Thursday, March 15, 2018

Post # 16

Quote of the Day: "Ann Arbor was at the extreme west end of the habitable world, beyond which the sun went down into a boundless, bottomless morass, where the frightful sound of yelling indians, howling wolves, croaking frogs, rattling massaugers, and buzzing mosquitoes added to the awful horror of the dismal place." Henry Little, an early pioneer recalling the settling of Michigan in the 1830s. 


Yooper Talk: Dialect as Identity in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
by Kathryn A. Remlinger

Remlinger's book is undeniably a significant contribution to the study of a unique aspect of Michigan history and culture. It is also very interesting and equally frustrating.

First, the good news.  The book is the first comprehensive study of what has become known as the UP's Yooper dialect and how the dialect has become inseparable from identity and place. Anyone interested in the Yooper phenomenon will find plenty to mentally chew on here, as well as some fascinating insights into how dialects develop, language works, and different languages intermingle in remote areas giving birth to a new dialect that becomes a defining aspect of the culture and the region. 

The author gives a short history of the UP and the wide variety of ethnic groups that settled there in the 1800s. The mixing of the languages and the inclusion of both slang and proper foreign words from Canada, Cornwall, Finland, Native America, and Slovenia into English formed a regional dialect. Surprisingly, the new distinct dialect went unrecognized as such until after World War II, when tourism to the Upper Peninsula increased and downstaters came into contact with it.

It wasn't until 1978 that the word Yoop found its way into the Detroit Free Press and became the first known printing of the word. Magazine articles, tourist guides, and professional linguistic journals were soon writing about Yoopanese and Yooper country. By 1980 Yooperism had become a tourist marketing tool. The UP was sold as scenic, wild, and identified as Yooper country.  Coffee mugs, t-shirts, buttons, refrigerator magnets, and hats featuring Yooper words became souvenirs and marketing tools. The "Say yah to da UP, eh!" bumper sticker was first sold in 1985 and has since become ubiquitous. A popular Yooper magnet reads, " It's Not Pay-Stree.., It's Not Pay-stees, It's Pass-tees!!!, Yooper Food of Da Gods!' Even billboards and homemade signs spouting Yooper dialect now dot the landscape north of the Big Mac.  

The author also addresses the pride people take in the dialect, which includes the belief that the more Yoopanese a person uses the more authentic a Yooper it makes them. Many believe the Yooper dialect possess positive cultural values. But there are more than a few who are embarrassed by use of the dialect in their conversation. The author also reveals how the dialect differs depending on whether the speaker is from the Soo, Marquette, or Escanaba. The book is a fascinating glimpse into a unique piece of Michigan culture and the language that helps make it so unique.

That said the reader almost has to take a weed-wacker to the book's often overgrown and convoluted sentences and professional jargon. The book is rife with words this fairly well-read reviewer has never previously encountered such as, "commodification, indexicality, and metadiscursive." Then there is the following sentence, and others like it, that are strewn throughout the book. "Another example of shifting indexical values is presented in the syntax, or grammatical structures, specifically illative phrases, which are prepositional phrases that show movement to or toward a place and yet do not contain prepositions, and noun phrases that lack determiners." I accept on blind faith that the aforementioned quote succeeds, at some level, in explaining the Yooper sentence or phrase, "Let's go post office." 

For those who are fascinated by language or Yooper culture and dialect, there is gold to be mined in this book. But be forewarned, at times, the book makes for hard digging. I would have also very much appreciated an appendix of Yooper words.

Yooper Talk: Dialect as Identity in Michigan's Upper Peninsula by Kathryn A.Remlinger. University of Wisconsin Press, 2017, $24.95. 

The Buried Book
by D. M. Pulley

This refreshingly original novel is part mystery, part novel of suspense, and an entirely satisfying novel of family and farm life as seen through the eyes of a bewildered and frightened nine-year-old boy. Jasper Leary lives in Detroit in 1952. His mom, Althea, is unpredictable. She has tasted the seamy side of life, and on several occasions in the past, has inexplicably disappeared for days at a time. Jasper's dad is a WW I veteran, considerably older than Althea, and early in the book one gets the feeling Jasper’s father may have been throwing Althea a life ring, instead of a diamond ring when he proposed to her.

As the book opens Jasper is awakened by his mother in the middle of the night and told to pack a suitcase because they have to get out of town fast. Jasper’s mom takes him to his uncle’s hardscrabble farm north of Port Huron where she drops him off. She tells Jasper she’ll be back in a few days, but the days stretch to weeks, then months, and a year.

Uncle Leo’s farm is hardly more than a three-room shack with no running water and an outhouse a few steps away. It turns out the family home was set afire by Jasper’s mom years ago and although partially standing is uninhabitable.  As the days stretch into months Jasper overhears odd bits of conversation with locals about his wayward mother, the police come looking for her, and the mystery deepens as to where she is and why she has disappeared.  Jasper begins to worry about her safety and wonders if she’s even still alive. Exploring the burned hulk of the family house Jasper discovers a diary his mother kept as a child and reads it for clues.

Jasper’s determination to discover where his mother is and why leads the young boy into situations and places no child should ever find themselves. Jasper faces increasing danger as he continues to poke his nose into his mother’s childhood and the unsavory life she seems to have led. The boy is knocked unconscious when exploring the ruins of the old family home and doesn’t or can’t remember whether it was the result of a fall or someone attacked him. As the story unfolds Pulley slowly and expertly amps up the suspense to the nail-biting conclusion.

What makes this book something special is the authentic and seldom depicted life on a poor family farm in the early 1950s. Uncle Leo, his wife, and their son Wayne work sunup ‘til sundown scratching a living out of 40 acres. The insecure, timid, and frightened Jasper is expected to do his part around the farm. He had no idea the work could be so hard, endless, and at times dangerous. He and his cousin walk a couple of miles each way to attend a one-room school and then return home after school to do the evening chores. Between natural and man-made disasters the young boy is badly burned, suffers a life-threatening infection, and other grievous injuries. Yet the farm work goes on as Jasper finds some comfort in the rhythms of farm life to offset the growing concern and danger associated with his mother’s disappearance.

The author did considerable research into rural life in Michigan in the 1950s and it shows on nearly every page. The life on a Michigan farm in post-WW II Michigan is seldom depicted in novels. The author has done a remarkable job of melding life on a Michigan farm with a novel of suspense in which a young woman slips into a life on the wrong side of the law and how her attempt at redemption affects her entire family. This is a novel that deserved inclusion in the Michigan Notable Books list for 2017.
The Buried Book by D. M. Pulley. Lake Union Publishing, 2016, $14.95

Wildlife 911: On Patrol
by John Borkovich

To hear John Borkovich tell it, and reading this book is like listening to the author tell stories over a cup of coffee, being a Michigan Conservation Officer is a great job. And to prove it, the author invites the reader on a virtual ride-along as he recounts some of the more dangerous, strange, perplexing, humorous, and challenging enforcement cases he’s dealt with in his 27-year career.

Like all law enforcement work, it can be dangerous but it’s almost a given that when Conservation Officers approach an illegal hunter or poacher the officer is confronting an armed lawbreaker and in some cases a drunken, armed lawbreaker. Not infrequently the officer is walking alone into a group of armed men, and these confrontations occur out in the country without backup or any witnesses.  Borkovich has the ability to figuratively disarm these potentially dangerous situations by being polite, gregarious, fair-minded, and in many cases making the perpetrators feel so guilty they confess.

The book left this reader with the troubling impression that a large number of hunters simply flaunt hunting laws and regulations. Borkovich recounts numerous cases of hunters who hunt out of season, shine deer from moving vehicles at night, hunt without a license, shoot more than the legal limit. In one case that took Borkovich months to solve, a small group of thrill killers shot dozens of deer and then left them rotting in the field.

Over the years Borkovich has had more than his share of wild car chases, the tackling and takedown of armed poachers fleeing through the woods on foot, and excuses that range from the ridiculous to the laughable. One hunter said he thought the deer he just shot was a squirrel, another deer hunter said he couldn’t afford a deer license as he stood in front of a mountain of carrots he had purchased to lure deer into his killing field and his $40,000 truck was parked a few feet away. One man caught killing dozens of robins said he did it because they made good eating. And a pair of walleye fishermen on Lake St. Clair was shocked when Borovich discovered an out of season, five-foot sturgeon tucked under their boat’s seats. They claimed the sturgeon must have, “hid itself in the boat.”

Among the author’s most unusual cases are the poachers who trapped salmon on a stream by stretching a tennis net across the creek. The group that illegally killed wildlife to serve as symbols in a weird religious ceremony, the man who used potato chips to lure geese to their doom, and months spent by Borkovich looking for the culprit who stole newspaper vending machines, pried open the change box, and dumped the empty vending machines in rivers and streams. By the time the author caught the man and charged him with littering he had thrown 54 newspaper boxes into St. Clair County waterways.

The author is very proud of his work in protecting wildlife and serving the public. It shows on every page of this fascinating book. You don’t have to be a hunter or fisherman to read and enjoy this eye-opening glimpse into the extraordinary workday of a Michigan Conservation Officer. If the book is ordered from the following website the author will sign and add a personal note -

Wildlife 911: On Patrol by John Borkovich, Arbutus Press, 2017.  $19.95

As before, you can order any of the above books, if you so choose, by simply clicking on the cover which will take you to Amazon.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Post # 15

Post # 15

Quote for the day: "The Lord probably could have built a better river for rum running [than the Detroit River]. But the Lord probably never did."  Roy Haunes, Michigan Prohibition Commissioner. 1920.


Sustaining Lake Superior: An Extraordinary Lake in a Changing World
By Nancy Langston

To gaze out over the vast expanse of Lake Superior from the Porkies, Pictured Rocks, Keweenaw Peninsula, or dozens of other sites, one can’t help but feel a sense of reverence for the greatest of the Great Lakes. Which, at times, makes Nancy Langston’s critically important book painful reading. The professor of environmental history at Michigan Tech has written, what is essentially, a history of mankind’s pollution of Lake Superior and how global warming will affect the world’s largest freshwater lake. It is scholarly but very readable, and filled with startling information.

Langston’s detailed account of the degradation of Superior is a litany of woe. It started with the fur trade. The trapping to near extinction of beaver resulted in the destruction of their dams which controlled floods and provided wetland homes for a variety of wildlife. Furthermore, the silt and sludge released from beaver ponds destroyed fish spawning grounds. The clear-cutting of the great forests around the lake increased the flooding, destroyed more spawning grounds, and huge amounts of sawdust were dumped in the lake. The increased sunlight resulting from the clear-cuting of forests heated up the streams and drove away cold water fish. The huge forest fires that burned through the slashing left by lumbering caused more flooding and deposited untold tons of ash into Superior. When paper made from wood pulp became a big industry around the lake a single mill could use 20 million gallons of water a day which was returned to the lake along with vast amounts of the harmful chemicals that were used to break down the wood fibers. 

The author’s narrative of ignorance, misunderstanding, greed, and simple unconcern by early conservationists and the mining industry is simply staggering. By 1882 copper mines in Michigan had dumped 500,000 tons of toxically contaminated sand in the lake that filled harbors and bays. Early mining of iron-rich deposits was also harmful but nothing like the post-WWII mining of deposits of low yielding iron ore that went through a heavy manufacturing process that resulted in taconite pellets. The production of taconite necessitated huge amounts of water, chemicals, and left tons of toxic tailings.

The Silver Bay Taconite plant, 50 miles north of Duluth, was approved by a Minnesota state review board even though it would use half-a-million gallons of water a minute. The water, now loaded with toxins, including mercury, would be discharged back into the lake. The plant would also dump 67,000 pounds of tailings into the lake on a daily basis. The head conservationist in the state approved the plan because he thought if the plant proved to be dangerous to humans the permit could be withdrawn. When it was discovered the plant was also discharging asbestos into the lake and had contaminated Duluth’s public drinking water it took ten years of lawsuits to halt the damage.

By 1960 the author writes that the lake was at a tipping point and that state and national governments joined together to save the lake. The process was slow but the lake has come a long way toward recovery. The book also covers the damage caused by invasive species, the heavy use of pesticides, early conservation theories, the effect of climate change on the lake, and the revelation that a large percentage of the toxins deposited in Superior are airborne and come from as far away as mercury emitting factories in China.

The book is filled with surprising if not jaw-dropping facts. Such as the fact that in the past arsenic was dumped in the lake in large quantities to destroy the bacteria in human waste being discharged into Superior. Or that when it was discovered that mercury exceeded the EPA allowable levels in humans the water was made safe by decree. The level of allowable parts per million of mercury in humans was simply raised by a government agency. Today it has been found that 10% of newborns in the Lake Superior watershed have mercury levels in excess of EPA standards. And lastly, that a glass of water poured into the lake takes 191 years to finally exit the lake at its only outlet – the St. Mary’s River.

Langston’s book will become an instant classic on Lake Superior. It is endlessly interesting, surprising, disturbing, informative, and ground-breaking.

Sustaining Lake Superior: An Extraordinary Lake in a Changing World by Nancy Langston. Yale University Press. 2017. $35.

Lake Effect
by Erin McCahan

Briggs Henry is eighteen, just graduated high school, has a full-ride academic scholarship to U of M, and intends to be a millionaire by the age of 30.  Yeap, Briggs, still a teenager, has carefully, thoroughly, and thoughtfully laid out plans for his life, and they are all going to turn toes up during a summer spent on the Lake Michigan beach in Erin McCahan's hugely entertaining coming of age novel.  

The indefatigable Briggs has a motto that pretty much sums up his attitude toward life, "I've got this." In his senior year, he did volunteer work at a senior center where he developed ten, what Briggs calls "Old Person Smiles," which he is sure can be employed to handle virtually any situation life throws at him. One of which he calls, "No, Nixon Is Not the Current President Smile." The volunteer work leads to a summer job in South Haven cleaning, painting, and repairing a Victorian house owned by an 84-year-old widow. Lake Michigan is only steps away from the Victorian's front door and Briggs looks upon the next two months as a vacation before his life's plan and lots of hard work starts him toward his first million.    

In Briggs' short life, the Henry family has gone from riches to rags.  Dad had an Oldsmobile dealership. When GM dropped the car Mr. Henry took a buy out and invested all his money in property. This was in 2008 when the economy crashed and property values left the Henry's penniless. The family went from a mansion to what his mom calls a "shoebox." The 28-foot yacht was sold, and they even had to give away their dog. So being a success and making money is very important to Briggs.

The book is filled with memorable characters but Briggs' Grandma Ruth and Mrs. Bozic who hires Briggs for the summer steal every scene in which they appear. Mrs. Bosic is Serbian and has an accent that twists English into knots. The first time Briggs and Mrs. Bozic meet and the lady tries to teach Briggs to correctly pronounce her name is nearly as funny as the Abbott and Costello "Who's on First" bit. Briggs also acts as the lady's chauffeur and finds himself driving Mrs. Bozic to countless, what she calls, "her funerals."

Grandma Ruth is also in her 80s. She is stern, tight-lipped, often gruff, and demanding. She also can't stand sarcasm which Briggs spouts with the regularity of Old Faithful. Grandma Ruth's graduation present to her grandson is a ficus plant which she dares him to kill. Briggs knows there's, "No saying no to Grandma Ruth. Not even no, thank you. She was a kind of a fascist, and my parents were not a part of  the resistance movement." Grandma also liked to arrive without warning and leave without goodbyes. Or as Briggs says, "Coming or going, she was like the wind. The wind or diarrhea."

Then there is Abigail, the intriguing and rather mysterious girl living next door to Mrs. Bozic. Briggs finds himself attracted to Abigail even though she seems somewhat eccentric, doesn't like to talk about herself, has a tongue sharper than a filleting knife, and is addicted to Oreo cookies.

Briggs is in for quite a summer, one that will challenge his belief in his master plan or even trying to make a plan. The book is billed as a YA novel but this on-the-cusp-of-senility reviewer enjoyed the book immensely. Maybe because like everyone else my age, we know carefully laid plans are as changeable as Michigan weather. Any adult will enjoy this smart, funny, and wise book and will be sorry to turn the last page because they'll want to spend more time with the characters. 

The Lake Effect by Erin McCahan. Dial Books. 2017. $17.99

Robert Wangard

This is the first mystery I have stumbled across by Robert Wangard, a retired Chicago lawyer who summers in northern Michigan. It appears I have some catching up to do if this mystery novel is as good as the six previous mysteries featuring Pete Thorsen, a Frankfort, Michigan lawyer. 

Attorney Pete Thorsen has had trouble in the past keeping his nose out of official police business. The Benzie County Sheriff has developed a pronounced dislike for the attorney because Thorsen has embarrassed him in past investigations and shown up the sheriff for being obstinate, narrow-minded, and a poor investigator. When Bud Stephanopoulis, a semi-retired investment banker and a semi-friend of Thorsen’s is shot by a sniper while jet skiing on Crystal Lake it looks like Thorsen is once again going to be drawn into the sheriff’s orbit.

No one knows if the victim was just unlucky enough to be a random target of a thrill killer, or if Stephanopoulis was the target of a hit man. The killing strikes close to home for Thorsen because his teenage daughter was also riding a jet ski at the time and only ten feet from the banker when he was killed. A tip sends the sheriff after a veteran just returned from Afghanistan who suffers from PTSD and has anger issues. The sheriff thinks the suspect is faking PTSD, and the case against the soldier tightens when the gun used to shoot Stephanopoulis is found in a memorial the veteran built to honor his buddies who never made it home.

The banker was supposedly retired, but Thorsen discovers the dead man was pitching an unethical, if not illegal investment scheme. Worst still, Thorsen finds a letter in the dead man's  possession recommending the shaky investment portfolio written on Thorsen's stolen letterhead and bearing his forged signature. Pete is forced into conducting his own investigation into Stephanopoulis’ life and death in order to clear his good name as an attorney.

Thorsen’s daughter is spending the summer with him before heading east to college and is eager to join the investigation as her father’s Dr. Watson. The father/daughter relationship is finely drawn, the minor characters are more than paper cutouts, and even the victim comes across as both interesting and someone who wouldn’t be easy to warm up to.

Wangard has constructed a believable and tightly plotted mystery that keeps the reader guessing to the end and then slips in a surprising twist. The author does a fine job of capturing the feel and ambiance of the heavily visited Sleeping Bear Dunes and Traverse City tourist mecca. My only beef with the book’s portrayal of the area is the lack of any mention of the terrible traffic in the region during the summer months. But that seems like nitpicking this fine mystery.

Let’s just say if you’re going north to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park/Traverse City area this coming summer just stick a copy of Wangard’s book in the glove box in case you get caught in a Traverse City area traffic jam. If traffic has stopped moving, the book won’t.

  Victim by Robert Wangard. Amp&ersand, Inc. 2017, $17.95

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Post # 14

Quote for the Day: "When it's February in Detroit its been winter forever."
                                   Loren Estleman, Lady Yesterday. 1987.


Zingerman's Bakehouse
by Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo

And on the eighth day, God created Zingerman's deli so the faithful and the doubting Thomases alike could make pilgrimages to Ann Arbor where they beheld and consumed marvelous gastronomical wonders reverently layered between slices of artisanal bread. And in good time, Zingerman's Bakehouse took form and shape from a pinch of flour and a bit of yeast so that the Zingerman's afflicted could take home a crusty loaf of bread, a dozen divine cookies, or any number of heavenly confections. It is no exaggeration to say that over the last 25-years the Bakehouse has attracted fans who look upon the bakery with as much reverence as those who fill Ann Arbor's Big House each fall to worship at the feet of Wolverine football. 

In the beginning, there was the deli, then the Roadhouse and the Bakehouse, and now behold the cookbook. Yes, supplicants' prayers have been answered. One doesn't have to journey to Ann Arbor to bring home a Bakehouse Pecan Blondie, a loaf of Roadhouse or Farm Bread, Bakehouse Brownies, a Hot Cocoa Cake, Big O Cookies, Chocolate Coconut Macaroons or dozens of other Zingerman's signature baked goods. The book is chock-a-block full of Zingerman's classic recipes for favorite loaves of bread and I've-died-and-gone-to-heaven cakes, cookies, pies, and brownies. 

The authors are master bakers and co-owners of the bakehouse. They discuss the bakery's mission, the creation and evolution of most of the Bakehouse's recipes, and even credit present and past employees who first came up with the recipe. Each author talks about their cooking background, how they got the Bakehouse started,  and their favorite can't-pass-up bakery item.

The authors also discuss and recommend certain ingredients, give plenty of basic baking tips, and methods, and describe how some of the Bakehouse's iconic products were developed. The recipes are clearly written and much easier to follow than I would have expected, and each of them, even the sweets in which I substituted gluten-free flour, came out of the oven mouth-watering perfect. 

A word of warning: You should only browse through this heavily illustrated book containing photo after photo of scrumptious looking cakes, loaves of bread, pies, cookies, and scones only after placing it under a sneeze guard. If you don't, like me, you're going to get drool all over the book's pages. 

Zingerman's Bakehouse by Emy Emberling & Frank Carollo. Chronicle Books, 2017, $29.95

Winter’s Bloom
By John Wemlinger

Where to start? Frankly, this was a book I was hesitant to pick up. The cover art and blurb described the book as “a poignant tale of loss, love, and redemption” involving a war hero and a wealthy widow. Romance and heaps of sentimentality just aren't in my reading wheelhouse. Then I saw the dedication which, in part, reads, “In admiration of the citizens of Flint, Michigan, who endured the incredible corporate and governmental ineptitude resulting in the Great Recession of 2009. Now you must endure the monumental failure of government that caused Flint’s 2016 water crisis. You are America’s most resilient city!” As a Flint native, this was the first time a book’s dedication was the hook that made me turn to page one.  Ironically, only a small portion of the book takes place in Flint but it does contribute to one of the book’s major character’s development.

Rock Graham is retired after a thirty-year career as a Flint shop rat. A few wise investments and a lot of 60-hour weeks on the line have provided him with a comfortable retirement in Flint where he lives in a pleasant apartment above the garage of his life-long friend and his wife. And although the year is set in 2008, Rock is not greatly affected by the collapsing economy or GM’s flirt with bankruptcy. Rock is also a Vietnam vet and PTSD is still a constant presence in his life. With his landlords heading to Florida for the winter, Rock decides to rent a house for the winter an hour north of Holland on the Lake Michigan shore. Within a week of moving in an injured, malnourished border collie shows up on his doorstep and is quickly adopted.

Claire Van Zandt lives in Holland and has been widowed for three years and still occasionally considers grief counseling. She is also obscenely rich and although she owns three houses, five cars, and the money still flows in from her dead husband’s company like water over Niagara Falls, she gives millions away every year to food banks and other charities. She is especially aware of how the economic situation is hurting the poor. One daughter is planning her marriage and the older daughter is putting her job before her child and trying to make a go of a stressed marriage. On a whim, Claire decides to spend some time at the family cottage an hour north of Holland with her constant companion, a yellow lab. As fate, or the author, would have it, Claire’s cottage is next door to the one Rock has rented for the winter.

The dogs bring the two neighbors together for long walks on the beach. Rick and Claire enjoy each other’s company and a budding friendship develops. The friendship results in thoughtful discussions of the day’s issues and glimpses into their backgrounds and lives. Each slowly begins to inhabit the other’s life, and love blossoms. And with it come a number of problems, including medical, family, and social. Wemlinger has written an often moving and sensitive book about two aging loners who find someone to share their life with without drowning the story in sentimentality or melodrama.

The author, a retired U. S. Army Colonel, has written an honest book about to two characters and their lives before and after they met. Rock and Claire seem as real as the reader’s next door neighbors. And whether they are discussing the issues and economics of 2008, dealing with friends, family problems, health, or the displeasure of Claire’s oldest daughter on her mother’s choice of a companion the book very seldom hits a false note. This is not so much a modern romance as it is a novel of two single people, on the cusp of old age, who are lucky enough to find someone to enjoy and share their lives with. John Wemlinger has written an impressive and very promising first novel.

Winter’s Bloom by John Wemlinger. Mission Point Press, 2016, $16.95

Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City
By Tyler R. Tichelar

The author, a seventh-generation resident of the U.P.’s Queen City and the town’s most prolific biographer, has fashioned a most unusual history of the Queen City and a virtual directory of Marquette’s ghosts, apparitions, and haunted places. In addition to digging through the city’s old newspapers and history books, the author consulted with the Upper Peninsula Paranormal Society, the Northern Michigan University Paranormal Research Team, and a local medium in researching the book. 

Frankly, the town seems overrun with ghosts. Just a partial list of places where ghosts have appeared include the town’s ore docks, cemeteries, churches, harbor, a variety of stores and private homes, a hotel, the post office (not the dead letter office), a lighthouse station, city hall, the public library, and an orphanage. It seems you can’t turn around in Marquette without running into a spectral figure. Tichelar is not afraid to debunk or question the validity of some sightings, but the large majority of the ghost stories recounted here have been experienced by numerous people. Furthermore, the paranormal experts say they have detected something ethereal at many of the locations.

Two of the most perplexing sightings have occurred in a clothing store and the local lighthouse that is now a museum. Oscar worked for many years in Getz’s Clothing store. He died on the job from a heart attack while standing next to a rack of pants. In subsequent years the store’s security cameras have filmed his ghost folding slacks when the store is closed.

The lighthouse, now a part of the Marquette Maritime Museum, has a long history of being haunted by a ghost who appears to be a girl of about four-years-old. An employee of the museum says she has seen the apparition several times, others have seen the little girl looking out a 2nd-floor window, and both a museum guide and a visitor on a tour of the building saw the ghost on the light tower stairway. Many more have heard childhood giggles while in the lighthouse. When a mother and her three-year-old son visited the city, they drove past the museum several times. Each time the little boy would point at the lighthouse and say, “I want to play with Jessie.” When mom and son finally visited the lighthouse the boy began running here and there as if playing with someone only he could see. When asked, the boy said he was playing with Jessie. Some years ago the lighthouse was repainted, and after painting the floor in one room the painters took a break to let the paint dry. When they returned they discovered small footprints of a child dried in the paint. The footprints can still be seen today.

It seems almost every room in the town’s Landmark Inn is haunted, but I’m more impressed by the list of celebrities who’ve stayed there over the years. They include Amelia Earhart, Abbott and Costello, Gloria Steinem, Maya Angelou, Duke Ellington, and the Rolling Stones. The book is also sown with intriguing and head-scratching tidbits like the wife who evidently felt the wedding vows, “until death do you part,” wasn’t definitive enough so she divorced her husband after his death. I’m dying to know if the husband contested the divorce.

Tichelaar has written a comprehensive guide to his hometown’s hauntings and, better yet, produced a unique history of the city by way of the ghosts who apparently inhabit it.

Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City by Tyler R. Tichelaar. Marquette Fiction, 2017, $19.95.

If you are moved to buy one of the above books, the easiest method is to hover over the book cover and click your mouse. It will take you directly to a listing of the book on Amazon.


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Post # 13

Quote for the day: "God, you've got a job on your hands in Detroit." Billy Sunday, famed evangelist during his month-long revival in Detroit in 1916.


Nine Lessons I Learned From My Father
by Murray Howe

I became a devoted Red Wings fan in the late 1950s when a Detroit TV station broadcast live the last period of Wings home games. It was also an era rife with televangelism but I had little time for Oral, Jimmy, or Billy because  I had found a hockey god. Instead of constantly asking, pleading, or demanding donations in return for prayers, as the TV ministers did, the seemingly immortal hockey god, wearing a number nine Red Wing jersey, gave of himself. On the ice and off he always gave his best, for the team, the city, his fans, and the game. He became known simply as Mr. Hockey, the best player who ever laced up a pair of hockey skates. He was a beloved presence in the game and the hearts of hockey fans even after he retired. When he died in 2016 the hockey world mourned and his adoring family gathered together and found strength from the incredible private life they shared with a loving man they all idolized.

Gordie Howe's youngest son, Murray was tapped by the family to eulogize his father. This book is a moving, tender, funny, and deeply affectionate account of Murray's reflection on his life as Gordie's son as he prepared his father's eulogy. Gordie spent his last year living with Murray and his family, and Murray, looking back on the experience, saw it as the best year of his life. 

The book is a wonderful tribute to a man who fans worshipped for his accomplishments on the ice and interaction with them off the ice. But only a few close friends and his family knew the extraordinary family man and humanitarian giant he was in private life. Murray idolized his father, and held him in awe. He wanted to be just like his dad and for a long time that meant trying to be a NHL hockey player. It took years for Murray to realize what he really wanted to be was as great a father as Gordie and that the best hockey player in the world was an even better person off the ice.

Murray reveals that his father probably suffered from dyslexia and was teased unmercifully in grade school whenever he was called on to read out load. Gordie seemed to channel that embarrassment into hours and hours of skating on western Canadian ponds and rivers. He also never forgot being bullied and woe to the player on the opposing team who picked on Gordie's teammates. 

Both Gordie and his wife, Colleen set sterling examples of behavior for their children, and backed up their parental role models with talks on personal conduct and behavior. Murray was often at his side as Gordie treated every fan as a friend. He always had time for the public and he treated every person he talked to as, at that moment, the most important person in the world. Gordie was always more interested in a person's character than their financial standing. He often told his son that, "It doesn't cost anything to be nice to someone." 

Gordie and Colleen constantly stressed humility and the couple avoided anything and anyplace that even hinted at elitism or exclusivity. Whenever Gordie was lavished with praise he always told Murray, "you're only as good as your next game." During a game at the old Olympia Murray was in the arena's gloomy, nether regions playing floor hockey with some kids when he bragged that his father was Gordie Howe. No one believed him, so he bet each kid a buck Gordie was his dad, and the rag-tag bunch of boys followed him up to where his mother was sitting. He told Colleen that the boys didn't believe he was Gordie Howe's son and asked mom to set them straight. In so many words she said, "I don't know who you are young man, but if you don't leave me alone I'm calling the police."

Murray and the rest of the family knew Gordie's joy and sense of purpose came from serving everyone around him. Murray says "He absorbed their happiness, multiplied it, and reflected it right back at them." Murray would always take Gordie on his errands and on a visit to a grocery store they were walking to the car when Gordie spotted a kid struggling to push a long cart train back to the store. The 87-year-old hurried over and inserted himself between the kid and the last cart, and pushed the carts back to the store while the somewhat embarrassed young man trailed behind. Murray rushed over, and told the kid who the guy was who just stepped into his job. The young man was ecstatic with joy that Gordie Howe had just given him a hand. The cart corraler pulled out his cell phone and took several selfies with a smiling Gordie Howe draping an arm around the kid's shoulder.

The book is filled with memorable stories, many touching, and most of them funny.  Gordie set the perfect example of savoring every day and enjoying it to the fullest, never taking himself seriously, and being unbelievably humble.  Gordie and Colleen were once sharing a ride with SNL star Mike Myers and his girlfriend. Mike was mortally embarrassed when the girlfriend turned to Gordie and asked what he did for a living. Gordie laughed and said he was a golf caddie. Murray writes that money meant little or nothing to Gordie, "his time, talent and treasures belonged to the world, not to him."  

Simply put, this is a celebration of a man loved by his family and millions of fans for both his talent and his character.  And now that he is gone there is no better example of that character than the son who loved him dearly and wrote this wonderful book. 

Nine Lessons I Learned from My Father by Murrary Howe. Viking, 2017, $24.95  


A Yooper’s Summer on Isle Royale
By Dan Kemper

You may have perused guides to Isle Royale, read a book on the history of the island, even a mystery set there, but you’ve never read a book like this about Michigan’s remote and magnificent national park. The book is cast as a novel, but I’m convinced the author called it fiction simply to protect the innocent, the guilty, the stupid, and to lessen the chances of litigation. Kemper admits the book is based on true events but goes on to say, ”Any resemblance to real people, living or dead is an amazing coincidence.”

This is the story of the summer of 1965 on Isle Royale National Park, told from the point of view of the concession employees who work for about three months as bell hops, chamber maids, cooks, food service workers, and other menial jobs for the park service. They were on the lowest rung of the employment ladder at the park, making $29 a month plus room and board, and any tips they might get. 

Digger and Wayne, two Yoopers and best friends, get summer jobs in the lower forty-eight’s least visited national park. Instead of waiting one day and traveling to the island on the national park’s Ranger III, a 165-foot ship, the two fools left a day early and made the 50-mile crossing of Lake Superior in a 14-foot aluminum boat. It almost resulted in their deaths, from ice, fog, and hypothermia. The author admits he did cross Superior in a small aluminum boat and nearly died doing it.

In addition to the simply foolish sense of adventure in crossing the greatest and most dangerous of the Great Lakes in an open boat, the nineteen-year-old boys knew the park concession didn’t serve alcohol to guests. To augment their meager salaries they were smuggling cases of beer and booze to the island they would sell to park visitors. They also wanted to impress the female employees.

The young men constantly got into trouble for breaking employee rules, thinking up crazy stunts for the hell of it, and throwing wild parties. Readers will grin on nearly every page and laugh out loud in every chapter. The book is filled with wonderful and unforgettable characters. My favorite is John who also cut hair on the side for park concession workers. Here in, his 1965 opinion on going to the moon. “The Kot-tam moon is three, maybe four hunnert miles away. Hell, dats like going from Hancock to da Mackinaw Bridge straight up in da air! No Kot-dam way!”

John liked to name his farts, and was a world-class color commentator on breaking wind. Think of him as the Mickey Redmond (for the uninitiated, the Red Wings color commentator) of farts. Here’s three of John’s comments I’m still laughing about. “You coulda heated two houses for the winter with that one. That was a purple streamer. Catch that one and paint ‘er green.”

Concession employees were not above teasing park visitors. One tourist asked how to tell a male moose from a female moose when the males shed their antlers? The questioner was told, “Simple, when they graze males chew clockwise, and females chew counterclockwise.” The answer was taken as gospel.

But the book is more than just a funny account of Digger and Wayne’s exploits and hijinks, its pages shine with an appreciation for the uniqueness and beauty of the national park, on the biggest island, in the biggest freshwater lake in the world. The book is also sprinkled with bits and pieces of Isle Royale history including the contentious public acquisition of the island in the 1940s. The government bought out the few people who lived there year-round as well as those who had summer cottages. There was no bargaining, or third party evaluation of the property. The government set the prices low, and owners had no choice but to sell. The only bone the government threw owners was that the family could name one of their members who would get a free, life-time lease on the place. Of course the family choose the youngest member to be the lease-holder. In 1965, many of these families were still coming to the island, spending the summer in their old cottages, and giving anyone who would listen an ear full of how unfairly they were treated.

Somehow the two Yoopers survived and thrived on Isle Royale and managed to avoid being thrown out of the park by either the concession operator or the National Park Service. The author is a born storyteller – apparently a Yooper trait -- and this is a rollicking good read that presents a unique point of view of one of Michigan’s great treasures.

A Yooper’s Summer on Isle Royale by Dan Kemp. IUniverse, 2013, $23.95.

Sunburns to Snowstorms: Upper Michigan Weather in Pictures & Stories
by Karl Bohnak and Jack Deo

Thank you Karl Bohnak and Jack Deo for making me feel like a total wuss when it comes to complaining about how insufferable winters are here in Davison, Michigan.  Karl Bohnak, the chief meteorologist at Marquette's WLUC - TV6, has been forecasting U.P. weather for at least 30 years, which may well be the definition of a masochist.  Jack Deo has run a photography studio in Marquette going on four decades and has spent years collecting old and rare photographs of extreme U. P. weather. They have combined their talents to produce a fascinating study of weather north of the bridge, both aberrant and run-of the-mill, using close to 300 historical photographs Deo collected over the years.

The authors present a short  introduction to each section of the book and identify and provide background information for each photograph. Chapters include Wildfires, Floods, Severe Weather, Snowstorms, Shipwrecks, and an entire chapter on the U. P's. greatest snowstorm  know as "The Storm of 1938." Photos of ten-foot high drifts, lakeside houses coated with 8-inches of ice, and towns literally buried in snow are not just interesting but addictive. 

The book also serves as a photographic record of Lake Superior's worst sailing season 1913, the historic Washington Day Blizzard of 1922, and the destruction of Ontonagon by fire in 1896. The fire destroyed 344 buildings, including the Diamond Match Co., leaving some 2,000 people homeless. The book is also a record of  the"stylish" swim wear and winter outerwear of a hundred years ago 

There are too many striking photos to count or even book mark so the reader, or at least this one, kept returning  to the book day after day, fascinated by photos of snow removal from city streets by horses, wagons, and snow shovel wielding men and boys. I was especially struck by a photo of dozens of Great Lakes freighters frozen in ice off Whitefish Point in late spring. Even more powerful were the many photos of both sailing ships and ore carriers tossed on Lake Superior's shore like crumpled tin cans.

The many photos add up an intimate look at the U.P. and how its people faced the worst nature had to throw at them. And to just add balance, the authors include photos of pre World War I U.P. bathing beauties trying to escape extraordinary 100 degree temperatures in Marquette. 

Everybody talks about the weather, some even get paid to talk about it, but Karl and Jack went a step further and created a book on the subject. The result is yet another unique and always interesting book that once again proves Michigan's Upper Peninsula is a world unto itself. The book will always remain in easy reach of my desk so it can be taken down and browsed through whenever I get tired of a Davison, Michigan winter. 

Sunburns to Snowstorms: Upper Michigan Weather in Pictures & Stories by Karl Bohnak & Jack Deo. Cold Sky Publishing, 2017, $28,30.

Storm Struck: When Supercharged Winds Slammed Northwest Michigan
by Robert Campbell, photographs and comments by area residents.

This is also a visually stunning book on Michigan weather. On August 2, 2015, 100-mile-per-hour, straight-line winds and hail slammed  into the northwest, lower peninsula and wreaked havoc from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park to Torch Lake. It was called a hundred-year storm that flattened large swaths of forest, tore up building, left thousands without power, and made parts of Sleeping Bear Dunes unrecognizable.

Mission Point Press of Traverse City, MI, (the town was hit by the storm) asked those who were caught in the grip of the storm to write about their experiences and share their photographs. Seventy photographers sent in pictures. Campbell explains clearly and concisely the origin of the storm and presents a brief narrative of its destructive path across Benzie, Grand Traverse, and Antrim counties. Each chapter recounts the storm's assault on a specific town, or location with a short page or two of narrative followed by a stunning collection of photographs of  the storms impact or approach. Scattered throughout the photographs are quotes by those who witnessed the storm.

The book contains many arresting photographs of monstrously ominous clouds that seem to herald the approach of Hell. They are called bow echo clouds and are considered rare in Michigan. This reviewer can't ever remember seeing one and they are not something one would easily forget. The record of destruction is impressive and miraculously no one died.

The book is also a record of how the towns and neighborhoods responded to the storm and tells of neighbors and strangers who came together to clean up and rebuild their homes and communities. Storm Struck is a great example of how small publishers can be so important in helping record the history of regional or localized events within the state.

Storm Struck by Robert Campbell. Mission Point Press, 2015, $21.48 pb.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Post # 12

Quote of the Day: "If all the lumber cut in Michigan during the white pine lumbering era (1860-1900) would provide enough boards for a solid row of out-houses around the world, as some writers stated, then the amount of whiskey consumed by lumberjacks, tough guys, drummers, and plain drunks during the same period would have made another set of Great Lakes bubbling over with pure whiskey."  Roy L. Dodge, Ticket to Hell: A Saga of Michigan's Bad Men. 1975.


Bloodstoppers & Bearwalkers: Folk Traditions of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, 3rd ed.
by Richard Dorson

I dislike admitting it, but I have rarely, if ever, found a university press book to be sheer, unadulterated fun. Yes, I've found many that were very good reading, eye-opening, and  engrossing but until this book, I've never cracked a university press book that is just such a delight to read. Bloodstoppers and Bearwalkers is all of that and much more. When it was first published in 1952 it was hailed as "extraordinarily interesting, rich and bizarre," and was recognized as an instant classic of American folklore. What initially grabbed me by the collar, had me turning pages, and randomly dipping into the book was its fantastic collection of UP folklore, stories, and jokes.

In 1946, the author received a fellowship from the Library of Congress for the study of American civilization. In April of that year, Dorson set off for five months to study American civilization in of all places -- Michigan's Upper Peninsula. He came to the UP to listen, collect, and record tall tales, superstitions, local stories, jokes, and customs that were brought to the rugged peninsula by Native Americans, loggers, and a veritable melting pot of immigrants. Here in the iron, fish, and timber rich peninsula the ethnic stories, folklore, and customs were warped, moulded, and mutated by the UP experience until a new culture and folklore emerged. Dorson called the Upper Peninsula, "one of the richest storytelling regions in the United States."

The strange bouillabaisse of Finns, French Canadians, Ojibwas, Cornish, Poles, Italians, and Slovenians mixing their local customs, love of stories, bawdy wit, and extravagant tales are here enshrined in 300-plus pages. This 3rd edition of Dorson's original work is graced by a new introduction and the addition of newly collected gems.  I didn't read the book cover to cover because I had more fun dipping into it here and there as if panning for gold. I found it in abundance, from cunningly mischievous characters, and weird tales of shape changers, to ghost ships, sly and cunning tricksters, and a huge helping of simply laugh-out-loud jokes and stories.  

Here's a sampling, bits and pieces in a few cases, of some of  my favorites. When a lumber camp ran low on food a committee was selected to make for the nearest town to buy supplies. When the committee returned the resupply consisted of "several cases of whiskey and a couple of loaves of bread. After staring silently at this exhibit, one jack dourly remarked, "What are we gonna do with all the bread?"

"A Swede goes back to the Old Country and is asked how he liked America. "Py Yesus, it take me twenty year to learn to say yelly and den dey call it yam."

And my favorite is told in a Finnish dialect. A Finnish tavern owner by the name of Frank Uotila from Mass, Michigan visited Hancock. On his return home he had a small sign reading "Nineteen-F-U-twenty-eight" placed on his tavern. When asked why he put those letters and numbers on his building he replied, "Well, I peing up py dat Hancock blace, I seen pilding up dere, it saying nineteen-oh-von-A-D. I asking someone what dat meaning and dey tellin me dat meaning Anno Domini. I saying tis: If dat dem Dago, he putting his 'nitials on his pilding, I put my 'nitials on my pilding."

A truly unique book about a unique corner of our world.

Bloodstoppers & Bearwalkers: Folk traditions of Michigan's Upper Peninsula by Richard Dorson, 3rd ed. University of Wisconsin Press, c2008, 371p. $24.95 pb.

Great Lakes Island Escapes: Ferries and Bridges to Adventure
by Maureen Dunphy.

There is no better time to plan an exotic getaway to an enchanted island than during, or when enduring, a long, cold, bitter, Michigan winter. And we’re not talking about a long flight to a Caribbean Island but planning a summer retreat to one of the 30,000 islands found within the Great Lakes. Every island has its own magic and singular ambience, and with Dunphy’s book in hand it is easy to match your perfect island getaway to one of the nearly 50 islands described in Great Lakes Island Escapes.

This very thorough and authoritative book gives readers all the information they need to choose the island that fits their dream vacation. The author tells the reader how to get there, and how to get around on the island whether by car, bike, foot, or even canoe. Also included in each entry is the availability of overnight accommodations, food, whether a day trip is possible or you need to plan on a longer stay, and the cultural and historical aspects of the island. The author also highlights special events that take place on the island, such as an Indian Pow Wow or a Blue Grass Festival. Often the best part of each descriptive write up is the author’s personal take on the island and what she experienced during her visit.

The breadth and diversity of the islands is staggering. From Isle Royale in the western end of Lake Superior to the islands in the St. Lawrence River is a distance over 600 miles as the crow flies, if the crow so desires, or about 900 miles by car if the bird has a valid driver’s license. The islands vary from being overrun by tourists, to pastoral working farms, municipal parks, true wilderness experiences, or just out-of-the-way, uncrowded getaways.

There’s Mackinac Island with its hordes of tourists, fudge shops, full service high-end hotels, art and souvenir shops that will drain the pocket book, historical treasures to experience, and stunning natural beauty.  Mackinac Island receives 900,000 visitors a year. But if you want to experience the Straits area sans fudge, tourists, and endless souvenir shops try Bois Blanc Island. It receives about 200 annual visitors a year, has miles of flat gravel roads for biking, great views of Lake Huron and the Straits, and boasts a heavily wooded, quiet, pristine beauty. There is a small, rustic campground, a B & B, a few cabin rentals, a small grocery store, all of 47-year-round residents, and the state’s smallest one-room school. The island shelters 200-foot tall white pines, a lighthouse, a Coast Guard Life Saving Station, and a museum. The only thing you might have to stand in line for is the ferry from Cheboygan.

Dunphy introduces readers to the Great Lakes largest and only delta. It’s found where the St. Clair River decants into Lake St. Clair and the “Flats,” as they’re called, is home to some fascinating island destinations. Harsen’s Island has been called the Venice of America because of its profusion of canals. The island’s flat roads make for fine biking with great close-up views of freighters plying the river that carries more freighter traffic than the Panama and Suez Canals combined. There are a few tourist type boutiques in a quaint village to browse through if one lives to shop. Next to Harsen’s Island lies Russell Island. The latter is open to the public one day a year for six hours.  And across the river is Walpole Island which does not belong to either Canada or the U.S. The island is unceded land that has never been included in any treaty with the original setters of the continent, making Walpole Island, First Nation Land. The island contains the greatest biologically diverse habitat in the area, and includes a remnant tall grass prairie. The author was told the famous war chief Tecumseh is buried on the island. There is a museum, unique Native American craft shops, rare plants and a strong sense of community. Two of the best times to visit are during the spring Pow Wow or the Fall Fair. A trip to Walpole Island is a ferry ride to a whole new world.

The writing of this book demanded a staggering amount of research and deserves to be called THE guide for planning a trip to any Great Lakes island reachable by bridge or ferry. The book tells the reader everything they need to know for planning a one-of-a-kind vacation, and I’ll let the author speak for herself as a writer who can put together memorable sentences. She writes, “Isle Royale is simply where you go to return the wilderness to your soul.”

This is the definitive guide and travel companion to Great Lakes island hopping.

Great Lakes Island Escapes: Ferries and Bridges to Adventure by Maureen Dunphy. Wayne State University Press, 2016, $29.95

Unnatural Causes: A Dr. Katie LeClair Mystery
by Dawn Eastman

I knew doing this blog would challenge my long-held reading habits, and introduce me to genres and subjects I had either avoided over the decades, or simply not encountered in my years of reading. So here I find myself reading and reviewing for the first time, what I believe is called, a "cozy mystery."It was not an altogether unpleasant experience, but definitely new and different compared to the likes of Elmore Leonard, Chandler, Tom Franklin, Steve Hamilton, Joseph Heywood, Estleman, and any gritty Irish mystery writer I can lay my hands on.

Dr. Katie LeClair has finished her medical degree and joined a family practice in the small town of Baxter, MI some thirty miles west of Ann Arbor. The work load is enormous and learning the ins and out of a family practice, the diversity of health problems faced by her patients, and finding a way into the tight knit little community of Baxter are all a challenge. Her life and job is totally disrupted when one of  her patients apparently commits suicide. She is shocked to learn the victim used a prescription of sleeping pills with Dr. LeClair's name on the bottle to do the deed, yet Katie is sure she never wrote the prescription. 

Kati decides to look into how her name got on the prescription, and if somebody in her office set her up. It is then discovered the woman didn't die from the sleeping pills but an overdose of Demerol administered by injection, and the suicide is relabeled a homicide. Of course, this just spurs Dr. Katie to undertake her own investigation which leads to some long held secrets in the small town and a number of possible suspects.

Dr. Katie is a strong lead character in what appears to be the first in a series built around the doctor. The author is a former family practitioner and the depiction of a young doctor's introduction to life in a small town, family practice seems very authentic. The book is smoothly written, Eastman is in tight control of her plot, and introduces a host of characters who could all be potential suspects. The author keeps all  the suspects in play like a gifted juggler --  I just had trouble keeping them all sorted out as one left her hands and was tossed in the air while another came to hand.

I was struck by how low key the mystery felt. It was virtually free of real menace until the last few pages, and it would be wrong to call this a thriller. There is very little violence on the page, and you won't find a four-letter word in the book. Neither will you find a sex scene. There is one chaste kiss and and a somewhat more heated hug later in the book. In many ways the book reminded me of an Agatha Christie puzzle. If the Grand Dame of Mysteries is your cup of tea this mystery might be just be a perfect pot of orange pekoe.

Unnatural Causes by Dawn Eastman. Crooked Lane Books, 2017, $26.99

If you are considering the purchase of any of the reviewed books the easiest way is to click on the cover which will take you to Amazon where the price is probably cheaper than the price quoted by the publisher.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Post # 11

Happy New Year! May 2018 be a good year for readers of this blog, Michigan authors, & books about this great state.

Quote for the day: "... there's still a fine line between Michigan and misery --winter." Sonny Eliot,                                       Michigan Living, September 1988.


The Salvager: The Life of Captain Tom Reid on the Great Lakes
by Mary Francis Doner

Originally published in 1958, and long out of print, the University of Minnesota Press has done historians and those interested in Great Lakes maritime history a major service by reprinting  this book. In my fifty-plus years of reading Michigan and maritime histories of our great inland seas the salvaging of shipwrecks seems to have been all but ignored, except for Mary Doner's book. What makes this detailed biography of  Tom Reid so important is that Reid was the first salvage operator on the Great Lakes who made salvaging a science. It's a revelatory account of a chapter of Great Lakes maritime history that seldom makes it into print. 

Tom Reid was born in Alpena in 1870, and at age six moved to St. Ignace where his father started a small salvage business. For young Tom, school was a complete waste of time and effort because the freshwater seas became his obsession. He was working on his father's tugs by his teens, and captained a tug by his early twenties. He started out by towing vast rafts of white pine across and down Lake Huron to sawmills, but he jumped at any chance to do salvage work. He designed his own tools and equipment, and created new methods for raising Great Lake bulk carriers.
Tom Reid earned a reputation for raising wrecks other experts thought couldn't be salvaged, and by his mid twenties became a partner in his father's firm. The author was given access to  the company records, and the book's biggest surprise is the salvage business seems to be all risk. Every salvage operation holds danger and can be life threatening. Captain Reid narrowly escaped death on several jobs. Some of his crew were not so lucky.

Every salvage job is also a financial risk. Salvage operators contact the wreck's owner or the  insurer and make a bid on raising the vessel. Low bid wins and a low bid, even the the Depression, could often exceed $25,000. Doner's careful examination of the company's books show that on several occasions  Reid's company spent thousands of dollars trying to raise a ship only have  the wreck break up, leaving the salvage company holding the bag for its expenses. They are only paid if they raise the wreck. Or, if the shipping company feels the the wreck is a total loss, Reid might offer to buy the hulk for a few thousand dollars. If he is able to raise it, tow it to a dry dock for repair, and then sell it he's in for a big payday. If he can't, he's out the purchase price and the money he invested in trying to raise the wreck.

Obviously, it's a pretty stressful life and made more so by long absences from his family. Reid was married to a devoted wife who was left to raise the kids, and endure months of worry and loneliness. Reid missed the births of his children, graduations, wedding anniversaries, and other important family events. It put a terrible strain on his wife who always found a way to manage the stress and her family. The author's inclusion of the story of those left on shore is an important addition to the maritime history of the Great Lakes.

My only complaint with the book is the author's almost obsessive inclusiveness in listing every wreck Captain Reid ever salvaged. Some pages read like an accountants brief notation of the date, place, fees charged, and a very short description of how the wreck was raised. I would have wished for a more detailed explanation of the more difficult and dangerous jobs and an appendix listing every salvage job.

In spite of the above minor complaint, this book is a valuable look into the rarely written about world of the Great Lakes salvage business.

The Salvager: The Life of Captain Tom Reid on the Great Lakes by Mary Francis Doner. University of Minnesota Press, 2017, $21.95

Lost in the Woods: Building a Life Up North
by Richard Hill

A quarter century ago the author and his wife decided to sell their profitable kiosk in the Cherryland Mall in Traverse City, and build a log home on Lake Superior, just west of their hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. If this book starts out as a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of building your own log home, it also becomes a rumination on life and living in the U.P. The book succeeds on both counts.

The idea of a log house appealed to the author and his wife because the couple wanted a home that was distinctly and artfully different in this "age of massed-produced sameness." The author did his due diligence in researching log homes. He became familiar with the laundry list of problems inherent in building a log house, but nothing he read, or asked log home companies prepared him for the reality of building one. When Hill discovered the final cost of the house would be much higher than the couple had budgeted, he committed his first major mistake. To save money, he became his own general contractor.

Readers who have their hearts set on a log home may not be deterred by this cautionary tale, but they will have been warned of the many special problems that  occur in building them. Hill admits that he made many mistakes being his own general contractor, the worst of which was not writing detailed contracts for his sub-contractors. Hill quickly found out carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and most sub-contractors don't like working on log homes, and they either failed to live up to their contracts, or didn't fulfill verbal promises Hill failed to write into the contracts. He also discovered the log home company failed to mention, or glossed over inconvenient truths about building a log home. He was told by the company that the logs were hand peeled, but when delivered he found the logs had been peeled by machines which left them very rough. It took the author over two weeks of manhandling a 20-pound grinder to smooth all the logs.

The old home-repair saying is equally applicable to building a log home. The "simple stuff" is never simple and the "easy, little jobs" take forever. The two to three years Hill thought it would take to finish the house turned into 25. The author finally shed the pressure and his frustration by learning to simply enjoy the process.

Woven within the account of a house that took longer to build that one of  Egypt's great pyramids the author recalls his childhood in the Soo, reflects on his Finnish fore bearers who settled the U.P., and how living in Michigan's northern peninsula tests and tempers a person.  The hard winters, a rugged environment, and great swatches of near wilderness made for tough, fiercely independent, and proud people. 

The lesson any reader will learn from this enjoyable and thought provoking book is that building any home is part and parcel of building a life.

Lost in the Woods: Building a Life UP North by Richard Hill. Gale Force Press, 2017, $19.95.

The Great Lakes at Ten Miles an Hour: One Cyclist’s Journey Along the Shores of the Inland Seas
By Thomas Shevory

I’ve had a love affair with the Great Lakes from my first trip across the Straits of Mackinac on a car ferry and spied the towers of the great span that would tie the state’s two peninsulas together rising out of the water. That said, you couldn’t pay me enough to ride a bicycle around the shores of all five Great Lakes. But you also wouldn’t have to pay me to reread this informative and always interesting narrative by a professor of politics at Ithaca College who, over the course of four summers, pedaled from 40 to 100 miles a day as he made his way around all five lakes.

The author is a perceptive and keen observer of culture, nature, history, and geology and reading the book is like riding on his handle bars and listening to a running commentary of whatever might appear around the next bend in the road.  Shevory is very good at finding the little things that define a place, so for this reader even the familiar is looked at from a fresh prospective.

The author found a striking difference between the Canadian and American sides of the Great Lakes. Except for Superior, the American side of the four other Great Lakes are much more heavily populated than the Canadian side. On the lower lakes big cities huge the shores and as one travels north the coast is lined with cottages. On the Ontario side the coastline, of the lower lakes, is heavily devoted to agriculture. If there are stretches where cottages and cabins replace farms it is highly likely the vacation homes have to be built across the road from the beach. This leaves the beach open for every ones enjoyment.

The author finds it hard to account for the night and day difference between Canadian and American cities that are virtually twin cities. Traveling from Port Huron to Sarnia, the Canadian Soo to the American Soo, or from Detroit to Windsor, Shevory unfailingly found the Canadian city cleaner, had significantly less vacant buildings, and in nearly every aspect, were in better shape. The author concludes Canadians put more “stock in its cities and supports the infrastructure that makes them work,”

Shevory was even more disturbed after biking through the Michigan twin cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan. Benton Harbor is 90% African American, has 26% unemployment, and a 40% poverty rate. Just across the river, St. Joseph is 90% white, has only 2% unemployment, and the poverty rate is too small to count. Shevory writes: “A starker contrast between two Americas, one poor and black, the other comfortable and white, would have been hard to find.”

All is not bleakness here though. The book is a painless geography lesson on the Great Lakes area and the book captures the inspiring beauty of the coastline, its geological and human history, and the physical demands and rewards found in long-distance bike touring. The author has an eye for the curious whether man or municipality. He meets a man in Alpena who has nine very literary cats. One can only assume they’re literary from the fact that the man read them the entire works of William Faulkner and had begun reading Dostoyevsky to them every night.

In 1963 when Sputnik IV lost orbital speed and fell to earth, a large chunk of it landed in a Wisconsin city street. A brass ring is embedded in the street where the junk from outer space landed, and every September since 2011, the city holds a Sputnikfest which includes the “crowning of Miss Space Debris.”

This is a very good armchair-travel book and the author is a great travel companion. You almost get to know him and his moods well enough to tease him. It seems he can unerringly sniff out a Tim Horton’s in any city that has one, where he is certain to order two toasted raisin bagels, orange juice, and coffee for breakfast. He also seems to have a weakness for Chinese buffet dinners, and after eating in one the author invariably complains about its poor quality. Yet Shevory never thinks twice about hitting the next Chinese buffet he runs across.

I’m ready for another trip as long as the pedaling is left to Shevory.

The Great Lakes at Ten Miles an Hour by Thomas Shevory. University of Minnesota Press, 2017, $16.95.

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Post # 16

Quote of the Day: "Ann Arbor was at the extreme west end of the habitable world, beyond which the sun went down into a boundless, ...