“Shed” a little light on this Civic Center Building’s History

This building sits on the grounds of the Grand Traverse County Civic Center. What do you suppose this building was used for before 1974? Are there any unique features to this building that might give us a hint?

After a bit of back-and-forth with our knowledgeable audience, we know one thing for sure… and we’ll just have to speculate on the rest. This building was indeed a structure in use during the Grand Traverse County Fair at one time, the predecessor to the Northwest Michigan Fair. In the 1890s, what we now call the Civic Center was known as the “Driving Park.” Many sulky races were held here, then horse racing in general, followed by car racing and then the fairgrounds. This was a hopping spot!

Aerial image of the Civic Center, once known as the Driving Park. You can still see the racing track in this 1960s photograph, from the Al Barnes Collection at Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection.

Last of the Tourist Homes Identified!

Here is an example of the original Airbnb, the Tourist Home! Do you know where this last “tourist home” is located in Traverse City?”

Bonus question: Do you know of other “tourist homes” in the area?

Congratulations (again) to Larry! You’ve won a free virtual stay at the Tourist Home of your choice, just close your eyes and imagine the splendor!

From Larry: “740 South Union Street, NW corner of Union and Eleventh Street. I don’t know if your second question relates to current Tourist Homes or prior. If the latter: ‘Southworth’s Tourist Home’ was at 116 S. Boardman Avenue, in at least the 50s and 60s.”

Midge Swarms

We have all seen them, but we haven’t given them names: a swarm of tiny insects flying in a crowded formation often looking like a column.  Certainly, it is much taller than wide, its width usually not more than a foot or two at most, its height often taller than we are.  Our fear is that the insects will bite us, or, at the very least, we might inhale them.  Unlike birds and bats, we do not relish them either for flavor or for nourishment.  We steer clear of them and go about our business.

Magnified photograph of midge emerging from chrysalis. Image courtesy of http://www.abundantnature.com/

Midge swarms form in summer and early fall.  The insects comprising them do not bite, though that passivity is often not enough to keep humans from spraying poisons on them.  They transform from aquatic larvae, tiny forms resembling segmented worms, ready to mate upon emerging from their pupal cases, but not ready to eat since they do not possess the required mouthparts.  So it is they do not harm us.

Most members of the swarm are male: they seek to mate with females that pass through the mass of flying insects.  Upon being fertilized, the female will set about to lay eggs in the waters of ponds and ditches.  Several broods are produced during the year with the last overwintering in mud underneath the ice.

“Midge Swarm near Cass Street Bridge,” Richard Fidler, pen and ink drawing.

According to Donald W. Stokes, author of A Guide to Observing Insect Lives, midge swarms are often found close to water, often above prominent features called “swarm markers.”  These can be patches of light or dark on the ground, or high points such as the upthrust branches of a shrub or tree—or even the top of your own head!  A shiny black piece of plastic will attract a certain species, if one wishes to try an experiment.

Swarms may form in the morning, evening, or even mid-day, depending on the species.  Considering that the insects do not live for more than a couple of days, the observer cannot count on a week of entertainment.  New broods, though, will prolong the joy of avid midge watchers.

Stokes notes that, in a wind, the midges face in one direction and move forward to the limit of the swarm marker and back, the effect making it look like the entire swarm is dancing.  The resulting shimmy captures the interest of naturalists everywhere.  Unsurprisingly—given their awareness of nature, the Japanese haiku poets have written about the swarms (which they call “mosquito (or midge)) columns:

Across the mosquito columns
Hangs the floating bridge
Of my dreams.
–Kikaku

The mosquito columns,
Big and thick
As of a palace
–Shiki

The Capitol
Is visible through a hole
In the pillar of mosquitoes
–Issa

(translations courtesy of R. H. Blythe)

The poets often portray the fleeting lives of mosquitoes (midges) as emblematic of the fleeting existence of things we imagine to be great and eternal, things like palaces and the Capitol (Kyoto).  That is what we should take away from our experiences with midge swarms: the beauty and wonder of ephemeral things that live out lives unnoticed by us all.

“The Story of the Old Wooden Cross”: a Leelanau County Tale

This story was passed on to Lloyd “Allie” Westcott by his grandmother, Mrs. Charles (or John) Fisher. The recorder was Roy H. Steffens, a local historian operating largely in the 1960s and 1970s, known especially for his interest in Civil War and Spanish American War soldiers and grave sites. A manuscript copy of this story was found among Steffens’ papers in the Local History Collection at Traverse Area District Library. Steffens and Westcott restored the cross and fence described later in this story, in 1968.

“Summer in Northern Michigan,” by teh Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad Company, image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The lake was fairly calm that day and a couple men from the settlement of Glen Arbor were down by the lake when they noticed this small rowboat with a white sheet for a makeshift sail not far out from the shore. Word got back to the settlement of this boat with two people aboard. In a short time most of the people from the settlement gathered at the beach to welcome some strangers or newcomers to their settlement.

It was discovered that there was two people aboard the small boat, a man and a woman. There seemed to be some reluctance on the part of the couple aboard the boat to communicate with the people on shore or land their boat, not knowing where they were or if the people were friendly. It was known by the couple in the boat that there was animosity among the people on mainland and those that were from King Strang’s cult.

However in due time thru conversation the barrier of fear soon was overcome and the boat landed. The couple made themselves known as Mr. and Mrs. Fields and they had come from Beaver Island. They had explained they escaped from the island in the darkness of night as they wanted to get away from the tyranny that King Strand held over his people. They asked that they may stay a short while to rest up from their tedious trip as they wanted to get passage on steamer (propeller) that plied the Lakes to Chicago or some other port.

The men helped to unload their meager belongings from the boat and all proceeded to the settlement. The Fields knew of the consequences they might suffer from the hands of King Strang’s ruthless men should they be found. It was decided to push the empty boat out in the lake to drift so if found it might be presumed that those in it had drowned or met with some other misfortune.

After unloading the boat all the people along with Mr. and Mrs. Fields proceeded up to the settlement. The local people realizing their plight vowed they would not reveal their names, their whereabouts or that they had been there. A John Dorsey that had a sailboat he used to bring in supplies from Frankfort agreed that when the Fields were ready he would take them to South Manitou Island where they might get passage on a steamer that would stop there. South Manitou was a port of call for the steamers to load up with cord wood which was used for fuel.

Fields’ original cross and fence, in 1968. Image courtesy of Roy Steffens.

It was imminent that Mrs. Fields was about to give birth to a child and her time would be shortcoming. The women of the settlement prevailed up on them that they should stay with them until after the child was born. In a short time her time came and she gave birth to twins. Sadly enough though she should die from childbirth as well as the two babies.

Mr. Fields secured some lumber and constructed a coffin in which was placed his wife with a child in each arm. A grave was dug on the small hill in which the coffin was placed. The people of the settlement all gathered for this sad event and she was given a Christian burial.

Restored cross and fence, by Westcott and Steffens, 1968. Image courtesy of Roy Steffens.

Mr. Fields constructed a large wooden cross out of cedar which he placed on the hill. The large cross thru time had weathered badly and became broken. He also made a picket fence to surround the grave which weathered away due to time. A not of interest is that the picket fence was put together with iron cut nails. Also he placed at the head of the grave a smaller beautifully carved cross.

After completing his work Mr. Fields sought passage on a steamer to leave and never returned as far as anyone knows.

Iron-cut nails removed from the original fence around the Fields’ grave. Text and nails courtesy of Roy Steffens.

The grave marker and picket fence described in this tale are found in Fisher Cemetery, Glen Arbor, Michigan. As James Strang ruled on Beaver Island from late 1850 until his murder in 1856, for this story to have any veracity, it must have taken place during these years, dating the graves of Mrs. Fields and her children to about the same time. This very dramatic story is widely known and repeated, but little corroborating evidence has ever come to light. Richard Fidler, editor of Grand Traverse Journal, published this piece way back in November 2015, concerning the Strang murder.

New Organization works to save Leelanau County Poor Farm Barn, and More from your Societies

Newly Formed Leelanau County Historic Preservation Society Granted 501(c)3 Status, Works to Save Leelanau Poor Farm Barn

From email correspondence:

“Our newly formed Leelanau County Historic Preservation Society (LCHPS) has been granted a nonprofit 501(c) (3) status. Board Officer/Directors are: Steve Stier, President; Barbara Siepker, Vice-President; Laurel Jeris, Secretary; Frank Siepker, Treasurer.

We are to now ready to accept donations and pledges. This effort will further assure the County Commissioners that we are able to take on and complete the barn rehabilitation project. We have attached a form you may download, for you to let us know what financial support we can count on.

We are ready to present a partnership proposal to the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners at their August 8th 9 am Executive Committee meeting. Steve Stier has gathered estimates for barn rehabilitation work and we will report on these numbers. The needed work on the barn can be done in planned stages as funding becomes available.

We look forward to hearing from you. We will report back to you soon on our progress. We are confident that a partnership with the County can be accomplished, thereby saving and rehabilitating the Poor Farm Barn. We appreciate your being a part of this partnership and will soon be notifying you of additional areas of volunteer assistance needed.”

Download a Donation form HERE

Read more about the rescue effort in the Detroit Free Press

Traverse Area Historical Society Continues Tours

Last call for last summer hurrahs! Traverse Area Historical Society is wrapping up their tour season in mid-October, but take advantage of the good weather (while you can!):

Downtown Walking Tours start at 10:30 am on each Saturday through October 14th. Participants should meet outside Horizon Books 15 minutes before the start time. Tours last approximately 1-1/2 hours. For additional information, call (231) 995-0313. Reservations not necessary, but please call for groups of over 5 people.

Walking tours of Oakwood Cemetery, starting on Sunday, June 18th, will be available at 6:00 PM every Sunday thru October 15. These tours focus on the unique history of the area and the early pioneers who founded the community we know today. Geared towards an adult audience, the tours will last about 1 ½ hours. Participants are encouraged to wear shoes suitable for hiking over uneven terrain. They should meet on the sidewalk outside the cemetery near the Eighth Street entrance, approximately 15 minutes prior to start time. For additional information, call (231) 941-8440. Reservations not necessary, but please call for groups of over 5 people.

Leelanau Historical Society Celebrates its 60th Year!

Traverse City, Leelanau & Manistique Railroad nearing Northport, 1880s.

From their website: “The Leelanau Historical Society was launched in 1957 by a group of residents dedicated to collecting and preserving Leelanau’s history. Leland, first established in 1853 and later the county seat, seemed the natural location for the Society. When the old county jail became available in 1959, the museum found its first home. Through generous donations and grants, a new museum was built in 1985 and expanded in 2005 and 2015.

Today, the collections and archives contain more than 14,000 items. Visitors to the museum learn about Leelanau life and maritime history from exhibits, educational programs and publications. Recipient of the 2014 State History Award for Outstanding Local Society, LHS continues to collect, document and preserve items relating to Leelanau history.”

Congrats to one of our favorite institutions! Check out their new website and awesome events (including a day trip to the Manitou Islands in early September), http://www.leelanauhistory.org/

Monthly Meeting of the Grand Traverse Genealogical Society on Using Court Records

Grand Traverse County Courthouse, undated. From the Grand Traverse County website.

The September Meeting will be held Thursday September 21st at 1:00pm at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 3746 Veterans Drive, Traverse City. The guest speakers will be  Jessica Harden from the State of Michigan Archives. She will speak on “Using Court Records in Genealogical Research” A number of records are kept in the county courthouse because this was the place of business. While the legalese is not the most pleasant reading, probate and court records document the lives of our ancestors. Court records include information about adoption, debt, divorce, naturalization, lawsuits, guardianships and appointments. Probate records are records related to the death of ancestor and the distribution of their estate. These records often include wills, inventories, accounts, bonds, etc.

History of the Wilhelm Family (Part II): Anthony J. and Kate Wilhelm, Wilhelm Dry Goods

By Robert D. Wilhelm

Part I in this series was published in the November 2016 issue of Grand Traverse Journal.

Edited by Julie Schopieray and Richard Fidler

[Editors note: This is a transcription of a manuscript Bob Wilhelm wrote over a long period of time, with updates ending in 1986. Some spelling and punctuation has been changed, and transcriber’s notes for clarity are in brackets]

CHAPTER 14: 116 East Eighth Street

When A.J. [Wilhelm] and Kate [Smith]were married in 1896, they lived above the store overlooking Union and Eighth streets. Five years earlier A.J. had purchased lots 33, 34 and the west 8 feet of Block 6 across from the store on East Eighth Street from A.V. Friederich for $700. A.J. and John Kyselka designed the house to be built on the site. Built of local pine, hemlock and birch, A.J. personally selected all the materials. The total cost for the home and the barn in the backyard was $3,000. A.J. lived in the home until his death in 1939. The Lyle Wilhelm family occupied the residence until 1974 when it was sold for use as the Northwestern Michigan Halfway House.  In 1984 this home was joined with the former A.V. Friedrich residence, and in 1985 the merged buildings became the Dakoske Hall.

CHAPTER 15: Wilhelm Brothers, 1900

Depending on the time of the year, the store employed as many as twelve people. The clerks never made change. A cashier handled all the money. Overhead conveyor belts moved all bills and money to the central location. A bell indicated that the canister was coming or going. Kate Wilhelm handled all business records.

Early each morning it would be necessary to start the wood burning furnace and activate the steam boiler. Hardwoods, usually maple or oak, were cut in four foot sections. A large double door led to the basement where the wood was stored in the summer from floor to ceiling. Outside behind the store were other wood piles.

Advertisement from Wilhelm Brothers’ Dry Goods, from the Grand Traverse Herald, 21 March 1895.

The building was illuminated by smelly kerosene lamps. At the back of the building was a double door leading to the main floor. The  freight–which was shipped by boat or railroad–was delivered by Sam Ile’s horse and wagon. Towards the back of the newer section of the building was an eight-foot-wide staircase leading to the second floor. Carpets, rugs, and linoleum were sold upstairs.  There was no elevator; everything had to be carried by hand up and down the stairs. On the street level, men’s and women’s clothing, dry goods and household goods were sold.

CHAPTER 16: A.J.—NATURAL FOODS AND ARTESIAN WATERS

Stomach disorders dating back to his youth caused A.J to develop an interest in the natural foods philosophy espoused by the Kelloggs at Battle Creek Sanitarium. Although there was no scientific evidence at the time, he became interested in the water conditions in the streets and the relation to disease. Dirty water mixed with manure was [thought to be] a breeding ground for typhoid and small pox. These diseases ran rampant through the community, but escaped the Wilhelm family. Raw sewage was dumped into the Boardman River and flowed into West Grand Traverse Bay. Untreated water was pumped through the mains into the homes.  Diseases killed many children in their early years of life. Particularly disturbing to A.J. was the family of his friend and neighbors Prokop and Antonia Kyselka. Five children died young: Antonia B. (1869-1869), Antonia (1872-1872), Edward (1873-1875), Julius (1879-1883), and Emma (1890-1890).

One of the links to the death of the young was, when breast feeding stopped at an early age, the children were not immune to the diseases in the contaminated water and raw milk. Milk stored in unsanitary conditions resulted in undulant fever.

An artesian well is one that has its water constantly flowing. There were many people in the community who thought that artesian water was poisonous. In 1895 A.J. had a four-inch pipe drilled behind the store to a depth of 382 feet. The clear, clean water was a constant 42 degrees. The fountain was purchased from J.W. Fiske, NO 21 &23 Barklay Street, New York. Enough pressure was generated to provide water to the second floor of the store. Well water went to the home across the street. He had water running through the icebox instead of ice purchased from a local iceman. Water was also provided for the homes of Prokop Kyselka, A.V. Friedrich, and John Wilhelm. For many years people from all over the south side came with their jugs to get their water.

Other south side wells were also drilled: in front of St. Francis Church in 1916 and on Pine Street next to Central School.

Wilhelm Bros. Dry Goods store, when the artesian well still ran strong. Gardner, Wait, Petrie, and Ehrenberger are in the picture but not identified.

As years passed, the flow of the well began to diminish. The water supply was cut off to all but the store and the family home. By 1955 the flow was no more than a trickle. The Record-Eagle on October 12 reported, “ The old Wilhelm well is gone…A year ago efforts were made to revive the dwindling flow of water, but to no avail. Several feet of rock had been forced up  the four inch pipe and the only cure would be to drill an entirely new well. Thus the old well without mourners, or fanfare was removed.”  [Editor’s note: The artesian well described here can be seen every year at the Buckley Old Engine Show].

Red meat was unknown at the Wilhelm dinner table. Chicken and fish were accepted and on special occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey was served. A cow was kept in the barn behind the house and a neighborhood boy would take all the neighborhood cows to the outskirts of town for grazing each day. When the cow “dried out” it would be traded for another.  A.J. referred to the milk as “home-made” because the whole milk was drunk right from the cow without being processed. Cream would rise to the top and was excellent for whipping. Butter was purchased from the Wheelocks because A. J. was pleased by the sanitary conditions of their farm. He refused to purchase food products if he was dissatisfied by the lack of cleanliness.

A favorite meal of the family was a high-protein meatloaf made from roasted peanuts. Honey was used instead of sugar. Nuts of all kinds were purchased in large quantities from Butler Brothers in Chicago. Peanuts were purchased to make peanut butter. A flat grinder made the peanuts finer and it was mixed with pure butter. Postum, made with roasted chicory and barley or wheat, was used instead of coffee. Vegetables were always served. Mary Smith (Mrs. Alec Rennie) recalled when she was in high school “Auntie Kate” always had a kettle of lima beans on the stove for her boys and her niece for lunch. Scalloped potatoes was another favorite. Bananas were purchased by the stalk and oranges by the crate from Peter Menegari at wholesale prices.

When A.J. wanted a watermelon, he would send one of the boys down to Front Street to the “I-talians”. His final instruction was to let Mr. Corsilla personally pick one out because he always picked one of the best quality.

A.J.  purchased ten acres of land at the top of the hill on Silver Lake Road (across from the Junior High School [now, West Middle School]). Except for a small ramshackle shed and a well without a pump, the land was barren. He bought the land to have fresh fruits and vegetables for the family. It would also keep the boys busy and out of trouble. George and Lyle disliked the work. Ralph hated it. The boys could sell all the produce not needed by the family. Markets, usually Beemish and Nicholson, on the 500 block of South Union Street would purchase the surplus fruits and vegetables. A savings account was set up by their father at the First National Bank for each of the boys and all the farm profits were deposited. Lyle kept his money until 1929 when he sold his savings to a bank officer. The money was used to help purchase a home from the Emanuel Wilhelm estate at 425 W. Eighth street. The house was similar to A.J.’s home at 116 East Eighth. Two weeks after the sale, the bank declared insolvency. Ralph and George lost their savings in the “Great Depression”.

Every morning after finishing chores around the house, A.J. and the boys would mount the wagon, slowly pulled by the retired racehorse “Jack” and go to the farm.

A.J. was mild-mannered and never used profanity except when he was behind the plow horse and the boys learned “every word of interest”.  It is doubtful if Kate ever knew of his farm vocabulary. With the exception of “Paris Green” (copper sulfate) used to kill potato bugs, sprays were not used. Corn, potatoes, red, black and yellow raspberries were grown. A grape arbor was assembled. Apple, cherry, pear, and peach trees were planted. One of the early lessons learned by the boys was never to plant cucumbers and melons too closely together.

One day a pig got out of Ben Barnes’ pen and started exploring the Wilhelm gardens. The boys chased the pig until the animal dropped dead. A.J. went over to the Barnes’ farm and paid for the dead animal.

Around noon each day the four would return back to town. The usually slow moving “jack” would once again remember his days as a race horse.

With all boys all in their teens, the farm was sold to the Thayers in 1915.

Traverse Area District Library does not have photographs of Anthony J., Kate, Lyle, Ralph or George Wilhelm. Any assistance in filling in this gap in our collection is appreciated! Please get in touch with librarian Amy, abarritt@tadl.org

“The Ideal Woman,” by Mary K. Buck, 1849-1901

by Mary K. Buck (1849-1901), poet of renown from Traverse City

Mary K. Buck, whose poetry we’ve featured before,  comes again to grace our pages with her thoughtful pen. Buck was a strong advocate for women and letters, and we think she would be pleased to be remembered in conjunction with Women’s Equality Day. A day often forgotten in women’s history, Women’s Equality Day is celebrated on August 26th, when we remember the passing of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote.

Ladies’ Library Association, pre-1892. Mary K. Buck is on the far left, back row.

Buck did not live to see the Woman’s Suffrage movement achieve its penultimate goal, but in her lifetime, she touched the lives of many Traverse City women looking to learn and achieve. She was one of the founders of the Ladies’ Library Association, she supported the authorship of many of her friends by editing their works, and she co-authored two books in her lifetime with journalist M.E.C. Bates.

This poem, The Ideal Woman, comes from her book, Songs of the Northland, published posthumously by her husband in 1902. What does this poem say about how women viewed each other at the turn of the last century? Clearly, the Suffragette and socialist cry of “sisterhood” extended even to remote Traverse City. It makes one wonder: What did those ladies talk about at the Ladies’ Library Association meetings?

The Ideal Woman

Who shall describe her, since each mind doth hold
Its own conception of that fair ideal
To which our longing tend? Or who shall say
Which type were best of those we most admire?
Each one, perhaps, shrines in her inmost heart
The image of some loved one who to her
Holds highest place on earth, yet it may be
To eyes more critical devoid of grace.
(It needs a loving knowledge to discern
The inner beauty ‘neath a surface plain.)

Yet though your thought and mine may differ wide,
Some points there are on which we shall agree-
Some attributes all true hearts must admire;
Then bear with me while I shall seek to show
The vision sweet that stands as my ideal:
A woman strong in body, fair of form,
And radiant with the vigor health bestows;
Her face is beautiful with that rare charm-
The loveliness that shines from starry souls;
A mind of broad and varied culture, keen
Of intellect and quick of sympathy;
But best of all a heart o’erfilled with love,
And charity embracing God’s wide world.
Slow in her censure, ready with her praise.
Seeing the good, yet steadfast ‘gainst all wrong.
Demanding justice for another’s rights,
But modest in her claims for self alone.
Her dress? That which doth best become her and
Her circumstances; so, seeing her, we say,
“How well she looks,” and not “How fine her dress.”
Sweet piety is hers and doth pervade
Unconsciously each act. A trust in God
And faith in holy things befit her well.
For as a lovely flower without perfume
May please the eye but disappoints the heart,
So woman without piety must lack
The crowning grace.

“Old-fashioned,” do you say?
Ah, it may be, for women there have been
In every age so gracious, pure and good
That loyal hearts do homage to them still;
And on Time’s roll of honor they shall stand
For ages yet to come. “Old-Fashioned” these!

Though high or lowly be her lot, she rules,
A queen in her own realm, or court, or cot.
When public duties call she shuns them not,
But best fulfills her mission in her home-
A wise and tender mother, loving wife-
“Her husband’s heart doth safely trust in her,”
So Solomon described her, long ago.
A faithful friend who will no trust betray-
Her friendship is a boon one well may crave.
Not perfect quite- some sweet faults still remain
To link her with our common human needs,-
But gentle, gracious, lovable and true.
O, brave “New Woman,” standing calm, serene,
To watch the dawn of the new century,
Wilt thou fulfill for us the grand Ideal?
The power is in they hands to choose and mold
They destiny at will. What shall it be?
The heritage of countless years is thine-
The toil and travail of thy sisterhood.
That which they sought with tears, almost with blood,
Is freely thine if thou wilt take and use-
The open door to Learning, Science, Art;
The right to think, to labor, to achieve!
Use then thy power with humble, rev’rent heart,
And give the world its noblest womanhood.

Mary K. Buck, portrait, undated.

From Michigan in Literature, Andrews, Clarence, 1992:

An unusual entry is Mary K. Buck’s Songs of the Northland (1902), published posthumously.  Mrs. Buck (1849-1901) was born Marjanka Knizek in Bohemia and came to Traverse City, Michigan, at the end of the Civil War.  She attended college, became a schoolteacher and a contributor to several nationally circulated magazines.  She also collaborated with Mrs. M. E. C. Bates on a volume of northern Michigan stories, Along Traverse Shores.

Popular Fiction, Purchased Locally: Library Purchasing Trends in the 1920s

Librarians love to keep records. Sure, we enjoy reading, assisting patrons, and honing our collections to perfection. But our true passion is in organizing, and that starts by keeping good records. From the dawn of the profession, librarians knew one thing: “If I can keep a record of it, it’s worth recording.” And Alice Wait, at the dawn of her personal professional career, swallowed this librarianish platitude hook, line, and sinker.

Alice Wait, 1915. Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library.

Alice was a librarian’s librarian, to be sure. The records she kept while she was THE librarian of Traverse City Public Library (1906-1950) speaks to her recordkeeping prowess. (We know she wasn’t there for the pay. Local historian Richard Fidler’s research into the City records revealed that Alice was paid less than the building janitor (Glimpses, p. 54)).

Some of you are saying, “Prowess? Really? To keep a list of books?Phhhbt.” I’m not saying it’s a miracle of engineering, creating and maintaining a library collection (what we professionals like to call “Collection Development”), but just think of all the factors involved! Each book is carefully weighed and measured: What are patrons looking to read? Are there other books patrons need to read that I might need to foist on them? What’s the opportunity cost here (or, what can’t I purchase because I’m buying this book)? What’s the drain on my budget and shelf space? Do I already have other, similar titles (or the same title) in the collection? Have I exhausted all of my materials resources and reviews to make sure I’m getting the best of the best?

Join me in looking at the Accessions record for Traverse City Public Library (TCPL), 1919-1925. First, it’s a beautiful volume: tight spine, no leather rust, and I bet this is pre-war paper… no acid yellowing, and the lignin fibers, well, let’s just say they should probably have their own fashion line. Rowr!

That the volume is in excellent condition, and that we still have it, tells us how important these types of records are to a library. But it’s the contents, handwritten in Alice’s tight, neat script, that tells us a story of a community, not just a library in a vacuum.

So what were Traverse City folk reading in the Roaring Twenties? Taking into account the effects of the Great War in general (a dip in the young male population, rise in women in the workforce, the doubling of the nation’s total wealth), people were frankly reading a lot of popular fiction. One of Alice’s most-used wholesalers, A.C. McClurg out of Chicago, also published a lot of escapist and science fiction literature, including Edgar Rice Burroughs (of “Tarzan” and “John Carter of Mars” fame). Yes, Burroughs was definitely on the shelves at TCPL.

This is not a huge revelation, but it does speak to a trend in our local library. In 1905, the TCPL published its circulation figures in the Grand Traverse Herald, revealing that 90% of items checked out by both adults and children were fiction titles. We can’t get those figures from the Accession records, but we do know what was present in the collection, and from a cursory read, fiction and periodicals made up the bulk of purchases.  With today’s technology, Traverse Area District Library (TADL) can provide the public with up-to-the-minute stats using our Statistics Dashboard. Again, we don’t know from these stats what is fiction and nonfiction, but anecdotally, I’ll attest to the fact that Grand Traverse County still likes its fiction.

Alice did a solid job of keeping up with what was popular in the world, considering how removed Traverse City feels. She purchased the drama “All God’s Chillun Got Wings,” by Eugene O’Neill, the week it came out (January 8, 1924), even though Time magazine didn’t publish a review until March of the same year. Same with Sinclair Lewis’ Arrowsmith, which won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1926.

She also purchased works of local interest, such as Traverse City novelist and scriptwriter Harold Titus’ 1922 novel, TimberShe purchased (and often replaced) works that would have been classics in her time, including Frances H. Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886). I do wish she had kept in these records the prices of these volumes, but alas. We do know that she supported the local economy, as a good 60 percent of her purchases were made at the City Book Store (managed by Dean E. Hobart, at 220 E. Front Street).

Entry in 1920 Accessions Record for “Little Lord Fauntleroy.”

Here’s something wild that might be unique to Alice’s recordkeeping. She may not have thought anything of it at the time, but for every author that was a married woman, Alice would give her the title “Mrs.” So, Burnett’s entry looks like “Burnett, Mrs. Frances H.” But, she excluded all other titles. Dr. Mabel Elliott’s Beginning Again at Ararat, she’s just plain old “Elliott, Mabel,” to Alice. I have no explanation for this, it’s just curious. Perhaps Alice did not have an ingrained bias for feminism.

Some of the periodicals Alice subscribed to in 1921 are still in print today (CenturyAtlantic MonthlyForumGood HousekeepingHarper’s Magazine), while others are long gone (Everybody’s Magazine, Little Folks). I can tell you with all certainty that every issue Alice purchased is long gone, as the last column for each accession indicates when the item was deaccessioned from the collection. There must’ve been a huge weed in 1944, as Alice discarded whole pages of accessions that year in periodicals. What a joy for Alice, to “close the book” on all those records at once! (Librarians like librarian puns almost as much as recordkeeping.)

Alice at her retirement, 1949-1950… still working. Image courtesy of the Al Barnes Collection, Traverse Area District Library.

Alice was probably the first and last person to write in this volume. When she retired in 1950, this volume likely went into retirement with her. How did they keep records after Alice is a mystery, as those records did not survive to the present. Unfortunately, librarians one hundred years from now will likely lament the same concerning our generation of recordkeeping. Thanks to Alice, though, that small slice of time she covered reveals a whole lot about Traverse City and its readers in the 1920s.

Sudden Flooding Along the Bay: Are We Due for Another Seiche?

Map of Grand Traverse Bay, courtesy of WikiMiniAtlas.

How many times has it happened?   Along East Bay, usually at night or early morning, the water surges up, rising four feet or more from its normal level, only to subside within minutes.  In the past, roads have been flooded, docks floated away, and debris swept into the water.  Houses and cottages have been flooded and cars damaged by the flooding such that they had to be towed away for repair.  West Bay gets them, too, but East Bay, especially at the south end, from Five Mile road west to the Birchwood area of Traverse City have been especially hard-hit.

The 1950’s experienced a number of these events, not just locally, but throughout all the Great Lakes.  At first, no one knew what to make of them: newspapers called them “Tidal Waves,” often using quotation marks since everyone knew they had nothing to do with the tides.  The only similarity is that the water rose somewhat gradually, and not with an abrupt crash of giant waves on the shore.  In 1952, the Traverse City Record Eagle declared no one knew what caused them, but that observation was soon to change: a surge of water with immense waves swept up on the Chicago shore on June 26, 1954, causing the deaths of ten persons.  That tragedy sparked interest among scientists studying the phenomenon.  They would soon uncover the causes.

First in a series of photographs documenting a seiche in East Bay, 5 May 1952, from the Traverse City “Record-Eagle” (used with permission).

Gordon E. Dunn, Meteorologist-in-charge of the Chicago office, realized that, on past occasions, the surges always occurred after the arrival of a pressure increase associated with a rapidly moving storm front coming from the north.  On July 6, 1954, just ten days after the devastating surge described above, conditions looked nearly identical to those of that day.  Based upon his understanding of the event, Dunn issued the first seiche warning. Somewhat to his surprise given his scant knowledge, a moderate seiche did strike Chicago, one that caused little damage, much to the relief of all.

Since those early times, we have learned much more about seiches.  They are associated with fast-moving storm lines, especially those moving faster than 50km/hr.  There must be a significant pressure rise associated with those lines, with a long fetch of water covering the entire width of a body of water—Lake Michigan or Grand Traverse Bay–making for more the most dramatic events.  One factor Dunn did not understand was the most fundamental thing of all: storm surges bounce off shores and send reflected waves outward to interact with those coming in.  It is like a basin of water with a water disturbance that reflects off the sides, sometimes building into surges that are magnified by the coming together of different waves.  Surges and the receding of water can go on for days as waves interact, just as water in a basin takes time to settle if it is disturbed.  All of this happens during seiches.

Second in a series of photographs documenting a seiche in East Bay, 5 May 1952, from the Traverse City “Record-Eagle” (used with permission).

East Bay presents another aspect of seiches.  It has vast shoals—shallow areas—that extend from the south and west shores.  When rising water strikes them, waves grow taller, driving farther inland.  One of the descriptions of a seiche claims that the water rushed 30 to 40 feet inland from its usual position, but only in areas at the base of the Bay.  This “shoaling” effect is known to increase the severity of seiches.

East Bay also presents an obstructed range of open water (a “fetch”) that enables waves free travel down its length.  By contrast, West Bay has a narrowing at Lee’s Point on the west side and Bower’s Harbor on the east, after which it widens at the south end.  Contours of the land also affect the severity of seiches, and East Bay seems especially suited to maximize high water surges.

Third in a series of photographs documenting a seiche in East Bay, 5 May 1952, from the Traverse City “Record-Eagle” (used with permission).

This is not to say West Bay has not experienced them.  On April 1, 1946, a resident of Bay Street in Traverse City reported the water level rose two feet before subsiding.  An older story is told that in March, 1891, the city had been withdrawing water from West Bay for household use by means of an intake pipe that extended two hundred feet from the shore under twenty feet of water.  When the pumps started racing one morning, it was realized that no water was being moved at all.  Upon breaking the ice that covered the intake, it was discovered that the water had receded to the point that the mouth of the pipe wasn’t in the water at all.  Soon after, water levels rose, and residents were able to get water for their morning coffee.  The peculiarity of this event—occurring when the Bay was frozen—sets one to wondering if some factor besides a seiche wasn’t operating.

East Bay experienced three significant seiches in the two years 1952-53.  The May 5, 1952 seiche is interesting because we have access to hour-by-hour data about wind speed and direction.  Hour-by-hour after midnight the wind direction changed: 1:00 AM: out of the East at 7 mph; 2:00 AM: out of the west at 7 mph; 3:00 AM: out of the south at 10 mph: 4:00 AM: out of the west at 8 mph; 5:00 AM: out of the north at 12 mph.  The wind direction stayed out of the north after that time for the rest of the day.   Note the time of day: after midnight and early morning.  For reasons not completely understood, the biggest surges of water tend to happen in early morning up to noon.  Also note that the wind direction jumps from one direction to another, finally ending with a strong wind out of the north.  The effect is to pile up water on one side of the Bay, only to have it rush in from the north.  Given the contours of that body of water, that is exactly what you would expect in order for the biggest surge of water to occur at the southern end.

Fourth in a series of photographs documenting a seiche in East Bay, 5 May 1952, from the Traverse City “Record-Eagle” (used with permission).

Residents on the south shore of East Bay notified the sheriff of the flooding shortly after 4:00 AM, a time fairly consistent with the wind change out of the north.  After the first surge, water rose again and again, but never reached the high water mark of the first rush.  That behavior goes along with our present understanding of seiches as disturbances in a closed basin with waves that reinforce each other at times.

When will the next seiche be?  Who can say?  We should beware when a fast-moving storm line moves in from the north associated with rapidly rising air pressure.  The National Weather Service now issues warnings when conditions are favorable for water surges and high waves, and persons living in vulnerable places should take precautions to protect their lives and property.   It has been some time since the last big one and it is easy to become complacent in the absence of memory.  After all, Nature acts whether we are ready or not for what she gives us.