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When prohibition was repealed, saloons reopened or at least brought cocktails out of the closet, and began remodeling and redecorating  the bars around town where the murals were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.

Vintage Motorcycle Photos from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

An early motorcyclist cruises through Manistique. I love the early biker clothing and the bike looks like an Indian.

I don’t have many of these, unfortunately. It is a very rare thing when I come across early vintage pictures of motorcycles here in the Upper Peninsula. As a biker, I personally enjoy early pictures like these and consider them a treasure when I find them. I currently have two which are quite fun. I thought I’d post them so everyone can get a smile.

The top picture was taken in Manistique and I believe the motorcycle is an Indian. I can’t positively identify it, so if someone can confirm this, I would appreciate it. This was taken as a postcard which has no date.

In the second picture there is a young girl wishing she could go for a spin on a vintage Harley Davidson. The name on the tank is clearly visible. This is from an album of vintage photos from Ishpeming. This little gem is a favorite of mine. We have all had that look on our faces the moment we sat on a motorcycle.

 

An Ishpeming girl tries an early Harley on for size. Looks like a pretty good fit. I’ll always wonder if she ever got to take it out.

I thought these would be fun since summer is upon us and the time of year to enjoy our motorcycles is now. Ride safely and be careful out there.

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

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

NEW BOOK!! True Tales, the Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula now on Amazon!

I just received notice that my new book, True Tales, the Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is now live on Amazon. It is available in hardcover and softcover currently with the e-version in a few days. There will also be an audiobook. I know a lot of you have been waiting for this, so here’s your opportunity. As it settles into catalogs, it will also be available to order through bookstores.

Here are some of the reviews:

“Romantic ideas of the pioneer days in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will fade quickly as these true tales of lawless, rugged, wild-weather, difficult times before about 1900 are perused. Laws were few, enforcement was scarce, violent events were often, and shipwrecks were many. However, opportunities to be a hero were as numerous and wonderful life-saving deeds of kindness and compassion are recorded in these pages as well. Classen does history an excellent service by revealing the truth. Sometimes we think humanity has advanced little. An attitude quickly challenged in these pages. Readers will feel gratitude for all they have today after finishing these tales.” –Carolyn Wilhelm, MA, Midwest Book Review

“Classen accomplished what he set out to do-provide readers with interesting and true tales about the U.P. He did not romanticize the history and told bold facts to enlighten the reader. The U.P. was uncharted territory with harsh beginnings. Captains battled terrible storms while sailing on Lake Superior. Corrupt entrepreneurs made money off the suffering of young women. Classen rang bells for unsung heroes. Much can be learned about Chase Osborn’s efforts-the man who became the first governor of Michigan from the U.P. and Peter White, founder of Marquette. So much can be learned by reading Classen’s book. It is highly recommended.” –Sharon Brunner, U.P. Book Review

Here is the link to order on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/True-Tales-Forgotten-Michigans-Peninsula/dp/1615996354/

 

O-Kun-de-Kun Waterfall – Ontonagon County – Bruce Crossing – Michigan

Across the Upper Peninsula there are dozens of waterfalls, all worth seeing, all spread across the peninsula giving virtually every county their own. Waterfalls are a staple of the U.P. scenery and bring countless sightseers to the area annually. O-Kun-de-Kun Falls in Ontonagon County is not only one of those “must see” U.P. Waterfalls, it is one of the easiest to access.

O-Kun-de-Kun falls is located approx. eight miles north of Bruce Crossing on U.S. 45. There is a parking lot located on the east side of the road where the trail head begins. Don’t blink, you’ll miss it. The hike back to the falls is only a little over a mile on a trail that is very well made and is a portion of the North Country Trail. Maintenance of this trail is ongoing and is an easy hike. The 1.3 miles goes quickly and the walk is over before one realizes it.

As a hiker approaches the falls it is important to know there are two sets of falls. There is an upper and a lower set of cataracts. The upper falls will be the first one along the trail. It is well below the trail and is not easy to get to. There is a foot trail, but it is steep.

This is the O-Kun-de-Kun upper falls. Not easy to get to, but worth a look just the same.

Though very beautiful to see, the upper falls isn’t what the trail actually leads to. It is the lower falls that most come to see. Following the trail further will get you there. The trail follows the Baltimore River for a few more hundred yards. The lower falls will be on the right, they are impossible to miss.

O-Kun-de-Kun lower falls, a close look shows a photographer behind the falls shooting a picture.

The lower falls is the easiest to reach and it is large enough to go behind. There are no fences, just a great place to see a waterfall. If by some chance the falls are missed by a hiker, there is a suspension bridge that crosses the river. This is the point of going too far and are past the falls. The bridge does provide a beautiful view of the lower falls and is an excellent place to get pictures from.

The suspension bridge across the Baltimore River. This was taken from the top of the O-Kun-de-Kun lower falls.

O-Kun-de-Kun waterfall is one of the premier sights of the Upper Peninsula. Named after an Ojibwa chief, there are few hikes with easier access than this one. Though it isn’t the largest water fall in Michigan, it is one that has its own character and beauty.

For more information: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/ottawa/recarea/?recid=12359

https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/michigan/o-kun-de-kun-falls-loop

O-Kun-de-Kun lower falls on a nice summer day.