Tag Archives: poetry

“Lament of an Obese Bachelor,” Humorous Poetry from 1916

A treasure trove of humorous poetry written by students at Sault Ste. Marie High School for the Su Hi student newspaper was discovered in the Local History Collection of Traverse Area District Library by intrepid volunteer Marlas Hanson. Hanson has been working with the papers of the Johnson Family, who were lumbermen of Traverse City. Besides documenting the family business, consisting of securing lumber for the Michigan Paper Company, a paper mill in Muskegon, the collection also documents the courtship and marriage of W.B. Johnson and Earnestine Gunn. We believe Earnestine may have worked at Su Hi with the student newspaper, and that is why the Johnson family had these gems in their collection.

Unknown friend of Hanley Wilhelm. Image from a photograph album containing pictures of the area taken on touring trips Hanley Wilhelm and friends made before WWI (1913-1915). Hanley died of the flu during the war. Image from the Local History Collection, Traverse Area District Library.

When we look at black and white photographs of bygone eras, we have a tendency to think the people must have been as stiff and stodgy as they seem to be on film. Surviving documents, like this poem, prove otherwise. We wish we could give credit where credit is due, but alas, the poem is unsigned.

Lament of an Obese Bachelor

I’ve made ardent love
To a good many girls in my time
But somehow
I never seemed to make much of a hit
With them
They always said I was too fat
And made fun of my clumsiness
Little realizing
How sensitive I was about it
And how much their light-hearted comments
Hurt me.

I remember well the time I essayed
To carry Mary Hilliston across
The stepping stones in Grimes’ Creek,
She the while admiring my great strength,
When all of a sudden
In midstream
I slipped and fell dropping her
Into two feet
Of muddy water;
And how mad she was about it!
And the cutting things she said!
I’ve never really gotten over it.

I’m not so very old
Even now, only thirty-four
But I’ve lived so long here
In this same town
That they’ve come to regard me
As a permanent

They’re always asking me
About it
And asking me why I don’t
Marry Mary Hillston now
Since her first husband’s died
And left her well-fixed.

But I
Never will forget the things she said
About me that day,
I never did care
For widows.

O.W. Johnson’s Humorous Poetry, 1916

O.W. Johnson, the author of the following poem, was one of the Johnson Boys, sons of Johnson, all of whom were lumbermen. They may have all spent time in the woods, as O.W. mentions here, but the family made their money speculating and trading lumber, as opposed to cutting it themselves.

O.W.’s untitled poem is a humorous little ditty, written by an amateur poet  (at least, we did not find anywhere that he had been published.) It was recently rediscovered among the working papers of the Johnson family in the Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection by our good volunteer, Marlas Hanson, and we simply found it too fun not to publish!

Untitled Poem by O.W. Johnson

There was a well known lumberman who bought a Willys Knight
He thought his car was just about the only thing in sight.
And after work was finished and the stars were shining bright
He’d steal away from Sam’s Cafe into the Silent Night.

Now as I said before this man was just a lumberjack
And had a little office up along the railway track.
But now he was a city man, a guy who had the goods
Said he “With this new Willys Knight I’ll steer clear of the woods.”

Advertisement for 1960s Willys-Knight Model 84 Limousine. Image courtesy of Alden Jewell, made available through license CC BY 2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/autohistorian/31890309712.

He stood before the shining car and thought she was a dandy
Electric lights and left hand drive would make it pretty handy;
So on one fine October day he thought he would decide
To take a Traverse City friend out for a little ride.

The question was where would they go — Old Mission would be nice
Said W.E. “I think that we have both been out there twice,”
She turned and looked into his eyes and said, “I guess you’re right,
We did go to Old Mission, but it wasn’t in the Knight.”

“It’s erysipelas to me just where we drive,” said he
“There’s gasoline and oil enough to run to Tennessee,”
“It that’s the case” said she “I think we could run out to Empire,
I have the latest style in hats and wish to find a buyer.”

They dined and had a pleasant time, to leave it seemed a pity
But soon were on the winding road that leads to Traverse City,
The stars came twinkling out above, the occupants were merry
The purring of the engine showed the load it had to carry.

Upon a hill ahead of them two glaring head-lights shown
The steering-gear was turned at once into a safety zone,
The other car came coasting down and after it had passed
The Lumberjack exclaimed “Good-night, I think we must be fast.”

He pushed the throttle higher and the tires spun round and round
‘Twas 15 miles to Empire and 10 to Traverse town,
He heard a crushing, grinding sound that made him have his fears
But then he never dreamed that he had ripped and stripped the gears

Frank Haden & sister Miriam, with Frank attempting to repair their auto. From the Hanley Wilhelm Photograph Album of pictures taken by Wilhelm and his friends in the early to mid 1910s.

He sat there thinking what to do and then began to scold
The lady said “I’ll stand it if I do not get too cold,”
The hint was plain enough alright, but Johnson was too sore
Said he “These damn Knight cars are punk I’ll not buy any more.”

The time was flying fast, and the moon was getting higher
The hero thought he’d warm her up by building her a fire
“Perhaps you wouldn’t be so cold if you’d sit on the hood,
Don’t be afraid I’m only going off to carry wood.

But wood was scarce expect a little just around the car
And Mr. Johnson didn’t like to carry things too far,
He hurried to a farm house and called up Mr. Dutt,
A Traverse City auto man, quite small around the gut.

And soon this brave mechanic was flying to the scene
He glided up to Johnson just like a submarine,
“What in Hell’s the matter?” Dutt yelled out as he stopped,
But Johnson was dumfounded and very nearly dropped.

“Holy Moses Johnson, I thought you were alone.”
“Never mind that Dutt, I want to get back home.”
“Have I hurt the car” said Mr. J. His eyes were full of tears.
“Oh no” smiled Dutt “not at all, you only stripped the gears.”


O.W. Johnson

Midge Swarms

We have all seen them, but we haven’t given them names: a swarm of tiny insects flying in a crowded formation often looking like a column.  Certainly, it is much taller than wide, its width usually not more than a foot or two at most, its height often taller than we are.  Our fear is that the insects will bite us, or, at the very least, we might inhale them.  Unlike birds and bats, we do not relish them either for flavor or for nourishment.  We steer clear of them and go about our business.

Magnified photograph of midge emerging from chrysalis. Image courtesy of http://www.abundantnature.com/

Midge swarms form in summer and early fall.  The insects comprising them do not bite, though that passivity is often not enough to keep humans from spraying poisons on them.  They transform from aquatic larvae, tiny forms resembling segmented worms, ready to mate upon emerging from their pupal cases, but not ready to eat since they do not possess the required mouthparts.  So it is they do not harm us.

Most members of the swarm are male: they seek to mate with females that pass through the mass of flying insects.  Upon being fertilized, the female will set about to lay eggs in the waters of ponds and ditches.  Several broods are produced during the year with the last overwintering in mud underneath the ice.

“Midge Swarm near Cass Street Bridge,” Richard Fidler, pen and ink drawing.

According to Donald W. Stokes, author of A Guide to Observing Insect Lives, midge swarms are often found close to water, often above prominent features called “swarm markers.”  These can be patches of light or dark on the ground, or high points such as the upthrust branches of a shrub or tree—or even the top of your own head!  A shiny black piece of plastic will attract a certain species, if one wishes to try an experiment.

Swarms may form in the morning, evening, or even mid-day, depending on the species.  Considering that the insects do not live for more than a couple of days, the observer cannot count on a week of entertainment.  New broods, though, will prolong the joy of avid midge watchers.

Stokes notes that, in a wind, the midges face in one direction and move forward to the limit of the swarm marker and back, the effect making it look like the entire swarm is dancing.  The resulting shimmy captures the interest of naturalists everywhere.  Unsurprisingly—given their awareness of nature, the Japanese haiku poets have written about the swarms (which they call “mosquito (or midge)) columns:

Across the mosquito columns
Hangs the floating bridge
Of my dreams.

The mosquito columns,
Big and thick
As of a palace

The Capitol
Is visible through a hole
In the pillar of mosquitoes

(translations courtesy of R. H. Blythe)

The poets often portray the fleeting lives of mosquitoes (midges) as emblematic of the fleeting existence of things we imagine to be great and eternal, things like palaces and the Capitol (Kyoto).  That is what we should take away from our experiences with midge swarms: the beauty and wonder of ephemeral things that live out lives unnoticed by us all.

“The Ideal Woman,” by Mary K. Buck, 1849-1901

by Mary K. Buck (1849-1901), poet of renown from Traverse City

Mary K. Buck, whose poetry we’ve featured before,  comes again to grace our pages with her thoughtful pen. Buck was a strong advocate for women and letters, and we think she would be pleased to be remembered in conjunction with Women’s Equality Day. A day often forgotten in women’s history, Women’s Equality Day is celebrated on August 26th, when we remember the passing of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote.

Ladies’ Library Association, pre-1892. Mary K. Buck is on the far left, back row.

Buck did not live to see the Woman’s Suffrage movement achieve its penultimate goal, but in her lifetime, she touched the lives of many Traverse City women looking to learn and achieve. She was one of the founders of the Ladies’ Library Association, she supported the authorship of many of her friends by editing their works, and she co-authored two books in her lifetime with journalist M.E.C. Bates.

This poem, The Ideal Woman, comes from her book, Songs of the Northland, published posthumously by her husband in 1902. What does this poem say about how women viewed each other at the turn of the last century? Clearly, the Suffragette and socialist cry of “sisterhood” extended even to remote Traverse City. It makes one wonder: What did those ladies talk about at the Ladies’ Library Association meetings?

The Ideal Woman

Who shall describe her, since each mind doth hold
Its own conception of that fair ideal
To which our longing tend? Or who shall say
Which type were best of those we most admire?
Each one, perhaps, shrines in her inmost heart
The image of some loved one who to her
Holds highest place on earth, yet it may be
To eyes more critical devoid of grace.
(It needs a loving knowledge to discern
The inner beauty ‘neath a surface plain.)

Yet though your thought and mine may differ wide,
Some points there are on which we shall agree-
Some attributes all true hearts must admire;
Then bear with me while I shall seek to show
The vision sweet that stands as my ideal:
A woman strong in body, fair of form,
And radiant with the vigor health bestows;
Her face is beautiful with that rare charm-
The loveliness that shines from starry souls;
A mind of broad and varied culture, keen
Of intellect and quick of sympathy;
But best of all a heart o’erfilled with love,
And charity embracing God’s wide world.
Slow in her censure, ready with her praise.
Seeing the good, yet steadfast ‘gainst all wrong.
Demanding justice for another’s rights,
But modest in her claims for self alone.
Her dress? That which doth best become her and
Her circumstances; so, seeing her, we say,
“How well she looks,” and not “How fine her dress.”
Sweet piety is hers and doth pervade
Unconsciously each act. A trust in God
And faith in holy things befit her well.
For as a lovely flower without perfume
May please the eye but disappoints the heart,
So woman without piety must lack
The crowning grace.

“Old-fashioned,” do you say?
Ah, it may be, for women there have been
In every age so gracious, pure and good
That loyal hearts do homage to them still;
And on Time’s roll of honor they shall stand
For ages yet to come. “Old-Fashioned” these!

Though high or lowly be her lot, she rules,
A queen in her own realm, or court, or cot.
When public duties call she shuns them not,
But best fulfills her mission in her home-
A wise and tender mother, loving wife-
“Her husband’s heart doth safely trust in her,”
So Solomon described her, long ago.
A faithful friend who will no trust betray-
Her friendship is a boon one well may crave.
Not perfect quite- some sweet faults still remain
To link her with our common human needs,-
But gentle, gracious, lovable and true.
O, brave “New Woman,” standing calm, serene,
To watch the dawn of the new century,
Wilt thou fulfill for us the grand Ideal?
The power is in they hands to choose and mold
They destiny at will. What shall it be?
The heritage of countless years is thine-
The toil and travail of thy sisterhood.
That which they sought with tears, almost with blood,
Is freely thine if thou wilt take and use-
The open door to Learning, Science, Art;
The right to think, to labor, to achieve!
Use then thy power with humble, rev’rent heart,
And give the world its noblest womanhood.

Mary K. Buck, portrait, undated.

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 on a volume of northern Michigan stories, Along Traverse Shores.

“The Bar-B-Que” in Mayfield, 1934

This fun poem comes to us courtesy of the Kingsley Branch Library, where it resides in their local history and genealogy collection. We hope it gets you in the mood for May, also known as National Barbecue Month.

Rowell J. Blackhurst married into the famed Halladay family of Mayfield (yes, those Halladays), and remained a prominent fixture in the community, both in his professional career and philanthropic activities. He was also, clearly, a man of verse and a keen observer on human nature.

These guys are ready to party, beer and barbecue-style. Gentlemen sitting outside the Gibbs and Knight Mill office at Mayfield, 1906. Image courtesy of the Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection, Kingsley Branch Library.
These guys are ready to party, beer and barbecue-style. Gentlemen sitting outside the Gibbs and Knight Mill office at Mayfield, 1906. Image courtesy of the Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection, Kingsley Branch Library.

His poem is littered with clues that tell us about himself and the era he lived in. Let’s look at one in particular: Why would people in “the autumn of thirty four…thank God that they hadn’t starved to death?” No great famine befell our region during that time. My guess is that Blackhurst felt the nation’s suffering was waning after the stock market crash of 1929 and the Depression, even in rural Mayfield.  Or did the line refer to the end of Prohibition (which took effect in 1934), that unhappy time nudging some to near “starvation”? That might better explain the later references to the volume of alcohol consumed at the picnic.

With those national events framing the celebration the poet goes on to describe, one wonders at the seemingly thanklessness of some of the attendees. But, let’s be real. People have always had opinions, and that will continue, in good weather and bad.

Without further ado, our poet invites us to Mayfield for a good ol’ fashioned Bar-B-Que, with all of his neighbors:

“The Bar-B-Que

In the good old days of the pioneer,
Lots of whiskey and little beer:

Mayfield in 1901, when "Pine was King." Image courtesy of the Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection, Kingsley Branch Library.
Mayfield in 1901, when “Pine was King.” Image courtesy of the Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection, Kingsley Branch Library.

Up in the northland — Pine was King —
But the head saws’ whine and the axes’ ring
Vanished the ruler, made him feel
The crushing pressure of steam and steel.
But Tide nor Time for none may wait,
And thirty two years roll by my gate.
From Past to Present — a step, no more —
Then came the autumn of thirty four;
Heard the Public with bated breath
Thank God that they hadn’t starved to death.
Now a Bar-B-Que was the general choice
Of a manner whereby they might rejoice.
So they bought a bull from a farmer lad,
And they dressed it out and brought it down
To the Public Grove in the old home town.
Then they hired a guy who was heard to boast
A thorough knowledge of how to roast
A bull, in a manner quite alright
To tempt a pernickety appetite.
The village portals swung open wide
To welcome the entire countryside;
With races and games and a dance and a show —
And a stand where the thirsty could quickly go
In order to aid the spirit of cheer
With an ice-cold bottle of Hi-powered beer.
And all forenoon on the autumn day
The local butcher slashed away;
Pileing [sic] up beef in a puddle of blood
To be washed down with coffee the color of mud.
But alas, and alack, it is sure hard to please
Such a throng as milled restlessly under the trees.
Some stood ’round and argued the critter was raw
While others were busily stuffing their craw;
Some stoutly maintained that the thing needed salt
But nobody noticed a shortage of malt.
Some said that to eat it they’d never be able,
That it would have been warmer left tied in the stable.
Politicians were clamoring loudly for votes
And the beer drinking public was feeling its oats.
The races, the ballgame, and even the show,
went off just as they were intended to go;
But the dance in the evening turned into a race
‘Twixt the hall in the woods and Baldy’s beer place.
But finally it ended as everything must.
Whether it be a success or a ‘bust’;
And though some maintained ’twas a howling success
Others decried it a miserable mess.
Some like it, some didn’t , it’s hard to say who —
For a great deal depends on — The Old Point of View.

-RJ Blackhurst, ’35”