Category Archives: History

Articles on local history for the Grand Traverse Region. Local histories reveal the social and cultural conditions that shaped a community. Articles in this feature can range from topics as diverse as the construction of transportation systems and buildings to the operation of businesses and social clubs.

Grand Traverse Bay, the Loch Ness of Northern Michigan?

by Julie Schopieray

People in general are fascinated by the unknown: Bigfoot, Loch Ness, and UFOs.  What is it about the unexplained that keeps us interested?

 Historically, our region is no exception. Around the turn of the twentieth century, sightings of strange creatures in the waters of Northern Michigan were quite common- some real, most imagined. The best known at the time was the famous sea serpent of Petoskey, which showed itself in Little Traverse Bay for several summers in the 1890s and became a novelty that resorters looked forward to each summer. The mystery was solved in 1895 when it was discovered to be nothing more than a  “very crooked tree trunk that has been beating about in Little Traverse Bay for years. Its peculiar shape and the fact that it had become black with slime…gave it a very serpent-like appearance.”  The Petoskey sea serpent was celebrated for many years even after its real identity was discovered. Their baseball team was even called the Petoskey Sea Serpents— complete with a plaster serpent mascot that traveled with the team.

Other creature sightings occurred at various resort areas such as Omena and Harbor Springs. Most people made light of the sightings and it was all for fun.

 Distinguished Monster Here for his Annual Outing Near Omena. The resort business of the north is now assured as the regular summer attraction has arrived and has begun daily performances near Omena. The Sea Serpent, which has been so minutely described by summer visitors for several years, made his first appearance a few days ago and was seen by two carpenters working at Omena Inn. He seems to be in the best of health and looks as if he had enjoyed life the past few months. Just what his scheduled program for the summer will be the Eagle has been unable to learn but he will no doubt be friendly at all the ports and pay Traverse City a visit too.” [Daily Eagle June 1898].

 In 1903,  a “sea serpent” in the Boardman River near the Cass St. bridge drew attention from curious locals. “County Treasurer George W. Steward claims to be the discoverer of the monster, and may be seen frequently pointing out the “horrid green monster” to his friends. “It” is there all right, and his friends can see it for themselves, but it doesn’t move, and seems to be located in the same place all the time. Of course, it is sunning itself, but then, too, it may only be weeds and water grass collected together, which gets its snake-like motion from the current of the river…Anyhow, it is there.  ~Traverse City Evening Record 17 July 1901

 In the summer of 1907 several people saw in West Bay, what they claimed was either a sea serpent, walrus or a sea lion. On June 25, the newspaper reported that Captain Dave Duane spotted something on the beach, was four feet or more long  and “barked like it was a sea lion” . The Captain was in a rowboat when “dead ahead there sounded a terrific splash and a noise, half grunt, half bark, followed it… a moment later he was drenched by another splash…as the tail of the sea serpent, sea lion, octopus or whatever it is, broke the surface.  He had just time enough to catch a glimpse of a body perhaps four feet long and seemingly covered with a dark brown hair. The head of the animal was flat and the nose pointed while two sharp white tusks protruded from the mouth. Others saw it as well, and the newspaper reporter stated that “the telephone in the Record office buzzed frequently…the news that a real live sea serpent… on the west side travelled rapidly.”

A  day later Frank Birdsall claimed that he saw a very large animal that had to be either a seal, sea lion or walrus. Mr Birdsall was sitting on the beach near their home just after sunset when a fish leaping from the water attracted his attention. The fish jumped again in a few seconds but this time was followed by a seemingly gigantic form. This so excited him that he took no notice of what happened to the fish. Mr. Birdsall says that he can offer no estimate as to its length but as the animal left the water very near in-shore, he is almost certain that it is covered with scales or else a hard skin instead of hair. There are still many skeptical people in the city but Captain Duane and Mr. Birdsall can readily convince them of the material existence of some aquatic animal. -Traverse City  Evening Record,  25 &26 June, 1907

postcardsealionWord started to spread that perhaps this creature was “Big Ben” a trained, performing sea lion that had escaped in November, 1903 from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.  The Big Ben story made news all across the midwest and sightings continued for more than seven years after he escaped.  The incident fueled a series of articles, mostly in Chicago papers –which were widely read by Traverse City citizens– that played up the escape as a humorous event, humanizing the animal and making light of the “motives” of his escape.  One poked fun about the animal refusing to return to the zoo until he got union representation and a “nine hour day”, and many others that related sightings to the over-consumption of alcohol.

The legend of the absentee sea lion of Lincoln Park  lived on in the press for many years. Several reports of his death were announced beginning in 1904 when his body was supposedly found on a beach fifteen miles south of St. Joseph, Mich.,  and obituaries continuing as late as 1910 when it was proclaimed that the sea lion had been captured and killed by fishermen in Galveston Bay. The real truth is most likely the earliest account and the 1907 Traverse City encounters with something that looked very much like a sea lion helped sustain the appeal of the missing animal.  Sensational stories sold newspapers and continued “sightings” led to the story of Big Ben being drawn out for quite some time.

For Traverse City, this story ends with the two 1907 sightings. Nothing more about the creature is reported, but the mystique of his fate remained and the question of whether an ocean animal could survive for an extended time in the waters of Northern Michigan was debated by many.

In  June 1935, another  large aquatic mammal  was spotted in the bay and confirmed to be a seal. Photographs were taken and the story of the animal made newspapers around the region, even featured in the October issue of Hunting & Fishing magazine.  A humorous  account of the 1935 sighting, written by Detroit News  writer Herbert C. Garrison, was published in The News and in The Michigan Alumnus.   

It seems that for some weeks now the good folk of Grand Traverse region have been coming in from their fishing expeditions saucer-eyed and panting, with reports of having seen some strange marine monster disporting itself in the limpid depths of the bay. These reports have resulted in a series of theories as to the identity of the monster, all of them completely unauthenticated. Among the principal theories were these:

sealionThat it was a sea-serpenta sea lion…a walrus…a whale…an alcoholic mirage…Primo Carnera [Carnera was a professional boxer of very large size]… Purely in the interest of science, Mr. Sackett the other day determined to seek out the truth of these conflicting rumors, which have kept the neighborhood in a turmoil and have ruined the summer romance business on account of nobody daring to go out for moonlight sails…Sackett assembled himself a sea-going safari consisting of one outboard motor boat, one camera, one pack of films, one harpoon (for defense purposes only)….Sackett before leaving had imbibed only in two bottles of sarsaparilla and a hot dog (this to clear up any misunderstandings falling under the heading of Theory No. 5 above), the Ray C. Sackett Grand Traverse Bay Monster Expedition shoved off with a yo-heave-ho. We now turn to the the written record of the expedition in Mr. Sackett’s own hand, found floating in a sarsaparilla bottle which the intrepid commander dropped overboard to make sure the results of the expedition’s research would be preserved for posterity, even if the expedition itself failed to make shore… “We were proceeding with a spanking breeze on our quarter and approaching a large flat rock, about 500 yards offshore, when McGonigle, who was acting as look-out, sang out: ‘Monster Ho-o-o-o!’…I looked, and yessir there he was, sunning himself on the rock. McGonigle said it was a walrus. I said it was a seal. ‘It can’t be a seal,’ McGonigle pointed out. ‘He ain’t got no hat on. I’ve seen lots of seals in circuses. They always wear hats.’  Well, that was a stumper, until I finally got a great idea. ‘Throw the harpoon at him,’ I ordered. McGonigle threw. The monster caught the harpoon in its mouth, tossed it into the air, and balanced it on its nose when it came down….Then to cinch the matter, the seal looked toward me and distinctly said: ‘Werp!’  According to McGonigle, who hasn’t missed a circus since he could carry a pail of water, this is the old Forepaugh & Sells Bros seal dialect, now almost extinct, and means: ‘Brother, can you spare a herring?’’” Thus was the Grand Traverse Bay Monster identified. As to how he got here, I think I can clear up that point, too., I have been told there was a troupe of trained seals at the Chicago fair last year, and that one of the seals got into a rundown condition because of too much night life and was advised by his physician to take the baths. So he slipped off into Lake Michigan one night, and liked it so well he never came back.

There were no  further documented sightings of this particular animal and its fate is unknown.

An article about the history of  Traverse City sea serpent sightings over the years was written in the popular “The Observer” column in 1948.  Author Jay P. Smith  first mentioned the famous  Petoskey serpent, as well as the 1907 Traverse City incident when “that horrendous creature who, fifty years ago, emerged dripping from the bay, waddled up the beach and stole a whole critter out of the Brosch slaughter house in the southeast corner of the bay and lugged it back into the water. That was, without doubt, one of the best sea serpents Northern Michigan ever produced.”  Smith tells of fakes that were planted by pranksters for fun. “One of the smaller ones was the one Art and Bert Winnie built and arranged on a pulley just off the old Hannah & Lay lumber dock with the ropes running to the dock. A person concealed between the lumber piles could pull the ropes so the monster would raise its horrible head above the water, glare around and then submerge. Many old, short people today owe their shortness to having been scared our of several years’ growth by that serpent.”  The article concludes with this: “It became necessary for Traverse City to go out of the sea serpent business years ago. The bay got so full of them and people saw so many of them, that summer guests starting going to places where there were no monsters. They darn near ruined this community as a vacation center. So, if you hear any reports in the bay or see one, keep it to yourself. We don’t want to scare our visitors away.” [TCRE 17 July, 1948]

We are long overdue for another sea serpent sighting in the bay, but with today’s technology,  the mystique of the unknown would  likely be ruined.  I think I’d prefer the mystery of whether it was real or imagined as it was a hundred years ago.

Julie Schopieray is a regular contributor to Grand Traverse Journal.

The Murder of James Jesse Strang, Ruler of the Mormon Colony at Beaver Island, 1856


On Monday last the U.S. steamer Michigan entered this harbour at about 1 o’clock, P.M., and was visited by the inhabitants promiscuously during the afternoon.

At about 7 o’clock Capt. McBlair sent a messenger (Alexander St. Barnard, the Pilot) to Mr. Strang, requesting him to visit him on board.  Mr. Strang immediately accompanied the messenger, and just as they were stepping on the bridge leading to the pier in front of F. Johnson & Co.’s store, two assassins approached in the rear, unobserved by either of them, and fired upon Mr. Strang with pistols.  The first shot took effect upon the left side of the head, entering a little back of the top of the ear, and rebounding, passed out near the top of the head.

This shot, fired from a horse pistol, brought him down, and he fell on the left side, so that he saw the assassins as they fired the second and third shots from a revolver, both taking effect upon his person, one just below the temple, on the right side of the face, and lodged in the cheek bone; the other on the left side of the spine, near the tenth rib, followed the rib about two inches and a half and lodged.

Mr. Strang recognized in the persons of the assassins Thomas Bedford and Alexander Wentworth.  Wentworth had a revolver, and Bedford a horse pistol, with which he struck him over the head and face, while lying on the ground.  The assassins immediately fled on board the U.S. steamer, with pistols in hand, claiming her protection.—Northern Islander, June 20, 1856 (1)

USS Michigan, ca. 1850. Image courtesy of the United States Navy.
USS Michigan, ca. 1850. Image courtesy of the United States Navy.

The story of James Jesse Strang’s murder is told here in the style of nineteenth century journalism to describe the brutality of the scene.  Captain McBlair of the naval vessel Michigan transported Bedford and Wentworth to Mackinac Island, where, after a few minutes in jail, they were released to the celebration of the crowd gathered there.  They were never tried for the murder.

Questions surround this bloody narrative, questions that arise from such powerful feeling that four accounts of the Mormon presence on Beaver Island have been written in the last century and a half, each with a unique perspective.  The first question has to do with the motivations of the protagonists: What climate of hatred enabled murderers to receive a hero’s welcome at Mackinac Island?

The answer to that question is simple according to an early telling of the story serialized the Grand Traverse Herald in 1883. (2)  D. C. Leach states unequivocally that the Mormons were murders and thieves.  He describes plundered shipwrecks, stolen horses, fishing nets destroyed or hauled away, and vile acts of piracy committed all along the shores of Lake Michigan.  His view represented that of most residents of Northern Michigan at the time, though his reporting is colored by the sources he chose to include.  Since Mormons had all but been driven out by 1883, he had little opportunity (nor interest) in hearing the other side.

Milo Quaife published another account of the settlement of Beaver Island in 1930, The Kingdom of St. James.  Examining documents friendly to the Mormons, including the first newspaper of Northern Michigan, The Northern Islander, he concluded that tales of murder and pillage had been much overblown. (3)  Nation-wide, powerful prejudice against Mormons prevailed, not just locally against the Strangite, Beaver Island settlement, but against the Brighamite (Utah) Mormons generally.  Before and after the assassination of Joseph Smith in 1844, only twelve years before the assassination of Strang, Mormons were accused of murder and “consecration” of non-Mormon property.  The press was unfavorable to Mormons, frequently publishing hearsay accounts of Mormon atrocities and ignoring the provocative acts committed against them.

For more than five years The Northern Islander attempted to rebut outrageous tales of Mormons putting out lighthouse lights to cause shipwrecks, outright murder and later desecration of the body during an autopsy, and even the attempted kidnapping of a child on Old Mission Peninsula with a view towards making him the new ‘King of the Mormons.”  However much the newspaper tried to present its side in the conflict, it could never overcome the array of newspapers lined up against it: The Buffalo Rough Notes, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Detroit Advertiser, Green Bay Spectator, and numerous others. (4)  Depending upon hearsay for news stories, they would continue to defame the Mormon kingdom, inflaming the citizens of the area with accounts of ruthless Mormon evil-doers.

The latest two books about Beaver Island Mormons,  Assassination of a Michigan King, by Roger Van Noord, (5) and “God Has Made Us A Kingdom,”  by Vickie Cleverley Speek (6) add further details to the conflict between Mormons and non-Mormons in the Straits area.  Both assert that the doctrine of “consecration,” the teaching that property of individuals could be seized by the Church” was certainly practiced by Mormons upon Beaver Island as apostates left their farms and businesses and probably practiced by Mormons upon non-Mormons (partly for pay-back for deeds done against them), but to a far lesser degree than contemporary newspaper accounts described.  There is no convincing evidence that James Strang was ever directly involved in planning raids against non-Mormons.  In fact, perhaps due to his training in the legal profession, he consistently attempted to follow to the letter the laws of the United States and Michigan as evidenced by the facts that he gave himself up when charged with federal crimes in 1851 and readily agreed to meet with Captain McBlair that fateful day in 1856 even though he had s misgivings about the presence of the U.S. S. Michigan at the Beaver dock that day.  Strang’s views about the sanctity of the law are expressed in this excerpt printed in the Northern Islander in 1851:

Many have looked for the downfall of the nation by the array of the north against the south.  That will not be.  The nation will perish in the anarchy of laws despised and trampled on by the whole people.  There is no wickedness, no act of oppression ever undertaken by a despotic government, which has not been successfully accomplished in this.  There is no conceivable act which cannot be done under it, either in accordance with the law or in spite of it.  The most influential men in society, are many of them engaged in the constant and shameless violation of penal statutes and criminal enactments, without so much as being less respected.  The end of all this can be nothing less than the despising of magistrates, trampling on law, and the crumbling in pieces of the government. (7)

It is difficult to reconcile this statement asserting the importance of obedience to the law with the accusations of lawlessness directed towards Strang by the press.

Strang defended the conduct of Beaver Island Mormons strenuously.  Denying that “consecration” had been practiced against non-Mormons, he pointed to the fact that not a single Mormon had been convicted of such crimes, even though Beaver Island was for a long time under the judicial control of Mackinac, the heart of opposition to the Mormon settlement.  Furthermore, he insisted, crimes committed on the waters of Lake Michigan could be prosecuted in any county bordering the Lake.  Why is it, he asked, that not a single case had been taken up against the Mormons?  Of course, the question was rhetorical; there was no evidence of wrongdoing so no trial could be commenced.

Another question concerning Strang’s murder comes from the events directly following the act.  What were the consequences of the assassination on the inhabitants of Beaver Island?  An armada of boats from Mackinac and nearby islands and towns quickly assembled to drive the Mormons away from Beaver.  Well-armed, the fishermen and traders came expecting a fight, but were surprised to find that the inhabitants meekly agreed to leave the Island and all their possessions behind, board passing boats heading for Milwaukie, Green Bay, and Chicago, and make their lives elsewhere.

James Jesse Strang, 1856. Image courtesy of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite).
James Jesse Strang, 1856. Image courtesy of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite).

By the last commands of their fallen king, James Jesse Strang, they were instructed to comply with the demands of the invaders for, despite his terrible, disfiguring wounds, he had initially survived the attack [he died 23 days later in Voree, Wisconsin].  Though paralysed, he was lucid, and directed his followers to “take care of their families.”  This instruction, consistent with his lifelong abhorrence of violence, was clearly the wisest course of action; one Mormon later wrote that he believed there were fewer than fifty firearms on the Island altogether.

So it was that vessels came to St. James on July 3, 1856, filled with bands of armed men ready drive the Mormons out.  What occurred there was a scene of plunder, arson, and chaos such as had never been seen in Northern Michigan.  One description left behind tells of the misery inflicted upon the Mormon inhabitants:

Discovering the people were docile and leaderless, the invaders began their work of “robbery and general destruction” throughout the island.  “They came marching through the streets of St. James ordering all Mormons to leave and giving them only 24 hours to do it or be shot,” Elvira Field noted.  “Those individuals who tried to oppose the mob and defend themselves were thrust into the street and their houses burned.  The Mormon tabernacle on the hill was torched, as were storehouses, businesses, valuable dwellings and the Mormon printshop.”

Pleased with the arson the pillagers had initiated, Thomas Bedford proudly announced that “it would have been cheaper to buy a new printing office than to attempt any work of publication at the one left by Strang.”  The prophet’s house and property were especially targeted for plunder and ransacking.  His household goods and extensive library were thrown into the street and trampled in the mud.  To show their hatred of Strang, the attackers shot at everything on the premises.  Strang’s large poultry yard with the rare Plymouth Rock chickens John C. Bennett had sent as a coronation gift was “made a shooting-mark for all.”  The mob went looking for Strang’s wives.  “My friends advised me to keep out of sight,” Sarah Wright (one of Strang’s wives) recollected.  “I was told some rough had said he would like to find Strang’s young wife—but I was not found.” She explained that Mormons were helpless because they did not know if Strang was still alive and had been told not to resist. (8)

Three hundred-fifty Mormons were loaded aboard the steamer Buckeye State, herded like cattle and unable to take their possessions on board.  They were taken to communities in Green Bay, Milwaukee, Racine, and Chicago, where they were left to fend for themselves.  In Chicago, one kind soul berated the mob assembled to oppose the new arrivals and opened the doors to a warehouse.  “ Here, ladies and gentlemen, come in here out of the sun and stay until you can find places” he said, expressing the first kind words the Mormons had heard since leaving the Island.

After leaving Beaver, the Strangite Mormons suffered greatly; most had lost all their possessions; many had to depend upon the kindness of relatives for survival; some had to conceal their religion from the community in order to avoid banishment.  They were outcasts in their own land with some, by necessity, forced to pick blueberries and cranberries for their survival.  Without a leader, they drifted back to scattered settlements throughout the Midwest, blending in with surrounding populations.  Though a few hundred Strangites survive today, the movement has largely disappeared from the scene, much as the Shakers had disappeared earlier.

Finally, the question concerning the role of the United States Navy must be answered: Did Captain McBlair of the U.S.S. Michigan collude with the murderers and actively participate in the plot?  Circumstantial evidence is there in abundance:

That Commander McBlair or other officers of the Michigan were in on the assassination conspiracy is still in question.  The following factors, however, would not have been overlooked had the case gone to court.  Commander McBlair was at best thoroughly unsympathetic with Strang’s cause; this gave him a motive.  McBlair met with the chief conspirators just days before the assassination and was officially very sympathetic to their public cause of escaping the island [after the assassination]; this allowed him to participate in the plot. In addition, if the commander was as eager to protect the dissidents as he professed in his June 6 report to the governor of Michigan, why did he dally for ten days, even visiting Milwaukee before going to Saint James?  This delay clearly gave the assassins time to arrive at Beaver and even to practice with the murder weapons before the vessel’s arrival. (9)

Furthermore, the failure of the Michigan to protect the Mormon residents of Beaver after the assassination of Strang points to Captain McBlair’s sympathy with partisans who desired to expel the Mormons.  At the time the mob was pillaging the Island, the warship was cruising Lake Superior, unable to respond to possible orders requiring him to defend the Mormons who were being dispossessed of their property.  With the authority of the United States Navy, McBlair and his crew could have stopped the ravaging of Beaver.  Someone—McBlair, most likely, or even a superior—made a decision to sail away from the chaos that exploded on July 3, 1856.  We will probably never know with certainty the whole story, though we can ask one more important question: Was the United States government involved in any way with the plot to kill James Jesse Strang?

There is no smoking gun that points to such involvement, though certain lines of evidence indicate possible foreknowledge and, perhaps, approval of the actions of McBlair in leading to the assassination.  We know that in 1853 the fishermen of Mackinac did formally petition the Governor of the State of Michigan and the President of the United States to respond to the alleged depredations of the Mormons in the Mackinac region. (10)  We know that newspapers maintained a hostile climate towards the Strangite Mormons from the colony’s inception.  We know that in 1856 Brighamite Mormons in Utah were charged by the Attorney General of the United States with six abuses carried on by Brigham Young’s governance, among them the accusation that lives and property are at risk from any who oppose the authority of the Church. (11)  The federal government might wield the same brush of condemnation against Beaver Island as it did against the Brighamites in Salt Lake City, thereby provoking the Federal government to sanction Strang’s murder.  Finally, the inquiry made in Washington was a most perfunctory affair with the important questions never asked. (12)  A people dispossessed of their land and property were quickly disposed of and forgotten by the United States government and by the nation generally.  The expulsion of the Beaver Island Mormons on July 3, 1856 does not remind us of the ideals this nation was founded upon nearly 80 years earlier.

Whatever opinion the reader holds concerning the unjust treatment meted out to the Mormons of Beaver Island, one fact stands out as incontrovertible: In the 1850’s Northern Michigan was a lawless place.  There was theft and plunder; there was occasional murder; there were courts that acted unlawfully whether through ignorance of court officials or through malice; there were Indians, not yet socialized to the ways of white culture, who were fair prey for vicious traders; and there was persecution enacted by both federal and state elected officials who exceeded their authority in the actions they perpetrated.  The Sheriff of Mackinac County would arrest Strang over and over, each time the case being thrown out because he was unable to show cause for the arrests.  Posses of thugs and hooligans were assembled to hunt down “felons” who had committed no crime but the enforcing of temperance laws.  Captain McBlair, without the judicial authority, collected depositions from the co-conspirators that murdered Strang while ignoring evidence of his innocence.  Later, in the 1870’s the governor of Michigan, Kinsley S. Bingham flatly denied the State had any role in indemnifying Mormons who had lost their possessions in the ravages of 1856. (13) Lawlessness was the rule at every level: local, state, and federal.  In telling this tragic story, we must resolve never to allow it to happen again.


1 The Northern Islander was the first newspaper of Northern Lower Michigan.  It began publishing in 1850 and ended publication with this note concerning the assassination.

2 Leach, M.L. A History of the Grand Traverse Region, Traverse City, MI: Grand Traverse Herald, 1883.

3 Quaife, Milo M., The Kingdom of St. James: A Narrative of the Mormons, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1930

4 The power attributed to the press by the American people is described in Dicken-Garvin, Hazel, Journalistic Standards in Nineteenth Century America, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press,1989, 48.

5 Van Noord, Roger, Assassination of a Michigan King, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988

6 Speek, Vickie Cleverley, “God Has Made Us A Kingdom”: James Strang and the Midwest Mormons, Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 2006

7 Northern Islander, April 3, 1851.

8 This description is taken from Speek, p. 228.

9 This passage as well as the point made in the following paragraph comes from Rodgers, Bradley A., Guardian of the Great Lakes: The U.S. Paddle Frigate Michigan, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996,

10 The petition is presented in the Detroit Daily Free Press, May 24, 1853.

11 The six charges against the Utah Mormons are given in Albanes, Richard, One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church, New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002.

12 The inquiry is described in Van Noord, 267-8.

13 Van Noord, 268.

Richard Fidler is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.

Listening to Dissonant Voices: Dissent in Traverse City During the First World War

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.

An early portrait of Thomas Coxe, editor of "Honest Opinion." Image courtesy of the History Center of Traverse City.
An early portrait of Thomas Coxe, editor of “Honest Opinion.” Image courtesy of the History Center of Traverse City.

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.

The Artistry and Humor of Orson W. Peck (1875-1954)

Orson W. Peck (1875-1954), was a famed photographer and postcard maker of Traverse City.  The video above looks at the thriving postcard industry of a hundred years ago as well as Peck’s unique contribution to it.

Grand Traverse Journal featured Mr. Peck and his work in a previous article.

Header image and the images within the video are courtesy of the History Center of Traverse City. Video is copyright Richard Fidler, 2008.

Sailing Portage Lake: 108 Years of Pabst Cup History

By Stewart A. McFerran, Benzie resident and regular contributor to Grand Traverse Journal

City of Manistee resident Frederic Ramsdell (son of Thomas Jefferson Ramsdell of Ramsdell Theatre fame) and others founded the Onekama Sailing Club in 1896. It had a club house, served meals and had sleepovers. The Club’s small sailboats became known as the Mosquito Fleet.

Onekama Sailing Club in August 2014, right. High school juniors Sarah and Katie race to the finish last year, but lost to Bob Beal by one-half of a second.
Portage Lake Yacht Club in August 2014, right. In this photograph from last year’s race, teens Annie of the United Kingdom and Maggie of Onekama made a valiant run, but lost to Bob Beall by one-half of a second. Image courtesy of the author.

The Onekama Sailing Club, now the Portage Lake Yacht Club,  was one of the first sailing clubs in Michigan. The members hand built wooden sailboats that were rigged for racing. “Sundays and holidays were racing days. Races were started in the forenoon. The course was marked by flagged buoys and competition was keen.”*

When the Mayor of Chicago, William Hale Thompson (who served in that capacity in 1915 to 1923 and again in 1927 to 1931), arrived at Portage Lake, the Onekama Sailing Club was uniquely positioned to receive him. “Mayor Thompson of Chicago always received a three-shot cannon salute. His yacht carried a large assortment of grog, and he was a most liberal dispenser.”* Considering he was running Chicago at the height of Prohibition (1920-1933), perhaps we should not be surprised.

Yep, that Pabst. The beer voted the best at the Columbia World's Exposition in 1893. Frederic Pabst celebrated by tying a blue silk ribbon on each bottle, and ramped up production.
Yep, that Pabst. The beer voted the best at the Columbia World’s Exposition in 1893. Frederich Pabst celebrated by tying a blue silk ribbon on each bottle, and ramped up production.

Traditionally, sailing cups are named after the person who commissioned the cup’s creation, or at least donated the funds to have one made. Gustav Pabst (son of Friedrich Pabst, the man who made Pabst Blue Ribbon beer famous) crossed Lake Michigan from Milwaukee to attend races of the Portage Lake  “Mosquito Fleet”. As a supporter of small boat races, he had a large silver cup made. The Pabst Cup was first awarded to the fastest Onekama sailor in 1907. The Pabst Cup Race is still held on Portage Lake each summer, making it one of Michigan’s oldest sailing competitions.

High school senior Bob Beall won the Pabst cup in July 2014 by one-half second! Bob’s grandmother, Char Jesson, has a sunfish he uses for the races. Sailing just behind him  were juniors Sarah and Katie.  Bob also has stiff completion from former winners of the Cup who enter the race every year. All previous winners are listed on the Cup, back to the first winner in 1907.

Veteran sailors Bill Vaughan, Dick Forwood and Biff Wiper have competed in the Pabst Cup for decades. Bill Vaughans’ first Pabst Cup win came in 1964. Most recently he won the Cup in 2012.  Past winner Vaughan has enjoyed an advantage: his wife, Babs, knows how to operate the Club Cannon. She once blew a hole in the sail of a competitor. She claims it was a mistake.

Sailing for recreation remains a popular activity in Michigan. Competitions are often celebrated with trophies. There are very few sailing trophies in Michigan that are older than the Pabst Cup. A contemporary to the Pabst Cup is held by the Bayview Yacht Club, Detroit, Michigan. John C. Burke, Commodore of the Bayview Yacht Club, traces their cup’s history back only to 1936, although the cup is likely older than that: “The J.L. Hudson Trophy is a perpetual trophy that was deeded to Bayview Yacht Club in 1936 by James B. Webber, who was at the time, the Vice President of the J.L. Hudson Company”. *

Bob Beall (right) receives the Pabst Cup from PLYC Commodore Richard Verplank in August 2014.
Bob Beall (right) receives the Pabst Cup from Portage Lake Yacht Club Commodore Richard Verplank in August 2014. Image courtesy of the author.

The competition during the Pabst Cup Race on Portage Lake is still keen after more than 100 years. Bob Beall will need to practice his sailing skills and tune his rig if he hopes to take the Pabst Cup home once again this summer. The race will be held August 1st and 2nd.   There will be three races on Saturday and two on Sunday; the winner will be the sailor that has the best cumulative score. Good luck, sailors!

*Quoted from Wellspring, a collection of short histories on social customs and life in Manistee County, written by students of Onekama Schools, published in 1982. Copies are available for purchase from Manistee County Historical Society.

S.A. McFerran serves on the Portage Lake Yacht Club committee boat and sometimes rescues sailors in need of help.

Privy Excavation Reveals life for Old Mission family, 1860-1930

Warne, November 2014, describing the excavation of the privy site. Warne is also involved in the more recent excavation, in June 2015, undertaken by North Central Michigan College professor Kerri Finlayson and her students.
Warne, October 2014, describing the excavation of the privy site. Warne is also involved in the more recent excavation, in June 2015, undertaken by North Central Michigan College professor Kerri Finlayson and her students. Image courtesy of the author.

Nancy Warne’s interest was piqued. While undertaking her volunteer duty of raking the grounds behind the house and buildings of the Dougherty Home on Old Mission Peninsula, she would find an assortment of debris, mostly broken glass and pottery. Her suspicions were further raised, after having watched a program on excavating a historical outhouse site.

What else could be found under the myrtle in the Dougherty/Rushmore backyard?  What might be found at the suggested site of the Rushmore outhouse?

A brief, but relevant, digression: Peninsula Township purchased the Dougherty Historic Home Site property in July 2006, in collaboration with a number of concerned organizations on Old Mission Peninsula. The Site is home to the original 1842 structure built by Reverend Peter Dougherty, a Presbyterian minister and missionary. The Mission House “is believed to be the first post and beam house in the lower peninsula, north of Grand Rapids”. (1) Solon Rushmore purchased the property from Rev. Dougherty in 1861, and it remained in the Rushmore family for 100 years. (2)

An archaeological study of the entire home site was commissioned by the Peter Dougherty Society, the organization responsible for restoring the buildings and grounds on the property. When that gridded search came up empty, the Society members figured there simply weren’t any buried treasures to uncover. So what was Warne uncovering during her raking stints? Random refuse? A possible location of an old outhouse? 

There was nothing for it: Warne had to know.

Rather than searching blindly, which could compromise the integrity of any historical dig sites found, Warne had some help.   Nancy (Rushmore) Hooper, the grandchild of William and Minnie Rushmore who had run the Mission House as a summer inn for visitors until about 1915, knew where the Rushmore privy was located.  She had used it as a child during her summers in Old Mission.  She recalled during inclement weather running through the house into the summer kitchen and out the door of the woodroom directly to the outhouse.

The outhouse was restored in 2009 by dedicated Society volunteers, and other than the roof and 4 inches of treated wood at the base of the outhouse, most of the wood is original. Needed replacement wood was obtained from a collapsed 1870s barn near Bowers Harbor. Original wooden pegs in the window framing and 5 different sized square steel nails from the roof were reused in the reconstruction. The lids are original, as is part of the seat. Sorry folks, this three-holer is for display only. Image courtesy of the author, October 2014.

Understandably, after the Rushmore family purchased the home from Dougherty and eventually turned it into an inn, the first order of business was to move the Dougherty outhouse from direct view of the dining room window and orient the door to face south for additional privacy. That new location was the one Hooper remembered and the one that was excavated.  The Mission House was not graced with a full bath until some time between 1930 and 1950. In the 1950s after the site was sold to Virginia Larson, the outhouse was moved to the cement slab where it now stands.

Once plumbing went in to the Home, the privy holes were slowly filled with household refuse. After the outhouse was moved in the 1960s, the holes were further filled with dirt, and myrtle gained a footing, creeping over the site and providing effective camouflage.

Society members are fully aware of what it takes to properly dig a site and restore any findings, so after making an initial, inches-deep search of the spot Hooper identified, Warne called upon experienced archaeological students and Society volunteers who were excited to begin digging. They began digging August 23, 2012, and lasted through the month of October. On that first day, nearly 60 bottles were found. Warne says that, initially, the items were merely cataloged based on where they were found in the dig site, but quickly a more rigorous procedure was developed, as follow-up research would clearly need to be done to do the excavation justice.

The results? Three to four tubs of disintegrating metal, mostly cans; some intact pieces of metal, including an 1869 shield nickel, a small child’s sterling silver ring, a shotgun barrel; dishes, mostly broken that are being lovingly reconstructed; a Kewpie doll and clay marbles; and most significantly, 280 intact bottles.

After the thrill of excavation, Warne got down to the nitty-gritty of her research. What were these bottles, and what would they tell us about the Rushmore family?

A sample of Warne's work on identifying and dating the bottles found during excavation. Image courtesy of the author, October 2014.
A sample of Warne’s work on identifying and dating the bottles found during excavation. Image courtesy of the author, October 2014.

An introduction to glass bottle manufacturing in the United States, ca. 1860 to 1930, was the first step in dating the bottles. Warne’s primary dating method deals with the seam present on machine-made bottles, which ran up the side and over the rim of the bottle; a bottle-making machine was invented in 1895, and in wide use by 1910. Many of the bottles had manufacturer’s marks on the bottom. With that information, Warne was able to date most of the bottles, the majority of which are machine made. Some of the oldest items were canning jars, dating from the 1870s, complete with common imperfections of the time, such as bubbles in the glass.

One of several displays for the August 2012 privy excavation. Image courtesy of the author, October 2014.
One of several displays for the August 2012 privy excavation. Image courtesy of the author, October 2014.

Some of the bottles are of brand names we would recognize, “Colgate,” “Hires Root Beer,” “Listerine,” Alka-seltzer”, “Heinz Catsup”, “French’s Mustard”, “Bromoseltzer”, Carter’s Ink” Ultimately, Warne divided up the collection into Food, Personal Use, Household, Medical (which turned out to be the bulk of the collection), and Miscellaneous. An important local find were bottles from the American Drug Store, Traverse City, Michigan.

When asked if anything really stood out to Warne, she pointed to her favorite bottle, “Mascaro Monique for the Hair” (pictured above), largely for the history of the woman behind the hair tonic. Warne also noted that there were “lots of laxatives. Take that for what it is.”

Warne’s find has been on display in the “kitchen” of the Mission House for the past three years, and as she told me, “seeing this many bottles on display really gives you a sense of the numbers, including the number of hours I spent cleaning and identifying them!” As the restoration of the Home continues, the vision being to restore the interior and exterior back to between 1850 and 1915, Warne’s find is no longer safe in its current space, and will be put into storage. She anticipates that one-third to one-half of the collection will be put back on permanent display, once the restoration has finished. She also curates two annual displays, at the annual Log Cabin Days on the last weekend of June at the Dougherty Home Site property, and at the Woodmere Branch of Traverse Area District Library, usually in August.

Warne, here piecing together pottery found in the June 2015 excavation, in much the same way as the August 2012 finds.
Warne, here piecing together pottery found in the June 2015 excavation, in much the same way as the August 2012 finds. Image courtesy of David C. Warne, June 2015.

Warne stresses that the restoration of the Home has truly been a dedicated group effort by all the Society members. “We have experts come in, but most of the work has been done by retired businessmen, teachers, farmers… just people who are really handy.” (3)

This summer of 2015, a licensed archeologist, Kerri Finlayson and her student crew from North Central Michigan College have been digging in the suggested area of the original Dougherty outhouse.  Hundreds of small artifacts have been found from a depth of one foot to nearly 20 feet, including an arrowhead, buttons, ink bottle, shoe polish jar, toothbrush, pipe stems, animal bones, chards, etc.

The Peter Dougherty Society continues its work to restore the Home. Many of their restoration projects to this point have been on outlying buildings, including the outhouse, ice house, and summer kitchen. You can help the Society complete the restoration of the Home and establish it as a museum! The Jeffris Family Foundation has awarded the Society a challenge grant of $157,000, to be provided on a 1 for 2 match basis and has kicked off a three year Capital Campaign to raise $314,000 to complete the restoration of the Mission House and establish it as a museum. Fundraising for the matching grant must be completed by December 31, 2015, so no time like the present!

For additional information or to donate, contact, Peter Dougherty Society, PO Box 101, Old Mission, MI  49673 or call (231) 223-8778.

Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal. Nancy Warne, interviewed for this article, has been an active member of the Peter Dougherty Society since 2005. In addition to discovering lost privy holes, Warne is also responsible for filming much of the restoration projects underway, as well as all pre-restoration documentation, “to record the way everything looks before they tear it all apart,” as she says.

Special thanks to David C. Warne for introducing the Journal to Nancy Warne and her fantastic work, and for the photograph included in the article.

  1. Dougherty Historic Home Site. History. Accessed 15 June 2015.
  2. For more information on the “Old Mission” in what is now Grand Traverse County and the “New Mission” in Omena, Leelanau County, check out “History of the Grand Traverse Region,” by Dr. M.L. Leach, from your local public library!
  3. Nancy Warne, Personal Interview, October 2014.

Darwin’s Finches of the Great Lakes: Whitefish before and after commercial fishing

By Stewart A. McFerran, Benzie resident and instructor of The Natural History of Great Lakes Fish for Northwestern Michigan College’s Northern Naturalist Program.

Nets, nets and more nets. Image courtesy of the author.
Nets, nets, and more nets. Image courtesy of the author.

I took a job as a deck hand for Lang Fisheries of Leland Harbor. Ross Lang operated the Joy and the Frances Clark, both commercial fishing boats. As one might expect, a commercial operation means catching fish for profit. Unlike charter fishing operations, we worked until the ice clogged the harbor and the steel hull could no longer break a path through ice packed into Leland Harbor.

The Frances Clark was a classic high-decked Great Lakes fishing tug. Everything inside was dedicated to the lifting of nets. Nets could be set in the deepest part of the lake. When the net came in through the side near the bow, fish were taken out and put in boxes. The net was carefully stacked in a different kind of box ready for “set back” out the back of the boat.

"Lifter," equipment used in Michigan tugs to pull up nets full of catch, sometimes going down several hundred feet. Image courtesy of the author.
“Lifter,” equipment used in fishing tugs to pull up nets full of catch. Image courtesy of the author.

The crew, Ross and I worked at a table near the “lifter”. Ross steered and I stacked the net in a box. On days when there were lots of chubs in the net, it was slow going, sometimes taking from first light until the afternoon to lift.  The chubs, or Coregonus hoyi, are part of a genus including whitefish, cisco and lake herring. There were days we caught over a thousand pounds. I was a novice fisher but had the advantage of never getting sick.

We fished from Northwest of North Manitou Island to Platte Bay, some of the same waters that Magdalene (Lanie) Burfeind fished in 1869. She kept her boat at Port Oneida and sold her catch to the crews of the steamers that stopped at Port Oneida. In this description of seventeen-year old’s Lanie’s fishing methods, written in 1869 and published in The Evening Wisconsin newspaper in October of that year, she had:

been the master of a handsome craft and a set of ‘gill nets’. She puts them out early in April and continues them till late in the Fall. She is out every day at daylight and again in the evening in all but the roughest weather. She takes a younger sister with her to help set and draw the nets. She often brings in a couple of hundred fine lake trout white fish… Her white mast and blue pennon is known by people far along the coast. Boats salute her in passing.*

At the time Lanie Burfeind fished, there were ten known species of Coregonus living in different parts of the lakes. Miss Burfiend may have caught and sold coregonids that were never described and included in the genus.

Bloater, Coregonus hoyi. "Coregonushoyi". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
Bloater, Coregonus hoyi. “Coregonushoyi”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Coregonus hoyi and culpeaformis were the fish Ross and crew caught in the Manitou Passage more than 100 years later. As the net came in so did other fish and objects from deep dark places 300 feet down. A cod relation, the “big, bad” Burbot, also known as “lawyer” came in over the side with the hoyi catch. Spiky Stonerollers, stream boat clinkers and the occasional trout came in with the chubs but often nothing else but Coregonus hoyi. They had the deep dark lake to themselves. On bad days Ross sped up the lifter and the net came in empty. In 1984, a net could stand on the lake bottom and catch nothing. Not so today; Bushels of quagga mussels foul nets as they filter the same zooplankton preferred by coregonids.

Chubby Mary at The Cove in Leland. Yum! Image courtesy of Scott Schopieray,
Chubby Mary at The Cove in Leland. Yum! Image courtesy of Scott Schopieray,

After months of releasing “chubs” from the net I began to be aware of the variation in color and shape. There were very slight differences in hue in the silver of the sides. Sometimes I wonder if I was witness to the last of a species of Coregonus that was sold as a “Chubby Mary” at the Bluebird in Leland. It is my understanding that the popular drink is no longer made with C. hoyi but with C. artidie. Not having a degree in mixology I can’t be sure.

(Editor’s note: Upon further inquiry, the “Chubby Mary” is still available for consumption at the Cove restaurant in Leland. Described as “part appetizer, part drink,” Chubby Mary is made with the house blood mary mix, a pickle, two olives, and lemon garnish to accompany the fish, a smoked chub served with pita chips. The servers were unsure what species of Coregonus is now used.)

The US Fisheries Commission reported in 1890 that whitefish and lake herring, (both within the group Coregonus), accounted for 58% of the commercial catch in Lake Michigan. At the time there were eleven commercial fishing boats operating in Benzie County and eleven in Leelanau. None in Grand Traverse. The Booth Company was developing a wide network to exploit fisheries and fishers in both American and Canadian waters.

Standard modern fishing tug, "Kathy," docked at Leland Harbor, May 2015. Image courtesy of the author.
Standard modern fishing tug, “Kathy,” docked at Leland Harbor, May 2015. Image courtesy of the author.

Coregonus nigripinnis was found in great abundance in the deep waters of Lake Michigan in 1890. Blackfin whitefish were “sought mostly in steam vessels and are taken in gill nets set 60 to 110 fathoms deep.” The longjaw whitefish (C. zenithicua) lived at similar depths but did not have black markings on the fins.

The Manitou Islands have little in common with the Galapagos Islands other than the fact that a unique group of species evolved over time in isolation. Diving in the Galapagos I saw many fish and I talked with fishers unloading shark fins. I saw finches flitting about under the table of the café at Puerto Ayora. As a coffee drinker I could not miss them under foot as they evolved a taste for biscotti. It was fascinating to see that same assemblage of species that Darwin had so famously observed.

As the ice receded from the Great Lakes the coregonids were at the margin 10,000 years ago. Like Darwin’s finches they were separated into different populations as the lakes rose and fell. Each group changed as the ice continued to melt. The populations responded to local conditions and donned different colors and shapes. Deepwater blackfins became the dominant planktivore in the fathoms of Lake Michigan. The pelagic longjaw coregonids are hard to spot in the deep remote places of the big lakes, but, like the finches, changed in response to the environment.

While inhabiting remote niches and not making big splashes, the Great Lakes coregonids are a group of fish with many names that reflect the wide distribution and importance of the group. Other species of Coregonus are: kiyi, bartletti, johannae, reighardi and hubbsi. Hoyi are thought to still be present in Lake Michigan and sometimes called “bloater chub”. The blackfin and shortjaw can still be found in Lake Superior. Coregonids evolved the ability to move in the water column by regulating buoyancy as they fed on zooplankton.

Fishing tug on display at Glen Arbor by the National Park Service.
Fishing tug on display at Glen Haven by the National Park Service. Image courtesy of the author.

Over time the Great Lakes fishing tug was perfected to a point where fish numbers were threatened. The “Lifter” was developed to pull nets from the deep regions of the lakes. The covered decks on the tugs allowed the fishing operations to continue into bad weather. One such vessel is on display at the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore in Glen Haven near where Lanie fished.

When the steamer Normon lay wooding up at Port Oneida in 1869, it was recorded that Miss Burfeind had delivered fish: “The clerk at the office tipped his hat to her as if he was in the presence of a Duchess. ‘That’s the smartest girl in Michigan,’ said the engineer as she passed out the gangway. The girl gave no heed to admiring glances and compliments that followed her, but straightaway sought her little fish cabin where she was mending nets, by the shore.”*

The decline of coregonids took place over many years. The introduction of chemicals and invasive species changed the ecology of the Great Lakes. Tiny eggs of C. kiyi and C. hoyi left to drift in the water column were gobbled up by unwanted intruders. The free floating C. zenithicus eggs were acted on by numerous kinds of chemicals. Ecological change has come to that water column in ways that biologists are still trying to understand, but it is clear that the diversity of the Coregonus group has been reduced since 1869.

It is unfortunate that the group has been so reduced. More than any other assemblage of organisms they evolved in the Great Lakes and represent the lake environment as true natives, just as finches represent the Galapagos Islands.

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”. McFerran is a regular contributor to Grand Traverse Journal.

*Article on “Lanie”, Semi-Weekly Wisconsin (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Sat, Oct 16, 1869, Page 3

The Joys of Historical Research: A Mysterious Grave in Yuba City

by Julie Schopieray

Unless you are already aware of its existence, or happen to pull off the highway on a little side road that was once a part of the old highway, you’d never know it was there. A small gravestone stands alone under a large pine tree, just off US-31 near the ghost town of Yuba in Acme township, Grand Traverse County. It belongs to two-year- old William Leith, who died in February 1859.

This lone little grave has stirred much curiosity, including mine. Its solitary status has led to assumptions about its origin, which has resulted in stories designed explain it . After seeing this gravestone, I too wanted to know about it.

Obituary of William Leith, from the "Grand Traverse Herald," 1859.
Obituary of William Leith, from the “Grand Traverse Herald,” 1859.

Starting with just an internet search, I found one author who reported that this was “the oldest known Caucasian grave in the northwestern region of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.” Another website gave an account of the family traveling in a wagon train through the area when their son became sick and died. They buried him along the road and even with their grief, had to continue on their journey.

This particular tale raised the question: Why would anyone be traveling in a wagon train in Northern Michigan in the middle of the winter? It did not seem likely.

My next step was to search digitized issues of the Grand Traverse Herald. The search brought up three hits with the name Leith. The first was from Dec. 1858, which described a very large chicken belonging to Mr. Crawford Leith, a resident of Whitewater. The second was an obituary for William Leith, the son of Crawford and Elizabeth Leith, who died of scarlet fever. The date matched the gravestone exactly. (The third hit was in April, 1859 with election results mentioning Mr. Leith running for commissioner of highways—he lost the election).

Leith family, ca. 1880. Image courtesy of Leith family ancestors.

My curiosity then took me to the county deeds office to check just where this family lived. I knew that in 1859, this area of the county at Yuba was still called Whitewater. My first thought was that when Willie died, he was buried on their own property, which was a common practice at the time, especially since there was no established cemetery nearby. [The Yuba cemetery, across the highway from this grave, wasn’t established until 1904.]

Vincent Crawford Leith purchased 160 acres in Section 26 of what is now Acme Township. The dates on the land records were a bit confusing. The land grant was dated 15 August 1862, but on the very next page of the liber was a warranty deed where Mr. Leith sold this same property to a Mr. Price in Aug. 1859. It may be that the transaction took place much earlier, but was just not recorded until 1862.

Strangely, the spot where Willie is buried is not the property the Leiths owned. Since Willie died in the winter, a burial may have been delayed until the spring.

Now I had more questions than answers: What did they do with his body until the ground thawed? When the Leiths moved to Ohio later that year, did they have someone place the stone for them, and if so, did those people put the stone on the wrong spot? Why would Willie be buried on property they didn’t own and so near the road?

A thorough search of the 1860 Federal Census shows no sign of Mr. Leith or his family, although I suspect they moved to Allen County, Ohio after their property was sold in 1859. They may have been traveling during the census, and were not counted.

Mr. Leith volunteered and served as a musician in the 118th Ohio Infantry from September 1862, until the end of the Civil War. They spent the next 45 years in Allen County, Ohio. Basic genealogical research shows that this is indeed Willie’s family.

Willie Leith’s gravestone. Image courtesy of the author, captured in the summer of 2011.

There is a romantic feel to the legends that have evolved around this stone. The statement that it is the oldest known grave in the region may be true. It can be documented that others died in the area before this, but grave locations are either unknown, unrecorded, or were later moved.

The reason for the location of the solitary little grave remains unanswered. The truth however, is that this little boy’s family were area residents for a few years, not just passing through. The fact that the child is separated from the rest of his family, is a reality which pulls at the heartstrings of those who see the stone. The little boy’s resting place has been lovingly cared for over the years. The stone has been broken in several spots, but an anonymous person has made a gallant effort to cement the fragments together to keep it in one piece. Artificial flowers and small trinkets surround the stone, left by kind-hearted, nameless visitors.

Julie Schopieray is a local author and history buff, who enjoys debunking local historical myths.

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.

The Traverse Traction Company: Our First Bus Service

by Julie Schopieray, local historian and writer

Starting in the mid-1890s, there had been much discussion among the residents of Traverse City about the necessity for a rail line running from Traverse City out Old Mission Peninsula. It was thought that transportation for people residing, resorting and farming on the 20-mile-long peninsula would benefit from such a service. Years passed without the plan ever becoming a reality.  Farmers, residents and resorters would continue to rely on carriages, wagons and livery services offered in Traverse City. 

One last effort to raise funds for the electric railroad was attempted in 1907, but this dream (which had been debated for over a decade) eventually came to an end due to a lack of support. Early in 1905, however, entrepreneur Wm.H. Blake of Cheboygan, chose Traverse City for a new transportation enterprise that might finally resolve the Traverse City to Old Mission issue. The January 1905 edition of Automotive Industries  explained this emerging industry:

One of the greatest fields of usefulness for the commercial automobile undoubtedly will be in the interurban passenger and freight traffic between cities and villages that are not connected by steam or electric railroads. There has been for several years a constant and steadily growing demand for reliable and economical automobile stages and ‘busses for such work, and the effort to fill this want, together with the demand for gasoline delivery wagons and trucks, is just now furnishing the greatest development in the industry.

history-oldsmotorworksAuto manufacturers were looking for ways to expand their sales of these  “mechanical traction” vehicles. [Mechanical traction was a term used at the time to describe a mode of  mechanized transportation rather than that using animal power.] The Olds Motor Works company advertised a Wagonette  designed for exactly the service Mr. Blake envisioned for Traverse City. He saw it as a town that could benefit from “the establishment of the new rival of the electric cars.”   After founding a successful bus service in the downstate town of Chelsea, Blake arranged to have the manager of the commercial department of  Olds Automobile company of Detroit,  come to Traverse City and offer his opinion as to the success of the proposed Traverse City and Peninsula Traction Company.  He found it to be a sound prospect.

With the financial backing of several prominent businessmen, The Traverse Traction Company was organized in June,1905. The company was funded with thirty thousand dollars in stock and subscriptions. Officers and directors were elected with Blake as president and general manager of the company.

history-motorcarThe first vehicle arrived on May 30, coming in from Detroit on the steamer Missouri.  Over the next month, the fleet grew to eleven vehicles– three auto busses used in street car service in town, a second touring car and a twelve-passenger bus available to charter.  Two more busses were scheduled for twice daily service to Old Mission, and three heavy-duty vehicles for hauling freight. These freight wagons were equipped with twenty-four horse power engines, five-inch tires on thirty-six inch wheels and capable of running ten miles per hour. A Saginaw newspaper noted the usefulness of the freight wagons in an area famed for its orchards: “The freight cars will have a capacity of 500 fruit crates each way. As the peninsula is virtually an orchard  eighteen miles long, this will prove a great convenience to the farmers who heretofore have had to haul their produce to the docks.” 

history-fullautoadBeyond the practical value of early trucks, the novelty of the touring cars became a favorite with locals just wanting to get out and take a ride.   The Traverse City Record Eagle took note of the joys of auto touring: The Traverse Traction company…received yesterday a twenty horse power Olds touring car… and will be open to charter by private parties. The car is one of the most handsome in the city and will undoubtedly prove popular with those who like auto riding but do not own a machine… many have taken advantage of it to take the beautiful rides along the bay shore.”

On June 29, a trial run of the Old Mission routes was tested out. The vehicles were loaded up with company stockholders and prospective stockholders as well a newspaper reporter, all eager to experience the bus ride. Indeed, it may have been the first ride in a motorized vehicle for many of them. The trip out and back took an average of two hours and twenty minutes. One car had mechanical problems and had to stop for nearly an hour to make repairs, a common occurrence with early automobiles. The twelve-passenger bus went on its test run the following day, presumably without difficulty.  The trial run had not gone perfectly, but results showed promise.

One issue that came to light during the trial run was the sorry condition of roads.  At the time, rural roads were maintained by the people who used and lived on them.  Pleadingly, the Traction Company asked local farmers to try to keep the roads near their farms in good condition.  For the most part, they were willing to do their part, though some demanded proof the company was serious about providing transportation service to friends, visitors, and family. Even with their compliance, washouts were common, and sand on the road and in soft areas could make it difficult to get through.

Daily Old Mission service began on July 10.  It was scheduled twice daily with fares .75 cents one way or $1.25 round trip. This service was to provide transportation for resorters as well as Peninsula locals wanting to go into town and back. The Traverse City Record Eagle was enthusiastic about the possibilities of success for the new company, “…the facilities for rapid transit which the project provides are certainly attractive, and when the regular street schedule is perfected the service will prove of great convenience and benefit. To the peninsula people the line will be of especial value, both as to convenience of passengers and to quick handling of fruits…in addition to the proposed street and freight service the arrangement is for charter parties to the various resorts is admirable and will be favored during the summer season.”

The Traction Company employed twelve drivers, two wipers, a stenographer, and a chief engineer, who maintained the vehicles. A facility to house and maintain the cars and busses was established in the Boughey building on the corner of State and Cass streets. Large double doors and an approach from the street were added in order to accommodate the busses into the building.  The facility not only serviced the busses, but also operated as a general auto repair shop.

Prominent citizens of Elk Rapids also showed an interest in the bus service and talked with company officials to see if Elk Rapids could be added as a stop on the route.  Everyone could see the advantages of road travel over the horse-and-buggy or even the infrequent trains.

The busses were used for just about any need one would have to get from one place to another: taking people from train depots to resorts on the Peninsula; conveying them to dances, the circus, or other entertainments; or providing a means for chartered group outings.  One car took two doctors from Elk Rapids to deliver a man to the Asylum. Even locals who had cottages at one of the East Bay resorts used the bus service regularly.  It was not only cheaper than keeping a horse, but more convenient.

Only one accident was reported during the summer of 1905. While on its East Bay route, one of the busses hit a tree.  The Record Eagle reported that its top caught some low hanging branches which drove the car into the tree. The top was wrecked, one front wheel sprung and the lights damaged, but no one was hurt. 

The service was successful throughout the summer months, but as tourist season came to a close, the need for the busses dwindled.  Sadly, on September 23, 1905, this posting appeared in the Record-Eagle: “…owing to the decreased traffic, the Traverse Traction company will cease operating their busses tomorrow for the season. It is stated that the busses will be shipped soon to some southern city for the winter.”  The September issue of The Motor Way reported that the company was pleased with the patronage received and the service will probably be repeated next summer.”  Mr. Blake told a Record-Eagle reporter that he liked Traverse City and had considered making it his home. However, the service must not have been profitable enough for the investors, as Mr. Blake stayed in Cheboygan and there is no evidence of the company still existing the following year.   

Bus service in town was not dead, however. In October 1908, Morgan’s livery added an auto bus and a touring car to their fleet, providing service to Edgewood and East Bay resorts in the summer months and were available for hire as well. It took some time for riders to convert from horse-drawn transportation to automobiles. During the years the two modes overlapped, the noisy machines spooked horses, causing runaways and novice drivers sometimes didn’t realize the speed of their machines, resulting in accidents. 

As years passed, the novelty of the “horseless carriage” wore off as automobiles became affordable for just about everyone.  As better roads made travel more predictable and less hazardous, autos forever changed how people traveled. Some tourists began bringing their own machines in on the ships they arrived on, or else braved the uncertain condition of roads and drove themselves up from major centers of population like Chicago or Grand Rapids. Locals too, eventually set aside the old ways and purchased vehicles. Over time, the demand for passenger ship and rail service diminished, finally disappearing altogether–thereby bringing to a close the era of big resorts and summer-long vacation stays in Northern Michigan.

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.