Friday, June 27, 2014

by Marian Matyn

After months of hard work by interns Mark Prindiville and Andrea Howard since January, Mark and I finally finished processing, boxing, labeling, and listing approximately 18 cubic feet of an addition to the Aladdin Company Collection. The company manufactured readi-made (kit) homes in Bay City and sold them through mail order catalogs. For lots of info on Aladdin, click here. The addition is mostly family papers, photographic materials, journals, correspondence, scrapbooks, films, slides, and a few business records.

Most of the films are of an airshow at James Clements Airport, Bay City in 1972. One is a St. Patrick's Day parade in the region; one is of houses being built.

There is documentation here and in the main collection of the very nasty and long divorce between Will J. and Mary Sovereign, which resulted in Michigan's no fault divorce law.

There is also documentation of Jeannette Lempke-Sovereign (January 19, 1899-Juy 14, 1966), the second wife of Will J. Sovereign, who was known as a pilot for the Aladdin Refining Company, advertising for Sovereign Oil. She was also a competitive flyer for national air races and was a part of the Ninety-Nines, an all-female pilot organization, for which she was later elected International President and of which Amelia Earhart and other early female pilots were members. See for more info on the ninety-nines.

There is WWII information on the conversion of the company to war work and Will's attempts to get into the Army Air Force. Homework and letters of children, blueprints of Will's yatch, and other architectural records are included too.

I am completing the finding aid and catalog record so it will soon be available to researchers via the Clarke Historical Library finding aid website.

MOLD/ALLERGY ALERT: Please note that the collection was treated in spring 2012 for mildew and mold and then deacidified. Some of the materials retain an unpleasant odor. Researchers with allergies should use caution when using the collection.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Cruisin’ the St. Mary’s River

by Frank Boles

On June 15, I had the chance to cruise up the St. Mary’s River as part of the 17th annual “Father’s Day Cruise” sponsored by the DeTour Reef Light Preservation Society. The St. Mary’s River has always been a magical place - the link between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. My voyage on the St. Mary's River brought to mind a wonderful book written by Fred Dutton called Life on the Great Lakes: A Wheelsman’s Story (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991). In 1916, Dutton signed onto his first freighter. By the 1920s, he worked his way to the position of wheelsman, the crew member who actually steers the ship. He described his experiences on the St. Mary’s this way:

“It was always fine to steer a steamship up the St. Marys [sic] River on a dark, clear night – an exhilarating thing. Tonight it was at its best. A small north breeze rippled the water, humming in the rigging. The moon was settling over the dark pines to the west, while the northern lights flung their eerie banners flaring the northern sky. All else was dark, except for the line of buoys blinking on either side and the brilliant gleam of the range lights ahead and astern. You felt as though you were in another world. It was strong wine.”

The St. Mary’s River is an engineering marvel. Left in its natural state, the St. Mary’s drops twenty-one feet in about a half mile at Sault Ste. Marie, creating an unnavigable waterway. The river’s natural state, however, was changed long ago. To make navigation possible, the Soo Locks were built. Approximately 10,000 passages are made annually between Lake Huron and Lake Superior.

But the river’s engineering extends far beyond the locks. Over a 55 mile course, its many twists and turns have been straightened and deepened so that 1,000 foot long freighters can, very carefully in some places, maneuver through the channels. Cruising upriver, one can see the “rock cuts,” places where vertical cuts were made in solid rock to create deep yet narrow channels for contemporary ships

For all of the engineering marvels, it is Dutton who best captures the place. Dutton eventually became a very successful lawyer, but he had a unique idea of a summer vacation. He would sign himself up for a few weeks service as a relief wheelsman. Sailing up the St. Mary’s on a sunny summer’s day, one could catch just a bit of why Dutton’s vacations were always at the wheel of a Great Lakes freighter, and the strong wine he drank as a young man steering his ship along this course.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Frostic’s Michigan

by Casey Gamble

Sara Gwendolyn Frostic, mostly known as Gwen Frostic, was one of Michigan’s most famous artists. Her originally-carved block-prints and poetry-style prose that narrate the glorious scenes of nature found in her books are timeless and unforgettable, not that anyone would want to forget them. Each turn of a page in any of her books sends you further into a world of pure Michigan serenity, and when you finish reading, you may notice that you feel a little calmer than you did before you started. This is at least what Frostic hoped for when she created these prints. She wanted to bring back true feelings from the hearts of her readers that reminded them of the natural wonders of Michigan.
What is especially poignant for me, besides the words written on the pages, is the story of the woman behind it all. In 1906, when she was just eight months old, Frostic was struck with a terrible illness that left her partially paralyzed. She always labeled it polio later in her life, and never cared to explore the matter any further; it was what it was to Frostic, and this was how she saw most things in her life, which may have been heavily influenced by her mother, Sara. Sara was a hard-headed, no-nonsense type of woman who put little value of any kind on emotional coddling of her children. Her father, Fred, had a love for Michigan’s natural world. He was also very crafty and interested in the arts and wood carving, which we can imagine is what inspired Frostic’s later career.
It was a combination of both of her parents’ personalities that led her through life with a proud and very stubborn independence. She certainly proved to the world that she needed no one but herself to get by. Frostic was nearly 40 years old when she bought a printing press to put in her basement, and began her carving work on linoleum. By the 1950’s she started her business, Presscraft Papers, and people in town were becoming very familiar with her presence because she was Frankfort’s lone female business owner with the reputation of a “rattlesnake.” When she published her first book, My Michigan, in 1957, the people loved it and this encouraged the eventual publication of over 20 more books, 17 of which the Clarke Historical Library has in its holdings. 
The shop eventually moved to Benzonia where it still exists to this day, continuing on since Frostic's death in 2001. Frostic’s goal was never to simply educate people on Michigan nature, but to remind us of our roots in the natural world and make us feel it from our hearts, which from my own experience exploring these books, she has accomplished. She was not just a woman with an artistic inclination who appreciated wilderness. She had a genuine love for nature because, unlike many of the people in her life, it never ceased to treat her with total equality, and her love of carving also became a metaphor for her life. According to Sheryl James in her book, The Life and Wisdom of Gwen Frostic, “In order to produce clean, simple images, she had to cut away what was not needed." She never bothered to conform because she knew she would never be like everyone else. All that Frostic strived for was simplicity, and I believe that she found that simplicity by never swaying from who she was and continuing to do what would make her happy for the rest of her life, perhaps not knowing that she would leave a legacy behind after she was gone.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Michael Schumacker Speaks to a Clarke Audience

by Frank Boles

On June 4, Michael Schumacher spoke about his book, November’s Fury: The Deadly Great Lakes Hurricane of 1913 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).

For four days in November 1913 two separate but equally massive storm cells swept across the Great Lakes. When the storms blew themselves out, over 250 sailors had died and dozens of ships had been sunk, stranded, or demolished. Michael Schumacher shared the story of this event not through statistics but rather by telling the stories of those who experienced this awful storm. As he said early in the presentation, there were far more stories than time to tell them, but in the time allowed, Mr. Schumacker shared a few of his favorite tales.

One such story was that of Captain John Duddleson and his ship, the L.C. Waldo. Duddleson was an experienced sailor, having begun sailing in 1867. He was good at his craft, and assumed command of his first ship when only 27 years old. The Waldo was on Lake Superior and as the storm grew, Duddleson made the decision to run for the shelter of the Keweenaw Peninsula, about 45 miles southwest of his then current location. But nature was not kind to the captain and his crew.

Shortly after changing course, a gigantic wave crashed over the ship. The front of the pilothouse, the compass, the steering wheel, and the wheelsman were swept to the deck. Electricity to the front of the boat was severed. Duddleson and his first mate only managed to stay near the remains of the wheelhouse by diving into a hatchway leading to the captain’s bedroom. With the pilothouse wheel now useless the ship pitched and rolled violently. Working in the dark, Duddelson retrieved a compass from a lifeboat by which to steer. He, his first mate, and the injured but still reasonably able wheelsman managed to light an oil lamp and piece together a way to steer the ship using the auxiliary wheel. For two hours this patchwork held, and Duddleson began to have hope that the ship might be able reach the Keweenaw and drop anchor.

Then disaster struck again -- the rudder was ripped away by another rogue wave. Unable to steer, the ship was now being pushed by wind and wave toward the Keweenaw’s rocky shore. Somehow, the Waldo made it through the night, but with 70 mile-an-hour winds still pushing the vessel toward shore, Duddleson saw the rocky beach of Gull Island appear. He said simply, “we’re goners.”

The ship was a goner, but amidst the wreck, Duddleson struggled to save the crew. As the ship hit the rocks, the stern sagged and the boat began to split across the middle. Duddleson realized that the worst danger at the moment was that the ship might slip back off the rocks, and sink in deep water. Thus he ordered the vessel flooded, and all hands to the forward part of the boat. The men, and two passengers, moved forward, grabbing as they did the only provisions the crew would have for days -- two cans of peaches and one of tomatoes.

Taking shelter in the forward windlass room, Duddleson realized that without heat they would all soon freeze to death. Duddleson ordered the bathtub ripped from his quarters and brought to the room. While this was accomplished others gathered fire buckets out of which they cut the bottoms, and anything that would burn. Using these rudimentary parts, the bathtub served as a fireplace, vented by a makeshift chimney cobbled together from fire buckets.

As the storm raged, Duddelson and his crew got a small piece of luck -- the George Stephenson, also running for shelter, came upon the wreck. In a daring decision, the captain of the Stephenson ordered his ship in close, dangerously near the rocks, to see if there were survivors. With a split deck, no visible light or smoke, and being covered in ice, things appeared hopeless, but as the crew of the Stephenson looked on, a distress flag rose from the Waldo’s deck. Unable to maneuver close enough to accomplish a rescue, the Stephenson raised a flag indicating that they had seen the Waldo’s distress signal and they stood by to offer moral encouragement, while the first mate of the Stephenson was put over the side in a small lifeboat and sent to the U.S. Lifesaving Service Station at Eagle Harbor to find help.

As the storm raged, the mate eventually reached shore. But he landed at a village with no phone. With tremendous effort he first hired a boat to take him across a small lake, then a sleigh to carry him to Eagle Harbor. Once there, he discovered that the large lifesaving boat needed to accomplish the rescue was in need of repair. Work began instantly, but time passed. Aboard the Stephenson, an increasingly impatient captain ordered his second mate ashore, this time to try to contact the lifesaving station at Portage Lake, near Hancock. After two days, at 3:00 in the morning, the crews from both lifesaving stations arrived almost simultaneously in their boats at the wreck of the Waldo.

Rescue was now possible, but still dangerous. The boats of the lifesaving service were built to come close to a ship stranded on rocks, but the still crashing waves made it impossible to tie the rescue vessel to the wreck. A rope ladder could be lowered down the side of the Waldo, but each member of the Waldo crew would have to climb down that ladder in the still strong storm and jump to the deck of the bobbing rescue ship. Timing was everything because the goal was to jump when the waves raised the rescue ship as close to the end of the ladder as possible. It was a dangerous operation but, miraculously, the entire crew of the Waldo, including the passengers, survived to tell the tale.

Schumacker complimented the story of the Waldo with that of Milton Smith. Smith had an uneasy feeling about his boat that November. As first assistant engineer, he had a good job aboard the Charles S. Price. But as the last two runs of the season approached, he walked into the captain’s office and signed off the boat. The captain, as well as the chief engineer, tried to talk him out of it, but Smith had made up his mind.

As Smith left the boat, he spoke with a friend and fellow crewman, Arze McIntosh. McIntosh had the same bad feeling about the trips, but he wanted the extra pay the trips would bring him, plus a sizable bonus he would receive for closing the season with the vessel. “Damn it,” McIntosh said as Smith walked ashore, “I wish I were going with you.” It was the last words the two men ever shared. The Price would sink a few days later, taking McIntosh and the rest of the crew down into the sea.

Michael Schumacher shared a night of memorable storytelling about the Great Storm of November 1913.

The images of the newspaper headlines were found in the Calumet News of November 11, 1913, which were digitized by the Clarke and made available on the Library of Congress's Chronicling America website through the National Digital Newspaper Program.