Articles in this feature are reprints from works in the public domain, typically anything published prior to 1924. Reprinting public domain articles both promotes the survival of these works for future generations and brings to light histories that have been forgotten. Articles are chosen that recall the history of the Grand Traverse Region.
by Mary K. Buck (1849-1901), poet of renown from Traverse City
Was ever bay so lovely as our own Grand Traverse Bay,
With the sunlight on its ripples in bright and changeful play;
With snowy clouds above it, and pine-clad hills around;
With crystal depths, and shadowy coves where finny tribes abound.
Let others sing of Naples and the blue Vesuvian Bay,
None other can be lovelier than greets my eyes today.
Its changefulness enchants us, we love each varying mood—
If lashed to foamy billows, or by soft zephyrs wooed.
Each time it meets our vision more beautiful it seems;
It murmurs in our mem’ry, it flashes through our dreams.
The mood wherein we see it seems ever best of all,
Be it in morning’s brightness, or when the shadows fall;
When lulled to glassy smoothness, by south winds soft and low,
Or when above its white-capped waves the cold north breezes blow;
When rippling in the moonlight, or dyed with sunset’s glow,
Or in the morn when white-winged boats glide gladly to and fro.
There’s magic in its beauty—it holds us with a spell.
Could we but understand it, a strange, weird tale ‘twould tell:
Of red men of the forest, of dusky lovers’ vows.
Of warriors bold, and council fires where now the farmer plows.
But placidly it smileth ‘neath fleecy summer skies,
While o’er it sparkling waters no more the arrow flies.
Where once the red man hunted, now peaceful hamlets lie,–
But, like an echo of the past, still rings the loon’s wild cry.
Bright jewel of the northland, within thy green hills set,
Though other lands may claim me, thy charms I’ll ne’er forget.
Though ‘mid the storied splendors of distant shores I stray,
My longing thoughts like birds will fly back to Grand Traverse Bay.
ON THE BAY
Over the bay, over the bay,
Glide little boat for the billows are gay;
Bright in the sunlight the wavelets are dancing,
Down in the depths shining fishes are glancing,
Happy and free, happy and free,
Song birds are singing in glee.
Over the bay, Over the bay,
Lightly we row for our hearts are gay;
Blue are the skies that are bending above us,
Near are the friends that so tenderly love us,
Happy and gay, happy and gay,
Over the sparkling bay.
From Michigan in Literature, Andrews, Clarence, 1992:
An unusual entry is Mary K. Buck’s Songs of the Northland (1902), published posthumously. Mrs. Buck (1849-1901) was born Marjanka Knizek in Bohemia and came to Traverse City, Michigan, at the end of the Civil War. She attended college, became a schoolteacher and a contributor to several nationally circulated magazines. She also collaborated with Mrs. M. E. C. Bates (see the October “Forgotten Stories” feature for information on Mrs. Bates) on a volume of northern Michigan stories, Along Traverse Shores.
Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library, Local History Collection, Tom Olds Historical Postcard Collection. And if you guessed it was an Orson W. Peck postcard, you were right! http://localhistory.tadl.org/items/show/2146
Copious amounts of thanks go to the Teen Sages of Traverse Area District Library, who were employed as free labor to illustrate this article. For more information and to get involved, catch up with the sages at http://www.tadl.org/teens.
Supernatural manifestations at the haunted house near Boonville Monday night were eclipsed by adventures in a purely human realm—when Mrs. C.R. Rogers opened fire with a high caliber revolver on the half hundred sightseers who had surrounded the house to await the nightly appearance of the celebrated Fortney Ghost.
So begins an article in the January 25th, 1922 Record-Eagle. Boonville was an eastern suburb of the city, extending south along present-day Woodmere Avenue for some distance. The house, itself, was situated “south of Hannah and east of Barlow”, an unprepossessing frame building constructed only ten years before the article appeared. No injuries were reported as a result of Mrs. Rogers’ fusillade of bullets: apparently, they were intended to scatter the crowd of onlookers, not murder them.
She was unprepared for the host of visitors loitering around her house because she was not aware that the Traverse City Record-Eagle had previously published two articles detailing the “supernatural manifestations” that infested her house. Those manifestations included “a weird wail of a newborn babe, a light as bright as day that appears after midnight, and an eerie, luminous glow that cast fear into the hearts of onlookers. With such advertisement, what citizens of the town would not want to trespass on Mrs. Rogers property?
THE FIRST HAUNTING: 1920
It was not the first time the house was proclaimed haunted. Two years before, another resident of the house, Francis Fortney believed the building housed a female ghost (of about thirty years old) which abruptly vanished up a hole beside the stove pipe—this according to the testimony of Fortney’s wife’s seventeen-year-old brother, Frank McPherson. Mysterious floating lights also attended the haunting, their source unexplained and unexamined due to the absence of hand-held lighting. The newspaper account takes the boy’s story seriously: His story had a convincing coherence, an analytical sequence, a profusion of detail that lent it a genuine aspect. These were not the half-baked ravings of an adolescent.
Fortney’s ghost—as the paper called it—dominated the front page for several days. A newspaper reporter, taking courage in hand, explored the haunted house to look for evidence of the ghostly manifestations. As the family had abruptly fled (leaving dishes upon the table as they ran), he had the house to himself. The hole beside the stove pipe where the ghost disappeared was plainly visible as was a detached piece of beaverboard residents had tried to nail over it—more than once. Invariably it would come clattering down, no matter how firmly the nails were set. The ghost clearly had the strength to pry it off whenever she wished to do so. Other than that slim piece of evidence, there was no story to report from the home.
Fortney’s ghost disappeared from the pages of the Record-Eagle as fast as the specter disappeared up the hole beside the chimney. The chief of police, John Blacken, subjected “French” Fortney and Frank McPherson to the “third degree”, firing questions at them one after another. Under the ferocity of questioning, they buckled, admitting they had concocted the whole story: it had started harmlessly enough, but just snowballed after that.
THE GHOST RETURNS: 1922
Now, two years later, from the porch of the very same house that housed Fortney’s ghost, Mrs. Rogers was forced to break up a crowd by firing her revolver into the air over a new. A friend of Mrs. Rogers corroborated her account as least as far as the unexplained bright light was concerned. Only upon prodding his memory could he recall the crying of the babe. This time the Record Eagle seemed less credulous that it did in reporting the ghost episode two years previous.
In the end, the latest haunting of the house went away as rapidly as the first. Mrs. Rogers recanted her account, perhaps because a resident of the house, Charles F. Howard, was sought for bootlegging, a common offense during the Prohibition era. Most likely she wished to get out of the limelight, her ghost story doing just the opposite—making her home the center of interest and controversy.
A TIME OF SPIRITUALISM, SEANCES AND THE OCCULT
What do these tales of hauntings tell us about the people of Traverse City who lived at that time? Is it unusual for newspapers to report stories of the supernatural? Why the inordinate interest in the supernatural, an interest that expressed itself in the assembling of “half hundred” onlookers in one case? Would such reporting gain traction with newspaper readership now? These are questions that probe the underlying values and customs of a different time.
From the 1890’s through the twenties spiritualism was a powerful force in America and in England. Spiritualists—among them, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame—would attend séances conducted by guides to the spirit world. Ouija boards reached the pinnacle of their popularity in the twenties—Norman Rockwell even did a Saturday Evening Post cover of a couple manipulating one. They sat opposite each other with the board on their knees, their knees touching or not, a pose of extreme daring at this time. Their fingers lightly touched a token which would move over the board as they jiggled it with their knees. It might stop on Yes! if the question posed was, “Will I be divorced?” Or it might spell out a whole sentence in answering a question, the token stopping for an instant at appropriate letters. In any case, the toy appealed to those who took the spirit world seriously. The owner of the patent, William Fuld, made one million dollars in 1920, a sum that would have to be multiplied by 20 to convert to today’s money.
Newspapers would occasionally tell about ghostly visitations within their communities, the story designed to attract interest–perhaps on a slow-news day. While a single story of a ghost might attract a few readers, a whole series of articles extending over five days would heighten that interest even more. That is what the Record-Eagle did in 1920, setting the story up in the second week of January. While the newspaper expressed a willingness to listen to first-hand accounts of witnesses, it stood back a little, not jumping on board the occult band wagon. After all, reporters were supposed to be journalists—and journalists should be skeptical of sources unknown to them.
Nowadays occasional articles still pop up in magazines and newspapers, but they seem more like curiosities than genuine stories based upon accounts by reliable witnesses. They are printed wholly for entertainment value, not for insights into the world of spirits. It is unlikely a tale of a haunting would draw a hundred people to the site where ghosts, bright lights, and the wail of babes have all been observed. Or not. At bottom, how much different from our grandfathers and great-grandfathers are we?
Horowitz, Mitch, Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation, Bantam Books: NY, 2009 (available for checkout at Traverse Area District Library.)
Did you ever ride down to Traverse Point and back by way of Old Mission, all in one summer evening and night? If not, one of the freshest, most charming pleasures awaits you that ever your life held. Give your imagination the rein for a little space, and in fancy take the trip with us, to-day.
It is verging on five o’clock p.m. when we leave Traverse City. The sun is dropping towards the western hills, and sending long level golden beams into the eastern belt of pines and oaks as we leave the town behind, and sweep around the bight of the bay to the Peninsula. The bay is a misty blue with long lines of sparkling waves rushing shoreward, for though the air is warm with a languid, luxurious August heat, there is a brisk breeze from the northwest that sweeps through it—cool, bracing, exhilarating. In a few moments the town is dim behind us,–white houses, mill stacks with their plumes of smoke, church spires, and the castle-like walls of the asylum all melting together into the dim outlines. With swift and steady stroke our horses’ hoofs fall upon the hard, level road, and the speed of our going, with the rush of the wind in our faces, makes us feel as if it were wings instead of feet that are bearing us onward. The pines and cedars have closed in on both sides of the road. The air is spicy with resin and balm. All the little nooks are ablaze with goldenrod, blue with wild asters, or white with yarrow, that “dusty beggar, sitting by the wayside in the sun.” Now and then, a pretty clearing opens on the right, with a cosy white farm house set down in its bit of orchard, or green meadows, with a bright bed of flowers by the door, and beyond, fields of corn standing stately and tall in serried ranks, like soldiers on parade. Then the wood closes in again with its sweet, dark greenness. To the right it is close and dense. To the left is always the bay, so near we could toss a pebble in it through its fringe of birches and cedars. The wind freshens and the white caps dance out beyond the pebbly shallows. The crisp waves run up the beach and fall with a musical crash on the shore. Marion Island begins to loom large and green ahead. The little haunted island shows its fringe of bushes and stunted pines more clearly. The bay shore begins to take a great curve. The islands are abreast and then drop astern. The sun is shorn of his beams, and, a great glowing ball of fire, drops below the purple hills. A sudden, dewy breath as of twilight and the coming night sweeps out of the thickets. Tall pines stand in stately colonnades along the beach. There is a dock, ancient and wave-worn, running out into the water. This must be Bower’s Harbor, and we look out towards the haunted island, half expecting to see the ghost of the old Sunnyside come steaming out from behind the bluffs as she speeds to her old landing place. But no. Her timbers strewed the beach of Lake Michigan long years ago, and bluff Captain Emory sleeps his last sleep somewhere under these northern pines, and for her there has never been given a ghostly resurrection. On and on, the road sweeps around o the west and climbs a steep way cut on the side of the bluff, so near and so overhanging the water that the spray from the tips of the great green curling waves now coming in falls over us. The stout horses tug and bend to their task, and presently we are out on the top of the highlands, and the world lies open and fair before us, and this is Traverse Point.
What shall we say of it? Here are the beginnings only as yet of the improvement of one of the loveliest spots for summer homes in all this beautiful Resort Region. It is not fair to tell now of what is,–for that is changing so rapidly to the far different what-it-will-be. These pretty cottages rising here and there are only the avant couriers of uncounted others to come. Here is a children’s paradise, where all the summer through the little ones may gather roses for their cheeks, and strength and litheness to their supple limbs. Here—but why foretell? The swift years are telling the story of them both,–beautiful Traverse Point and fair Ne-ah-ta-wan-ta, “placid waters.” What will never change are rose of dawn and gold of sunset, silver glory of moonlight and purple of twilight, misty gray of summer rains and strength of wild waves when the winds send them sweeping in from the northwest in long lines of foam crested rollers, sparkle of blue under the noonday sun and glint of stars in fathomless depths of midnight in heaven above and water below,–a thousand variations of tint and form, of sound and motion, of shadow and light, and all beautiful beyond expression.
But time flies; we must not stop for rhapsody. Back to the eastward we go and are off across Peninsula. The west is all aglow with gorgeous sunset hues of orange and crimson and dusky gold. There is a strange sense of wide expanse and unwonted freedom. We look to see why, and find it is because there are no fences in this township.
“How beautiful it is!” we say to each other. Here is a wide stretch of meadow land; just beyond it melts into a yellow stubble where the wheat was not long ago; then acres of silvery oats and then again the corn, rustling in the evening breeze, while again great patches of potatoes—green tufts, dotting the well-tilled brown soil, come down to the very wagon tracks. It is a great Acadian garden. The road winds and turns. It seems further than we thought. We must have come out of our way, for part of the time we are surely going back on our former direction. Shall we stop and inquire? No. It is fun to be lost in Peninsula, for we can’t get far away without getting into the water, and we must come out somewhere. So on we go in the fast gathering twilight. We are in the midst of the great Peninsula fruit farms. Far and wide on either side stretch the orchards. Those—green and glossy in the dim light—are cherry trees; they lost their ruby fruitage long ago; these are pears—loaded down, and with their branches propped to keep from breaking, and already the air is getting spicy with their ripening; yonder are plum trees, more purple than the purple twilight shadows with the bloom on their masses of fruit,–and everywhere are apples,–trees gnarled and knotty with age and crimson with clustering fruit,–trees young and vigorous and heavy with golden treasure,–surely the fabled apples of the Hesperides were not so well worthy of fame as these. There are handsome farm houses set down among these orchards. The light is dim now, but we can see and feel evidences of thrift, of comfort, and of substantial competence. Lights twinkle here and there through the trees. The road is hilly now, and we go swiftly up one rise and down another, till soon the road bends again and we sweep out on the East Bay shore. We are at Old Mission.
Here we stop for a little rest before we fairly start on our homeward way. We sit under the great maples at the Old Mission house, and watch the far off stars, and the distant lights across the bay at Elk Rapids, and listen to the whispering of the waves down on the beach and the moaning of the wind in the trees overhead, and dream. By and by the moon rises large and fair over the eastward lying hills beyond the bay. There is a path of silver across the water. The shadows of the great trees lie heavy on the grass. The lights in the cottages down at Old Mission Beach Resort begin to go out one by one.
It is time for home going. The good horses are rested and ready for home. Once more their hoof beats ring on the hard, level road.
Down the center of Peninsula this time. Right along the high ridge that is the “backbone,” in the old settlers’ dialect. On either side are deep ravines, dark with shadows. Overhead the trees shake shadowy hands with each other from either side of the way. The farm houses are all dark. The world is dead with silence but for the echoing hoof beats. On and on. At last we rush down a long winding hill road, and out on the level lowlands. To the right, the country with its fields. To the left the beautiful bay sparkling with silver in the moonlight. We are tired of saying “How beautiful!” but are silent and drink in the still loveliness of the moonlit water, the quiet fields, and the shadowy woods.
Another hour, and we cross again to the other side. The West Bay welcomes us with its wind-tossed waves. The village with its white houses stands still and fair under the oaks in the moonlight. It is its silent streets that echo with our horses’ hoof beats now. Forty miles and more of riding between supper and sleep, and such a ride!
Home at last!
Notes: M.E. C. (Martha E. Cram Bates) Bates was an important literary figure of the Traverse area, arriving here in 1862. She married Thomas T. Bates, the editor of the Grand Traverse Herald, working in various capacities for that newspaper over the next thirty years. She especially enjoyed keeping a column in the Herald called “The Sunshine Society”, which entertained children with poems and stories. As an early woman journalist, she helped to found the Michigan Woman’s Press Association in the 1890’s.
Martha Bates was co-author (with Mary K. Buck) of two books, Along Traverse Shores (copies are available at Traverse Area District Library) and A Few Verses for a Few Friends. The present article is taken from the first volume. M.E.C. Bates died in 1905.
August 30, 1911, the Record-Eagle’s headlines told the story:
“GREAT CROWD AT PICNIC
TRAVERSE CITY DAY WAS HUGE SUCCESS
THOUSANDS HAD GOOD TIME
MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN ENJOYED RECREATION
Stores and Factories Closed Most of Day—Greatest Gathering Ever on Grounds Saw Thrilling Ball Game”
Before the Traverse City Film Festival, before the Cherry Festival, Traverse City held a celebration of its own, a festival that carried no overtones of patriotism or commercialism. Participants were invited to bring their own picnic goodies to the Civic Center (then called the Driving Park) for a day of fun. Farmers came with their families, and city folk, too. The rich and poor mingled. Young and old. Factory workers and their bosses. Estimates of the crowd varied between 8,000 and 10,000 people.
They ate and they partied. There were day fireworks and paper balloons launched for children, a bowery dance (a dance held outside) for the young, and the culminating baseball game for all who cared for that sport. In 1911—but not in 1912, the final year of Traverse City Day—speeches were offered to the crowd. One of them stands out because of its relevance to today’s social climate. Here are the words of the Record-Eagle in describing it.
Judge A. L. Deuel, member of the executive board of the Western Michigan Development Bureau, was the next speaker. Introduced by Mr. Amiotte. He had many good things to say and he said them in a manner that impressed his hearers with the fact that he knew what he was talking about. Mr. Deuel is full of vim and fire and his address had a tendency in showing the farmers and the city people as well what it means not to patronize home industries. “Traverse City is a live city, a beautiful city,” he said, “and she is becoming more beautiful every year. If we could go through a Rip Van Winkle sleep of twenty years and awake to find the great Grand Traverse region, we would be astounded at the great growth. All this is taking place just the same only we are not asleep and the development is taking place so fast that we don’t realize it. If any of you farmers or city people either, are sending to Sears & Roebuck or any other mail order house for goods, cut it out. The home trade is what we need to help pay our taxes, and Sears Roebuck will never help you. They wouldn’t know you if you went into their store. They don’t care, all they want is your money. We are now living in the best age of the world. What are you doing for your community? Work together for your county, your township, and do your best always. No man can do more than his best, and when you have done that the duty of man to his country is fulfilled.
This concluded the program and everybody flocked to the diamond to see the great battle of baseball, the feature attraction of the day.
This editorial was taken from Traverse City’s socialist newspaper, Honest Opinion, June 5, 1919:
Do you believe that less than five per cent of the people of the United States should be given the privilege of preying on the other ninety five per cent? Do you believe that those who do all the necessary work of the United States and every other country in the world should live within a week of starvation while those who do not labor at all should wallow in wealth to the extent that they are obliged to invent new devices and inventions of the mind, more or less immoral, in order to get rid of their ill gotten gains? Do you believe that more than sixty per cent of the people should be constantly menaced with violent death so that three per cent can become millionaires? Do you know that one millionaire means ten thousand wage slaves? Do you know that most of these wage slaves have innocent little children and these little children are the greatest sufferers from this abominable situation? If you do, you stand for capitalism. If you do not, you have no business on that side. The voice of reason should reach you. Let not the prostitutes of plutocracy blind you to the fact that there is only one issue for you and for them and that is whether or not you are going to get decent food, decent clothing, and decent shelter for yourself and your children. Any other issue is a mere camouflage and made to rob you of your birthright as guaranteed you by the constitution the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Don’t let them make that document a scrap of paper.
Despite its exaggerations, occasional error (the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, is quoted), and run-on sentences, it reminds us of the modern “We are the 99%” Occupy Movement in its insistence that our nation belongs to all of us, not just the wealthy few. Socialist and later supporter of FDR, local activist Thomas H. Coxe authored the piece. He died in 1936.
The Traverse Area District Library Woodmere branch has several issues of Honest Opinion stored on microfilm.
Locally-produced digital magazine featuring nature and local history from the Grand Traverse Region.