Wreck of the Steamship Oregon in Lake Superior – Marquette, Michigan

The shipwreck of the steamship Oregon washed ashore near Middle Island Point north of Marquette, Michigan. (Courtesy of Mikel B Classen Historical Pictures Collection)

Shipwrecks are always a fascinating subject but not all of them end up in terrible tragedy. Such is the case of the wreck of the Oregon which took place north of Marquette in Lake Superior.

The Oregon was a steamer freighter, one of the earlier incarnations of the freighters we see today. On October 15, 1905, it wasn’t ore she was carrying, but lumber. The Oregon was steaming west across Lake Superior when the wind began to pick up. The Lake Superior surf rose and the ship began a rough ride. Behind her was another ship that was being towed, an old schooner named S.H. Foster being used as a barge. They were on their way to Pequaming in the Keweenaw Bay.

Near Stannard Rock, almost the precise middle of Lake Superior, things were getting ugly. The schooner barge was pulling hard and the strain on the engines were getting intense. Captain Elliot, the skipper of the Oregon was a well seasoned sailor and was pushing his ship as quickly as he could. He knew the brewing storm would be one the Oregon might not survive if she were caught in the middle of Lake Superior.

The wind roared, the waves rose, and a steam pipe burst. It was the main steam pipe and it split open for two/thirds of its length. The Chief Engineer, Wellman, wrestled loose a length of chain and wrapped it as tight as he could. The repair was fragile and inadequate for the job ahead. The Engineer told the Captain exactly that the repair wouldn’t last and they needed to find shelter for the the ship as soon as possible.

Consulting his charts the Captain decided to head for Partridge Island north of Marquette. He was sure they could ride the storm out in what was then called Wahoo Bay, the inlet between Partridge Island and Middle Island Point.  He reduced speed hoping that lessening the strain would make the repair hold until shelter. The schooner still trailed behind. Its skeleton crew of five men were  keeping the ship on an even keel but that was becoming harder as the wind kept building with gusts hitting 48 miles per hour.

At 2 am Partridge Island loomed out of the blackness. Great granite boulders lined the passage into the island’s lee side. A danger frought passage in the daylight, it was a miracle of steerage that got them beyond the deadly rocks and reefs. Suddenly the ship lost power and a new problem arose. The ships propeller had tangled in a fish net. because of the blown steam pipe the ship didn’t have the power to tear free. The Oregon was at the mercy of the storm.

With no control the crew of the Oregon cut the S. H. Foster loose to fend for itself. The wind caught the Oregon broadside and washed it ashore. The schooner’s luck held when its anchor caught on a rock crevasse and held. She was in the lee of Gull Rock.

The Marquette Life Saving Station was notified and they loaded their equipment and surfboat onto a wagon and headed north. It was over seven miles to the wreck site and took them nearly two hours to get there.

When they got there they decided to wait and see what happened. Both ships seemed stable where they were, so they waited and watched ready to spring into action should events call for it. But both ships rode the storm out where they were. As the gale died, the lifesavers left.

The schooner was able to sail into Marquette while the owners of the Oregon, a Chicago company, hired the Great Lakes Towing Company to get the ship offshore and back into the water. The tug Wisconsin did the work and after 24 hours of pulling and jerking the tug got the Oregon free.

After an initial inspection, the Oregon was towed to Detroit and there she was dry docked. Her fate would be eventually decided as scrap metal. By some miracle, No one was hurt or lost on either ship during the entire incident. Captain Elliot would later claim it was the worst storm he’d ever been in during his years sailing the Great Lakes.

 

Grand Sable Falls and Dunes – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Grand Marais, MI

Grand Sable Falls in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Grand Marais. Photograph by Mikel B. Classen

Grand Sable Falls is located on the eastern end of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Though it is not the largest waterfall in the park, it’s beauty makes it one of the park’s premier sights. The falls are located a mile west of Grand Marais off H-58, a well marked parking lot is the trail head. The walk to the falls is short and not difficult. The 168 steps to the bottom provide different views of the falls on the way down and from here can be seen this 75 foot cascade in its entirety. The stream is surrounded by hardwoods of Maple and Aspen adding to the falls’ ever changing look with the seasons. This is an incredible autumn destination. During the Summer, look closely, Trillium and Lady Slippers can be spotted in the forest.

Trillium in Black & White. Photograph by Mikel B. Classen

This has always been a special place and marks the beginning of the massive Grand Sable Sand dunes. A small walk from the bottom of the falls to the beach, just a few yards, awaits one of the most spectacular views on all of Lake Superior.  Standing there looking up at the immense sand dunes that stretch in an arc to Au Sable Point 15 miles away, is a moment worth walking to. As a suggestion, walk the shore back to Grand Marais from here. It’s a great alternative to the stair climb.

Lady Slippers are one of the wildflower wonders of the U.P.  Photograph by Mikel B. Classen.

The eastern end of Pictured Rocks gets much less traffic than the west end at Munising. Grand Sable Falls is one of the overlooked attractions at the National Park. Missing this is a big mistake. This is a must-see for any trip into Grand Marais.

Historical Picture of Grand Sable Falls with visitors. Today, there are stairs. People and photographer unknown. From Mikel B Classen historical pictures collection

Special Note: This attraction is located within the National Park. It was announced that the National Park Service (NPS) would be instituting fees or requiring passes for park visitors beginning this year. At this moment it is unclear what that will be and how this will affect visitors to Sable Falls. I advise stopping into the NPS visitor’s center first to learn what the requirements are if any. Access has always been free and open before.

Where Grand Sable Creek meets Grand Sable Dunes at the shore of Lake Superior. Photograph by Mikel B. Classen

Historical Houghton’s Ambassador Restaurant – Houghton – Michigan

The outside of the Ambassador, like Dr. Who’s TARDIS, quiet and unassuming on the outside, but step through the door and a different and unexpected world is revealed.

Houghton, Michigan in the Keweenaw Peninsula is easily one of the truly  historical cities in Michigan if not the midwest. Just driving down the streets takes one back 130 years. If it wasn’t for the cars, there wouldn’t be much difference. Many of the buildings are over a century old and still stand, used for businesses to this day.

Inside, many of the old buildings, the interiors have been modernized, but one is a marvelous step back into time. The Ambassador Restaurant is worth going to, simply to see the inside. It is colorful and antique while providing wonderful views. It is a place where the old town still lingers.

When walking into the Ambassador the colored lights and murals give a sense of wonder when coming through the door.

Built in 1898, the brick building is one block east of the Houghton Lift Bridge. From the outside, it almost seems like just any other place, but when you open the door, you step into a showcase of stained glass, murals, and woodwork. The back wall is lined with windows that provide expansive views of the Portage Canal, the Houghton Lift Bridge, and the city of Hancock, topped by the Quincy Mine hoist protruding into the skyline.

The back wall of the Ambassador is mostly window. The Houghton Lift Bridge can be seen through the window and the Jail Guard panel of the 3rd mural can be seen.

Though stained glass decorates the Ambassador throughout, it is the murals that adorn the walls and ceiling that capture the attention. The murals were originally painted as large oils on canvas and were commissioned by Joseph Bosch owner of the Bosch Breweries which were located in Houghton and Lake Linden. They were painted by a Mr. Rohrbeck and hung in the Bosch Brewery for several years. Eventually they came down and were hung in a bar that was east of the Ambassador called the Giltedge Bar.  Prohibition struck and the murals were taken down and stored away. The Ambassador was a known speakeasy during Prohibition called Hole in the Wall.

This is the first mural which appears above the bar. The gnomes are brewing their beer.

When prohibition was repealed, saloons reopened or at least brought cocktails out of the closet, and began remodeling and redecorating  the bars around town where the murals were rediscovered. Their next home was the Ambassador where they are now. The date of this is unsure, but it is believed it was in the 40s during a remodel.

This is the second mural that is across from the bar. The party is rolling and the drinking is heavy. Below it some of the stained glass windows are visible.

If looked at in the proper order, they tell a story. The first depicts gnomes brewing beer. They are stirring it up in a large cauldron like a witches brew. The second mural has the gnomes drinking the beer and partying hardy. The third shows them the morning after, hungover and spent, wiped out by their night drinking. A guard is outside so their drunk has ended with the lot of them locked up. This last mural has three separate panels and covers most of the west wall  in the dining room. The artwork is superb and it is done with an obvious sense of humor.

This is the third mural which adorns the dining room wall. It is actually three panels, but it is so big i could only fit the middle one into a picture. The jailer panel can be seen in another picture.

The Ambassador is a restaurant that has also won some accolades. Back in the 60’s they developed their own pizza recipe and has since won a place in Pizza Magazine’s Pizza Hall of Fame. Personally, I never knew there was such a thing. But hey, who am I to argue, the food is excellent and not overpriced.

The bar back wall, the Portage Canal can be seen through the windows as well as more of the stained glass above them.

Never been here? That needs to be fixed. Any trip to the Houghton area and Copper Country, should include a stop here. It is a taste of “old” U.P. that is so much more than just a meal. I stop here and have a beer just to look at the place. It never gets old.

There’s even a poem about the Ambassador:

COME FILL A BUMPER

On or about nineteen hundred and two, Mr. Rohrbeck was given a job to do.
With brushes in hand and gnomes in his head, he created the masterpiece on the wall above.
First home for the paintings was the old Giltedge Bar, east of here, but not too far.
Streets were of dirt, sidewalks of wood, hitching posts for horses, business was good.
Beer for a nickel, whiskey for a dime, sandwiches a quarter any old time.
Prohibition was next, and became the law, the Ambassador, a speakeasy, called “Hole in the Wall”
Paintings were rolled and stored away, for twelve long years in the dust they lay.
At last came nineteen thirty-three, the law was repealed and Bacchus was free.
Saloons and taverns opened their doors, folks danced, sang, and drank spirits once more.
The old bar was hauled out of its storage place, and the paintings were hung on the walls they now grace.
The artist, long gone, would be proud if he knew, that folks still enjoy them as much as they do.

 

Poem above taken from the Ambassador’s website. For more information about the Ambassador Restaurant, go to their website at https://theambassadorhoughton.com/

This mural is a small one near the door at the entrance to the restaurant.

Review of True Tales, the Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – Reviewed by Tom Powers from Michigan In Books

I received a copy of a review of my new book, True Tales the Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was written by Tom Powers whose blog, Michigan in Books, has been reviewing Michigan books for several years. The link to it is here: https://michiganinbooks.blogspot.com/2022/05/june-1-2022-post-79.html 

For those that don’t want to follow the link I present the review in its entirety below.

True Tales: the Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by Mikel B. Classen.

“Even Michigan natives who know just a little about the Upper Peninsula are aware of how unique it is geographically and historically. It is a beautiful, wild, rugged, sparsely populated peninsula full of unforgettable scenic wonders that is equaled by its unique and often strange history. This work by Mikel B. Classen is a great introduction to the often remarkable and memorable history connected to the U.P. that in all honesty weren’t forgotten by the general public. They are historical stories they never even knew about.”

“Among my favorites is the account of the last stagecoach robbery east of the Mississippi which took place in the U.P. The robber called himself Black Bart and killed one passenger and wounded another. Then there’s the Great Lake pirate who operated all over Lake Michigan from his base in Escanaba.  I thought I knew all the relevant facts about the Ontonagon Boulder. I didn’t. It was a mass of pure copper the Native Americans worshiped, but the Hell with their beliefs. The boulder was transported to Washington where it was misplaced and lost for years. The boulder was the spark that lit the Copper Boom in the U.P. The author also writes of the prominent settlers to the U.P., throws in the odd shipwreck, and relates the story of a couple of castaways on Isle Royale. The two survived a winter on the island by eating bark, roots, and berries. The husband went crazy from hunger and his wife feared she was next on his menu.”

“Those who consider history boring need to read this book before doubling down on their misplaced judgement. The book is jam-packed full of interesting and arresting true stories tied to U.P. history.  All I can say is, another volume please.”

If you are interested in purchasing True Tales, it can be picked up on Amazon or it can be ordered through your local bookstore.

Historical Logging Camps – Images of Upper Peninsula Logging – Michigan

 

Logging Camp near Manistique.

There were logging  camps in every part of the Upper Peninsula. They are the stuff of north country legends and lumberjacks were notorious for their drinking and brawling. Most of the lumbering towns have their tales of bullets and blood.

Sawmill that was located near Skanee.

Logging covered the entire U.P. and in a decade, much of the thick pine forests were cut leaving behind them an ocean of stumps. The dense forests we see today are a testament to the recovery power of the natural environment.

Logging with horses near Escanaba

Horses did  much of the work as the logs were slid out across the frozen ground in winter. It was a brutal job in harsh conditions. Many died in the pursuit of the lumber that went to build so many cities and homes.

A tow of ships taking lumber to market in the cities of the south.

A large portion of the white pine lumber went to help rebuild the city of Chicago after the great fire in 1871 where over 17,500 buildings were destroyed.

Negaunee Saw mill and Crew.

For more information on logging in the U.P. check out the Tahquamenon Logging Museum in Newberry. https://www.michigan.org/property/tahquamenon-logging-museum

 

Video – Mikel Classen talks about his U.P. Notable Book – Points North

This is a recent video of me talking about my book Points North. It is a bit rough because my zoom hookup was sketchy. I did this for the U.P. Notable Books Club that is administered through the Crystal Falls, Michigan Library.  It gets into a lot of the background on the book and some of the stories from the writing of this kind of book. People in this video are Myself, Evelyn Gathu, Crystal Falls Librarian and Victor Volkman, President of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association, UPPAA.

To know more about UPPAA and the U.P. Notable Books go here: http://uppaa.org

A Walk Among Giants – Estivant Pines – Copper Harbor – Michigan

We all like to take a walk in the woods. Trees towering over our heads and the wonderful smell of pine needles as the sun fights through the dense leaves creating the dappled light of the deep forest, is unlike anything else. Then add in some of the oldest trees in the Midwest, the legendary White Pines that were sought to near extinction by the lumbering companies. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan there is such a place.

The Keweenaw Peninsula has no shortage of trees, their presence is everywhere their roots can gain a hold. Tall pines and oaks line the ridges and valleys throughout. Though breathtaking in their own right, 150 years ago much of the forest was removed for the progress of man and very little of the original forest remains. What we see now is the offsprings of the original wilderness. But, in a tract of land near Copper Harbor, Michigan, a small part of that original wilderness remains.

The Estivant Pines is one of the last stands of old growth pines left in the State of Michigan. Deep within the 500 acre tract which is administered by the Michigan Nature Association, are the much sought after towering old White Pines. There is a double loop trail that winds beneath these monsters of the wilderness making this walk in the woods unforgettable.

The first trail loop is 1 mile long and is called the Cathedral Grove loop. This hike goes through hardwoods and then meanders through 500 year old giant White Pines. Some of them are 125 feet tall. It is hard to comprehend the majesty of these trees until one is standing beneath them, looking up seemingly touching the sky.

The second loop, the Bertha Daubendiek Memorial Loop is 1.2 miles long. Bertha was the founder of the Michigan Nature Association. Pine, maple and oak grow along this trail with one of the pines having germinated as far back as 1695. Hiking both trails is about 2.5 miles, none of which is very rough. There are some ups and downs, but not overly strenuous.

Other attractions of the Estivant Pines is over 85 identified species of birds make the tract their home. This place is a bird watchers paradise. Also, this is a hiking only trail so meeting vehicles on the trail such as bicycles, isn’t happening here. There has been a recent boom in bicycling in Copper Harbor and many of the trails around the area are now multi-use.

To get to the Estivant Pines, drive to Copper Harbor in the Keweenaw Peninsula. In Copper Harbor, turn on 2nd street. This road will turn into Manganese Road. Follow this for 1.2 miles. On the left just out of Copper Harbor is Manganese Falls, it is well worth checking out. Turn left on Clark Mine Road. Public access to Lake Manganese is to the right, a beautiful spring fed lake, also worth checking out. Continue on Clark Mine Road for approximately 1.2 miles and turn right on Burma Road. Another half mile and you are at the parking area for the Estivant Pines.

This tract of land was originally owned by Edward Estivant who was from Paris, France. It was originally 2400 acres when Estivant purchased it. He eventually sold it to the Calumet Hecla Mining Company in 1947. Then in 1968 it went to the Universal Oil Company who purchased the land for logging and proceeded to cut 300 acres of it. The Michigan Nature Association stepped in and bought 200 acres of the remaining old growth in hopes of preserving a small portion of it. Local citizens worked with them to raise funds and organized a “Save the Pines” campaign. Even local school kids fund raised. In 1973 the Estivant pines was created. Since then more of the tract has been purchased and over 500 acres of the original 2400 is now in the hands of the Michigan nature Association.

The Estivant Pines is open to hiking and snowshoeing. This is a day use area, so there is no overnight camping of any kind. There is no cost to hike other than time. It is a worthwhile experience to walk among these old giants and is something that shouldn’t be overlooked while in the Copper Harbor area.

For more information, here are some websites:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estivant_Pines

https://www.michigan.org/property/estivant-pines-nature-sanctuary

https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/michigan/estivant-pines-loop

My book Points North reviewed by Midwest Book Review

I received a note that pointed me to a review of my book Points North. It was from the Midwest Book Review and written by Carolyn Wilhelm. I really thought it was nice so I wanted to share it here.

Oh, this book helped me reminisce about the days when I could do primitive camping, hear loons, see wildlife, go canoeing, and enjoy the outdoors with relative privacy. It covers history, fishing, boating, hiking, walking, camping, with detailed location information in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.). How many camping spots, a few or many? Tents only, or are recreational vehicles allowed? Are canoes or motorboats allowed? Is the fishing good? Is the park or camping area away from roads and noise? Where should a family go for a good day trip? What animals are usually seen around the campsites? Is it a good location for photographers? Where do the seniors stay? Are there accessible trails for those who need them? Where can people who want a grueling climb and a sense of accomplishment find a spot for that type of exercise?

Details like this are usually only known by locals. This illustrated travel guide lets us in on these secrets not usually shared to have the best vacation possible for a single day or longer. Classen must have spent many years experiencing all the U.P. offers and kindly shares this off the beaten path information.

Carolyn Wilhelm, Reviewer
Wise Owl Factory LLC
https://www.thewiseowlfactory.com

Points North is an award winning book; Best Independent Publication 2020 – Historical Society of Michigan, U.P. Notable Book – Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association; that details 40 different destinations across all areas of the U.P. To purchase Points North, click here.

Podcast on my new book True Tales – The Forgotten history of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

I recently did a podcast called “For the Love of Books” with host Emma Palova. We were able to get into some interesting discussions on the subjects within the book. We also began a contest for a signed Hardcover copy of “True Tales.” So give it a listen. Some of the things in it may surprise you. https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-wte2p-11e9af0

Emma Palova describes our conversation like this: ”

Digging deep into the past, U.P. author & historian Mikel Classen uncovers hidden stories in his newest release “True Tales- The Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.”

Stories of piracy, lost gold mines, the origin of the Copper Boom, profiles of people of note, Starvation on Isle Royale, and one of the darkest periods of Michigan history, are all True Tales of the early days of the Upper Peninsula Frontier.

“Some subjects I’ve researched over the years as a journalist,” Classen said.

One story, in particular, captured Classen’s inquisitive mind and set him off on a wild chase across the rugged northern peninsula hunting down the truth to rectify myths. During his research, Classen visited the historical societies in 16 towns.

“The local communities and historians sometimes intentionally buried the stories,” Classen said.

In seven towns, he was able to confirm the unimaginable.

“I was shocked,” he said.

Find out what it was by listening to this intriguing episode with a true U.P. expert for a chance to win a signed copy of his “True Tales.”

Link to For the Love of Books podcast: https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-wte2p-11e9af0

Red Jacket / Calumet – Faces of the U.P.’s Past – 03/28/22

In my collection of old photos, I occasionally come across portrait style pictures, Unfortunately many of these are unidentified and we don’t know who these individuals are.  Maybe somewhere along the way, someone may know who these individuals are. The first picture was a lucky one because we have part of the name for these three ladies. The back of the photo says “These ladies probably were Lypsinmaas.” of all of the pictures on this page, it is the only one that has some form of identification.

What this does do, is give us a look into the faces that walked the streets of Red Jacket / Calumet in the 1880s and 90s. Walking along the streets one could easily encounter any one of these folks going about their daily business. The second picture is completely unknown though by looking at their faces, it appears that they are related. My guess would be brothers but it is impossible to be sure. It does illustrate the importance of labeling photographs  of families. We don’t normally think of ourselves as historical but as time moves on all things become historical by their representations of days and people gone by.

The next picture, which is a typical Red Jacket couple, seem to be economically reasonably well off. If nothing else we know they are probably wearing their “Sunday best.” Most of the locals worked in the copper mines where the companies paid low wages and worked long endless days of hard labor. The early days of living on the Keweenaw were hard and cold, yet Red Jacket / Calumet thrived with art and culture. A dozen nationalities converged on the region all in pursuit of wealth from the copper deposits. Cornish, Irish, Italians, Finns, Swedes, and Slavs, all became the backbone of the copper community of the Keweenaw.

Like many communities, there were those that put on uniforms. Our fourth picture shows an unknown soldier from Red Jacket / Calumet. (For those that are unaware, Red Jacket is the original name of the town of Calumet. Calumet was the original name of Laurium. In the 1920s, they moved the name of Calumet to Red Jacket and Calumet became Laurium.) Not being an expert of the military, I’m not sure what this uniform is from. I believe he has a bayonet holder on his belt. It is his English style bobby hat he has next to him that has me guessing. It would be really great to put a name to this guy. Actually it would be really great to put a name to any of these pictures.

As I stated earlier, these are all people that one would have met on the streets during daily life. This last picture shows a pair of unknown women that still seem to have an old world connection. The embroidery on the dress of the woman on the right seems Scandinavian or Slavic. It is hard to tell if they are related. These pictures are around 150 years old. They depict the faces of those that came to one of the harshest places on Earth to establish their places in the American Dream. These are the pioneers of the Upper Peninsula. These are the faces of the U.P.’s past.

Pictures courtesy of the Mikel B. Classen Collection of Historical Pictures