Mikel B. Classen

Winner of the Historical Society of Michigan, 2020 George Follo Award for Upper Peninsula of Michigan history.

Mikel B. Classen has been writing and photographing northern Michigan in newspapers and magazines for over thirty-five years, creating feature articles about the life and culture of Michigan’s north country. A journalist, historian, photographer and author with a fascination of the world around him, he enjoys researching and writing about lost stories from the past. Currently he is managing editor of the U.P. Reader and is a member of the Board of Directors for the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. In 2020, Mikel won the Historical Society of Michigan’s, George Follo Award for Upper Peninsula History.

   Classen makes his home in the oldest city in Michigan, historic Sault Ste. Marie. He is also a collector of out-of-print history books, and historical photographs and prints of Upper Michigan. At Northern Michigan University, he studied English, history, journalism and photography.

His book, Au Sable Point Lighthouse, Beacon on Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast; was published in 2014 and his book, Teddy Roosevelt and the Marquette Libel Trial; was published in 2015. Both by the History Press. He has a book of fiction called Lake Superior Tales published by Modern History Press, which won the 2020 U.P. Notable Book Award. His newest release is Points North a non- fiction travel book published in 2019 by Modern History Press. Points North has received the Historical Society of Michigan’s, “Outstanding Michigan History Publication,” along with the 2021 U.P. Notable Book Award.

About this website:

I made this website as a means to share the work I’ve done over the years with my writing and photography which has tried to reflect the beauty and uniqueness that is northern Michigan. I’ve tried to instill that into this website.

Like northern Michigan, I wanted this website to be a haven from the chaos of the rest of the world. That means the cyber world as well. It’s one of the reasons visitors aren’t deluged with pop-up ads as they come into our pages. There is no advertising on this site. (I do acknowledge that I promote my own work on here, but that is all you’ll find. I have to keep the site running somehow.)

The idea is to come in and enjoy the pictures, the articles, maybe stir up some good memories of Michigan and relax. If I mention a business in my articles or commentary it was because I liked them, not because they paid to be there!

So look at this website as your personal oasis of calm, a cyber vacation up north with some history and some great views. Or even a guidebook to your own adventures in northern Michigan. How ever you view it, I’ll try to keep the chaos to a minimum.

Standing Atop the Wreck of the Mary Jarecki at Au Sable Point

“Why I Write”

Because I have to. For me, it’s like breathing. As long as I can remember I’ve written. I used to make a little neighborhood newspaper and sell it for a nickel. Mom and Dad had bought me a hand stamp print set. I guess I was a pioneer, self-publishing at the age of six. When I was in sixth grade, I wrote some cheap Hardy Boys rip off stories and sold them to my fellow classmates for 15 cents. (Did you know there aren’t cent symbols on the keyboard anymore?) The secretary in the school office would let run off copies on the mimeograph machine. Yes, I’m that old.
When I was in Jr High, I applied to the Famous Writer’s School. It was on the back of a matchbook, but they said Rod Serling had something to do with it, So, I applied. A salesman showed up at the house. Here he is telling my bewildered parents that their son wants to go to Writer’s School and of course Mom and Dad don’t have a clue. Anyway they sat and listened politely and then firmly told him and me “NO!”
I was 28 and on my second marriage when I entered college. The economy had hit the crapper and I was one of the casualties. I’d worked in a factory and it crashed and burned, bankrupt. I lost everything to the point where I was homeless. The only thing I kept with me was a refillable notebook and copies of my stories I’d written over the years. They were all tucked in my pack. I hitch-hiked from lower Michigan to the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula. I could live off berries and fish better than I could the trash cans of Lansing. I ended up living In Marquette, Michigan on the shore of Lake Superior. Northern Michigan University was there. At the time there was a federal program that would pay me minimum wage to go to school.  It got me out of the abandoned shack I was living in at the railroad yard. I met a guy in a park. He was walking around with a six-pack through his belt and offered me a beer. He told me about the program and told me I could crash in his closet until I could get a place of my own.
I enrolled in college and of course I had to take an English course, even though I was majoring in electronics and computer science. I hated my majors. But my English teacher, John Watanen was a different kind of character. First day of class he’s writing quotes from John D MacDonald and Frank Zappa on the blackboard. Together, on the same part of the blackboard. I’m thinking, “well that’s different.” He assigned us our typical essay assignments for a 100 level composition course. He assigned us to write about something that was traumatic. What I wrote was probably not what he expected. I had been out in the woods and for the first time I saw clear cutting a forest. Machines cutting everything and leaving nothing but upturned stumps in its wake. The Feller Brusher machine just clipped the trees off like they were nothing. I was horrified. I felt I could hear their screams. The wheels ran over the saplings and killed all of the children. I wrote a piece called “Genocide.” When I handed it in I kind of cringed. When he called me into his office I knew I was in trouble. I still remember his words. Why are you majoring in electronics. Switch to English you need to be a writer, you are a writer.” That was all I had been waiting to hear my entire life. Writer? Yep! That’s what I am.

Old Victoria Overlook