Sunday, July 28, 2013

Seney's Boot Hill Cemetery

     When I drive through Michigan towns, I don't just check out tourist attractions, I like to look for the remnants of how people lived in the past. This often leads to old cemeteries. A favorite is in the Keweenaw Peninsula copper mining county where I found a row of tombstones marking the graves of boys about ten years old. The date of death was the same on each grave, leading me to believe they died in a mid-19th century mine accident. In Seney in the central Upper Peninsula, I drove just south of the town of about 300 and found the old Boot Hill cemetery, with mostly unmarked graves. I suspect most were lumber jacks who died in accidents, but you never know in Seney, which around the turn of the 20th century was a booming lumber town of about 3,000. There were many saloons, and fights. Some could have been victims of the violence. A visitor can tell where the graves are because most have sunken in. Some have crosses on them, others not. I try to work such sites into my guide book because it tells readers about a real place.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Confessions of a Michigan wine illiterate

     Wine tours have become a big thing in Michigan, with folks going from winery to winery in northwestern Michigan and else where, sampling the  products of the vintners, and I joined in on a day this summer, hoping nobody would discover my wine ignorance. For years, I've tried to join fellow baby boomers in their appreciation for wine, but when it came to describing a wine, I was usually at a loss for words. Observing that it was white or red was too painfully obvious. 
     For this I blamed my up bringing. I was a child of the 1950s and in our house Mogen David concord grape wine was the only one to be found, pretty thick stuff for a teenager, so my drinking career started with beer, as it well should have. Then came a fateful wine night when the Detroit Tigers won the World Series in 1968. The entire city of Detroit was having a party, and if you were driving, people would stop you and hand you a beer. 
     Needless to say, I was celebrating too. But like most naive 20 year olds, I had no idea where to go to make merry, so I headed downtown Detroit with friends. The Detroit riots had happened the previous summer, and some  were dubious about heading downtown. I wasn't. I'd spent much of that summer digging ditches in the inner city, and wasn't afraid. 
     The problem was,  pretty much all the alcohol on store shelves was gone, and we finally ended up at a party store on East Jefferson, where the only stuff remaining were bottles of Wild Irish Rose wine, a staple of Skid Row winos that was usually consumed from the bottle, while it was still in the bag. 
     We bought what we could, and drank it. It was thick and sweet, as I remember, and the next morning I awoke with a hangover, and blamed it on the Wild Irish Rose, as thought it was the only culprit. It's legacy was to put me off wine for a long time. Then came the hippies with their Boone's Farm apple wine, which induced more hangovers. After that period of my life, I swore off wine for many years, although I did have a brief try at Mad Dog 20/20 in my 30s, another street wine. 
     Jack Daniels with a beer chaser became my wine for many years, until I took up wine again, seeing it as less harsh than bourbon. My clumsy wine attempts usually found me making a purchase decision based on the looks of the label. I knew that wasn't right, but I was adrift. I read a few books on wine and tried to read some magazine articles, all of which came off as pretentious. We've all read that stuff -- "tastes like a sun kissed apricot on a July day," as though anyone can particularly tell what an apricot tastes like in July versus August. 
     But as I stumbled through the process of leaning, I progressed past the stage where wines were either white or red, or in boxes versus bottles. I still sucker for labels. One is Big Paw red which has an illustration of an English setter dressed as an upland bird hunter. The dog looks like my son's setter, so I've taken to calling the wine Molly red, the name of my son's dog. 
     Maybe someday I can master French pronounciation and that will lead to a better educated wine palate, but I doubt it, maybe it was that Wild Irish Rose or the Jack Daniels that forever numbed my tastes. 
#Michigan wine

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Beaches of Frankfort

There's nothing more inviting that a boardwalk leading to a Lake Michigan beach. It tells you to leave your cell phone or device in the vehicle and saunter on it until you get to the water. This beach is a bit hard to find. It's on the south side of the Betsie River in Elberta just off M 22. The search is worth the effort, as there are few people on the beach. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The copper strike of 1913

A hundred years ago this week copper miners in the Keweenaw Peninsula went on strike, seeking more money, an eight hour day and the end of the one man drill, which they considered dangerous. 
The state eventually ordered the National Guard in to keep peace, as 15,000 workers went on strike. The mine owners hired a detective agency to provide private security. But trouble came anyway.
Calumet was at the center of the troubles, and it looks like its been sealed in time capsule since 1913, with many fine 19th century buildings lining the downtown. 
My favorite stop to pay tribute to the miners is Shute's Bar, photo at left, which dates to 1890. It has recently been cleaned and re-opened after a several year hiatus.
When I go inside, I can imagine tough miners, many of whom didn't speak much English, standing at the bar, nursing a beer, if they could afford it, and talking about the strike. 
Old pictures of the miners show them wearing suits and carrying picket signs. The world was much more formal then. There were also some miners who were opposed to the strike backed by the Western Federation of Miners. The union brought in Mother Jones, a radical labor activist of the time. 
The first  violence came on Aug. 14, 1913 when two strikers trespassed on mine company property. Local deputies and men from the Waddell-Mahon Detective Agency were dispatched to fetch the miners, but when confronted in a boarding house, one refused to go, and the security officers started shooting. Two men with no connection to the strikers were killed.
The violence continued, but the most tragic event was to come. On Christmas Eve hundreds of miners and their wives and children were gathered at the Calumet Italian Hall for a party. Some one in the crowded yelled "fire" and the crowd ran for the door. In the chaos, 73 people were trampled, most found dead near the door. 
As with most labor disputes, the mining companies blamed the union and the union blamed the companies. But the truth was that nobody seemed to know who yelled "fire", and it has become an enduring mystery in the Keweenaw. 
The strike eventually ended in April 1914, with the miners winning shorter work days and pay hikes, but no reprieves from the one-man drill. The union wasn't recognized by the company.
After the strike, many of the miners lost their taste for working under ground, and followed the lure of auto jobs in Detroit where Henry Ford was paying $5 a day. 
Although the Italian Hall has been demolished, there are still plenty of historic buildings and sites in the copper country, many of which are in the Keweenaw National Historic Park run by the National Park Service. For more information, go to
For further reading, pick up a copy of Michigan author Joe Heywood's "Red Jacket" which uses the strike as a back ground for one of his woods cop mysteries. I won't spoil the ending, but he has a different take on who yelled "fire."
For many years there was a controversy over whether the doors of the Italian Hall opened outward or inward, and there was a theory that the door was jammed shut by men from the detective agency. 
This is explored in a non-fiction book, "Death's Door: The Truth Behind Michigan's Largest Mass Murder," by Steve Lehto, an attorney. 

                                                            Photo of the mine headquarters in Calumet. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Beginning of the Road

We all travel roads, but rarely do we get a chance to see where they start or end. This sign in Copper Harbor marks the beginning of US 41, which runs from the Upper Peninsula to southern Florida. Little did the original Native Americans who blazed the trail know they were pioneering the road that generations of Americans used to escape the snow and ice and head to Miami in the winter.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Unconnected at Hog Island

   If you've ever driven along U.S. 2 in the Upper Peninsula, you've probably seen this place located near Nubinway, on Lake Michigan. It's worth a stop. There's food, coffee, fudge and other items, but it's the history that's the draw. The building was once in the nearby backwoods town of Rexton, but was moved to its present location some time in the 1940s as tourism developed along U.S. 2. Once a house, its has been a store for many years. There are also about six rustic cabins with beach access. There's no Internet connection or fancy electronics in the cabins, and it would be a great place to take kids who have become way too dependent  on cell phones and other devices for entertainment. There's just the beach nearby.

Friday, July 19, 2013

It's research at the Mitten Bar

     Some times when you're doing research on travel destinations in Michigan you have to sacrifice, like I did at the Mitten Bar in Ludington where they only serve Michigan beers and hard liquor. I tried both. The Traverse City whiskey, which I've been hearing about, was fine, something like a Canadian, but a bit spicy and it had a bourbon feel to it. The Mitten has become a destination for beer lovers in Michigan, and doesn't cater to the average beer drinker. My wife, who took a picture of me at the bar, tried to order a Bud Light. There was none, so she just took photos. If my hand looks a bit fuzzy in the photo, it's not her fault. My elbow was pretty much in constant motion when I was in the place. There's also an adjoining whiskey bar, but I never made it in there.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Frankfort Gateway

Back in the 1950s when I was a kid, you'd see a lot of  these types of welcome signs over roads leading into a town. But over the years they've lost favor with the local town fathers. I like them, they give you the feel of entering enterting a place with defined boundries. On my travels through Michigan I can't remember seeing another of this type. There is something like it in downtown Houghton in the U.P., but you're already in town when you see it. Anybody know of any others like this one in Frankfort on Lake Michigan.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Saturdays at the Eastern Market

     For some reasons, produce tastes better when its sitting out in an open air stand and the signs over it with the prices are written in hand. That's part of the allure of Detroit's Eastern Market where on most Saturdays about 40,000 people show up to mull over produce and other farm products. It makes us feel better to hand our money over to the person that grew the stuff. Why is it called the Eastern Market? Because in the 19th century in Detroit there were also a Central Market and a Western Market, which was located at Michigan and Trumbull. It obviously gave way to a baseball park, old Tiger Stadium. The Central Market was in the downtown business district.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Ironwood Train Depot

When I drive into a town doing research on my travel guides, one of my first stops is the old train depot. I've got this crack pot theory that the spirit of a town is reflected in how it treats its old depot. When train travel was the norm decades ago, the station was the first building most travelers saw, and that their reaction to it determined how they viewed the community. Some stations are elaborate brick or stone structures, while others were of wood. The old Ironwood station, left, is now used by the chamber of commerce and there's a small museum. Although I don't remember it much, I must have been here in the early 1950s when I visited relatives in Ironwood. My mother and I took the train from Detroit, which passed through Chicago first. My childhood memories are hazy, but I remember seeing many box cars filled with iron ore from the nearby mines. I hope Ironwood takes care of the old station, as I'm sure others have memories of it when it was thriving.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Old School Bar Town

On a recent tour of the Upper Peninsula I stopped in downtown Ishpeming, an old iron mining town just west of Marquette and was pleasantly surprised to see a large number of old fashioned taverns. Not trendy brewpubs, old school places where guys drink beer out of a can. A favorite is the Rainbow Bar, which was a hang out of my favorite U.P. writer, John Voelker, a judge, novelist, and above all a fly fishermen. Reading his fishing essays, you'll regularly find names of taverns mentioned, and the Rainbow is noted. I was a bit surprised to see it still in operation, along with five others within walking distance. I'm going to have to return to make a pub crawl some night. All look interesting and include Jack's Tee Pee Bar, which is next to an old favorite, The Congress, which also serves great pizza. The others have kept their old style names, the Wonder Bar, Paradise Bar and Hickeys Bar. For those looking for a micro brewery, try the Jasper Ridge Brewery & Restaurant which is located outside of downtown of M-28. As for me, I'll stick to beer out of the bottle at the Rainbow. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Pine Stump Junction

Years ago while looking at a Michigan map, I found a place name, Pine Stump Junction in the Upper Peninsula's Luce County on County Road H 37. I wondered what was there, and I finally made it to the place during the 1970s while on a fly-fishing trip. The old northwoods tavern was the only building in the place, and inside it was basically a beer bar with pickled eggs and ham hocks sitting in jars behind the bar. Every few years I'd stop by to see if it was still there, and did so this summer. Looks like times haven't been kind to the Pine Stuff. It was Sunday morning, so I couldn't tell if it was open, but it looks like there's a bit of construction going on. In my travels through the U.P., it seems like other backwoods taverns are suffering the same fate, victims to the brewpub craze. I'm sorry to see them go, nothing went better with a pickled egg than canned beer. The place is at least still on the map.