Friday, October 19, 2018

Tocqueville Exhibit Opens

By Frank Boles

On October 9, the Clarke Library opened its newest exhibit, Tocqueville’s Two Weeks in the Wilderness. The library’s reference librarian, and resident scholar of early nineteenth century Michigan, John Fierst, curated the exhibit and spoke at the presentation that accompanied the opening. If you’d like to hear the presentation please use this link:

Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1831 trip to the United States resulted in one of the most quoted books describing governance in the young Republic. Democracy in America, published in 1835, was a liberal, French nobleman’s take on the great experiment in self-rule beginning in North America. Tocqueville believed democracy inevitable and overall he found the way it was growing in the United States to be successful.

The Clarke’s exhibit, however, does not focus on Tocqueville’s famous book, but rather a portion of the trip often overlooked – a visit to Saginaw, Michigan. Tocqueville and his friend and traveling companion, Gustave de Beaumont, came to America not just to learn about how democracy worked here. But they also wanted to see two things that Europe lacked: virgin forest and Native Americans. It was for these reasons Tocqueville Beaumont made the spontaneous decision to come to Michigan Territory. The forests of New York State were simply too well groomed by the settler’s axe. The Native Americans they met in the East were not the proud, independent warriors they imagined, and who in retrospect looked suspiciously like an idealized view of their own sense of what the French nobility should be.

What resulted, a long essay by Tocqueville entitled Two Weeks in the Wilderness, is in turns comic, inspiring and tragic. Tocqueville could certainly see the humor in America, and in how he sometimes had to deal with Americans and their idiosyncrasies. As they approached Todd’s Tavern, near Flint, Tocqueville was startled to see a large black bear standing in his path. He could not but wonder, “what the devil kind of country is this, where they use bears as watchdogs?”

Tocqueville also spoke with considerable unhappiness about “Yankee” settlers inability to understand his desire to see nature unblemished by civilization and their consistent disparaging comments about Native Americans. The settlers then pouring into Michigan found equally puzzling why someone would just want to go out and look at uncut trees or talk to Indians.

To find his wilderness, Tocqueville resorted to subterfuge. He visited the federal land office in Detroit early one morning and asked the typical question of where a man might profitably invest money in land. He was told that the land near Lake Michigan was particularly promising, and thus quickly removed that destination from his travel plans. He then casually asked if there were any places he would be wise to avoid. Saginaw, came back the quick reply; a place full of uncut forest, hostile Indians, and mosquitoes.

Overjoyed by discovering a location Americans found wretched, he and Beaumont hurried away to plan their trip. By 11:00 that morning they had rented horses, purchased supplies and were on their way. Saginaw proved everything they hoped for, and of which the land office supervisor thought so little. 

Of the forest Tocqueville would write of how he experienced “the sweetest and most natural emotions of the heart,” emotions he said words could not convey. Being in the forest near Saginaw was one of “those rare moments when the universe stands in perfect equilibrium before your eyes. When the soul, half asleep, hovers between present and future, between the real and the possible. When surrounded by natural beauty and quite warmth, man , at peace with himself amid universal peace, can hear the beat of his own heart, each pulse marking the passage of time as it flows drop by drop into the eternal river.”

Tocqueville was equally aware of the fragility of the environment he found so inspirational. “This savage natural grandeur is about to meet its end, and the idea of it mingles in the mind with the superb images to which the triumphant march of civilization gives rise. One feels proud to be human, yet at the same time one somehow feels bitter regret that God had granted man so much power over nature.”  He knew it would soon all be changed by ‘the impetus that drives the white race to conquer the whole of the New World.”

Tocqueville was less successful in meeting his idealized Native. Part of the problem was simply that he could not speak Ojibway. For example, along the trail he meets, an Indian, who did not speak English.  Tocqueville’s initial reaction was to fear the man, but although they could only communicate with signs, soon enough the mood changed. Of the experience Tocqueville wrote, “A serious Indian and a smiling Indian are two completely different people. A savage majesty predominates in the stillness of the former to which one reacts with an involuntary feeling of terror. Let the same man smile and his whole face takes on a simple, kindly expression that lends it real charm.”
Having hired two Native Americans to guide them on the final part of their journey to Saginaw, Tocqueville wrote, “We felt completely in their power. Here the tables were turned. Plunged into darkness and forced to rely on his own strength, the civilized man proceed blindly, incapable of negotiating the labyrinth or even preserving his own life. Faced with the same challenges, the savage triumphs. For him the forest holds no mysteries. He is at home. He walks with his head held high, guided by an instinct more trustworthy than the navigator’s compass….  As they led us by the hand, like children, their smiles seemed almost contemptuous.”
Tocqueville eventually reached Saginaw. He decided it was worth the trouble of getting there, and we hope you will take the time to join us and view the exhibit, Tocqueville’s Two Weeks in the Wilderness. We hope you will also enjoy the companion publication, Aristocracy on the Saginaw Trail: Alexis de Tocqueville In Michigan, written by John Fierst and available without charge in paper in the Clarke’s exhibit galleries or online at 
Our thanks go to Judge Avern Cohn, whose financial support made possible the catalog and maps found in the exhibit.
And for the record, Tocqueville and Beaumont not only found forests and Natives in Saginaw, they also found mosquitoes. 
“This little bug is the scourge of the American wilderness. Its presence would be enough to make a long stay unbearable. I have never been subjected to torture equivalent to what I experienced throughout this journey and especially during our stay in Saginaw. During the day the mosquitoes prevented us from drawing, writing, or remaining in one place for even a moment; at night thousands of them hovered about us. Any part of the body left uncovered immediately became their gathering place. Awakened by the pain of a bite, we would cover our heads with sheets, but they could pierce right through them. Hunted down and pursued by these small insects, we got up and went outside for some fresh air until at last we succumbed to fatigue and slept intermittently and badly.”
Tocqueville’s “triumphant march of civilization” in which he took such pride, seems to have met its match in tiny insects. Then again, we would be wise to remember that the twenty-first century has yet to figure out how to keep “the scourge of the American wilderness” from ruining a camping trip.

Friday, September 21, 2018

CMU Alumni Awards

by Bryan Whitledge

What happens when thousands of outstanding students earn degrees from Central Michigan University? They become outstanding alumni. And a few of the thousands of former Chips putting their stamp on the world will be honored on September 21, 2018 at CMU’s annual Alumni Awards event. This year’s honorees include René and Stan Shingles, Isaiah Oliver (2007), Sarah Opperman (1981), Bob Schellhas (1988), and Mackenzie Flynn (2018).

Each year, the Alumni Awards banquet is among the biggest events the CMU Alumni Association produces. But how did this long-standing autumn tradition come about? As with many things at CMU, it goes back decades.

The first Central graduate to be honored as a member of the alumni was Clara Moyer, who, in 1963, turned 100 years old and was honored by the University as the “oldest alumnus.”

Clara Moyer and her dog with
a guest and a copy of CM Life

Four or so years later, CMU created a plan to honor 75 people during the 1967-68 school year. These alumni, as well as other individuals who made significant contributions to the University, would receive one of the 75th Anniversary Awards. Included in the list of recipients are notable alumni such as Dick Enberg - a sports announcer and journalist, Alice Miel - a longtime Columbia University professor and chair of their Department of Curriculum and Teaching, Lem Tucker - award winning journalist, Bob Griffin - a US Senator and member of the House of Representatives, and Mamie Baird - a teacher and social worker in Cotazar, Mexico for over 30 years after graduating with a BS from Central in 1935.

Even though the 75th Anniversary Awards were a success, honoring alums wasn’t quite a an annual tradition at that point. But the seed was planted. Just five years later, in October 1973, CMU presented Clarence Tuma with the first “Alumni Recognition Award” and Malcolm Kienzle with the first “Honorary Alumnus Award.” Four years after that, CM Life profiled one specific inductee into the “Golden ‘C’ Club,” as they called it, Ruth Mavis Williams (1927). While you may not know the name, you know the legacy she left Central 90 years ago – the lyrics to the alma mater!

Since 1973, every fall, CMU has handed out a variety of awards to alumni. Today’s awards include the Honorary Alumni Award, which was handed out first in 1973, as well as the Alumni Service Recognition Award, the Dick Enberg Alumni Commitment Award, the Distinguished Alumni Award, and the Future Alumni Leader Award.

Congrats to all of this year’s winners and congrats to the Alumni Association, for 45 years of recognizing outstanding Chips who have put their stamp on the world.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Unintended Consequences

By Frank Boles

Historical documentation is often an afterthought. People “in the moment” are usually not thinking about history or historical documentation – they are thinking about and recording things they need or learning about things they want to know. One of the primary examples of this phenomena is local newspapers. No one publishes or buys a local newspaper for historical reasons, but one of the Clarke Historical Library’s premier projects has been to preserve and distribute historical copies of Michigan’s local newspapers, which almost always serve as the most complete record of community history.

How fully local history is recorded in daily papers is the result of a wide variety of things; things no one would often connect to local history. The amount of local history found in newspapers is often an unintended consequence.

One example of this situation is the often proclaimed death of the newspaper as we have known it. I have read many a story proclaiming the end of printed newspapers. Others who read those same articles told me that if the trend continued the Clarke would soon be out of the “historical newspaper business.”
What we have seen, instead, is that many newspapers have remain financially successful, and that the vast majority of those financially successful papers have adopted a laser focus on local news. Although they can’t compete with CNN to report the latest events in Washington, they can make money covering local government, local schools, and local sports, things CNN never talks about.  

Although newspapers adopted a local-news focused business model as a way to survive financially, we at the Clarke quietly smiled at the unintended historical consequences of the change. Local papers with rich local coverage become a rich local historical resource. From our point of view, the often advertised “death” of the newspaper has resulted in a renaissance of local reporting in newspapers and a resurgence of material for local history. Times have been good for those of us in the historical newspaper business!

Workmen positioning newsprint
rolls in a warehouse.
But unintended benefits bestowed by one set of circumstances can be taken away by another. One ingredient of the plethora of local news appearing in today’s newspapers is cheap newsprint. Newsprint, however, has become a casualty in the growing trade war between the United States and Canada.

In the United States today there are only five paper mills which still make newsprint. The last newsprint manufacturer in Michigan, Manistique Paper, closed in 2011. American capacity to produce newsprint has atrophied because most American paper mills now produce other, more profitable paper products, particularly cardboard. Online purchasing has been very profitable not only for Amazon, but for the people making the cardboard and the boxes in which those purchases are shipped.

This migration of American paper mills away from newsprint production resulted in unmet demand that was answered by increased Canadian production and sales of newsprint in the U.S. Today about 60 percent of U.S. newsprint needs are met by Canadian paper mills. Given our state’s geographic nearness to Canada and easy access to Canadian markets over three international bridges, Michigan newspapers have usually turned to Canadian sources of newsprint. New tariffs on imported Canadian newsprint have significant financial implications for Michigan newspapers.

By way of example, Stafford Printing and Publishing, located in Greenville, which publishes a number of local newspapers, including the Grand Haven Tribune, the Lansing Pulse, the Ann Arbor Observer, two Spanish language newspapers (one distributed in Detroit and the other in Grand Rapids) and a newspaper for the Amish community, has seen newsprint prices soar. Stafford’s newsprint costs have increased about 30 percent; by about $2,400 for each truckload of paper they purchase. They purchase about ten loads a month. The papers they print, to which these costs are passed along, are cutting page count and taking any other steps they can think of to reduce the amount of paper they use.

A cartoon about the Tariff of 1842.

The unintended consequence of tariffs imposed on Canadian newsprint is less local news now, and less information for future local historians.  Unintended consequences are everywhere – even in things so seemingly different as a trade war between the U.S. and Canada and documenting Michigan local history.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Douglass Houghton's Impact on Michigan History

By Sam Tibebe

Douglass Houghton painting from A History of Michigan in Paintings by Robert A. Thomas. Courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.

Growing up with a history professor as your father you learn to love and hate history, although it remained highly valuable, even today. Consequently, I ran far away from history only to study the history of the Earth, through geology. Webster’s Dictionary defines geology as “a science that deals with the history of the earth and its life especially as recorded in rocks.” The history of mankind pales in comparison to the history of the earth, which is over billions of years old. Earth’s history is recorded in rock records whereas mankind records history in written words. Although rock records do not reveal everything about their past, they are absolute and precise with the information they do provide. For example, one of the first things a geologist will look for in an outcrop is the rock's texture, ranging from grain size to types of minerals seen by hand. These textures are the written history of rocks, allowing geologists to make interpretations and assumptions about the environment’s deposition. While working as a student assistant at Clarke, I was asked to look up content about Douglass Houghton for a social media post. I jumped at the opportunity to combine geology and history together.

Douglass Houghton's Field Notebooks, c. 1838. Handwritten notes on Mackinaw and the Upper Peninsula. Courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.

I have had the fortune of taking several field trips during my academic career at Central Michigan University, as the first time I heard of Douglass Houghton was during a trip up Quincy Mine in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Douglass Houghton was the definition of a renaissance man who was geologist, physician, mayor, philanthropist, Professor, and even was a U.S. Indian Agent (U.S. government official authorized to interact with Native Americans).

1st Edition Survey Map of Marquette Township by Douglass Houghton, c. 1838.
Courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.

From the Detroit Historical Society site, in The Encyclopedia of Detroit, Houghton was born in September 21, 1809 in Troy, New York to a Lawyer/ Magistrate father who demand academic excellence from his sons and daughters. He then attended and graduated from Rensselaer School of Science, premier school at the time and still open in Troy, New York, with a degree of geology in 1830 and medicine in 1831. It was safe to say that Houghton was a child genius which made him a great mentee for The Rensselaer co-founder Amos Eaton, a renowned geologist himself. When a the territorial governor of Michigan asked Eaton to give a lecture, he deferred to his protégée Houghton, who quickly became the talk of the town. This led Houghton to form the Detroit Young Men’s Society.

Houghton became the first Michigan State Geologist when Michigan became a state in 1837. In this  role, he began the Township Survey Maps Project, which set the modern day county boundaries. It was during this time it made the greatest contribution to Michigan and the U.S. as a whole, with the exploitation and discovery of mineral deposits contributing to an economic and immigration surge. According to Mining History Association, this lead to the largest copper mining operation in the U.S. history, and led to the creation of many mining companies like Quincy, Tamarack, and Calumet and Hecla. Quincy Mine is now a popular tourist attraction and one of the few that actually take tourists underground.

Houghton was supported by many, which resulted in him being elected as Mayor while he was on one of his expeditions. Houghton was also a professor at the University of Michigan, and might have been governor of the state in the 1845. Unfortunately, Douglass Houghton died at the young age of 36 years old in 1845. Houghton’s dedication to this work lead him to misjudge a storm and to sail off in Lake Superior leading to this death. In homage to his legacy, there is a county and city, as well as statues, schools, and even a hall at the University of Michigan named after him. Mining in the Upper Peninsula has decreased, but as new and more efficient technology is being developed we are seeing a new surge in the area with the formation of new mines like Eagle Mine.

Biographic Sketch of Douglass Houghton - Michigan's First State Geologist, 1837-1845 by Wallin, Helen McCarthy. Courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.

The Clarke Historical Library collection on Douglass Houghton is quite impressive not just in terms of geology, but also Michigan’s history. The first edition, personally written by Houghton, surveys maps of townships including Lapeer, Livingston, Marquette, Saginaw, Houghton, Oakland, Shiawassee, Tuscola, and Wayne. Other first edition paper, letters, field note, account ledgers, and even biographical sketches all written by Houghton but also material about him and his life from memoir to bibliography like Michigan’s Columbus: The life of Douglass Houghton by Steve Lehto. All of these and more can be found at the Clarke Historical Library, come check it out Here.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Maureen Dunphy Speaks at the Library

By Frank Boles

On a hot, muggy summer’s evening in mid-Michigan it isn’t hard to dream about escaping to an island somewhere on the Great Lakes. One can imagine escaping the summer doldrums, sitting along the beach, enjoying the breeze, watching the sun set, and reflecting on just how good life is.

Maureen Dunphy, author of Great Lakes Island Escapes: Ferries and Bridges to Adventure,(Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2016) spoke at the library on July 17. The book began one day while she and her husband were on Mackinac Island enjoying a do-it-yourself happy hour and began thinking about other Great Lakes islands they could visit. She decided that she wanted to live the dream, and she went looking for a book that talked about Great Lakes island vacations that began somewhere other than the Star Line dock. She discovered that no one had written such a volume. How many islands could there be, she reasoned. Maybe thirty or forty at most? And how much fun could someone have going to them and writing about the islands and the experiences of visiting them?

It turned out in writing the book Dunphy visited 136 islands that can be reached either by publicly accessible bridges or by travelling on regularly scheduled ferries. The book describes them all; although for purposes of the presentation Ms. Dunphy talked about five delightful destinations; one in each of the five Great Lakes.

One of the trips she described was going to Lake Superior’s Island Royale. The national park that protects the archipelago of about 450 islands, of which Isle Royale is the largest island. It is one of the most challenging places on the lakes to reach by public conveyance. Ms. Dunphy went by a ferry that leaves from Minnesota: a 6.5 hour cruise that completely circles the island. (for those sentimentally inclined for a storied three hour cruise, leave from Copper Harbor, Michigan – but three hours is not enough time to circumnavigate Isle Royale). She admitted some trepidation about such a long boat ride but the time passed magically as she watched the extraordinary views and scenery the cruise offered. She did remark, however, that the day was sunny and the lake calm. A 7.5 hour cruise on a roiling Lake Superior might not, she conceded, be as magical.

The natural beauty of the island struck her, but so too did the ability of people to reach and enjoy this remote spot. Reading from her book, ”Isle Royale is where you go to return the wilderness to your soul.” But wilderness doesn’t necessarily mean roughing it with backpacks, tents, and freeze dried food for supper. Dunphy stayed in a lodge maintained by the National Park Service with a “wonderful” restaurant and a conveniently located bar and grille.

Similarly, not everyone who visits the island plans a marathon adventure. A family of five, one of whom regularly used a wheelchair, had made the trip and took advantage of the handicap trail next to the lodge. A married couple, respectively 94 and 92 years of age, were also guests in the lodge. When asked why they had come, they responded, “well, you know, we just decided if not now, then when?”

Each of the islands Ms. Dunphy described had its own charms and challenges. All of those in her book reminded us of the joys of getting away, and of living on “island time.” As she remarked in closing, island time begins at the ferry dock. The published schedule is more a suggestion then a completely reliable form of documentation. Fog, engine trouble, or a “fender-bender” between the ferry and a yacht docked nearby that require the Coast Guard to write up a report for the insurance company (it really happened), can all cause you to learn quickly how time, and life, work on an island.

It was a pleasant talk, one which those who heard it likely will recall the next hot, muggy summer night they experience. As they wait for a Canadian cold front to sweep across the state, they may pull out a copy of Great Lakes Island Escapes and begin to plan their own escape to an island on the lakes.