Posted tagged ‘U.P.’

Sinking of the D.M. Clemson

August 10, 2011

In honor of Maritime Month in August and the five year anniversary of the publication of my novel The Queen City: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Two, I am posting the passage from that novel about the sinking of the Clemson in 1908.

First, a little word about the background of my writing this scene. Initially, I had planned a scene of a shipwreck in the novel, but I was going to depict the sinking of the Henry B. Smith in the great storm of 1913. The 1913 storm resulted in the sinking of many ships so it seemed more dramatic and signficant, but the events in the novel required a scene to occur earlier for the sake of the events propelled by the sinking for the other characters, particularly Will and Margaret Whitman – Will’s brother Clarence sails on the Clemson in the novel. I struggled with choosing between the 1913 sinking and an earlier one for many months as I wrote other sections of the novel. I already knew about the Clemson sinking in 1908, particularly from the wonderful song by Mark Mitchell, “Say Goodbye to the Clemson” on his album The Trees Fell (Mitchell is a fabulous Marquette musician best known for writing the theme song to the TV show Discovering. You can purchase his wonderful music at MI Upper Hand). I listened to Mark Mitchell’s music over and over again as I wrote The Marquette Trilogy. Then one day in early 2001, I was listening to the song and it hit a deep chord with the line, “A ship may sail through a great storm or two, but she never comes back from the third.” I felt like that ship, and the storms had been my moves to Kalamazoo, and Clemson, South Carolina, where I was teaching at Clemson University. I was miserably homesick at Clemson University and foreseeing having to continue moving to find a tenure track position. I felt if I kept moving around, I would end up sinking like the Clemson. That was when I decided I would symbolically include the Clemson rather than the Henry B. Smith in the novel.

That was the year I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life–to leave academia and return home to focus on my writing. Obviously, it has all worked out, but it was a horrible year for me and I honestly felt like life was ending, no matter what decision I made since I didn’t think I’d be able to support myself in the U.P. Still, I had to leave Clemson University, so I felt it appropriate to write about a ship named Clemson going down, just like I felt my life was going downhill. Somehow, by the grace of God, I had the courage to leave that job and return home and everything has worked out wonderfully. The first few years back were difficult, but once I started to publish my novels, everything in my life has been up, up, up, and there’s been no looking back. I’m afraid the same can’t be said for the good ship Clemson and its crew. But I’m always a sucker for a happy ending, as you’ll see.

Happy Maritime Month!

The Queen City: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Two

The Queen City: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Two

From The Queen City:

            Clarence found himself too ill to stay aboard ship. When his boat docked in Ohio, two of Clarence’s shipmates took him ashore to a boarding house where he was placed in the landlady’s capable hands. Clarence suffered from a fever for several days, and the doctor came to attend him frequently. When he recovered, he refused to rest, but insisted he would go home for Christmas. The landlady and doctor argued that he was too weak, but he soon found work on another ship, the D.M. Clemson. After loading coal in Lorain, Ohio, the Clemson began its journey on November 28th, north to Duluth. From Duluth, Clarence planned to find passage on another ship to Marquette, so he could spend the holidays and the winter with his brother’s family.

He could feel his immune system failing him throughout the trip, but he also had a strange sense of fearlessness. He felt he had been wrong to act so courageous and not tell his family how sick he was. He became resolved to see his new nephew or niece. If God would grant him one more month of life, he would spend the holidays with Will’s family.

Two days after leaving Lorain, Clarence’s ship passed through the Canadian Soo Locks at nine-thirty in the morning. Four hundred miles of Lake Superior would need to be traversed before the ship reached Duluth.

The Clemson was a modern state of the art sea vessel. The old schooners that had brought Clarence’s grandparents to Marquette nearly sixty years before had long since been replaced by wooden steamers, and even those had become obscure in the last decade. By the start of the twentieth century, it was more economical to build ships from iron and steel than wood. Vessel size had also increased until nineteenth century schooners were viewed as unseaworthy beside the solid steel giants that now coursed the Great Lakes. The Clemson could hold five thousand tons of iron, steel, or coal and deliver its cargo in record time.

But Lake Superior mocked the growing strength of these industrial mariners. Many a lesser ship the lake had swallowed, and it was not yet willing to relinquish dominance over its own waters. Shortly after the Clemson passed through the Soo Locks, a terrible gale rose up. The storm was not the first the ship had passed through. The previous October a strong current had pushed the ship into a pier while entering the harbor of Ashtabula, Ohio; although ten hull plates were smashed and the water tank on the starboard side badly damaged, repairs were made and the Clemson had sailed again. Then a month later, a sharp Lake Superior gale had covered the ship completely in ice, but it had sailed on without major damage done. Twice the Great Lakes had tried to destroy the ship, and twice it had failed.

Now Nature’s enigmatic forces surged up to create the most vicious storm yet. As the tempest began, Clarence struggled to help secure the ship. He well knew Lake Superior’s fury after five years of riding through torrential storms; he knew better than to mock Superior’s power. Today, struggle as the sailors might, the waters were determined to show themselves masters. The ship’s past repairs became its weak spot as roaring waves and high winds tossed it up and down upon rough waters. The tumult soon shifted the cargo, then slid it completely to one end; whipped up and down and around in circles, the ship could not bear the pressure of sliding cargo as it tilted upward on towering waves.

Then Clarence heard the deafening tear of metal; he knew the ship was ripping apart. Within seconds, the hull filled with water; the weight snapped the ship in two pieces which immediately separated into the waves. Water engulfed everything. For a second, Clarence watched in horror as his fellow sailors were hurled beneath the pounding waves; then he felt terror as his body was pulled down beneath the water. Somehow the current swept him out of the sinking ship, and after what seemed an eternity, he managed to surface. For a second, he bobbed above the water until a massive wave lifted him up, then catapulted him into another wave, which hurled him again below the surface. Pain surged through his body. Something hit his back, perhaps a wave, perhaps a piece of the ship, either would hurt equally in that tremendous storm. He knew his back was broken. As he gasped from the pain, his lungs filled with surging water. He blacked out. He felt himself sinking.

Then came light. It was impossible. He knew he should be dead now. He could feel the water inside his lungs. Had he resurfaced? Was it moonlight he saw? Something brushed against him, but it was not water, not debris from the ship. He felt a hand on his shoulder. He opened his eyes. A beautiful woman’s face was before him. He did not understand. No woman had been on the ship. She was not one of his drowned comrades. Could she—a mermaid? Could she be such a creature? She was beautiful, like the photograph he had seen of his mother.

Her lips did not move, but her face said, “Be not afraid.”

She need not speak. Her presence brought him unspeakable peace.

Then he knew death was not punishment, nor was it an end. His debilitating disease was nothing to fear. His spirit was eternal. He was leaving life when it would most benefit those he loved. The mermaid, or whatever grace she was, took his hand and led him toward the glowing light. He floated beside her, all his pain, fear, anxiety washed away.

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 U.P. Author Book Tour is in Full Swing

June 27, 2011

In case you haven’t heard, for the next month more than 60 authors who write about Michigan and the U.P. will visit more than 20 U.P. communities. I’ll be participating in several of the events.

The Mining Journal recently covered the first event of the book tour and quoted me extensively in part of the article as follows:

“Upper Michigan has long deserved wider attention for its diverse and rich culture and atmosphere,” Tichelaar said. “Everything exists here to make great fiction, from its history, to its powerful forces of nature, its isolation from the rest of the country, and the strength of its people. I wish to support all efforts to treat it as literature….As an author of Upper Michigan literature, I welcome fresh voices and differing points of view about the influence this area has upon people and how that influence is shaped into literature.

Ron Riekki, author of “U.P.” is the organizer of the book tour which will include Lisa Cerasoli Weaver, Matthew Gavin Frank, Beverly Matherne, Jerry Harju, Marty Achatz, Jonathan Johnson, Gretchen Preston, John Carr, Steve Hamilton, Roxanne Gay, Darrin Doyle, Jane Piirto, and numerous other Michigan and U.P. Authors. Book signings and author panels discussing Upper Michigan literature will be held in such diverse places as Marquette, Negaunee, St. Ignace, Houghton, Menominee, Palmer, and Gwinn.

View the full book tour schedule at Ron Riekki’s website:

The U.P. Book Tour is the biggest literary event ever to come to Upper Michigan. Come out and support Upper Michigan literature. After all, what better place to write about?