Posted tagged ‘Upper Michigan History’

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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Marquette’s Opera House & the 1938 Fire and Blizzard

October 19, 2010

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

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

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

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

….

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

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

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

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

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

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