Woolson

Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

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

Children’s Books

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

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

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

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

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

U.P. Literature Becomes Famous

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

Upper Michigan Literature Today

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

Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton

Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton

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

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

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

Iron Pioneers The marquette trilogy book one tyler r. tichelaar

Iron Pioneers: The Marquette Trilogy, Book One

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

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

The Mather and Jopling Home – 321 Cedar Street

February 2, 2011

The Mather and Jopling Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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