The Meteor, 28 January 1879, viewed from Traverse City: Bigger than the Russian one?

Last year’s meteor fall in Chelyabinsk, Russia had a counterpart in Leelanau County a hundred thirty-five years ago.  The Grand Traverse Herald January 30, 1879 edition tells the story:

The meteor pictured here is much dimmer than the 1879 meteorite that struck Lake Leelanau.  (Image of The Quadrantids meteor shower December 2011. Image courtesy of Luis Argerich,
The meteor pictured here is much dimmer than the 1879 meteorite that struck Lake Leelanau. (Image of The Quadrantids meteor shower December 2011. Image courtesy of Luis Argerich,

About half past 2 o’clock Tuesday morning, an enormous meteor passed over this region.  The accounts given by the few who saw it are so conflicting that it is difficult to settle upon anything definite in regard to its direction or apparent size.  We have had it coming from every point of the compass and straight up and down: it varied in size from a pint bowl to a hogshead; it struck in the bay and it struck all along the shore; it traveled “as fast as a horse could trot,” and it “flew like lightning.”  We didn’t see it ourselves.  We were asleep, as all good editors should be at that time in the morning.  Those who did see it were evidently too startled to observe it closely.  What is known is that it was an immense ball of fire, and that the darkness was made light as noonday, and that a terrible explosion followed its appearance—or disappearance, no one seems to know which.  The night watchman at Hannah, Lay & Co., says that he saw it explode and that it flew into minute pieces like star dust.  (The one thing that all agree upon is the explosion.  This was heard with equal clearness and with like effect at Mayfield, thirteen miles south of this place and at Williamsburg, twelve miles east.  We have not heard from other directions.  The effect was of an earthquake shock.  The houses were shaken, windows shook and dishes rattled upon the shelves.  A swaying motion seemed to be given to the buildings as an upheaval and settling back.  If the meteor had not been seen it would have been thought an earthquake shock.  It was a big thing any way and that fellow that was close by when it fell or exploded must have thought “something dropped.”

A watchman, most likely the Hannah and Lay Company employee mentioned above, provided a more detailed description of the meteor’s passage to the editor of the Herald, Thomas T. Bates.  Somehow, his notes turned up in the Report of the 49th Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1879) in an article called Report of Observations of Luminous Meteors.

Was on watch, passing from due west to east; saw a great light; turned quickly, and saw a ball of fire over my right shoulder; turned to left and watched until it disappeared; when first seen it appeared about as high as ordinary rain-clouds; appeared to me larger than full moon; full moon looks to me to be 18 or 20 inches in diameter; meteor appeared to pass me, and move out of sight at about the rate of speed a descending rocket has after its explosion; had a good chance to see it plainly; just after passing me a singular thing occurred; a ring of fire seemed to peel off the meteor itself, and this followed the ball of fire out of sight, but dropped a little behind it; it was perfectly distinct, and appeared to be hollow, for I could see a dark centre.  Everything was as light as day.  I looked at my watch as it disappeared; it was just 28 minutes after 2 o’clock.  I passed on my beat, and shortly the terrific explosion came.  It shook and jarred everything around.  I immediately looked at my watch, and it was 32 minutes after 2.

From this account and others, Professor Kirkwood of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, commenting about the event, drew the following conclusions: The fireball first came in sight nearly 100 miles over a point about 30 miles S.W. of Great Traverse City and disappeared about 26 miles above a point about 42 miles N.E. by eastwards from that town.  The whole visible track was 124 miles, and its projection on the earth’s surface 66 miles in length from a direction S.W. by S. towards N.E. by N.  Of the time of flight, which was described as several seconds, and of the real velocity, except that the observations indicate a rather slow motion, nothing definite can be affirmed.  (The author goes on to speculate that the meteor may be related to the ‘Cancrid’ meteor systems which occur in the months of December, January, and February.)

In 1879 there were few inhabitants living in the Grand Traverse area, this fact explaining why, outside the Herald, little note was made of the meteor in other publications of the time.  Surely, an event that lit up the night sky as “light as noonday” while producing an explosion loud enough to “shake houses” would have aroused the interest of larger populations living in Chicago or Detroit.   Newspaper editors there would have written about it in order to answer questions of readers.  However, there is no apparent mention of the meteor in the Detroit Free-Press or the Chicago newspapers.

A more precise word than “meteor” for this event is “fireball”. Nowadays that term refers to a very bright meteor of magnitude -4 or better, brighter than the planet Venus.  They are relatively common, the Earth receiving several thousand a day, most over oceans, mountains, deserts and other inhabited regions.  Very few reach a size large enough for a fragment to impact Earth and even fewer that light up the sky as if at midday, producing an explosive thunderclap.

Another term used to describe fireballs is “bolide”, the word connoting an extremely bright fireball, one that explodes, often leaving fragments on the surface of the Earth.  Even bigger than a bolide is a “superbolide”, a meteor with a brightness more than -17 (the sun has a magnitude of -26).  If the 1879 account describing the meteor as brighter than the noonday sun is not an exaggeration, the Traverse area certainly encountered a superbolide.

The Grand Traverse Herald was not through describing the meteor.  After penning the above article, editor Bates later talked to R. S. Bassett, a local fisherman, who offered a first-hand account.  Bates continues:

We have just seen Mr. R. S. Bassett, who has a fishing shanty within a few rods of Fouch’s dock at the head of Carp Lake, seven miles northwest of this place.  Mr. Bassett was awake and saw the flash and was almost immediately deafened by the report of the explosion.  The next morning a large hole, fifty feet or more in diameter, was discovered in the ice about 600 feet from shore.  The ice was solid in this spot the day before.  For a long distance around the surface was cracked and broken and the ice around the hole itself, being twelve or fifteen inches in thickness, had the appearance of being driven down. The water at this spot is only eight or ten feet deep and the bottom of the lake is soft and muddy.

Carp Lake is an early name for Lake Leelanau; Fouch’s dock is at the extreme southern end.  The community of Fouch, consisting of a few cabins and cottages, can be found on the oldest plat maps of the area.  Clearly, a meteorite, perhaps more than one, lies in shallow water in the lake—and we know approximately where it is.  Not only that, with a hole in the ice approximately fifty feet in diameter, we can make guesses about how big it is.

This image is of a the recent meteorite fall, which occurred in Russia in 2013. Photographer Eduard Kalinin, Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
This image is of a the recent meteorite fall, which occurred in Russia in 2013. Photographer Eduard Kalinin, Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

One of the fragments of the meteorite that struck Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 also struck the frozen surface of a lake.  It left a hole about 23-26 feet in diameter, from which a five-foot long meteorite was pulled some time after the event occurred.  If the Lake Leelanau meteorite left a hole twice as big, it may have an even larger fragment–though such size estimations are difficult to predict, since it is possible—even likely—that the fragment broke up into smaller pieces upon impact.

Would modern imaging techniques reveal the under-lake location of the 1879 meteorite?  Even if located, could such an object be easily brought to the surface?  The Chelyabinsk meteorite weighed 1250 pounds before it broke apart into three pieces.  How much more would an object that produced a fifty-foot hole in the ice weigh?  We do not know the answers to these questions—but wouldn’t it be fun to find out?


British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1879, 49th meeting, Available online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library,

Richard Fidler is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.

Investigating the Gull’s World: Bellows Island of Leelanau County

by William C. Scharf

It’s early on a clear, sunny morning in mid-April. Lake Michigan is calm and the water looks smooth as glass. Hold on a second, it is glass! That’s a common result in this season, when waves are absent and temperature drops to freezing overnight. The outboard motor starts cutting through the nearly inch-thick skim ice. I throttle back because I’m frightened. There seems a real possibility that a planing boat could lift itself right on over the surface of the thin ice. That could spell some sort of disaster!

An imagined news report says, “16 foot aluminum puck with airborne, roaring outboard motor, skimming along ice, hits weak spot, then noses in on impact and slips under ice. Body found trapped beneath ice.”

Better to slow down. The sound of ice cracking is like breaking plate glass windows, and I begin to wonder, could really sharp ice sheets puncture an aluminum boat? Directly behind the boat are room-sized, jagged, transparent sheets sticking out of the water at various angles, and as I look further back there is a black path that I have cut in the ice. It’s very easy to see where I opened-up the motor (straight black line) and, where I got worried (the many course corrections cause zig-zags).

Why am I doing this? It’s nesting season for herring gulls.  I’m heading for Bellows Island, sometimes called Gull Island. There, I have permission of the island’s owners, the Leelanau Conservancy, to continue my long-term studies begun as student field trips over thirty years ago.  We started by studying the non-verbal communications systems of herring gulls worked out by Nobel Laureate, Niko Tinbergen.

Generations of my students will recall the video of Tinbergen with his thick Dutch accent proclaiming, as he strikes an offensive clenched fist pose, “When I do this, you know exactly what I mean.” He did that to show that certain signals have universal meaning.  His interpretations of gull sign language are still widely accepted as definitive basic communication among vertebrates, and his conclusions also have many applications to human behaviors. For example, smiling to express a friendly attitude is universally accepted among humans.  Or, a crying baby reveals discomfort and elicits motherly behavior. We instinctively understand these signals, and so too, the gulls have also evolved their own precise set of instinctive signals.

The sole inhabitants of Bellows Island, also known as Gull Island, busily nesting.
The sole inhabitants of Bellows Island, also known as Gull Island, busily nesting.

Gulls are highly territorial, meaning that they defend a small area, around their nests. Gulls have special threat postures that signal to possible intruders, but define the territorial boundaries to their mate.  It is with aggressive behavioral encounters between strangers that gulls communicate each pair’s boundaries to the rest of the colony. Ironically, it is acts of aggression that make a cooperative and happy colony. That is, as long as territories are recognized and respected, there is peace, order and calm in the colony. Through threatened and occasionally overt aggression, to twist the poet’s phrase, “good neighbors make good fences”, even if the fences are invisible and symbolic as in the case of the gulls.

The processes of pair formation and courtship has its own signals of love and pairing.  The formation of the pair, or the engagement party, is usually celebrated when the male regurgitates his last meal to share with his mate. She must be well fed to ensure viable eggs, and the gesture of sharing his meal signals the pair bonding together symbolically. Occasionally, a male that has just decided to “get engaged” changes his mind and re-ingests the food himself, thus, calling off the engagement. It may be nothing more than the fact that he is hungry, but it represses the pair bond until such time as he can share fully.

Chick rearing also has its own unique signals. The chicks learn to beg for food by pecking at a special orange spot on the adult’s bill. A pecking signal from the chick at the spot on the bill leads the adult to bring up food for the chick. Tinbergen called such specialized signals “sign stimuli.” Parents also communicate their territorial boundaries to their chicks.  If a chick strays into another territory, that chick is in danger of being attacked by the adult pair in that territory. Such attacks lead to severe injury or death to the stray chick. Strays that are killed are often eaten by the neighboring territorial adults.

The state of organization and benefits of nesting in a colony have prompted some to describe a colony as “Gull City.”  Indeed a colony benefits from social communication beyond the benefits necessary for individuals to function. Signals recognized by the masses are complete with penalties for transgressors and rewards for obedient citizens. Gulls communicate the location of food sources by watching the success of others. They synchronize their nesting cycles through day length and social behavior, which leads to laying eggs on about the same day. The degree of synchrony in egg-laying is a good measure of the social stability and behavioral cohesiveness of “Gull City.”  Large numbers of gulls nest together to overwhelm potential predators. Gulls choose isolated island sites for their colonies because such islands lack ground based predators such as foxes, raccoons, skunks and weasels. Occasionally, colonies nearer the mainland are visited by owls or hawks that can kill large numbers of both adults and chicks or a fox may gain access to an island over winter ice. Initially a fox in a gull colony may find a rich food supply of adults, eggs or chicks, but when the gulls are done nesting in late June or July, the fox had better learn to swim quickly, if  it wants to continue eating.

My students and I were curious about other aspects of the gulls’ lives, such as: When they leave the colony where do they go? Are the sex ratios even? Do they return to their hatching colony?  What ages are the nesting gulls?  As we began to answer these questions still others popped up. It was only a short time until we were putting numbered, aluminum bands on gull chicks to find the answers to these and other questions. We had to know the “who” about the gulls before we could answer questions about “how” and “why.” Banding was the best way to do this. We used U.S. Geological Survey Bands that weigh less than one-tenth of a percent of the bird’s body-weight.  That seems similar to humans wearing jewelry.  Dangers to chicks from other adult gulls, while we were banding, were monitored carefully, and all humane protocols were subscribed to.  All of this was done under Federal and Michigan permits issued to me. I had been trained during a summer internship with Frances Hamerstrom in Wisconsin and two summers with Edward Balfour in Scotland. I have since qualified as a trainer of new banders, and been approved by veterinary animal care and use committees at two research institutions.

Bellows Island, southern-most herring gull colony in this part of Lake Michigan, is a bastion against the onslaught of increasing numbers of smaller gulls, the ring-billed gulls.  Ring-bills are the nuisance birds begging and eating garbage around fast-food outlets and parks. The ring-bills often out-compete the larger herring gulls at other nesting sites, because of their social structure, close nesting habit, and increased ability to thrive on a generalists diet augmented by human refuse and agriculture. Herring gulls are more specialized and less generalists in their food habits, and thrive primarily from dead fish or water-related scavenging. In recent years, parts of Bellows Island have been usurped over by another fish-eating bird, the Double-crested Cormorant.  I will leave cormorant discussions for another time.

Herring gulls from Bellows Island travel long distances in winter, mostly in their first three years. Later, as adults, they winter closer to home.  Many bands of young birds have been returned from throughout the Great Lakes region. That is: New York to Northern Wisconsin, and south to Ohio and Illinois. A few seem to wander north into Ontario and Quebec. Often the location of a leg band, found during the nesting season, is the site of another nesting colony. Many more of our bands have turned up at distant nesting sites than the reverse. That seems to point to Bellows Island serving as a “source” of new reproductive gulls rather than as a “sink” by donating excess reproduction from Bellows Island to other localities with space for newly recruited breeders.

Dozens of bands have been returned from southern states and the Gulf of Mexico in the winter.  A noteworthy Bellows Island band return came from the mouth of the Plano River in the Central American country, Honduras. The report came attached with an interesting story communicated by Dr. Miklos Udvardy, of California State University at Sacramento, who, while on a research expedition, had bartered the band from a native. According to Udvardy, the native was wearing the band as personal jewelry, and when asked what kind of bird it came from, the native answered that he didn’t know, but the bird tasted very good.

I don’t begrudge the native his taste for wild game. Rather, I have greater concern for his health, because of the toxic contamination borne by Great Lakes herring gulls. Even though the level of toxic contamination in gulls has been declining in recent years, some of it is still present. At one point in the 1960s, Dr. James Ludwig, then of the University of Michigan, found that Bellows Island was among the highest in contamination for herring gull eggs that he tested. At that time, the hatchability of the eggs from Bellows Island was very low. Ludwig is convinced, and has written and spoke extensively, that there was a linkage between toxics and infertility in the gulls. Drs. Gary Shugart and Mary Fitch, in the mid 1980s, found a distinct shortage of male gulls on Bellows Island.  They think that this unbalanced sex ratio is what caused large numbers of females to nest with other females. Of course, such pairings usually produced infertile eggs, unless one of the females had previously mated with a male. This same shortage of males caused other females to make nests side-by-side in a single male gull’s territory. This trio usually produced chicks from only one of the sets of eggs with the second female becoming a helper in raising chicks from the successful nest. Un-balanced sex ratios may also be linked to toxic concentrations. We don’t know. But, these chemicals are known to be powerful disrupters of body functions, and reproduction. Some toxics have been shown to have a feminizing action on embryos in the egg. While it is distinctly unlawful to kill a gull with a gun, mass killing through reproductive disruption most often goes unpunished because its perpetrators are too difficult to track down with certainty.

For the past few years, I have been taking advantage of our past banding work by studying the large number of banded gulls returning as adults to nest on Bellows Island. I read the bands with strong binoculars early in the nesting cycle, before chicks are hatched to minimize my disturbance in the colony. Or, when I locate a banded bird, I use a simple, safe trapping technique. I release the bird quickly, after a short time for weighing, measuring and reading its band. So far, all but one of the approximately seventy five bands read from adults at Bellows Island, have been hatched there. The one foreigner came from a hatching colony near Alpena. So, we know now that our gulls come home to nest.

But there is much more that the bands can tell. Previously banded, nesting herring gulls on Bellows Island average seven-and-one- half years of age. They never start nesting before four years of age, and we have recorded eight nesters between ten and fifteen years, three between fifteen and twenty, and two over twenty with the oldest being twenty-four. The bands wear off as the gulls age.  Band-loss due to abrasion and chemical weathering is the greatest source of error in our studies. It is highly probable that many of the gulls nesting on Bellows Island are well over twenty years old, but have lost the leg-band that would prove it. The band on the twenty-four-year-old was paper thin, and ready to drop off.

This gull politely sits, allowing us a good view of its eye color. The author is able to tell the age of gulls from afar, as their eye color changes as they age.
This gull politely sits, allowing us a good view of its eye color. The author is able to tell the age of gulls from afar, as their eye color changes as they age.

Another obvious change with age in herring gulls is the gradual lightening of their eye color. The chicks start out with a dark brown eye, the eye becomes grayish sometime in its first winter, but by the time of first breeding it has become a bright yellow. The yellow fades, and becomes pale and almost white with flecks in later years. We can also separate males from females visually because males are larger, have different mating behaviors than females, and seem to be leaders in territorial defenses.

What good is it to know this? It helps immensely to be able to age and sex the birds without bands. Just by looking in their eye from a distance, or telling their sex by their size and behavior could help our studies a great deal.  As anyone studying populations of animals or humans will explain, age and sex are the two most important factors to understanding dynamics of species groups.

Going to Bellows Island is not for everybody.  In fact the Leelanau Conservancy, owners of the island, prohibits access without their permission.  The ruins of the old house there are extremely unsafe. The chicks can receive severe damage, and even be killed by neighboring adults when they are frightened out of their parents’ territories. Such an occurrence damages the colony’s reproduction and stability, lasting on into subsequent years.  This is often the innocent result of uninformed and unknowing visitors.  A camera club from a neighboring state frequently held an annual outing there in past years. The timing was usually correct to catch the chicks at their most photogenic stage. Despite my warnings, they always left a carnage of dead chicks, due to their disrespect for the gull territories.  Occasionally, dead chicks found after the camera club visit, or after a severe June storm, were ones that we had banded earlier. Other people finding banded, dead chicks naturally blamed us, quite unfairly.  Thankfully, the photographers seem to have ended their half-day excursions. In 1996, I wrote a management plan for the Leelanau Conservancy detailing cautionary procedures for people accessing Bellow Island, assuming they had obtained the Conservancy’s permission.

Author's student was injured after a gull swooped down on him. Hard hats are now "de rigueur" for the author's visits.
Author’s student Scott Thomasma was injured after a gull swooped down on him. Hard hats are now “de rigueur” for the author’s visits.

I always wear a hard-hat for protection when entering the gull colony. One of my students once received a nasty gash in his head from being raked by the beak of a gull swooping down on him at forty miles-per-hour. Additionally, there are certain bird-to-soil respiratory pathogens which are known to inhabit the soils of similar sites. The putrefying whitewash, occasional dead gulls, standing puddles of well-fertilized, stagnant water and regurgitated fish from thousands of gull chicks make a fertile breeding ground for several kinds of bacteria and fungi. I, my children and several generations of students probably test positive for such organisms without having clinical symptoms.  This may be no worse than we might have sustained by entering a chicken coop, or a church, or other old building with a pigeon roost in its attic. But, be forewarned.

The danger of infection is only for a few weeks in late spring or early summer when the spores are airborne, and then only if you are right in the gull nesting area. The danger of infection is practically zero for someone watching from the distance of a boat, which I recommend.  Each year since the Leelanau Conservancy purchased the island, Kathy Firestone and I have led a trip to observe the nesting gulls and discuss the history of the island from the Inland Seas schoolship. The cacophony, and unpleasantness of aerial fecal material experienced while actually in the gull colony can be turned into enjoyment from the distance of the ship’s deck with refreshments in hand. We would welcome your participation.

For me, it is many early mornings of hooking up a boat and trailer, the vagaries of weather on the lake, the endurance of tons of whitewash from above, and the deafening cry of hundreds of flying gulls. It is wonderful. Yes, you’ve got to love this work, because its rewards only come years later in the analysis of data and finding out what makes this “Gull City” tick. My banded birds are still coming back year-after-year, and I want to be there to document the intricacies of their lives. To the many students and friends, who made this study possible, I owe much. Perhaps, continuing it is a tribute to them. This research is on-going and will continue.

Bill Scharf is Professor Emeritus at Northwestern Michigan College where he led students on scientific study trips on Lake Michigan islands for 27 years. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, and Masters and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. He has studied harriers in Wisconsin and Orkney, Scotland, colonial nesting seabirds and migrating songbirds on the Great Lakes, and for 4 years after his NMC retirement, was Associate Director of the Biological Station at the University of Nebraska. While in Nebraska he wrote the Birds of North America account of the Orchard Oriole as well as studies on islands in the Platte River. He returned to Michigan to direct the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, and currently resides in Traverse City.

Remembering People and Businesses Past, Kingsley in mid-20th Century

In this month’s “Celebrate the People,” we celebrate the long memory of Kathleen “Katy” (Adams) Hedden née Webster, a life-long Kingsley resident. Born in Kingsley in 1936, she lived on Fenton Street during her formative years until after her own children had grown. Her uncle, Floyd Webster, has been the Kingsley historian since the 1950s, and her attention to detail in this interview reflects a family love for Kingsley history. She continues to tell stories about Kingsley people and businesses, although she has joined the ranks of the ‘snowbirds’. See you in the summer, Katy!

Profuse thanks goes out to interviewer Connie Newell and editor Pete Newell. Without their dogged persistence, we likely would not have this interview to enjoy today! As always, Grand Traverse Journal is keen on publishing the stories of people that make up our communities, so please, take the time this New Year to get your stories down on paper for future generations, and submit them to the Journal!

by Connie Newell
edited by Pete Newell and Kathleen Hedden
29 October 2014

C: What were your parents names?

K: My mother’s name was Claribel Wales, the oldest of 6 children born to George and Ina Wales, in 1916.  They lived on Old Mission Peninsula. My dad was born in Alma, Michigan in 1908, his parents were Walter and Martha Webster . His name was Carl, he had 2 sisters and a brother.

C: Were there doctors in town?

K: The only village doctor when I was a child was J. J. Brownson.  My grandmother Martha Webster, a mid-wife worked with him. He was a horse and buggy doctor.

C: How did they come to live in Kingsley?

K: My dad and his parents moved here when he was a child, as did my mother and her family. My Webster grandparents lived on Blair Street in the house where Diane and Dan Walton  live. My mother’s parents lived on a farm two miles east of Kingsley where Mom spent most of her childhood. She and her 5 siblings walked to the old  Sparling School  which was located  on Wood Road, it was a K through 8 school. I don’t know anything about my grandparent’s education. When my mother advanced to the ninth grade, she had to transfer to the high  School in Kingsley  . Of course there was no bus service,  she walked 2 ½ miles to and from Kingsley every day. As the roads were not plowed in the winter , she boarded with a family in Kingsley for the winter months. My mother was 19 years old, had one year of college, and worked as a bookkeeper at Kingsley Co-op when she and  my Dad were married.  The old Sparling School now sits on Fenton Street in Kingsley on the back of the Earl Haycraft property.

K: During the logging days, the lumbering companies hauled logs to the top of the high roll-away, located near Buckley on the Manistee River. There, logs would be rolled into the river and floated  down to the mill. My mother-in-law and father-in-law were Sam and Joy Adams. One summer Sam Adams, and Frank Kolarovic, (his son, Jim, lives across from the post office) were part of a crew  hired to work  the river finding dead heads, (sunken logs that had hit snags), freeing them and floating them down river to the mill. My mother-in-law, Joy, was hired to cook for the crew in a little shack built on the raft for shelter. It was too dangerous for my future husband, Larry, (her two year old son), to be allowed to run free and get in the crew’s way or venture too close to the edge of the raft that had no railing, so he was tethered with a rope and they spent most of that summer on the Manistee.

C: Where did they get married?

K:   I think my parents were married  in Traverse City by a Justice of The Peace. An interesting fact involved the old Kingsley telephone office. All were party line phones and had to be manually connected to anyone not within a close geographical area, so the telephone operator heard everything on the phone lines to and from the 500 or so people living in the Kingsley area. My dad went to Traverse City to get the marriage license, but he couldn’t remember my grandma’s maiden name and it had to be on the license. He called through the Kingsley Telephone Office to talk with my mother and asked, “What is your mother’s maiden name?” Before he got back to Kingsley everyone knew that Carl and Claribel were getting married and he had gotten a marriage license that day.

C: What did your father do?

Downtown Kingsley in the 1930s. The building furthest away, north of M113, was Hooper's tavern, where Katy's folks first lived when they moved to Kingsley. The Cleland Tavern, where movies were shown on the painted screen on the building's side, is now where the auto supply store sits. Image courtesy of the Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection,
Downtown Kingsley in the 1930s. The building furthest away, north of M113, was Hooper’s tavern, where Katy’s folks first lived when they moved to Kingsley. The Cleland Tavern, where movies were shown on the painted screen on the building’s side, is now the home of Kingsley (Thirlby) Automotive. Image courtesy of the Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection,

K: Most of his life, he painted and did wallpapering. My mom  didn’t work outside the home until I was old enough to baby sit myself. She took a job as cashier at the Kingsley IGA store which is now the pizza place  kitty corner from the Post Office. After my parents married, they moved into a little apartment behind the tavern that I think was owned by Bean Shaftee, brother of Rosie Hooper,  Joe Hooper’s mother.  The tavern was located where the Subway sandwich now stands. Later  Bean had a furniture store there.  After the furniture store, it became a series of gas stations, first a Pure Station, and later a Shell Station. After the gas stations, it was purchased and became the Dairy D soft ice cream shop owned by Cal and Phyllis Kroupa. I worked there one summer when it was owned by Cal and Phyllis . It was later sold to Keith and Pauline Aeschliman.  After that it was owned by the  Gomez family and Phil had his barber shop in the room on the north end of the building.

I was maybe a year or two years old when my folks moved to the house across from the Methodist Church. In my early childhood, we had an outdoor toilet and used the pages of catalogs for toilet paper.  I think that was pretty standard back in the ’30s.  Those colored pages, were heck. My great grandma Keffer had a “two holer.”She had taken an old fur coat, cut a hole in it, put it on the seat, so you wouldn’t have to sit on that cold piece of wood in the winter time. It was a fur lined toilet seat. How is that for comfort? We lived there on Blair Street until I was about 5 years old when my folks built a house on Fenton Street.

After I married, my folks bought land on the Boardman River and built a new house there. My husband, Larry, and I bought the Fenton Street house from them. I lived there from the time I was a small child until after our children were grown .  Larry and I bought the Floyd Adams farm on Blackman Road and  built our house overlooking “Adams Pond” . Kingsley hardly resembles today what it was like as I was growing up, except for some of the old brick buildings in downtown Kingsley. In a town the size of Kingsley, everybody knew everybody and when someone passed away I remember a lady who went house to house,  Mrs. Marion Manigold, asking for donations for funeral flowers for the deceased.  People just expected to help. It was part of our lives.

C: What was your first husband’s name?

K: Larry Adams. Larry and I were engaged to be married just before I started my senior year of high school. He gave me a ring on my birthday in August and we were married in July of the following year. There were 26 students in my senior year of high school . A couple of boys dropped out at the end of the first  semester joining the Marines, leaving only 24 to graduate.  Four of the graduates  went to college, continuing education wasn’t any big thing then.

C: How long were you married to Larry?

K: 45 years. He died of cancer that he had battled for sixteen years.

C: When you were young, what was there to do in Kingsley? Were there theaters?

K: There were free shows every Saturday night in the summer. When I was a teenager, movies were held next to where The Rock teen center is today.  Previous to that, and still visible, a big white movie screen was painted on the south wall of Kingsley Automotive that was Baldie’s (Cleland) tavern at that time.  There were wooden benches for seating where the fitness center stands today. Farmers would come into town Saturday nights, get groceries, bring their families, and stay for a free show. The village merchants  stayed open and they financed  the rental of the movies.  Ken Mox opened a hardware store where the fitness center is today, after the movies were moved from Baldie’s to the lot south and east of there. Next door to that Wayne Lewis opened a barbershop, which later became a beauty shop.

K: I did a lot of baby sitting for Henry Mox, who, today, is remodeling the house in which he was raised, on the corner of Fenton and Brownson Streets.  His dad, Ken, owned the hardware store in Kingsley and his mother, Mildred, went to the store every afternoon to do the bookwork while I took care of Henry. As soon as I got out of school, I would go to their house. While I took care of Henry, I did dishes, vacuumed the floors, and did errands for 25 cents per hour. There was always a sink full of dirty dishes. I took care of Henry for several years. A few years later Henry’s brother, Mark was born, and I took care of him too, when he and his mother came home from the hospital. I did a lot of babysitting during my high school years. I was the last female paper carrier for The Grand Rapids Herald newspaper. I delivered papers from when I was 12 or 13 until I graduated from high school. I don’t remember how much I earned, but the paper cost 20 cents a week for delivery.  I can remember one person who gave me a tip every Saturday, which was collection day. He always gave me a nickel tip.

Ralph Case family home on Brownson Avenue north of M113, 1934. The farm house on the left became the Smith (now Covell-Smith)  Funeral Home, where Katy babysat the Smith children.
Ralph Case family home on Brownson Avenue north of M113, 1934. The farm house on the left became the Smith (now Covell-Smith) Funeral Home, where Katy baby-sat the Smith children. Image courtesy of the Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection,

K: I also sat for Claude and Mildred Smith who lived in the upstairs portion of the Smith funeral home.  I was always a little uncomfortable, knowing there was a body or two downstairs. Shenbelle, the oldest of the children liked to greet visitors at the shared entry door of the apartment and funeral home. One of the regular visitors was the Traverse City Record Eagle paper carrier, Larry Adams.  He loved to tell the story about going there to leave the paper and little Shenbelle would greet him at the door and say, “Would you like to come in and see the body?” He never did.

K: There was a new nursing school in Traverse City at Northwestern Community College. I decided that I wanted to enter the program. I had not taken chemistry in school, so before school started in the fall, I went to see Joe Bellinger, the superintendent of Kingsley Schools, (then known as Paradise Township Unit Schools), and told him that since they had the nursing  program beginning in Traverse, I would like to go for an RN, but I had not taken chemistry in high school, and regretted not having taken it.  I wanted to come back to school every day and take chemistry with the high school students.  I was accepted back to school and took the class.  Announcements were made over the P.A. every day.  One morning during class, the announcement came, “Katy Adams, would you come to the office when class is over?”  I was so embarrassed in front of these kids, I was  28 years old then with a bunch of kids who were 17 or 18 and I was getting called to the office. I went to the office right after class.

Mr. Bellinger said, “I’ve looked over your school records, and I see that you’ve taken bookkeeping, typing, and know shorthand. They all pertain to secretarial work, and my secretary is leaving. I would like to offer you the job.”

I was flabbergasted. I had no idea prior, to why I was called to the office. I told him, “I will talk this over with my husband and let you know, but if I take the job, I want you to know that I am two months pregnant.”

He said, “Well if you give me your word that you will not quit as soon as your baby is born, that won’t make any difference to me. But, I don’t want you to learn everything and then leave me after a few months, I would rather start training someone else.”

I talked with my husband, Larry. He didn’t have any problem with the job offer. So I canceled my thoughts of nursing. I kind of weighed it, because I would have to go to college for a few years to be an RN and would be driving every day to classes, and have extra expenses. To have a  job at school, I would just walk a block to work and would always be home weekends with my husband and children. My hours wouldn’t be much longer than my children’s school hours. It seemed that was the way to go. So, when I accepted the job, he said, “Now you will really stay after you baby is born.” I said that I would. I stayed for 32 years.

C: What did they pay to start?

K: I started out at $3000 a year which was OK back then.

C: What did you wind up making? Did you get insurance and a pension?

K: Yes. When I left the school position, I was getting over $16 per hour. I knew, initially, that my job entailed almost everything.  I did all of the general office work, helping out with secretarial duties for both elementary and secondary principals, as well as the superintendent, all of the bookkeeping for the district, the hot lunch account, the check writing, the payroll, and whatever else popped up. At that time, Larry was working for Schall’s Bread Company in Traverse City. He had a route going store to store from Traverse City to Elk Rapids delivering bread, rolls, and other baked goods.

C: Did Larry paint houses?

K: My husband never painted. My father painted.  Grandpa Webster, my dad’s father, painted for years, but he ended up retiring from Parts Manufacturing  plant in Traverse City.  My dad had various jobs when he was a young man.  He cooked in the C.C. camps and later was a cook on an iron ore ship on the great lakes. My son has two degrees from Ferris State University and worked as a personnel director for United Technologies and later as business manager for Thomas and Betts, both in Boyne City. He tired of that and he now has a successful painting business and has several people working for him.  I think painting is in the Webster blood.

C: What are your kid’s names?

K: My oldest daughter, is Lori Lynn Norton, the wife of a minister. Lori and Terry have two children. He’s had four churches since they have been married.

C: Your next child down?

K: My second child is Lindsey Webster Adams, who with his wife Shannon have 2 sons.  My youngest is Kara Ann Schmidt, an accountant married to Damon, a mechanical engineer.

C: Did you go to church here in town?

K: I have been a member of Kingsley Baptist Church for 50 years.  After Larry died, I married Ken Hedden.  Pastor Summerfield married us in the old Baptist Church on Blair Street.  During the ceremony he said, “I always counsel couples before I marry them, but between Katy and Ken they have been married 95 years, I didn’t think they need counseling.”

Katy and Ken Hedden, at Christmas-time 2012.
Katy and Ken Hedden, at Christmas-time 2012. Image courtesy of Kathleen Hedden.

C: Did you like Ken when you met him?

K: It was a blind date.  Ken is a very nice person. I had met him once a couple of years prior  but really didn’ t remember him.  He had lost his wife to cancer a couple months before I lost my husband.  One evening, a mutual friend said to me, “Shall we ask Ken if he would like to go out to dinner with us?”  I said “Yes.”  So, the four of us went out to dinner and afterward went back to their house and played cards.

Ken soon asked, “Can I pick you up tomorrow night?”

I said, “I don’t think so.”

Ken asked, “Well how about the next night?”

“I’m pretty busy.”

Ken said, “Well, how about a movie this weekend?”

I finally said, “Alright. We can go out to a movie this weekend.”

C: I bet you thought that you would never get married again.

K: I thought, “Well I’m  63. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life by myself.”

Downtown Kingsley, 1957.  Close on far right is the IGA; in the distance are the Standard and Pure gas stations at the corner of M113 and Brownson Avenue.
Downtown Kingsley, 1957. On far left is the IGA; in the distance are the Standard and Pure gas stations at the corner of M113 and Brownson Avenue. Image courtesy of the Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection,

C: Were there many gas stations?

K: Yes. There were several gas stations. Bob Adcock’s building on the south side was Davis’ Gas Station. Another one sat where John Sedlacek’s shop is on the SW corner of M113 and Brownson. Straight across M113 was the Standard Station that belonged to Mickey Mox. Across Brownson to the east was the Pure/Shell Station. I say that because it was first Pure then Shell. What is now the vacant lot west on the SE corner of Cottage and M113, there was a grocery/gas station.  Some of the owners that I recall over the years were Harold Vogue, Chet Berdinski, and Durwin Mackey.  On the next block, where the ice cream shop is now, SE corner of Clark and M113, was an Old Dutch gas station owned by Al Hoeflin.

There were several grocery stores on the  main street (Brownson) in Kingsley.  The first owner that I remember was Ed Mox, then later bought out by Bob Lint and Don Westrate.  The pizza place is where the IGA store used to be, and right next to that was Clover Leaf Store what you might call a dime store belonging to Frook’s. It was later owned by Louie Kyselka. Next door  was Sieffert’s Grocery Store, which was operated by Thelma Sieffert and was later converted to the Kingsley Bank. Next to that was the drug store operated by Lane (Doc) Fenton. You could go right from the grocery store straight through to the drug store. Nixon’s was another grocery store but when it  burned, Ray and Agnes put in a Gamble’s store . The next building belonged to Frank Baldwin. He had a barber shop in the front and in the back was a pool hall with always a card game going on.  Grandpa Webster spent a lot of time playing cards there which really irritated my grandmother.

K: I lived on Fenton Street for about 40 years–from when I was a small child  until my children graduated from high school. Floyd Webster lived right where he lives now. When he came back from the army, that was his and Melvina’s first house. He, my parents, and grandpa built it.

C: You said that your kids went kindergarten through twelfth grade in the local school?

K: Yes. All grades were located in one building.

C: How did your mother get clothes for you?

K: She made them when I was a child. I don’t know how old I was before she got a washing machine. Before that she used a scrubbing board.

C: Did you mind being an only child?

K: I can remember them asking me, “Wouldn’t you like to have a little brother or sister?” I  always gave them the same answer, “No.”

C: Did you as a teenager do the sleep over thing?

K: I didn’t really do much of that. One thing I enjoyed, growing up, was roller skating.  For several years, while I was in junior high and high school, a company would come once a week with roller skates. The school would open up the gym, students could come there and rent the skates, have the music going and roller skate. They would have special things to do. The girls would line up and the boys would line up, and you would pair up according to the position in each line, much like a reel. Another thing we did as kids—the pond on our street, it’s still there behind the Westrate house, that’s what we called “The Little Pond.”  It always froze over early in the winter time because it was shallow. We would meet there every night and bring our shovels, clean it off, skate, and get warm by a bonfire . As the winter progressed, what we called “The Big Pond” would freeze, and our gathering would go there, what was a lot bigger than it is now.

K: By the time my kids were old enough to go ice skating that area of Fenton Street was being built up, so the village built a rink at Brownson Park, and it was well lit.  The town kids would walk there and skate afternoons and evenings.  Broomball was popular, especially with the young boys.

C: Who were the wealthy people in town?

K: I think Frank Saylor was the only one that I would have called wealthy.  I remember that  Al Hoeflin, who had the Old Dutch gas station, had the first television in town. My dad had the second one and Rex Henschell had the third.  You knew who had TV’s because of the tall antennas that were necessary to bring in the only 2 channels, Green Bay and Milwaukee, were available.  I was on the village council quite a few years. Not many people showed up to the meetings.


VOTE to Digitize Our History

In this month’s issue, your Editors invite you to make history, not just read about it! Find out more in the article below:
The Traverse Area District Library (TADL) along with local grant partners, the History Center of Traverse City and Osterlin Library, Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) are asking for community support to vote Traverse City newspapers to win the Michigan Digital Newspaper Grant.
The community is encouraged to vote via twitter using #DigTraverse in posts from January 19-25. Each tweet equals one vote. Voting can also be done by sending a picture postcard to the Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, Mich., 48859. Postcards will be available at all TADL locations, the Osterlin Library at NMC, and the History Center.
digtraverseflyerTADL and partners were selected as one of five finalists to receive a Michigan Digital Newspaper Grant administered through the Clarke Historical Library. The $2,500 grant award will help improve access to a winning Michigan newspaper. If Traverse City wins, the funds will be used for scanning and placing online nearly 10,000 combined pages of the Grand Traverse Herald, The Morning Record, The Evening Record, and the Traverse City Record­ Eagle.
The grant would also cover microfilming and digitizing of fragile, one of a kind newspapers of the Traverse City Record-Eagle from May 1, 1915 to December 31, 1916.
“The Record Eagle from 1915-1916 was never filmed as the originals were destroyed in a fire,” said Amy Barritt, TADL Special Collections Librarian. “However, and thankfully, the History Center has collected a number of print copies from that span of time and would like to get them filmed and digitized for preservation purposes, which is a huge resource for our community.”
The newspapers being nominated were published pre­-1923, and are therefore in the public domain and cover a large geographic area including Northwestern Lower Peninsula of Michigan, with an emphasis on Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Benzie and Kalkaska Counties.
Barritt said she and her grant partners are beyond excited to have made it this far and hope the community gets involved to digitize and preserve the region’s local history.
“Our purpose in asking the public to determine the final outcome is so that, from five very good applications, the newspaper selected will serve the needs of the community that demonstrates the greatest interest in using the resource,” said Frank Boles Director, Clarke Historical Library.
This project is made possible by funds from the Robert and Susan Clarke endowment, housed in the Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University.

When the Aircraft Industry Almost Got Off the Ground in Traverse City: The Tale of Two Inventors

by Julie Schopieray, local historian and writer

This story is about two very different Traverse City men, each with his own ambitions in the emerging world of manned flight.  Both had skills and talents to be successful, but for different reasons neither realized their aviation dreams.

Many direct quotes from newspaper articles have been included because their wording best expresses the attitudes and humor of the time.

It was 1909. The Wright Brothers were setting flight records repeatedly.  In St. Louis, Missouri, during various centennial celebrations, balloon races, dirigible exhibitions and aeroplane contests made national headlines.  In the small northern Michigan town of Traverse City a young man with a natural gift for mechanics and apparently innate engineering skills made aviation headlines, himself–at least locally.

In August 1909, Charles Albert Augustine, a twenty-one-year-old son of a tailor, along with a few friends, put together a 20-foot long bi-plane glider. The young man and his friend, Edwin E. Smith, made their maiden flight on October 17, 1909 from the top of a hill just south of town on the Ransom farm. Several men ran alongside, pushing the glider with its pilot until it caught air and rose up about 50 feet, gliding a full 600 feet and landing lightly again. They gave the glider several tries that day, but the flight that Smith piloted was the longest. After this successful flight, the achievement was eagerly covered in the paper.

Augustine had high hopes of starting an aeroplane manufacturing company.  However, he needed funding for his projects and had competition for financial support.  Another man with better connections to local businessmen was also making news with his invention–which threatened to overshadow that of the younger man.  Andrew Smith was seventeen years older than Augustine and had already established a reputation as a proficient inventor, although the extent of his training is unknown. In 1895, he had patented an oarlock mechanism for boats, making a good amount of money from it. By 1904, he had several patents, one for a diamond-shaped clothespin, and another for a machine to make them. His machine was used to open a clothespin factory in Muskegon, Michigan. Obviously mechanically talented, he is listed in the 1900 census as an inventor.

Andrew Smith's 16-cylinder engine trials on icy Grand Traverse Bay.
Andrew Smith’s 16-cylinder engine trials on icy Grand Traverse Bay.

In 1910, Smith was listed as a mechanical engineer at the Oval Wood Dish Co. His biggest venture yet was perfecting a 16-cylinder airplane engine. Working with the Traverse City Iron Works to build his engine, he had it ready to test in early 1911.  In February that year, he put together a contraption with the test engine attached to a sled and an eight-foot propeller. During the test runs on the ice of the bay, Smith experimented with different amounts of engine power:

Mr. Smith turned the power of all the cylinders on at one time as an experiment, but the heavy boat was practically lifted off the ice… the second test was made over the same course and under similar conditions with the exception that 12 passengers were carried. The added weight did not seem to make any difference as practically the same speed was made and the boat went over the course like an express train without mishap.

This experiment drew the interest of local businessmen, and Smith started gaining support from the community. Several men subscribed to incorporate the Smith Aeroplane Engine Company, which was capitalized at $100,000.  A publication called Aircraft dated March, 1911 noted the activity of the two men, “Andrew Smith and Charles Augustine are the prime movers towards the organization of a company at Traverse City, Mich., for the purpose of manufacturing aeroplanes and aero engines in that growing western town.”  There seems to have been some sort of partnership between the two men, but perhaps only a verbal agreement, not a contractual one.

Augustine’s biplane, as it appeared in a photograph published in the Grand Rapids Press, 1910. This is the first time this image has been shown to persons interested in local history, as this image is not available through the History Center.

A January 1910 Grand Rapids newspaper covered the exciting achievement of Augustine’s first flights the previous fall, including a photo of the builder and his biplane. The article mentioned the partnership with Smith but explained that they somehow ended their relationship, “Originally, Augustine was working in conjunction with a local machinist who promised to produce an eight-cylinder fifty horsepower gasoline engine… but Augustine and his machinist friend have had a split….”

In August, 1910, Augustine’s new plane was finished, but he was waiting for Smith to return from a business trip in New York. Augustine was to pilot his plane with the Smith engine and a newspaper reporter was to accompany him on the flight. The flight with the Smith engine never happened.  No documentation has been found to show that the Augustine airplane body and the Smith engine ever came together as a unit and flown. The following month, Augustine left for New York spending three months learning about planes, gaining experience with engines and working for an aeronautical society on Long Island.

After returning home, Augustine placed an ad in the wanted column of the paper asking for capital to purchase an engine for his monoplane, but few came to his aid. A supporter wrote a piece in the paper encouraging others to contribute:

In a January issue of the Grand Rapids Press we read that Traverse City people were electrified last year when Charles Augustine made his flights in a glider of his own construction. We wonder if they were so electrified that they still remained dazed and as they read the ad in home papers for financial aid to purchase an engine for this same young man for his new monoplane, do they fail to see in this an opportunity to aid one of Traverse City’s boys? What might mean very little to each one who might lend a hand might mean much to one who has spent all his spare time and all his earnings during the past few months working on this machine, which is nearing completion only lacking the engine. One man says he will give $25 toward it, are there twenty-four more men who will do likewise? This would set the young man on his feet and show to our sister cities that the Queen City of the North is still loyal to her boys.
–Owen Schoolcraft

Prospects for financing a fledgling aircraft company centered on Smith rather than Augustine. The Board of Trade created an aviation committee consisting of three local businessmen, and pledged whatever support they could to Andrew Smith and his engine-building venture. There was talk of starting a factory for production right in Traverse City.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1911, the Smith engine made mention in the paper with results of testing in Saginaw and Chicago, and word of an additional $1,000  being donated to the testing fund.

Augustine's monoplane never got off the ground, but reality never stopped famed postcard designer Orson W. Peck. Read more about him in the "Then and Now" feature of this month's Grand Traverse Journal!
Augustine’s monoplane never got off the ground, but reality never stopped famed postcard designer Orson W. Peck. Read more about him in the “Then and Now” feature of this month’s Grand Traverse Journal!

Meanwhile, Augustine was still perfecting his monoplane. Surprisingly, even with all the talk of the Smith engine, in September, a full eight months after his plea for financial aid, the latest Augustine aeroplane was finished but still without an engine. Newspaper accounts were supportive, “The machine is completed and a model in every respect, similar in size and design to many of the best aeroplanes now in use. Experts have judged this a perfect machine, but as yet Mr. Augustine has not been able to secure a suitable engine with which to operate it.” The plane was put on display at the local fair, a sensible move according to the paper, “This of itself will be a great attraction and as aerial navigation has now become firmly established, additional interest will be given to this exhibition.” It seems strange that with the glowing description of the quality of Augustine’s plane, he was not being taken seriously, and left without securing funds.

After the excitement of a nearby town holding an aviation exhibit at their fair, at the last minute Charles’ plane was rushed in and put on display in Traverse City. It seems his plane was only being used to bring more people into town for the fair. In the end, Augustine’s “perfect machine” never left the ground.

Meanwhile, an exhibition was planned to show off the improved and tested Smith engine. With the backing of prominent businessman Henry Hull, the Board of Trade made an agreement with Smith which stated he would pay for all advertising. Subscribers who donated were assured their money would be well spent and, if they were “in any way dissatisfied with the flights, they could have their money cheerfully refunded to them.”

Together, Smith and the Board organized an exhibition once Smith’s engine had been perfected and tested at an air strip in Chicago. Three days in late November, 1911 were set aside for the show.  The paper waxed enthusiastic about the exhibition and the prospects for airplane manufacture in the city:

Under the auspices of the Board of Trade, this machine will be brought to Traverse City and two days exhibition given. There is a two-fold object in this proposition- one is to give the people of this section of the state an opportunity to see a real air ship in action; another is to give a demonstration for the purpose of interesting local capital in this company for the purpose of manufacturing these engines in  this city…Taking these things into consideration, there is a great future for the aeroplane engine and the Traverse City product promises much for the future. This community now has an opportunity to assist in establishing what will probably become a large and valuable industry.

Smith secured professional aviator Vandie Ludvik to fly the plane in the exhibition in Traverse City.  Ludvik had been testing Smith’s engine in various planes in other exhibitions around the Midwest, and a Curtiss bi-plane was chosen to use with the Smith engine. Ads were placed in the paper and tickets sold by the Board of Trade for 25 cents, and the 12th Street fairgrounds were chosen for the exhibition. The first two days’ weather was not good, and only one flight was taken on the second day, its outcome reported quite positively:

A large crowd witnessed the experiment on seventh street and when the machine was ready, it was followed to the Twelfth street grounds by hundreds of people.  After a run about 150 feet, the air craft gracefully rose about 30 feet going gradually higher as it encircled the field until it reached a height of about 50 or 60 feet, when a stiff air current partially toppled the machine, but the aviator with quick manipulations righted the craft and completed the circuit of the field at a height of about 30 or 40 feet, making a very good landing.  

On the third day, the conditions were better.

The trial was the best yet given… and the engine was in first-class condition. The aviator rose to a height of about 200 feet, encircling the grounds twice, in his flight sailed over the asylum grounds. When he landed, the rear wheel of the bi-plane struck a stump and was badly punctured… About 5,000 people…gathered on the twelfth street grounds to witness the scheduled exhibition of the Curtis bi-plane…the great throng of men, women and children, who covered the field could not be controlled…the crowd was so great that he was afraid that he could not pick out a suitable landing place without danger of injuring several people in alighting. Besides, there was a defect in the connecting rod of the frame work which was broken in the landing which prohibited another trial. Naturally the great crowd was very much disappointed.

According to a 1957 article by Al Barnes, after the initial flights, the test pilot “refused to make another flight” with the Smith engine “saying it was ‘no good.’”

There was still talk of gaining support for Charles Augustine and his inventions, but it seems to have not been enough to make a success for him. In December, 1911, after testing another invention called a hydroplane, a propeller-driven watercraft, he was still struggling to find financial support for his inventions.  The newspaper ruefully comments, “Some time ago Charlie made an appeal to certain parties for assistance in perfecting his aeroplane which he is sure would have succeeded in flying if he could have secured an engine powerful enough for this purpose. Although he failed to receive the assistance for which he asked he has not given up entirely because  of discouragement, but is still hammering away. It is too bad that Mr. Augustine does not receive the encouragement and necessary assistance of which he is deserving for he has proven by his work in the past, that he is endowed with the ingenuity of an inventor.”

A few days later, a local citizen also contributed and “Editorials by the People” letter which was published to, hopefully, encourage local businessmen to support Charles.  This letter sums up what some locals must have been feeling. The Board of Trade had supported Andrew Smith, but only because they thought there might be a benefit to the city if an engine factory could be established and bring more business to town. What Charles Augustine was doing did not appear to benefit the city.

Editor Record-Eagle: Selfishness seems to be the predominating spirit of the age; it blinds us to our own interests, to our neighbors’ interests, and to the interests of the city in general. We have the business men’s association, the grocers’ combine, labor unions, etc., each trying to get some advantage of the other, each trying to benefit the organization they represent at the expense of the others. We also have a board of trade composed of lawyers and business men to look after the city in general.  In seeing for something great, we sometimes overlook the great things. The prosperity of any city can only be obtained by the mutual working together of all of its inhabitants. In a recent issue of your paper I noticed these headlines, “Hydroplane a Success.” I say that a boy with the inventive ingenuity that Charles Augustine possesses ought not to go unrewarded, and that the Board of Trade could do nothing better for Traverse City than to back him with the means necessary to start a factory for the manufacture of aeroplanes, hydroplanes of any other kind of planes his inventive genius may bring forth. The time is near when the air will be filled with some kind of machines, and if Traverse City wants to receive the benefit, as other cities are now receiving from the manufacturer of automobiles, it had better get in line immediately.
— W.H. Henderson

Biography of Charles Augustine, working class inventor

Charles Augustine grew up among the working class and had the typical schooling available in Traverse City at the time, most likely an education that ended at the eighth grade. He earned his daily living as the projector operator at the Dreamland Theater on Front Street, a fitting job for someone who enjoyed how mechanical things worked. He also is listed as an electrician and a chauffeur in various city directories.

He obtained his mechanical education in a correspondence school, getting actual experience in automobile factories.  His skills permitted him to build a motorcycle when his finances were not good enough to purchase one.

The story was that he became interested in flying through a dare.  He took that dare and first started creating a dirigible, but the expense of the gas needed changed his focus to the biplane. Augustine had even gone to a flight school in Missouri and learned to pilot an aircraft with great skill.

He was obsessed with mechanical things because, not only did he build airplanes, he invented other modes of engine-driven transportation.  Late in 1910 he invented something called a motor sled, described as follows, “built like an iceboat, only much smaller, being, but eight feet long, it is a curious looking affair. The propellor seven feet long is located in front, on a raised frame, and connected by a chain to the engine. The engine is a three horsepower motor cycle engine, and drives the propellor at a rate of 250 revolutions per minute.”

On December 16, 1911 Charles tried out another new invention which was a watercraft he called a hydroplane.  The description given in the newspaper is similar to that of a modern airboat or fanboat:

The hydroplane consists of two hollow steel tubes which not only serve as floats but  are also necessary to retain craft’s equilibrium. It might be termed as a hydro-plane with the planes [wings] taken off, for the means used to propel it is in the shape of an aeroplane propeller about three feet in length, and driven by a four cylinder motor cycle engine. This odd yet practical and pleasure giving affair is the work of a local young man, Chas. Augustine, who is not only the owner of the first hydro-plane in this vicinity; but it will be remembered that he is the first one to have an aeroplane and a motor sled… The boat is capable of making eight of ten knots an hour, he having rode from Greilickville across the bay to the mouth of the river and up the river to Park street bridge in about twenty minutes…

In 1913, the newspaper noted his latest invention, a primitive automobile, “[Charles Augustine] appeared on the streets yesterday with his latest mechanical production. A motorcycle motor has been mounted on a small chassis supported by four bicycle wheels. The body of the car is built of unfinished lumber, but in spite of its odd appearance the vehicle negotiated the streets and hills about the city easily. The seating capacity is arranged to accommodate one person.”

As far as his personal life goes, he married Loretta Valleau on June 5, 1911, but  the marriage only lasted three years. Perhaps Charles spent too much time working on his inventions, which he was continually creating. A friend recalled that Augustine “could stick to one thing only long enough to make it work, and he would jump to another challenge.”

He was known around town for his quirky nature. For over ten years, he kept a pet alligator which was sometimes put on display, and was known to have escaped from its tank more than once. The first recorded incident was in 1905. The three-foot reptile, which had been missing for two months, was discovered in a neighbor’s wet cellar by two men who were taken by surprise by the creature.  In 1916, it vanished from Augustine’s Front Street home and managed to find its way into West Bay.  By this time, the ‘gator was five feet long.  The newspaper was quick to make fun of the situation:

While the sharks were biting great holes in the Atlantic seaboard this summer and driving the bathers from the salty surf to their enameled bath tubs the swimmers in Grand Traverse bay cruised leisurely back and forth and thanked their lucky stars that the inland waters were free from the menace of of submarine attack. Little did they dream that a five foot alligator was no doubt then watching their every stroke simply waiting and watching for an especially plump morsel. But such must have been the case for yesterday afternoon after a desperate struggle two young gentlemen named Carver and Abbott captured and dragged ashore this self same alligator. While loitering along the beach near Sunset Park they noticed what they first considered to be a log floating idly near the shore. The log seemed to be propelled through the water and as this seemed to be a strange condition they investigated and discovered that it was not a wooden thing but something imbued with life. The fight and capture resulted. By the time that the monster was brought ashore the story had spread and there were crowds of people along the shore. The question of its disposal next arose and there was also much speculation as to which course the captive took to reach these waters from its southern home. About this time one of the spectators identified the alligator as belonging to Chas. Augustine of East Front street. Due inquiries brought out the fact that the alligator was a family pet and had escaped last week.

Augustine enjoyed performing in theatrical productions. In 1906, he played a villain in “A Hobo’s Triumph”, and somehow worked his pet alligator in the story! In 1908, he purchased the Elk Rapids Opera House, but it isn’t known if he had any success with it.

His flamboyant nature got him arrested numerous times for speeding on his motorcycle and driving without headlights. He loved his machines and their speed!

In 1914, Augustine married  Pearl Wells-Machado. His relationship with her seems to have been an on-and-off affair. They must have divorced since she was recorded as marrying another man in 1919, but was remarried to Augustine in 1925.

augustine-engineshowingHe entered the service during WW1 and shortly after contracted tuberculosis. His health plagued him for the rest of his life and he was in and out of hospitals from 1923 on, never fully recovering. Augustine died in 1933 at the age of 46 in a Veterans Hospital in Los Angeles, CA.

In his obituary, he was still remembered as the first to take flight in Traverse City some 24 years prior.

Charles Augustine, 46, pioneer motion picture operator and machinist of Traverse City died, in Los Angeles, Calif., Wednesday afternoon according to word received by friends in this city this morning. Mr. Augustine was a World War veteran and since his service had spent much of his time in veterans’ hospitals about the country, part of which was in the hospital at Camp Custer. For several years he had been in California in another hospital. About the time the Wright Brothers were starting work on their heavier than air machines, Charley Augustine was also experimenting with flying. He was intensely interested in aviation and only the condition of his health kept him from going more deeply into the development of the airplane. When motion pictures first came to Traverse City Mr. Augustine became interested in them, and then made picture projection his life work. This was interrupted by his service in the World War and his following hospitalization. Word of Mr. Augustine’s death came from Pearl Augustine, his widow who announced that burial will take place in Los Angeles.

Charles Augustine never fully received the support of the community.  The newspaper writes with apparent sympathy, “…handicapped by lack of experience, by lack of tools, by lack of material and by lack of money, Augustine, who is a natural mechanic … has been sure that he is right and so let none of the many obstacles discourage him.”

Unfortunately, these obstacles along with ill-health–and perhaps an inability to stay focused on any one thing for long–kept him from making a success in the aviation business. It seems sad to think that the local businessmen of Traverse City did not offer more support to encourage his talents. Was it public perception that caused the local businessmen to hold back on investing in Augustine? In 1910, at the height of  Smith and Augustine’s airplane and engine testing, the financial backers had to decide which inventor seemed to deserve their hard earned money. Would it be the mature man who already held a position as a mechanical engineer at a reputable company, and held several mechanical patents–or a working class twenty-one-year-old moving picture projector operator who made machines in a shed behind his parents’ house?  Who knows what Augustine could have accomplished if he’d had the resources to continue with his passion?

Brief Biography of Andrew Smith, inventor and patent-holder


Andrew Smith’s dream of an airplane engine company in Traverse City fell apart. In 1912 the company he started folded due to a lack of support for the project. This didn’t seem to diminish his spirit. He continued to successfully invent and patent his ideas through the 1930s.

By 1920, he had moved his family to Chicago where he was hired by the Halsam Products Company, a toy manufacturer. For that company, Smith invented a device to make toy blocks safer by rounding the edges: the company was well known for its “safety blocks.” Smith also invented a propelling device or shooter, and an improved game table.

He moved to Milwaukee around 1922, where he patented and manufactured an improved version of his 1894 oar lock.  In addition, he patented several automobile parts, including an oil pan, oiling system, clutch control, and a starter.  Never limited to one industry, he invented a machine to make blanks for paper poker chips and a machine to finish them. His chips were sold under the Thesco-Kirby-Cogeshall brand name.

It is believed Andrew Smith continued to live in Milwaukee until his death.

Julie Schopieray is a local historian and writer. She is currently working on a project concerning Jens C. Petersen, a Traverse City architect who practiced in this city from the early 1900s to 1918.

Seeing and Believing (and photo manipulation)

Orson W. Peck (1875-1954) was a famed photographer and postcard maker from Traverse City. One of the hallmarks of his work is Photoshop-like manipulation of film processing, that playfulness often exaggerating features of the scene he was portraying. Here are two photos, one probably borrowed from a fellow postcard maker Edward Beebe (1871-1945), which shows two engines laboring to remove snow from railroad tracks running through Leelanau County. Peck’s version shows no fewer than four engines working just has hard to accomplish the same feat. Then as now, a picture is no guarantee of the truth.

Explore the creative world of early-20th century postcard making, in Jack Hobey’s “Wish You Were Here: The Edward Beebe Story,” available for checkout at Traverse Area District Library. Have your librarian put a copy on hold today!

A Sidewalk Memorial solved!

You can find this piece of history better in the spring than now… or with the use of a snow shovel! Where and when was this memorial installed? Do you remember the controversy surrounding this particular section?

Thanks to reader Sue, who correctly identified the location of this sidewalk near Traverse City’s Open Space and Clinch Park area. When this sidewalk timeline was first installed, no mention of the original Anishinaabek settlers was made. Luckily, we have history activists in the region who care, and the sidewalk was revised! It’s never too late to make amends.

If you wish to read more about this controversy, you can explore back issues of the Traverse City “Record-Eagle” at the Woodmere Branch of Traverse Area District Library, or online with your TADL account (if you live in the taxing district of Grand Traverse County, Elmwood Township in Leelanau County, and Almira and Inland Townships in Benzie County) with the digital service “Newspaper Archive”.

Grand Traverse Lighthouse and History Center of Traverse City

Grand Traverse Lighthouse, a Beacon of Maritime Learning (Leelanau County)

Image of undated Grand Traverse Lighthouse courtesy of United States Coast Guard,
Image of undated Grand Traverse Lighthouse courtesy of United States Coast Guard,

Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum is an organization that works to preserve the Lighthouse located at the end of Leelanau Peninsula, as well as provide supportive educational opportunities for all things maritime. We are always looking for new volunteers with a passion for maritime history, and please come to one of our engaging programs:

Children of all ages will be excited for this opportunity! Ever wonder how to assemble and use a Remotely Operated underwater Vehicle (ROV)? Come to an interactive program to do all the above and learn more about how professionals use this equipment to help explore the Great Lakes! The cost for the program is $5 per child, no registration necessary. All programs are at the Great Lakes Children’s Museum from 11 am to 2 pm, on January 10, February 14, March 14 and April 11.

Next, witness the unveiling of the history of Waugoshance Point Lighthouse! The lighthouse was a beacon for vessels traveling along the treacherous Straits of Mackinac until 1913 when it was abandoned. Decades later, with World War II raging overseas, the lighthouse became the target for secret bombing practice missions occurring on Lake Michigan. Terry Pepper of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association will lead this program, filled with stunning images and video footage, on January 22 at 7:00PM at the Maritime Academy on Front Street in Traverse City.

Stef Staley, Executive Director

History Center of Traverse City (Grand Traverse County)

historycenter-logoThe History Center of Traverse City is bringing history to the people with our regular monthly programs! Join us Monday, January 19th at 7pm for Chautauqua in Miniature ​in Horizon Books, lower level. This month is show & tell night, so bring a historic item that you own that means something to you and share it with the group! Then hang with us again Wednesday, January 21st at 7pm for Megatherium Club.​ This month’s brewery host is Rare Bird Brewery. Bring a historic topic or a historic fun fact to share with the group. The topics will be put into a top hat and then pulled out to share.

Share your love of history and support a local business! Need any more incentive to shake off winter cabin fever? We didn’t think so! Don’t forget to invite a friend!

Maddie Lundy, Executive Director

Plaque of Mystery Helps Navigate old Traverse City

This plaque is located on one of the bridges over the Boardman River. It uses the term “trunk line”, a reference to the main roads that connect one city to another. When this bridge was constructed (1931), the south entrance to the city was not Division Street (M 31S) as it is now. Instead, travelers came down Rennie Street (Veterans Drive), turned right onto Fourteenth Street and proceeded to Front, turning east to leave town. Upon what bridge–Union Street north or south, Cass Street north or south—can you find this plaque? By the way, it seems to be in a state of terrible disrepair.