A Strange Phenomenon: The Bay Boils and Surges

Like Sherlock Holmes, historians are on the prowl for interesting cases.   At times they cry out with enthusiasm, “The game’s afoot!” when they discover something that engages their attention so completely that it overrides their sense of public presence.  So it was when I came upon the following article from the Morning Record, dated June 15, 1899:

Strange Phenomenon

Power Island, March 24, 2015. The island has carried several monikers, listed here in roughly chronological order: Hog, Harbor (or Harbour), Marion, Ford, and now Power.
Power Island, March 24, 2015. The island has carried several monikers, listed here in roughly chronological order: Hog, Harbor (or Harbour), Marion, Ford, and now Power.

The annual explosion in the bay, opposite the G.R. & I depot occurred Monday. The water boiled furiously for several minutes and finally burst into the air with considerable force raising a large body of water about four feet above the surface.  These submarine disturbances have been a mystery for many years and as yet no explanation has been made to account for the disturbances.  The gushing of the water was observed by several persons yesterday.

Lucille Zoulek’s index to local newspapers indicated another article upon the same subject thirteen days later.  It gave even more details:

Boiling Again

There was another submarine explosion on the bay yesterday east of the G.R. & I depot.  The water was thrown into the air about 20 feet and the commotion was vigorous and continued several minutes.  Some persons in a boat chanced to be over the spot at the time and they had a lively time for a few minutes. This is the third eruption of the kind this season.

The G.R. & I depot was located near the water where the Boardman River empties into the Bay.  In the first account, the water boiled and burst four feet high, but in the second, it shot up some twenty feet high.  Indeed, boat passengers nearby would have a lively time of it. This was not a trivial rise of the water which occurs as a result of different air pressures on the Lake basin, but was something far more dramatic.

Questions arise like the bubbles of the furious bay: Was the account true?  Was it accurate?  Had such eruptions been observed in the past—or afterwards?  Did they occur at the same time of year?  And, finally, what causes them?  Most troubling to this historian is the bare fact that he is neither a geologist nor a student of the phenomena of the Great Lakes.   Still, there is the love of seeking out answers, a curiosity that grabs you by the neck and pushes you forward.  “The game is afoot!”

The first article indicated the phenomenon had been observed “for many years.”  The first thing to do would be to locate other articles that could give new locations, new times of year the eruptions occurred, and new descriptions that might shed light on its nature.  A fellow historian searched not the deepest recesses of the state archives, but the deepest recesses of the internet.  She turned up the following account recorded in the Jackson Citizen-Patriot, August, 1883:

In Grand Traverse bay recently, at some distance out in deep water, between Traverse City and Marion Island, the water began to boil and surge, and presently rose in vast jets to the height of from 10 to 20 feet.  Being observed from the shore no details could be given on account of the distance, but the same thing had taken place years before and some two years ago, according to an account given by the Herald at that time, parties in a boat were so nearly on the spot that they were obliged to hasten out of its way.  They describe the water as apparently boiling from the very bottom of the bay, which in that place was nearly or quite one hundred feet deep, bringing up with it vast quantities of mud and other substances and emitting an intensely unpleasant sulphurous smell.  The area of the eruption, if it may be so called, was about twenty feet in diameter and the time about half an hour.  At intervals the water would subside into calmness and then the commotion would begin again.  It is said by old settlers that the same thing has occurred in other years.  The disturbance is always in a line between Traverse City and the island.  It is well known by old residents that there are places in the bay where salt water springs bubble up through the water, in the neighborhood of the island.  It is possible there are submarine openings of other descriptions, either volcanic or otherwise.  It is know to scientific men that there is a tract of country on the eastern shore of Michigan, in the neighborhood of Thunder bay directly across the state from Grand Traverse bay, where slight earthquakes are frequent, and in fact the bay was named by the Indians from the rumbling noise that from time to time was heard in the interior of the earth.  It is possible that the tidal waves, as well as Traverse bay disturbances, may arise from volcanic action as a common cause, and all newspaper readers are well aware that there has never been a time within the memory of the present generation when the earth seemed to be in such a state of internal agitation as at the present, many of the known volcanoes of the world being in active eruption, now ones breaking out where none were known before, and earthquake shocks, both slight and severe, frequent in every part of the world.

This eruption was in August!  So they do not always occur in June.  The location was somewhat different: Marion Island (now known as Power island) is some distance from the city.  However, upsurges and boilings occur along a line that runs from Traverse City to the island.  Would that imply an underwater seam of rock exists there?  Could that suggest a cause?

This eruption occurred in a deep part of the Bay at a place “more than a hundred feet deep.”  Furthermore, it sent up mud to discolor that water and emitted a “sulphurous smell,” an observation that set the editor to wondering if volcanic activity might be responsible.  At a time before plate tectonics and fault lines were understood, that suggestion was reasonable: after all, weren’t volcanoes like Vesuvius erupting all over the Earth?  Krakatoa was making ominous rumblings, though it’s eruption would occur later in August.  In the light of our present knowledge about volcanoes and earthquakes we reject the likelihood of volcanic activity so close to home.  There must be another explanation for event.

This book is available for inspection at TADL, Woodmere Branch in our Nelson Room collection, or online at http://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.32044082044298.
This book is available for inspection at TADL, Woodmere Branch in our Nelson Room collection, or online at http://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.32044082044298.

Once again, my historian friend comes to the rescue: she sends me a link to Alexander Winchell’s, A Report on the Geological and Industrial Resources of the Counties of Antrim, Grand Traverse, Benzie and Leelanaw in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, printed in 1866.  On page 59 a clue jumps from the page that helps me to understand the cause of the “strange phenomenon” upon the bay.

The well authenticated existence of an ancient salt spring on the neck of land connecting Harbor (Hog) island (now, Marion or Power island) with the peninsula, I should regard as a confirmation of this opinion [that the salt/gypsum layer found in SE Michigan should be found elsewhere in the lower Peninsula] since, if a fissure existed in the overlapping rocks, the brine would tend to rise by hydrostatic pressure, as an artesian boring.  Deacon Dame of Northport, one of the oldest residents of the region, has furnished me with detailed information which seems to fully authenticate the current tradition relative to the former existence of this spring.

Winchell is saying that a layer of salt water lies trapped between two layers of rock in a manner that reminds him of rock formations in southeastern Michigan.  The liquid is under pressure and, if rock layers are exposed, it will come out to make a saltwater spring.  I wonder: if a wider fissure in the overlying rocks occurred, wouldn’t the brine jet out to form a fountain twenty feet high?  Is the cause of boiling and surging due to the sudden release of pressure as an underwater seam of rock opens?

If only observers back then had tested the water for salt!  Asking them to taste it would have been more than anyone should ask.  I predict it would be salty, perhaps so salty nearby fish would have been killed.   At any rate, the salt springs found locally could be linked to the eruptions in the bay.

The mystery of surging bay water has been ignored for most of the twentieth century because it was not observed over that period of time: I have been unable to find further descriptions of it after 1899.   Why has the bay been so quiet over the past hundred years?  I do not know, but I would like to find out.  Are there geologists out there who would like to participate in this investigation?  Goodness knows—there are tons of questions to be answered.

Richard Fidler is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.

“Exhilarating and easily accomplished”: Roller Skating as Sport in Traverse City, 1906

This article appeared in The Evening Record on March 13, 1906:

Many were on rollers

Auditorium was crowded last evening

Old and young alike took part in the fun- twelve piece orchestra furnished music

For three hours last evening 200 people shod on skates with slippery rollers fitted fore and aft, slewed, slipped, fell, tumbled and rolled upon the white solid flooring of the new auditorium to the tune of a grand march played by a twelve-piece band stationed in the corner far out of harms way. A general feeling of good will pervaded the atmosphere and if a sprawler insisted  on sprawling, friendly hands placed him on his feet or gathered him together and sat him gently down on seats provided. Sometimes the greater energy was expended in attempting to do nothing, or in other words, it more often took a greater amount of energy to stand still than it did to go some. As long as motion was kept up, direction didn’t count.

The number on the floor during the entire evening was probably 150, as the 150 pairs of skates were in use the entire evening while the crowds were constantly coming and going.

Roller skating, which will prove from now on to be the popular sport of the city as it has become a fad throughout the country, is exhilarating and easily accomplished. There were many in attendance last evening who had had previous instruction in the art and those materially assisted the new recruits.

Postcard image courtesy from the personal collection Julie Schopieray.
Postcard image courtesy from the personal collection Julie Schopieray.

Some of the beginners, however, showed remarkable proficiency.  “Mickey” McManus felt at home as soon as he got on the rollers and did some fancy skating which was looked upon with wonder by those whose feet wouldn’t stay where they put them. Andy Hermuth gave some high dive exhibitions which were greatly appreciated. As soon as every one had laughter at him until they were tired, he straightened up and skated as well as he pleased. The rollers got even in the end, though, by depositing him in a graceful heap. Jens Petersen was also new to the game but after a little practice in the corner got along so well that in a short time he was able to skate backwards. W.W. Fairchild said that he was a beginner but didn’t skate like it. John Ashton no more than got them on until he was at home as much as though he were on ice, while Don Cameron also did it very gracefully. Ben Montague had some difficulty with a number of the turns, but before the gong rang for 10 o’clock was an old hand. Pete Nay and Mart Winnie joined forces and between the two managed to conquer the pesky things. Frank Meads was very busy during the evening and found some surprises but didn’t make any holes in the floor. Albert Haskell was among the graceful ones and Dell Schuter did so well that he held a place as an assistant instructor.

There were a number of ladies on the floor, part of the time, the rest of the time they were on their feet. For the most part, they picked up the art very readily and among the crowd on the floor, there were several that vied with the sterner sex for the honors. Some, however, described many gymnastic evolutions before they managed to conquer their slippery steeds and many, after they had shed their skates, still walked as though they were on rollers.

It is announced that Thursday afternoon will be reserved for ladies while a Saturday morning from 9:30 till 11:30 will be given over to children who are not allowed in the auditorium during any other session during the week.

Thanks to Julie Schopieray for submitting this article for republication in Forgotten Stories. Schopieray is a regular contributor to GTJ.

Annual Bruce Catton Awards honor Author, Encourages Students

By Stewart Allison McFerran, Benzie resident

Bruce Catton, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author born and raised in Benzonia, graduated from the Benzonia Academy in 1916. Nearly one-hundred years later, students from the Frankfort High School class of 2016 have written essays about their experiences and observations, in the style of Catton. Their essays will be read aloud in dramatic fashion at the Mills Community House, Benzonia, on April 8th at 7:30pm. The best essay will win the 9th annual Bruce Catton Historical Awards, coordinated by Kay Bos.

Bruce Catton's Presidential Medal of Freedom Award, on display at the Mills Community House. Photograph courtesy of the author.
Bruce Catton’s Presidential Medal of Freedom Award, on display at the Mills Community House. Photograph courtesy of the author.

The Pulitzer Prize that Bruce Catton won is on display at the Benzie Area Historical Museum, across the street from the Mills Community House on the hill in Benzonia where Catton grew up. The Presidential Medal of Freedom that was given to him by Gerald Ford is also displayed there. But most important are the copies of his book, “Waiting for the Morning Train,” that are in the library for students to read.

mcferran-cover“Waiting for the Morning Train” is Catton’s memoir about growing up in Benzie County. It was written after he had served as a war correspondent in WWI and written books on the Civil War.  Catton’s book, “A Stillness at Appomattox,” won the Pulitzer and has been widely read by people all over the world. It helped our Nation come to grips with the bloody Civil War.

There is no one waiting at the train station in downtown Beulah at the moment. It has been over 50 years since The Frankfort and Southeastern Railroad has passed by, let alone stopped to pick up a passenger. Catton describes in “Waiting,” that the Catton Family rode the Pere Marquette Railroad to the depot in Thompsonville. From there they could change to the Chicago and West Michigan or the Ann Arbor . Riding the “Ping Pong” to Frankfort, the Cattons could board ferryboats to points West such as Manitowoc, Wisconsin. In all, a much slower-paced traveling experience than we have today.

Bruce Catton,  ca. 1960s. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.
Bruce Catton, ca. 1960s. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

Catton’s writing gives powerful images of life in Northern Michigan a century ago. While describing the idyllic life in Benzonia he shows how life and the land have changed. One big change was the arrival of the first car that drove up and stopped at a baseball game in Beulah. All the baseball players stopped to watch the car.

Concerning the land, fewer industries had an impact on Benzie County like the lumber industry. The sawdust from the mills covered the streams and smothered the fish spawning grounds. In “Waiting,” Catton wrote, “Despite his disclaimers, Man stands at the center of the Universe. It was made for him to use and the best and wisest are those who use it most. They destroy pine forests, dig copper mines and run open pits, impoverishing themselves at the same time they are enriching themselves: creating wealth, in short, by the act of destruction”.

Dave and his model Ignatius, with students of Frankfort High School. Year-long preparation for the Catton awards can be exhausting, but Ignatius is always present to provide encouragement. Photograph courtesy of the author.
Dave Jackson, teacher, and his model Ignatius, with history students of Frankfort High School. Year-long preparation for the Catton Awards can be exhausting, but Ignatius is always present to provide encouragement. Photograph courtesy of the author.

American History teacher Dave Jackson and English teacher Rebecca Hubbard have taught about Bruce Catton and his place in the cannon of American Writers. Frankfort Juniors are urged to write about their experiences in Benzie County, and luckily are able to follow in Catton’s footsteps, both literally and literarily. The Betsie and Platte Rivers flow near the student’s houses. The points at which the rivers meet Lake Michigan are places the students gather. Catton changed our Nation with his writing and so can students in the class of 2016.

The youthful experiences of Bruce Catton informed his later writing, and we can all benefit from his insights on Nature and War. Youths growing up in Northern Michigan today can view the world through the Benzie prism as Bruce Catton once did. Frankfort student Casey Aldrich wrote about her adventure to the Clay pits and a stop at Franny’s Follies, and her classmate Bret Zimmerman left shore to troll the deep waters of Lake Michigan and returned with ten salmon over twenty pounds.

Catton did leave Benzonia after graduating and stated: “There was nothing to do but grow up; We could take our time about it. Let the morning train come whenever it chose. We could board at the proper time with confidence.”

Stewart Allison McFerran has a degree in Environmental Studies and worked with Frankfort students on a robotics project. He led an Antioch College environmental field program to the Great Lakes and worked as a naturalist at Innisfree. He worked as a deck hand for Lang Fisheries and currently is an instructor at NMC Extended Education program. He lives on a Benzie stream. He did graduate studies in science education and was a Research Associate at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. He grew up on a Lake in Michigan where he caught and released many turtles from his rowboat “Mighty Mouse”. This is McFerran’s first contribution to Grand Traverse Journal.


News from the Societies for April 2015


NMC – LIFE Lunch Series features “Legends of Traverse City”

This Life Lunch Series is held monthly on Fridays. Each session provides a casual atmosphere for highlighting people, places, and ideas of intrigue. You will also meet like-minded people and enjoy a buffet lunch. If you prefer, bring a brown bag. Beverages are provided.

You know the typical history of Traverse City — Perry Hannah as the “Father of Traverse City” and Captain Boardman purchasing the land we call Traverse City. But there are many tales and legends that helped shape our city. Join Maddie Lundy, as she guides us through a history of interesting facts and stories of the well- and lesser-known residents that made Traverse City what it is today.

Fri., April 17, Noon–1:30 p.m.
University Center Rm. 215/217
$19 with buffet, Code: 3296
$10 without lunch (bring your own), Code: 3297
LIFE Discount does not apply.

TO REGISTER, CALL (231) 995-1700

Elk Rapids Historical Society & Museum hosts “History of the Elk Rapids Fire Department”

chiefpeteOn Thursday, April 9th at 7:00pm, Chief Pete Van Den Berge will discuss the early history of the fire service in general and the history of the Elk Rapids Fire Department from 1889 to the present.  Presentation will feature historic photographs, and will be held at the Elk Rapids Museum, 301 Traverse Street at the corner of Pine Street, Elk Rapids.
Admission Fee:  Elk Rapids Historical Society Members – Free!
Non-Members: A $5.00 suggested donation for adults,
$2.00 suggested donation for students (under age 18) is requested at the door. Children are free.
All proceeds benefit the Elk Rapids Area Historical Society’s building preservation.

For more information contact Dan LeBlond, President, Elk Rapids Area Historical Society;
Tel. 231-264-8984 or send e-mail to president@elkrapidshistory.org.
Visit our website: http://elkrapidshistory.org/ to view a listing of our 2015 meetings and events.

Benzie Area Women’s History Project presents “Herstory: Reflections on Women & Poetry,” a Benzonia Academy Lecture by Karen Anderson


Virginia Woolf said that a woman needed a “room of one’s own” in order to be a serious writer. She has also needed a voice of her own— and the “herstory” of women’s poetry traces the discovery of this room, this voice, this language that is the unique expression of women’s lives. Karen Anderson will reflect on the journey of women poets—sharing poems and ideas and inquiries along the way.

The program will be held Thursday, April 9th, at 4pm, at the Mills Community House, Benzonia.

There is no admission fee for the program but basic donations of $5 or more are gratefully received for the lecture series. Check out our website www.bawhp.org, please call 231-510-1721 with questions. Access to listening devices, interpreter services, or enhanced text is available by texting 231-590-4671.
Presented by The Benzie Area Women’s History Project in collaboration with the Benzie Area Historical Society.


Mystery alarm solved with ring-a-ding-ding!

For the benefit of the customers, we assume this business uses a “security system” now, as opposed to the Burglar Alarm pictured here. On what building in downtown Traverse City does this alarm box remain?

Thanks to Betsy for her masterful location of this Burglar Alarm! The alarm is hanging on the Fifth-Third Bank on the corner of Front and Union, on the north side of the building; The alarm has a twin in this city, found on Bijou by the Bay (formerly the Con Foster Museum).

The O.B. McClintock company of Minneapolis was the most prolific in alarm company sales to banks from the early 1900’s to 1947 when it was taken over by Diebold. You’ll find evidence that  thousands of these alarms were in use at banks all across the country, as many are now for sale online. According to Diebold, these boxes were operated by a control panel enclosed in the vault and triggered by a switch just inside the vault door or push buttons at each teller cage. If the vault door was opened before the opening hour in the morning or any teller would push the button during the day it would send the current from dry cell batteries within the panel to the bell inside the alarm box. Those alarms were intended to get the police running their way, and could be heard for blocks.


Poplar Point: Where Traverse City Residents Once Played

by Julie Schopieray, local historian and writer

Poplar Point, from a Google Earth overhead image captured in 2014. Image capture courtesy of the author.
Poplar Point, from a Google Earth overhead image captured in 2014. Image capture courtesy of the author.

From the late 1890s through the 1920s, a  lovely, pine-covered parcel of land on the east side of Boardman Lake was the most popular picnic spot in the Traverse City area. Poplar Point was located about half way down the length of the lake near what was then a sparsely inhabited area called Boonville, just west of what is now Woodmere Avenue, between Carver and Boon streets.

Picture postcard courtesy of the author.
Picture postcard courtesy of the author.

Poplar Point was a perfect spot for people to enjoy a day on the lake. Being  a much smaller body of water, Boardman Lake was a safer option than the bay for swimming or enjoying small  watercraft– rowboats, sailboats and even human-powered paddle boats. The small point jutting into the lake was an isolated spot to sail, row or drive to and made for a perfect picnic site. Although it didn’t have what you’d call a bathing beach, it had a small dock for boats to pull up to or for someone to fish from.

Photograph postcard courtesy of the History Center of Traverse City.
Photograph postcard courtesy of the History Center of Traverse City.

In the 1890s, picnickers could reach Poplar Point by horse and buggy, their own boat, or by hiring John Boon’s steam launch Ada which would take passengers from the Cass Street bridge to Poplar Point. The Ada sank in the river in 1897, but a few years later another entrepreneur, a boat builder named Arthur R. McManus, built a  30-foot launch  and named it Elf. McManus lived at 406 E. 8th St., about where Boardman Ave. ends at 8th Street.  Right out his back door was the Boardman River where he built a dock. In the summer of 1907, McManus started daily boat service with the Elf plying both the lake and river. He also had boats for hire and would deliver fishermen to their favorite spots along the lake.  Fare to Poplar Point and back was ten cents.

Advertisement for McManus' "Elf", from the Traverse City "Evening Record", recorded by the author.
Advertisement for McManus’ “Elf”, from the Traverse City “Evening Record”, recorded by the author.

During the summer and warm fall months, Poplar Point was where church groups, clubs, and families gathered for outings, and where businesses held their employee picnics. In the 1890s, a baseball field was established on the flat land above the picnic grounds, and many a summer day was spent by people enjoying a friendly game of baseball between teams made up of employees from the various businesses in town– Oval Wood Dish, T.C. Canning, Hannah & Lay,  and the Refrigerator plant. Other teams that regularly played at the point were the East Side Hustlers, the Peach Basket Makers (of the basket factory), the Bulldogs, Pierce’s Corn Huskers, and Layfayette’s Colts.  In addition, teams came in from outlying towns like Acme, Almira and Fouch to play against the locals.  Other activities included challenging games of tug-of war, three-legged races and egg races. A small pavilion provided a place to dance and sometimes a band would be brought in to play for an event.

julie-elfIn a 1957 article, Record Eagle writer Jay Smith reminisced about picnics at Poplar Point:

Most of the picnickers went to Poplar Point with their own horses and buggies, and they tethered their nags to the trees up on the flat and carried the picnic baskets down the steep slope to the picnic ground. Then there were buses which took loads from down town to the picnic grounds for a dime each way.

In another article, Smith remembers the Elf:

julie-boardmanIf you really wanted a thrilling boat ride, you should have taken a trip on the Elf. The Elf was a naptha launch which carried passengers from the east end of East Eighth street bridge to Poplar Point and back. Its home port was the dock in back of Art McManus’ house at the east end of the bridge…The Elf carried about twenty passengers or less and had a canopy top…The Elf tore along at a speed of four of five miles per hour and the trip each way took a half hour. It was a busy ship when there were baseball games at the point or Sunday school picnics.

McManus ran the Elf at least through 1910 (no newspaper mention of the boat after that year), and continued his boat livery business for several years after. Perhaps by that time, demand for the boat transportation was starting to diminish, though picnics at the point were still common.  By the late 1920s, popularity of the point had faded, although it is believed the picnic grounds continued to be used by locals until the Parts Manufacturing established its plant on the land in 1939.

During his boatbuilding career, McManus worked with another skilled boat builder, Claude E. Finch. About 1906, boat making had become a small industry in town, with several companies already established to fill a need for locals who desired a boat to enjoy on the lake, bay and river.  The partnership of McManus & Finch dissolved in 1906 when Finch became ill with tuberculosis and could no longer work. Both men had established reputations as the builders of quality boats, even though other boat builders were doing business on a larger scale than McManus–among them, Victor Montague, Irving Murray and Chris Thielgard [Telgard].

McManus was well known in town as the popular operator of a popcorn stand on the corner of Front St. and Cass St. during the summer months.  He passed away in early 1918,  at the age of 63. Just four years later, his wife  Anna was tragically killed when she walked into path of an oncoming train just two blocks from her home.

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.