In the alley next to Union Street Station, you will find this manhole cover, letting you know the cover was originally placed by Citizens Telephone, an independent phone company that ran most of the lines in Traverse City in the early days of telephones.
Most independent companies have been bought out by larger systems, but perhaps more recently than you would guess. Surprisingly, one of the one of the longest-running local independent companies, Peninsula Telephone Company operated by Jack and Vi Solomonson, was purchased in the early 2010s by a larger cooperative. Peninsula Telephone Company began service in 1906 by the Porter family at Porter House (now, Old Mission Inn).
This month’s mystery photo begs the question: When was Citizens Telephone of Traverse City bought out by the Bell Telephone System?
The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error. -John Stuart Mill, philosopher and economist (1806-1873)
In early 1917 the world was aflame with war. Europe was engulfed with the fire; German tanks and artillery spread over the landscape and German U-Boats patrolled the seas. In the United States, Hearst and other newspapers clamored for the entrance of the United States into the conflict and achieved success in their quest. The United States entered the war on April 6, 1917.
It was a time of great patriotism and unrest. Locally, the Elk Rapids school district resolved to stop teaching German since doing so only promoted the hateful culture of the Huns. With the Michigan National Guard being sent to Germany, Traverse City created its own fighting force, a branch of the Michigan Home Guard, to protect local property from possible destruction by German sympathizers. One man of the group stated:
Traverse City had enough deer hunters who could still use a rifle to form a company of men who could protect property at home or any other place to which they might be sent.
A local drunk, Karl Temple, was arrested for saying he supported the German side and was imprisoned as a danger to America. Liberty Bonds were sold to pay for the war and those unwilling to purchase them were labeled shirkers. Patriotic fifth graders at Union Street School in Traverse City refused to sing the German song, “Watch on the Rhine.” Downstate, a woman was tarred and feathered as a German sympathizer while her husband, bound to a chair, was forced to watch. Things got so bad that the Michigan Governor, Albert Sleeper, issued a proclamation decrying vigilante action on the part of mobs aroused by hatred for all things German.
At this difficult time in American history, was there national opposition to a war that provoked such patriotic feeling? Beyond that, were there local figures who spoke out against social injustice and pro-war public sentiment? Dissent at this time was dangerous. Besides the possibilities of beatings and social ostracism, there was the very real possibility of being arrested for opposing the war. Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917, a measure which made it a crime to speak out forcefully against the war. Publishing antiwar views could be a federal offense.
Nationally, Progressive Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin resisted the call to war. Speaking in Congress, he attempted to halt the movement towards joining the conflict. For his efforts he faced an angry response from the Senate and from most Americans. Austin Batdorff, editor of the Record-Eagle at this time, expressed the opinion of most of his paper’s readership:
The hour of the pacifist, the mollycoddle statesman and the pro-German American, has passed; from today on, every true American will bury his beliefs, his fears, his biases in his patriotic love of country, his convictions for democratic government and his determination that, right or wrong, this nation must defend itself against an enemy that has been given every opportunity to avert war and which has replied with insolence, insult and wanton destruction of American lives.
Upon formal declaration of war, the pacifist movement lost the power to influence public opinion: Opposition to the war became suspect: unwelcome if not traitorous. Batdorff wrote:
When [the president] speaks we either must obey like patriotic soldiers or refuse to obey like disloyal renegades.
Courage was called for in questioning the decision to go to war.
Opposition to the war came from two centers: religious pacifists and socialists who saw it as a way of exploiting workingmen. Locally there is no evidence that religious pacifists—such as the Society of Friends—protested conscription or the war. There was a socialist presence in Traverse City that, like most socialists nation-wide, resisted the involvement of the United States in the war. Though small in numbers (locally about 8% of the 1916 vote for president went to the socialist candidate, Eugene V. Debs), the group was large enough to support a weekly newspaper, Honest Opinion, which circulated for a year or two—history is not clear on the dates of its founding or demise. In fact, only a few issues survive on microfilm.
Perhaps the idea of socialists in a Northern Michigan small town with such a long-standing conservative legacy would surprise many readers. At this time, Traverse City was an industrial city. It did not survive solely by the cherry industry and summer resorts, but had a large and varied industrial base. The Oval Wood Dish Company had operated here for many years, and cigar factories, the Amniotte candy factory, and the canning factory employed many hundreds of workers, both men and women. In general they were much underpaid even by standards of the time. The Traverse City Record-Eagle did not represent their interests, showcasing the views of wealthy businessmen in town instead. Against the economic power of that paper, Honest Opinion could persist upon the streets of the city for only a short time. Even so, the few thin copies that remain provide us with a window into the lives of working men and women who struggled to survive in a difficult environment.
One of the copies issued on Memorial Day, May, 29, 1919, tiptoes carefully in raising questions about the justice of the recent war. The editor wrote:
Again let us bow our heads in honor and in memory of these brave men for whom this day has been set apart and if there be any bitterness let it be directed at those who made wars and words but have never fought them. We have no fight with the soldier though we may have with those who teach him and our reverence today does and should go forth to him never to be forgotten while the words of the orator who was at home will pass from our minds as does a drifting perfume on a breath of wind.
The idea that veterans are to receive honor for their service even if high officials have not always acted honorably resonates today after the legality and morality of recent wars have been questioned. It is a humane thought, spoken by a veteran, Thomas Coxe, who had fought in the Spanish-American War.
Coxe had a reputation in Traverse City. In 1917 he refused to stand during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” at a city commission meeting in which the sale of liberty bonds was discussed. In fact, three times the anthem was played, and three times he refused to stand. For his efforts, he was beaten by the enraged crowd. Upon being contacted by the Record-Eagle the next day, he gave this statement:
I am a firm believer in democracy and served my country in the Spanish-American war because I believe that the Star Spangled Banner in principle, stands for honesty, justice, equality, free speech, free press, freedom and liberty. I am against using the Star Spangled Banner for advertising purposes or the purpose of coercing public officials to vote against their conscience and what they believe is right.
Honest Opinion had a predecessor in town. Though not socialist, the Traverse City Press promised to present the views of all citizens. In an alliance with the Chamber of Commerce it advocated Open Forums, public discussions on a variety of issues, both local and national. Harold Titus, later to become a well-known novelist, championed the forums and several were enacted at the City Opera House. One was devoted to the inadequate salaries of Traverse City teachers, with Julius Steinberg, a powerful businessman, taking the position that the teachers were underpaid. Several persons spoke out in opposition, including the superintendent of schools. Perhaps the uproar thereby created explains why the Forums were soon discontinued. In the end, free discussion of sensitive issues was not as welcome as organizers had supposed.
The Traverse City Press soon degenerated into little more than an advertising circular with jokes, gossip, and fluff filling its pages. At first, however, when its editor was the same Thomas Coxe who later edited Honest Opinion, the Press dared to publish letters from its working class readers that described life from a perspective not available in the Traverse City Record-Eagle. One woman wrote in February, 1917:
Right about face, Traverse City and see yourself as others see you.
In your City Press of last week was an article stating as an inducement for factories to locate “among us,” it was a fact your manufacturers were paying an average wage of 470 dollars per year.
Statistics tell us that it requires an average wage of 800 dollars per year to keep the average family in just an existing condition. The fact remains that your laboring men’s family are living on half of what it takes to keep an average family. That means that they must depend on charity for the balance or go without. The appearance of most of your people on your streets are doing both.
The writer went on to say how the Chamber of Commerce had induced manufacturers to move to Traverse City playing up the cheap women’s labor force.
The Jackson Firm came in paying a fairly good wage. When they found some of the women could make ten dollars a week, a new forelady came bringing a cut in wages. At present another change of management and another cut in wages, but I hear nothing from you, no protest from your press or Chamber of Commerce. Some of the girls are getting as low as 1.25 per week.
Furthermore, she speculated,“licentious behavior” might be related to low wages:
You probably heard the Rev. Mr. Stevens, of tabernacle fame, make the remark from his pulpit, that Traverse City was the most licentious of any town he had ever been in, that licentiousness lurked on every street corner. …What is the cause? Is it the low wages paid your women and girls?
The Traverse City Press served as a place for women workers to vent their anger at low wages and lack of respect. Such a forum could not continue. Soon the Press began to complain of boycotts directed towards its advertisers. Abruptly, the radical tone of letters vanished. The paper itself underwent a name change to the Grand Traverse Press. Even in that form it did not publish long, disappearing some time around 1920.
Letters such as the one printed above paint a different picture of Traverse City from that displayed to summer visitors. It simply was not a sunny town of cherry orchards, resorts, gorgeous beaches, and picturesque winters. It had a dark side, too, with its factories that promised repetitive work for poor wages, a female workforce that was paid less than that of men for the same work, and the prospect of dismal room-and-board arrangements. A state report issued in 1917 lists Traverse City dead last in Michigan for average wages paid to workers. The 1914 Polk directory, a reference book giving names and occupations of residents, tells us that forty percent of people over fourteen years of age were listed as boarders i.e. they did not live independently in their own residences. Even taking into account the early broad definition of “boarder” (boarders could be students or grown children), this figure illustrates the sorry living conditions of many workers. Clearly, homeowners and the people they took in had little money to spend on extras. Life was not easy here.
Perhaps it is natural for a community to want to put its best foot forward, especially when visitors come calling so often. The Traverse City Record-Eagle would not wish to air the grievances of working men and women. Though disclaiming bias, it had a long history of working with the major players of the town—the Hannahs, the Millikens, the Hamiltons, and the Hulls. It would not want to go against the interests of businesses that advertised so regularly within its pages. Instead, the early Traverse City Press and, later, Honest Opinion would have to bear the burden of providing an open forum for all the citizens of the community. Today we recall their valiant efforts with respect, understanding the importance of listening to the voices of all residents—those of workers, businessmen, veterans, pacifists, the uneducated and the educated. It is only through such discourse that we advance as a community and as a nation.
Richard Fidler is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal. This article was previously published in his book, Who We Were, What We Did: Fresh Perspectives on Grand Traverse History.
This Traverse City landmark and staple of summer fun was recently recognized in a historical survey of Division Street (part of a Michigan Department of Transportation study), and has been proposed to be included on the National Register of Historic Places. What can you readers tell us about the structure? Any idea when it was constructed?
Any avid read of The Ticker should know the answer to this one! Our favorite landmark for creamy desserts opened in 1958. Be sure to get over there before they close for the season, and get a double scoop of history while you’re there!
Despite a pleasantly warm September, Grand Traverse Journal eagerly reminds its readers that fall approaches. Why ? History Road Trip, of course!
Chicago, where most of our summer tourists hailed from during the era of the Lake Michigan passenger steamers, 1840-1920, “was distinctly not a lovable place.” The Chicago River in particular was notoriously odorous, a product of having a negligible current and a shallow, marshy disposition, exacerbated by the development of industry in the city and the traffic from steamer ships. What better way to escape the city, than to hop a luxury steamer up to Charlevoix, Michigan? (Hilton, 127)
The working class frequented the short trips, from Chicago to St. Joseph, while the wealthier Chicago residents enjoyed much longer cruises. The steamer line Northern Michigan Transportation Company, shuttled the wealthier Chicago residents to ports as far as Mackinac Island. Frankfort, Glen Haven, Leland, Northport, Elk Rapids, Charlevoix, Petoskey, Harbor Springs, St. James (Beaver Island), Cross Village, St. Ignace and Cheboygan were all ports of call for the line. (Hilton, 306)
As the weather turned cool, the tourists returned on those same steamers back to Chicago. Until the advent of reliable roads and vehicles, only those who braved Northern Michigan year-round had the pleasure of fall, that beautiful and fleeting season of riotous color. Although we would hardly call the roads “reliable” by today’s standards, the carriage road from Traverse City to Elk Rapids of 1898 was one means of enjoying a ride through fall color.
This excerpt, from the Northern Michigan Handbook for Traveler’s, depicts the route with a degree of accuracy, but the charm of the writing is what distinguishes this work from modern travel guides. Perhaps it will inspire you to take the northern color tour this year?:
The trip from Traverse City to Elk Rapids may be made by carriage road and will afford a pleasant drive or bicycle ride. The road is, in general, in good condition and for many long stretches very fine. It is somewhat hilly in the central portion, the hills being long but not steep. The distance is eighteen miles and many fine views are to be enjoyed.
Crossing the Old Mission peninsula, the road follows along the bay immediately above the railroad, which it crosses at Acme (4 miles). From this point it runs nearly due north, with occasional glimpses of the lake, through a fine farming country passing (about 13 miles) a little lake on the right known as Lake Pto-ba-go (Note: now Petobago Pond, part of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy). Soon we climb a hill whose crest reveals a fine expanse of lake and shore line. The character of the country from this point begins to show a marked change. Long and beautiful hedges of spruce and fir, wide “openings” adorned with the low, flaring and circular juniper – a shrub or bush of the evergreen family – and exquisite copses of small pines take the place of fields and farms. The road is from this point (for five miles), to Elk Rapids, exceptionally fine and the whole scene is one of wild, romantic beauty and delightful interest to the visitor. (Note: the next 4 paragraphs describe taking the route north by boat through various lakes and rivers; we have edited out that text to maintain the land conveyance).
…From Elk Rapids bicyclers may continue the journey to Charlevoix, following due north between Torch Lake and Grand Traverse Bay to the village of Torch Lake (about 13 miles); hence north to the extremity of Torch Lake to Eastport (3 miles); hence due north eight miles, passing the little town of Atwood, five miles from Eastport. From this point the road travels in angular direction northeast, nine miles to Charlevoix. While the journey may be readily made, the road can not be called first class and the bicyclist must be prepared to do some hard riding.
Why so far north for a History Road Trip, when you can run up one of the Peninsulas? Prepare yourself for the long-haul past Harbor Springs to the “Tunnel of Trees Scenic Heritage Route,” or M-119. Just north of Little Traverse Bay, this lovely route follows the Lake Michigan shoreline, and the trees are as advertised. Consider it a fall treat from your editors at Grand Traverse Journal!
Hilton, George. Lake Michigan Passenger Steamers. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2002.
Inglis, J.G. Northern Michigan Handbook for Traveler’s, 1898. Petoskey, Michigan: George Sprang, 1898.
Fall color image in header courtesy of Erin Malone, https://flic.kr/p/dhEPqj.
Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.
Recently, I attended a meeting of the Grand Traverse Area Genealogical Society, and had the good fortune to hear a talk on the Reverend Peter Dougherty, delivered by Mr. Bill Cole, President of the Peter Dougherty Society. The life of early settlers, especially missionaries, is an intriguing topic, and I found myself back in the Nelson Room at Traverse Area District Library looking for more on Dougherty and his work in the field. I discovered a slim volume, a facsimile of an original, titled Short Reading Lessons in the Ojibwa Language, by Rev. Peter Dougherty.
When Dougherty began in 1839 to serve as a missionary from the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission to the native population living in and around the Grand Traverse Bay region, what were his primary concerns? Certainly the logistics of any trip arise: how to get there, where to stay, what to pack. Compensating for his isolation would have played an important part in all his decisions, and I think not the least would be the worry to make himself understood!
Translating was a matter of necessity for 17th century fur traders and early Catholic missionaries, and some translation keys were published, but more as a curiosity than a work of instruction. Later, the pioneering work of Henry Schoolcraft and his mixed-race wife Jane Johnston (a native speaker of the Ojibwa language, author, poet, and resident of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan) prompted an interest in translating between the languages as a means of retaining native culture and practices. However, it appears there was no drive for creating primers that were instructive and reusable until Dougherty’s era of missionary work began. Dougherty seems to have mastered the language well enough to write Short Reading Lessons, printed for the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in 1847, and we presume it was used as a guide for other missionaries serving in areas where the Algonquin language family was prominently spoken. Dougherty also provided a translation for the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer in The First Initiatory Catechism, 1847.
Short Reading Lessons is a dual-language primer containing 20 lessons. The following format is provided for each lesson: an image is shown, then the image is described in English, followed by the Ojibwa translation. As the lessons progress, Dougherty’s subjects moved from the secular (boys picking apples, a hunting party), to religious themes (Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, David and Goliath). One wonders if this was intentional.
Here’s the language key provided in the front matter:
A has the uniform sound of a in the word mason.
E the uniform long sound a in the word e-den.
I long when it constitutes a syllable, and short in all other cases; e.g., as i in pine, and i in into.
O long, as in note.
O short, as in moderate.
U like u in ugly, when it follows e; like u uncorn [sic]. G the hard sound like k.
J the soft sound.
The rest of the alphabet like the English.
Ready to give lesson one a shot?:
An apple tree.
A willow basket.
These boys are gathering apples.
If your interest is piqued, Short Reading Lessons is available in its entirety online through the Hathi Trust Digital Library: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100585421; or, feel free to visit us at Traverse Area District Library to take a look at the print copy. Sorry, we do not promise any level of proficiency if you finish the primer!
Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.
By the turn of the 20th century, much of Michigan’s forests were depleted and large scale lumbering was over. The men who worked in the logging camps moved on and found other ways to support their families. One of these men was John R. Bush. He was born in Ontario about 1865, son of Jesse and Maria Rosebush. Jesse was a Civil War veteran and moved between his home state of New York and Ontario, Canada, finally settling in Bay City, Michigan in the early 1880s. He had his own drayage business delivering and hauling baggage and goods in his wagon, later becoming the “city scavenger” an appointed position where he used his hauling experience to pick up junk for the city.
“Johnny” Rosebush lived with his parents and six siblings in Bay City and in 1880, at the age of 15, was already working in the lumber camps where he likely gained skills as a log driver, riding logs down the rivers and breaking up log jams. It was a dangerous but exciting job requiring stamina, balance, courage and sure-footedness.
He was still working as a lumberman near Gladwin in 1886 when he married Maria “Mary” Hodgins. Over the years he dropped the “Rose” from his last name and started going by Bush.
Their son Russell was born in Isabella county in 1889 where they lived until about 1897 when they took up residence in Traverse City. Bush started up a drayage and delivery service. One of his regular services was loading and delivering trunks and baggage for railroad and ship passengers.
His skills as a log rider did not go unnoticed. By 1901, he started putting on exhibitions regularly during Fourth of July and Labor day celebrations, where he would demonstrate birling, the spinning of a log under his feet, and riding a log either standing and sitting, down the chute at the dam near the Union Street bridge. These events drew hundreds, even thousands of people. One exhibition that was to take place on July 4th, 1902, was described in the paper:
When 9 o’clock came, an immense crowd had gathered to see John R. Bush do his fancy log riding above the grist mill dam and then shoot the chute. Cass street bridge and the banks were well filled… Union street bridge was crowded till traffic was blocked, the braces and timbers at the side and below held men as thick as black birds on a limb, the banks of the river on either side were lined with people, the chute had a goodly number of would-be spectators and even the telephone poles were occupied, one of them holding nine men, and below Union street there were probably 1,500 people more. In all it was estimated that at least 5,000 people were gathered to see the exhibition. – Traverse City Record-Eagle July, 5, 1902
Unfortunately, there was a mixup in communication and Bush did not show up. He had become ill, and word of his illness did not reach the organizing committee in time. Bush apologized, made good on his word and held another exhibition a week later.The July 17 performance was a success:
He mounted a small log that would just nicely sustain his weight, did some fancy work near the Cass street bridge, took off both coat and overalls while on the log and finally, after putting these ashore, went through the chute. He started standing, straddled the log while going through the chute, and resumed his standing position while the log was still in swift motion through the chute. The log got crosswise in the current, making the feat still more difficult. – Traverse City Record-Eagle July 18, 1902
It seems Bush was not above taking a dare from a friend. In April of 1902, his friend Charles Germaine dared him with the following conditions: to take a cedar pole only of a size Bush could carry and ride it down the river from Front St. bridge to the north Union St. bridge, and lighting a cigar during the ride. Germaine put up $5 against Bush’s $10 to see Bush do it. It can only be assumed that dares like this were concocted in one of the local taverns the night before!
There were many people who thought that the entire affair was a bluff… but in a very few minutes Bush appeared, and with him a crowd of men anxious to see him win his money or get a ducking, many of them did not care much which, so long as they were entertained… He took a pole, a cedar about 12 feet long and barely large enough to sustain him when he got it in the water, and carried it from his delivery wagon to the river… The wind was blowing so strongly that it was obviously out of the question to light a cigar, and it was harder to stay on the log, so the condition that Bush was to light the cigar was withdrawn. There were hundreds of people on the banks and bridge when the attempt was made…. He lay down on the log, and floated for a considerable distance…then he sat up, and later lay down again. When he passed under the Union street bridge he was greeted with applause. [Mr] Greenwald handed over the $15 that had been put in his hands. Germaine was a good loser, expressed no regret at parting with the five and said that Bush earned his money.
The feat created so much excitement that the log Bush rode on was put on display in front of Miller’s Drug Store. A few days later, a local artist drew a cartoon of Bush on the log quoted him “declaring it was easy and that he would go over Niagara Falls on a log some day.”
The log-riding exhibitions made by John Bush became an annual event. In 1905 he put on a show at the Labor Day celebrations.:
Union street bridge was lined with people to see John Bush do his log rolling act as the impression had gotten out that he was going down the chute. His exhibition, however, was given above the chute and consisted of birling and a number of fancy tricks with a log. Bush has lost none of his old time skill and his feats were given liberal applause. Mr. Bush was willing to go through the chute, but the Hannah & Lay company refused to allow the boom to be opened on account of the presence of a large amount of driftwood…
Beginning in 1900 Bush was known to take any opportunity to show off his skills in Traverse City. In August that year, an old part of the dam at the flour mill was being torn down and a good flow of water was coming over. Rival drayman Mark Craw decided he would ride a canoe over the old dam to show off in front of the people waiting for a delayed train at the station near the dam. John Bush wanted to do the same with a log, but could not find one at the time.
Bush and Craw were not friends. In fact their rivalry went back quite some time and ended in a bad way. In 1910, during an altercation over parking their rigs at a railroad station, Craw lost his temper and lashed Bush across the face with his horse whip. Bush brought charges against Craw and won his case in a trial. Craw went on to become the Humane Officer for the city as well as game warden.
John and his wife Mary had only one son. After Mary died unexpectedly in 1903, John was married again in 1905 to Maud McClellan, who was 20 years younger than himself. They had no children together. John died in Detroit on June 21, 1917, from “exhaustion from acute mania” after a two-month stay at the Eloise Infirmary. His brief obituary stated that he was a well-liked and kind man. He was only about 52 when he died.
John R. Bush, for many years hack driver and baggageman in this city, passed away at the home of his son in Detroit, on Thursday, June 21 and was buried June 23 at Detroit. Mr. Bush was well known all over the city and it has been said, and very truly, of him, that anyone going the same way Johnnie Bush was, never had to walk, even if they didn’t have the price of a ride. He had been in failing health for about two months. He will be greatly missed throughout the city. – Traverse City Press June 29, 1917
Please watch this charming video and remember John R. Bush and the many other sure-footed and courageous men who drove logs down the rivers of Northern Michigan:
Julie Schopieray is a local researcher, author, and regular contributor to Grand Traverse Journal.
In late summer in puddles, bird baths, pools, and even wet grass a long, thin writhing worm can sometimes be found, often coiling in extravagant knots, that behavior explaining one of its names, the gordian worm. As some readers may remember from school, Alexander the Great was confronted with the Gordian knot, having been told whoever untied it would rule the known world. After a few futile attempts he simply took out his sword and whacked it in two, presumably showing his contempt for that story.
Perhaps not as intricate as the real Gordian knot, the Gordian worm nevertheless displays a formidable tangle, its length sometimes stretching to 36 inches or more. It may be iridescent white if it has recently appeared, but rapidly turns a dark brown as time passes. For this reason—it takes on a more horsey hue–it is given another name, horsehair worm, perhaps in the mistaken belief that it originates from horses come to drink at watering troughs. In fact, it is associated not with horses at all, but with beetles, crickets, and grasshoppers.
Horsehair worms are common parasites of those insects. One summer long ago I participated in an informal survey of the grasshopper population to determine the rate of infection. Upon examination fully one grasshopper out of twenty harbored the tightly coiled worm, a death sentence for it as sure as the dissecting scissors that exposed its fellow traveler.
One question about the worm is unanswered: how do the parasites know when the insect is close to water? If it emerges in a dry hot place, it will surely shrivel in the sun. Somehow it must induce thirst in the grasshopper, driving it to approach water to drink. Does it control its host zombie-style, depriving it of its own grasshopper consciousness? Perhaps—and the image is strangely disturbing.
Upon emerging from its host the horsehair worm spends time in or near its body of water, eventually finding a relatively warm place to spend the winter. As waters warm in spring, the female worm sheds as many as 27 million eggs into the water, many of which are fertilized by the male as he passes over them. The young larvae creep along the bottom of their watery homes, seeking passage to the body of a cricket, grasshopper or beetle. The lucky ones hitch a ride in an aquatic insect, a larval cranefly, black fly, or dragonfly, perhaps. They form cysts within the those insects, wait for them to transform into adult winged forms, and ride out of the aquatic environment to a terrestrial one, a place where their host insects dwell. Leaving their “transportation host” after a rain or on a dewy morning, they wait for a hapless grasshopper or cricket passer-by. If good fortune allows them to be taken into the insect’s body, they bore through the animal’s gut and take up residence in the abdomen of its body, thereby completing its life cycle.
We should not hate horsehair worms. If they destroy one out of every twenty grasshoppers, surely they must save untold numbers of plants from being consumed by voracious insects. Even if their life cycle is not pretty, they provide a service for us. Even superficially repulsive wriggling worms have their place in Nature.
Richard Fidler is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.
Locally-produced digital magazine featuring nature and local history from the Grand Traverse Region.