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.

 

Ironwood – Faces of the U.P. Past – Unknown

A photograph of unknown persons taken in Ironwood Michigan by O.L. Thornbladh.

I recently acquired some old photos of individuals from across the U.P. Many of them are unknown as to the identity of the individuals in them. I have that issue with the one above. I have no idea what is going on in this, but it looks similar to one I have where a known outlaw is having his picture taken with the sheriff after being arrested. It is also from Ironwood and the individual on the right in the back looks a lot like the sheriff in that picture. If anyone has any information regarding this, I would really appreciate hearing from you. Currently I’ve dubbed this the “Ironwood Bad Boys.” If nothing else it is a really awesome picture from the U.P.’s past.

Bayliss Library – Sault Ste. Marie – Michigan – Historical Display

The display I created in the entrance case at Bayliss Library

For those of you that like the history that I post, must realize I have a sizable collection of Upper Peninsula historical items. Many of these are pictures that often are posted here, but I do have other items as well as some picture haven’t made it here yet.

2022 Great Michigan Read – The Women of Copper Country

Here’s a chance to check some of these items out. In conjunction with the Great Michigan Read – The Women of Copper Country, at Bayliss Library here in the Sault, I have displayed some Copper Country history in the glass case at the entrance of Bayliss Library.

Stereoview pictures of the Italian hall Disaster in Calumet, shipwreck and local scenes.

These will be on display throughout the month of February. If you are in the Sault, stop by the library and take a look.

The General Store in Eagle Harbor, Michigan

This is one of the only times I’ve put some of these in front of the public. For more information on Bayliss Library, go here: https://www.sdl.michlibrary.org/our-locations-and-hours/bayliss-public-library

Pictures of shipping copper during the copper boom.

Copper Country Early Engravings – 1860’s Keweenaw Copper Range Pictures

This image is of miners washing the tailings from copper mining ore as it was brought out of the mine.

A while back I acquired an old magazine from 1860 that had a few drawings of the early days of mining in the Upper Peninsula. These were printed when the copper boom was rising giving us in this century, some of the earliest images of the beginning of this era of our history.

Mining in the early days was intensely dangerous, even more so than today. The rock was blasted with dynamite and the miners only had a single candle to see what they were doing. The guy holding the chisel has to have a lot of trust in his co-workers.

The danger of those days can’t be understated. There was poor lighting and high explosives were used on a regular basis. The threat of cave-ins and flooding were constant. Accidents abounded.

Getting ore out to where it could be shipped wasn’t easy. This shows Lake Linden in the distance as viewed from one of the mines. The entire track can be seen and it shows the extremes of getting the ore out. I’ve seen this as a photograph as well.

Getting the ore out of the Upper Peninsula wilderness was no easy task. The picture above shows not only that aspect, but the process of getting it to shipping. The track runs down the incline to a plant below. The copper ore was then smelted into large ingots (copper bricks) and then shipped south through the Great Lakes. Millions of tons were mined, smelted and then shipped during the copper boom, much of it like the picture above.

This is an early copper mine hoist. This is long before the immense steel hoists dominated the peninsula.

In the early days, wood was the only building material available to build the necessary structures for mining. It wasn’t until steel and equipment could be shipped into Lake Superior that the steel hoists came into prominence. This is just a small bit of our mining history.

 

Murder at Grand Island’s North Point Lighthouse

Murder at Grand Island’s North Point Light

This is how the Grand Island North Lighthouse appeared around the time of the mystery.

Something washed ashore at Au Sable Point near Grand Marais. It was June 12, 1908. A man named Van Dusen spotted a small sailboat along the shore near the light station at Au Sable. The mast was broken and it appeared to have been through some rough weather. He went up to the boat and looked in. Inside was the body of a dead man!

It looked like the body had taken a beating. The head had been beaten almost beyond recognition and the shoulders and neck looked broken and battered. The dead man wore the uniform of the Lighthouse Service!

Au Sable Point Lighthouse Light Keeper, Thomas Irvine, recorded the incident, “2nd Asst ret. 9 A.M. Mr. Wm Van Dusen of Grand Marais reported a Light House boat ashore with a dead man in her about 9 mile W. of Station. I sent 1st Asst to report it to Life Saving Station. Crew arrived here 9 P.M. I went up with them and brought boat to station. They took body to Gd. Marais. Man apparently died from exposure, as he was lying under the forward deck, foremast gone, mainmast standing. Boat was in good shape, only one small hole in her. I think it is from Grand Island Light Station.”

The body was identified as assistant lighthouse keeper Edward Morrison from the north Grand Island Light Station. How he had come to Au Sable point was a mystery. He was identified by a tattoo on his arm.

This is a picture of light keeper Morrison, the victim found in the boat near Au Sable Point.

The body was taken back to Munising and tales were coming in that the north Grand Island light had been dark for a week. The idea that Morrison died from exposure faded quickly. A group of Munising residents went out there to investigate. What they found made everything even more mysterious. The head light keeper, George Genery had completely disappeared. The supplies he had brought back from Munising were still sitting on the dock. As they made a search of the light, they found nothing out of the ordinary, things were meticulously in place. Genery’s coat was hung on a hook in the boathouse. Morrison’s vest was hanging on the back of a chair with papers and his watch still in the pockets. Of the three boats that were normally left at the station, and the story differs here, one sources says one was missing and another source says there were two. No one could understand what had happened.

The authorities began a search for the missing Genery, but he was nowhere to be found. There were some that said that they had seen Genery around the local bars in Munising drinking heavily, but none of these could be substantiated. Genery’s wife who was living in town claimed she hadn’t seen him either, but those that talked to her claimed she seemed unconcerned. The reason for this could be that Genery had a reputation of having a temper and wasn’t easy to work with. He required a new assistant every season since his appointment. The domestic life could have been rocky to say the least.

There are three basic theories that came out at the time to try to explain the events. The first theory is that the pair were murdered. The north point of Grand Island was another very isolated light station. The nearest neighbor was the Grand Island game keeper who lived seven miles away. He was the caretaker for William Mather’s game preserve that featured exotic game. Mather was the president of the Cleveland Cliffs Mining Company. When Genery and Morrison had been in town to pick up supplies, they had been paid. The pair was going back to the lighthouse with full pockets. The north light would have been an ideal place for a robbery.  It was known that the gamekeeper was feuding with the lightkeepers, claiming they had been poaching some of the exotic game. This could have been a profitable opportunity for him. He disappeared into Canada not long after the lightkeepers disappeared.

Genery is pictured here with his children. He was known for his anger issues.

The second theory and the strongest, is that Genery killed him. The scenario goes as follows: Morrison brought the wheelbarrow down to the dock to help haul supplies back to the station. The evidence of this is the hung coat and vest which would have had both men in shirt sleeves, warm from the work. Because of Genery’s personality and reputation, Morrison probably said something that set Genery off. In a flash of rage, Genery grabbed something like an oar or a shovel and beat Morrison’s skull in. To hide the crime he put Morrison in a boat and sent it out into Lake Superior, probably hoping it would never be found and he could say his assistant had deserted. Or he was out in the boat and was hit with the boom from the sail. Whatever he thought, he next went into Munising and went on a several day drunk. He then probably went home and when news of the body found at Au Sable came in, he fled.

Strangely, before he died, Morrison had sent his wife a letter who lived in Flint, Michigan. She received it four days after he had died. In  the letter he wrote, “Do not be surprised if you hear of my body being found dead along the shores of Lake Superior. He goes on to say that Genery was of a quarrelsome disposition and he thought there might be an “accident” if he were to oppose him.

The third is that they were out in the boat and the waves got rough. Genery fell overboard and Morrison lost his footing and was knocked unconscious. The subsequent battering of the boat killed him. This one seems to not make a lot of sense with the facts. Supplies left on the dock, coat not taken, just doesn’t fit this.

Several months after the murder a body was found on the shore of Lake Superior. Accounts vary as to exactly where, but some claimed it was Genery’s though it was never identified. Bodies discovered on the lakeshore was not an unusual occurrence and it still remains unknown whether it was Genery or not.

To this day the mystery remains unsolved. No one really knows what happened to the dead man of Au Sable point. Thomas Irvine, the light keeper that discovered the body was transferred from Au Sable in 1908.

 

Coming Soon! True Tales – The Forgotten History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

I have just finished the rough version of my new book. It is off to the publisher awaiting publication. Whew! It always feels like a long haul when you finish a book. Though I feel all of my books are worth a read, this one is special. If you are a fan of this website, then this book is for you.

In this book the romance is gone. It tries to show many of the true hardships and facets  of trying to settle a frontier that was sandwiched between three Great Lakes. There are stories from across the Peninsula from first hand accounts to revelations from the news of the time. As always there are heroes and villains. There are feats of great good and dirty deeds of the worst kind. There are adventures of the most extraordinary men as they struggle for the riches of the U.P. well before gold was discovered in California. There are accomplishments of those that braved the wrath of the Great Lakes in leaking ships and frozen waters. The intensity of storms killed thousands on land and lakes. Over 200 died in one season just between Marquette and Whitefish Point. Often the Edmund Fitzgerald is memorialized, but few remember the hundreds of wrecks before it. You will find some here.

These pages are populated by Native Americans, miners, loggers and mariners that consisted of Germans, Italians, Finns, Swedes, French and English. People came from everywhere looking for their personal promised land. Some to raise families, some to avoid the law or to start a new life. Some to get rich no matter what it took. The Upper Peninsula frontier called to all.

This book is the first installment in what will be a larger work that chronicles the rare and forgotten stories that make the history of the U.P. what it is. Through research and investigation I hope to bring back many of the tales that time and historians forgot.

The U.P. of today was created by individuals that rose up to meet challenges that broke lesser folks. Their mental and physical stamina was that of finely honed athletes accomplishing feats unheard of in the modern world. They hacked homes out of a dense wilderness and raised families with danger at every turn. Many of these feats have gone unsung throughout history and through this book many come to light.

It is my hope that the stories contained within this book not only celebrates the struggles of the individuals that first braved this formidable and raw land , but honestly portrays their efforts to overcome the incredible obstacles that stood in the way of the beloved peninsula we now know. It was once a very different place.

 

Historical Photos – Early Great Lakes Ships

Historical Ships of the upper Great Lakes

Pictures courtesy of the Mikel Classen Collection of Historical Pictures

This is an early passenger steamer named “City of Traverse.” This view of the ship shows only ne lock and the river rapids can be seen beyond the ship.

Many old historical ship pictures were taken at the Soo Locks. The close-up vantage point for the bulky photo equipment made it a choice spot for ship photography in the early years.

Whalebacks in the Soo Locks with tugs.

Over the years there have been many kinds of ships that have sailed the Great Lakes. All of them served a valued purpose in their day, though some had some uniquely strange looks. Of course many of these at some point would wind up at the bottom of the lakes, casualties of unexpected storms.

This is a couple of schooners going through the Soo Locks.

From Sailing ships to coal fired steamers, a fascination remains of all of these different types of ships. To this day visitors flock to the Soo Locks for a glimpse of the great ships that still sail the lakes.

This early freighter is called the Zenith City. It would sink not long after this picture.

This is not a by-gone era but one that has evolved through the years. The lake ships of all kinds serve as vital a purpose now as they did in the past.

This picture is of an early wood fired side-wheeler. photos of these are few and far between.

While watching the ships of today, it is also fun to think about the ships of the past, smaller and more susceptible, battling the violent elements of the Great Lakes for their very survival. Some succeeded, many didn’t, ending in tragedy and a watery grave. Requiem for sailors of a different time and men with courage beyond most.

Whitefish Point, More Than A Lighthouse

Whitefish Point Fishing Village

Writing and photography by Mikel B. Classen

The old buildings at the Whitefish Point Harbor are remains of an era gone by and a village that once was.

Whitefish Point in Chippewa County, Michigan, is known for a lot of things, not the least of which is the shipwrecks like the Edmund Fitzgerald that made the point famous. The lighthouse, which was one of the first on Lake Superior, houses the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (For more on that, check out my book Points North). Whitefish Point also is the eastern boundary of the legendary Shipwreck Coast. All else seems to have gotten lost.

This is one of the old homesteads from Whitefish Point. One of the few remaining buildings.

Whitefish Point is actually one of the very early fishing villages on Lake Superior. As early as 1840, a small trading post and fish packing operation was set up by Peter Barbeau of Sault Ste. Marie. Barbeau had a general store where he would outfit hardy souls to establish posts along the shoreline on Lake Superior. They traded for furs and barrels of salted whitefish. Barbeau would then ship them out to places like Chicago and the east coast.  Barbeau’s trading posts went as far as Minnesota. Whitefish Point was one he paid close attention to.

This old fishing boat sits next to the harbor another relic of the point’s past.

When the lighthouse was established in 1849, fishing here was going hard and heavy. Tons of barrel packed salted fish were being sent to the Sault every year from Whitefish Point. It was a very profitable enterprise. Occassionally the fish wouldn’t be packed right and the fish would spoil leaving Barbeau to smooth out relations and make amends.

This old band saw blade and belt are in the woods near Whitefish Point.

Though many have Whitefish Point’s beginnings at 1879, documents at the Sault plainly show that there was lots of activity here long before 1879, including some logging enterprises. Whitefish Point was used as a resupply point for the logging companies. There was a small population of approx. 60 people. There was a school and hotel. Also a general store and a post office was established. The population grew to 200.

The former Whitefish Point post office as it is today. It its earlier days it had a different front on the building.

One of the local commodities was cranberries. They grow wild in the region and eventually were cultivated. There were more than a dozen growers registered at Whitefish Point. There was a daily stagecoach that ran from there, south to Eckerman. It was a thriving community by all standards.  But as time went on, it all faded.

Th Whitefish Point Lighthouse brings thousands of visitors to Whitefish Point and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum which is housed in the lighthouse buildings.

Because of the Whitefish Point lighthouse and the life saving station, the village’s decline was a slow one. Fishing dwindled to one commercial fishery, Brown’s, which still is in operation. Most of the small town’s remains have disappeared but much of the property associated with the village is in private hands and still occupied as residential. But if one looks carefully, on the east side of Whitefish Point Road, between the harbor and the former post office, hiding in the trees, a few of the remaining relics of Whitefish Point can be seen.

An old fishing boat has seen better days as it sits being buried by the sands of Superior.

A turn into the Whitefish Point Harbor can be very rewarding. The harbor is shared by the State of Michigan and Brown’s Fisheries. There is a fence that divides the public land from the private. Brown’s Fisheries has old boats and buildings that date back to the early days of Whitefish Point and some of it can be seen from the parking lot of the Harbor.  A couple of old fishing boats are beached on the shore and old storage barns are there too.  It is a snapshot of not only Whitefish Point’s past but commercial fishing on the Great Lakes in general.

For a vision of the past, take a walk out towards the breakwall on the marina walkway. Go out as far as the last dock and turn around and look back. With the old fishing boats and storage buildings, the old dock, an image of the village of Whitefish Point appears, or a small part of it anyway.

The view of Brown’s Fisheries from the marina walkway showing what Whitefish Point would have looked like as a fishing village.

When visiting the lighthouse, it is good to note what was around it. A trip into the shipwreck museum leaves one with the idea that Whitefish Point is all about death and tragedy. It is so much more. It was a tiny place that provided food and lumber for the country in the harshest of conditions. It took people with tenacity and guts to face Lake Superior at its worst and create one of the earliest settlements. The village of Whitefish Point should be remembered alongside of its legendary lighthouse. It has its place in history too.

Historical Photos – Homesteads of U.P. Settlers

Pictures of homesteads past – early – mid 1800s

Historical pictures from the Mikel Classen Historical Pictures Collection

 

Early engraving of a first homestead.

Pictures of early settlers trying to tame the wild country of Upper Michigan is always interesting to me. I don’t have many of these early settler pictures but I thought I could put up a few of my favorites. Some have focus issues as with many old cameras, but they are still glimpses into that rough and rugged past.

This is an old homestead that was near Marquette.

Some of these old picture show some form of home life. We are so used to modern conveniences and technology, seeing these old pictures shows just how rough life was. It is good that the days of mud, muck, and manure are past. Some things of the modern age are not over-rated, hot water, lawn mowers, garden tillers, all products of trying to ease this harsh life.

This was located near the Sault on the Michigan side. It is the home of an Ojibwa family.

Often we over-romanticize the past, casting aside the many realities of life on a homestead. Everyday was a chore laden struggle for survival.

This picture was from an old stereoview. This was another from somewhere near Marquette.

The brutal environment, the bugs, the dampness from the marshes, the endless preparation for the next winter, all made living from day to day, an amazing feat.

This is a picture from Manistique that shows an early family. Yes, that is a child sitting among the chickens.

I hope you enjoyed these little windows of settling the U.P.

Searching For Wilwin

Locating a ghost town, Wilwin

By Mikel B. Classen – Photos by Mikel B. Classen

I was armed with two antique maps and a full tank of gas. How was I to fail? I felt confident as I drove down H-40 which runs through Chippewa and Mackinac counties.  It’s a back route that’s between U.S.-2 and M-28. Formerly, it was a railroad route which had a string of towns along its way. Most of them now are gone or shadows of what they once were. The railroad still runs along the highway. The place I was looking for was Wilwin.

The old railroad building that stands at the corner of Wilwin Road. Part of the loading platform is still seen.

About five miles west of Trout Lake are a couple of old buildings marking the entrance to Wilwin Road. The old buildings are the first things to attest to the fact that Wilwin was once there.  A railroad siding once ran where Wilwin Road is now bringing lumber to the main railroad trunk from the sawmills of Wilwin.

This old storage building is another of the relics at the corner of Wilwin Road.

I turned up Wilwin Road. The maps were showing the town’s location a couple of miles and then left for a mile or so. Seemed simple enough. I drove passing a couple of houses. The trees started getting thicker and the road began to wind through the woods. I love doing these kinds of drives, but it was beginning to seem like I had gone too far. I should have come across something by now, a clearing or old remnants, but the trail went on and there was no evidence of anything resembling a town site. Now the road was turning to soft sand.

I looked at the road ahead and concluded that I had gone too far and had completely missed the location or maybe a side road that I’d missed. I wasn’t sure, but I knew if I went further, getting stuck was likely. I turned around. Backtracking, I found a turn  missed. I started down that road. not far in I came across a burned patch of ground and a small log with smoke coming out of it. (More on that here.) After dousing it with water I went further down the trail and there it was, the site of Wilwin!

The entrance to the Wilwin Lodge, fenced. A large portion of the towns former location is now a Graymont Quarry.

I turned my truck around at the entrance to the Wilwin Lodge, now apparently owned by Graymont, a Canadian cement company. To the south of the road was a large area where the town had one stood. There was nothing left. The old townsite had been cleaned up leaving next to no trace of Wilwin. I expect part of the old town is now Graymont property which is fenced in.

A small portion of Wilwin’s town site is visible along the trail near the gate.

The history of Wilwin is that of a logging town. Its history wasn’t long, but it was fast and furious. The beginning was around 1914 and was founded by a man named Frank Chesborough. The name Wilwin is a contraction of his two sons names William and Elwin. They raised a large sawmill and platted out a community. They bought a train and laid track intersecting with the main line. They built a boarding house along with a store. Single story homes were built to house the sawmill employees. A boardwalk connected it all. The town thrived, they were even selling the bark from the mill to a leather company.

The only signs left that part of a town was even here are the places where the ground is disrupted.

A huge lodge was built. It was reputed to be two storys with a balcony that stretched the length of the building, and full of leaded glass windows that contained nearly 2000 panes. It had a huge kitchen and a living room with fireplaces at both ends. Built by the Chesboroughs it was reputed to be the height of luxury at the time.

Then, in 1921, it was all over. Just seven years had gone by. The price of lumber fell and the costs at the Wilwin mill were too high. As quickly as it had begun, Wilwin was through. The houses were salvaged and removed. Some of them are still homes in Trout Lake and nearby Ozark. All of them and the boarding house were completely removed. The machinery for the sawmill was resold to a company in Dollar Bay in the Keweenaw. The mill itself was burned and then the debris removed. The lodge, as far as I know, still stands somewhere behind the fence put up by Graymont.

The black and white in this picture makes it easier to pick out the outline of where a building once stood.

It was time to head home. I had almost got lost and stuck, put out a potential forest fire and found what I was looking for. I was pleased with that. My day had been successful and eventful. That is always a good day.