Monday, July 30, 2012

King Copper -- The Cliff Location

The Pittsburg & Boston Mining Company's operations at Fort Wilkins failed in 1844. Undeterred, they moved lock stock & barrel down the Peninsula to a high rock outcropping deep in the wilderness. It was there that the economic potential of Keweenaw copper was first realized.

The Cliff Location -- Image Courtesy of the Keweenaw Digital Archives

In 1845, James Polk was elected the 11th President of these United States, which grew by one when Florida became the 27th State in the Union. We annexed Texas, which led directly to the Mexican-American War. The American philosopher Henry David Thoreau moved into his shack at Walden Pond and from his contemplation beside those placid waters sprang our ideas of a natural relationship between people and the landscape upon which they live.

The Cliff Location was first explored in 1845. That paved the way for everything that followed on the Keweenaw, as the hard rock greenstone bluff located some three miles from the lake held not merely poor copper oxides but the first pure copper to be found in abundance. The Cliff put the spurs to the Copper Boom when it became what's likely the first mining venture in American history to pay steady dividends to its investors. Financial success drew others and the potential for mineral riches led to the 1855 construction of the locks at Saint Mary's Falls, today known simply as "the Soo". With that, the natural resources of the Superior Basin were thrown open to the world.

The whole notion of mining for mass copper in the wilderness was so new that the folk at Cliff had to make it up as they went, going from manpower to horse power and water wheel to steam over the duration of the venture. The hunks of mass copper found in the Cliff were so large as to defy conventional means of extraction, with the largest of them weighing in at many tons, necessitating removal by pieces.

At its height, the Cliff location employed 850 workers. During its 25 year heyday, miners removed some 34 million tons of copper from shafts sunk up to a depth of 1,500 feet. It's company town was the first built in the Keweenaw. It had stores, sawmills, housing and two cemeteries. It tends to be simple and direct, what we can learn at cemeteries:

From a vintage 35mm chrome, probably of the Cemetery at Eagle Harbor

Though different ventures occasionally picked over the Cliff for some decades afterwards, viable production stopped in 1878, folk moved away and the town soon fell to ruin.


The Cliff Location Today

From the rock pile, looking towards the stamp mill site

Located just off the Keweenaw in Houghton, Michigan Tech offers one of the few Industrial Archaeology Graduate Programs LINK in the world. Truth is, had such a formal discipline existed when I was young (or had I known then that it did), I might've misspent my youth in an entirely different manner.

MTU is conducting ongoing research at the Cliff Location. I learned of that through an informative and entertaining Cliff Mine Archaeology Blog LINK, which I highly recommend.

In response to my inquiry, Project Archaeologist Sean M. Gohman graciously extended an invitation for me to visit the stamp mill excavation site and the couple of hours I spent there turned out to be a highlight of my time on the Keweenaw.

Image Courtesy of Sean M. Gohman

As an amateur I've been involved in work related to Industrial Archaeology for something like 40 years, but my interests have been almost exclusively aesthetic. On the other hand, Sean's worked his way through the discipline in a manner I'd not imagined possible and is now headed towards his PhD, so it's best we allow his expertise to lead our way over this particular Cliff...

Carol Griskavich, Alejandra Alvarez Jimenez, Sean M. Gohman

Why Industrial Archaeology?

Sean: Industrial Archaeology is unique to archaeology in that we are not only concerned with physical remains but also the written record...we must be historians as well as archaeologists. The time period of industrialization (1700's-today) was a time of colonization and exploitation, changes in labor and understanding of time (8 hour day, 5 day work week, etc), changes in gender roles and the shift to a consumer-based culture. This requires an understanding of much more than artifact analysis. You need to understand architecture as well. It's just such a holistic science. Nothing else compares. 

It's called archaeology but really it is trying to understand the modern world through a material culture. What people made, valued and used day to day during a period of time when more changes occurred than in any other period of human history.

Why Cliff?

Sean: The Cliff is significant firstly because it was the first native copper mine to make a profit...This gave hope to Eastern investors that you could make money here and invest in the Copper Country. This was the western frontier and the gold rush competed for investment dollars. The Cliff showed you could make it here. It was also the first to adopt steam technology on a large scale and then also build a community for its workers. It basically provided the template to follow (or learn from their mistakes) for the rest of the mines.

The old stamp mill here at Cliff is buried beneath stamp sands. When did that happen and how is that to our benefit today?

Sean: The mill was most likely buried during the 1890’s when Henry Warren built a smaller mill on top of the previous mill’s remains. It was easier to bury it and build atop than tear it all down and build again. This mill sat idle during the early nineteenth century. The copper contained within the sands (or tailings) acts as a biocide. Therefore organisms and molds can’t grown on the wood. Since the sand is porous is also lets in moisture. Combine these two features together and you have one helluva wood preservative.

-- Which would be why, while I was at the site, Sean and his team were busy uncovering a 150 year-old wooden barrel, complete with lid.


The work being done at the Cliff Location is conducted with the highest scientific rigor. Material removed from over a study area is stored atop plastic sheeting. The area is painstakingly uncovered, everything is inventoried, measured and photographed in place and then at the end of the season reburied -- to preserve the site intact for future generations.

The MTU program offers tours to the public. These folk care about the past in a way unique to our times and should we pay close attention to what they unearth, we might all enjoy a richer future. If you find yourself on the Keweenaw next summer, please consider a visit.

As it turns out, traveling overseas to the sites of ancient Greece isn't necessary, in order to dig up critically important human history...

Image Courtesy of Sean M. Gohman

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Cats of Copper Harbor

When traveling the Superior Basin, Heather & I prefer to stay hard by the lake.

Some years ago, the motel we chose in Copper Harbor proved better suited to a single fisherman or an exhausted hiker arriving off the ferry from Isle Royale than a pair of tourists, but glass doors opened onto Superior and when that’s where you most want to be, you take what comes with the bargain. That evening we repaired to the Harbor Haus to eat within an inch of our lives. Afterward, we returned to the motel and sat outside to watch night fall over the lake. In time we retired to our too small bed and contentedly fell asleep.

In the dark of night I awoke and looked out the window. Outside one of nature’s most magnificent shows was on full display, the Northern Lights cascading across an inky sky. I woke Heather, we covered ourselves for decency and warmth and left the room into the cool night air to better savor the sight.

We weren’t long outside before my eye was drawn to movement where there shouldn’t have been any.

A small cat pranced across the roof of the motel then climbed down to greet us, purring up a storm while he rubbed against our legs. Exactly what that cat was doing on the roof I can’t say, though I like to think he’d been enjoying the sky show.

Cats are victims of much popular misconception.  As nature’s most adept terrestrial predator, some folk call them “sneaky”.  Blessed with self-dependence, they’re said to be aloof.  Those who’ve enjoyed cat’s company know they’re not exactly either.  This cat sat with us and together we three watched the magnetic field of the earth make a spectacle of itself across a clear night sky.

When the Aurora faded and it was again time to go to bed, our new friend proved reluctant to leave us.  He strode into our room like it was he who’d paid the freight and we watched with amusement while he examined the place with that curious mixture of studied detachment and deep fascination perfected by cats.  Apparently satisfied with the arrangements, he joined us in bed.  We went back to sleep with our unexpected companion contentedly nestled between us, purring in the dark.

Surveying likely prospects for the night ahead

After an hour or so, the cat was ready to be let back out into the world and I obliged him, barely waking to accomplish the task.

Later that morning while packing the car, I happened to look up. Down the block, a woman cleaned the second story rooms of another hotel.

When she left a door open, our friend the cat slipped inside.  While we checked out, I told the story of the cat to the innkeeper and he took it in easy stride.  It was the town cat that’d visited us.  No one knew where he came from, but he seemed to like it there just fine and was welcome to stay.  He'd free reign to come and go as he pleased -- carte blanche to all the best places in town.  And the night before, when we were the only goofballs with our door open in the middle of the night, he'd chosen to spend some time with us.

Independence and forbearance in combination aren't lost in the world. It survives both in cats and in small towns all across the Superior Basin.

And it positively thrives out on the Keweenaw.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Torched lake

"Perpetual maintenance" is an elegant little phrase, in which simple directness masks the nature of the beast.

Once a mine plays out or whenever mineral extraction otherwise becomes economically unsound, Job Creators ship out the last harvested resource, pocket their money, hang out the "Closed for Business" sign  and head back where they came from. Too often they steal away as well with the sole purpose a proud, robust community ever had for being.

Many historic mines that litter the Superior Basin require perpetual maintenance. Great mountains of chemical laden stamp sands & tailings taint water and land alike. In some cases, these threaten not only the environment at large, but specifically the health of those folk still living in communities where once their ancestors thrived.

Founded in 1894 along the western shore of Torch Lake in the Keweenaw, the town of Hubbell was convenient to the moving of copper; raw ore and refined product both. Torch Lake connected to the Portage Ship Canal, which provided ready access to Superior and from there a worldwide market hungry for Keweenaw copper.

At one time, at least three stamp mills and a copper smelter operated in Hubbell. It's estimated that over 200 billion tons of copper tailings were deposited into Torch Lake, displacing fully 20% of its water volume, bequeathing a legacy of toxins that eventually led to the lake being declared an EPA Superfund site, which means that even today you and I still pay for what Job Creators never cared to take.

Along Torch Lake

In the case of Torch Lake, cleanup means cover up, which is apparently the best of our bad choices. Acres & acres of stamp sands are now blanketed with fresh soil and replanted, an effort at remediation so successful the tumors once found in Torch Lake fish have subsided, the amount and variety of toxins in the water has roughly stabilized and the various Areas of Concern along Torch Lake are being "delisted", which means we've done  everything we can. From here until pretty much the end of us, Torch Lake will merely require perpetual monitoring and (it's hoped) only occasional maintenance.

What's true is that all those billions of tons of waste remain exactly where the Companies left it, hidden beneath the shiny blue waters of Torch Lake, or under a thin layer of new soil and the grass that grows fresh upon it.

Thus do we take our sometimes meager measure of success.

As of 2010, 946 residents remain in once thriving Hubbell. Safe to say, none of those work here:

Along Torch Lake


Laurium, MI

Attached to Calumet at the hip, the town of Laurium MI enjoys at least two distinct claims to fame. The 1st is resonant but minor key, the 2nd strikes a decidedly national chord, even if by something of proxy:

The Hoatson House

While most miners shared beds in crowded boarding houses or lived with their families in Company housing, Captains of Industry surrounded themselves with all the creature comforts money could buy & status deserved. In some of the most remote old mining towns of the Upper Peninsula, you'll happen across surprising evidence of lives once exceptionally well lived in what was, even then, not exactly the fat lap of civilization.

Thomas H. Hoatson served as Supervisor of the mighty Calumet & Hecla Mining Company. He built his house in 1907, as a surprise for his wife and six children. Totaling 13,000 square feet, with 45 rooms including a 50' by 50' billiards room and with only the very finest of detailing throughout, just imagine what a surprise that must have made.

Today the building is a notable Bed & Breakfast called the Laurium Manor Inn, having been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998:

American Myth -- the Two Gippers

Just down the street from the Hoatson homestead is a memorial to a man, not a myth.

Born February 18th, 1885 in the then rough hewn mining town of Laurium, George Gipp™ gained fame as a great football player for the fabled Fighting Irish of Notre Dame under the team's legendary Coach, Knute Rockne. Gipp died on December 14th, 1920 during his senior year, most likely from strep throat brought on through pneumonia contracted during football practice. And Gipp's story would have ended there, little remembered save for diehard Notre Dame fans and the good folk of Laurium...

...except that the ever churning blender of American Mythology soon found use for him.

During halftime of the 1928 game with Army -- eight full years after Gipp's death and while enduring his worst season as Coach -- in what today might be taken by some for shameless exploitation of a young man's untimely death, Knute Rockne told his team that these were George Gipp's dying words:

Rock...sometime, when the team is up against it -- and the breaks are beating the boys -- tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Rock, but I'll know about it -- and I'll be happy.

Notre Dame says it's unlikely those are Gipp's last words and if Notre Dame says it, that's good enough for me. Still, the team went on to win the game and -- shorn of a single word to make it evergreen -- the hallowed American phrase "Win one for the Gipper" was coined.

Again, the thing might have fallen into obscurity, but in 1940 and on the cusp of War when a nation most needs heroes, Hollywood intervened.

"Knute Rockne, All American" is a typical Hollywood biopic in that fact isn't allowed to get in the way of a good story. Copping third billing beneath the featured stars, a B Movie actor with a certain gift for pathos assumed the role of George Gipp, a relatively minor character in the movie, but with the scene everyone remembers:

Even then the thing might have ended in obscurity right along with the actor who uttered the lines, as after that and apart from the later 'King's Row' Ronald Reagan's acting career was mostly no great shakes. But in true American fashion, the man wove middling talent with an aw shucks affinity for pathos & sincerity to remake himself. So tied was he to the whole milieu that in most folk's minds, today the 40th President of these United States is the Gipper.

And without he delivered on film those deathless words first offered up by Knute Rockne that young George Gipp of Laurium likely never said deathbed or otherwise, perhaps Mr. Reagan would now best be remembered for his association with 20 Mule Team Borax on the TV show "Wagon Train", just sayin'...

All the same, proud Laurium's Memorial to its son George Gipp offers no insight into Hollywood movies or of actors turned Presidents and if you're ever looking for the authentic 'Gipper', you'll find him along the Superior Basin, in his hometown of Laurium MI:

And, if you look up the movie 'Knute Rockne, All American" on YouTube, you'll find that listed in the genre' category of "Horror, Romance", don't blame me I'm just a reporter...


America's First 'Official' Gay Bar...

Located on the Keweenaw in the once rollicking community of Gay.

First a mining company building, then established as a tavern just after Prohibition, the Gay Bar has for that long catered to a wide variety of clientele 'cause when you're stuck so far off the beaten track you either accept what traffic comes in off the road or don't stay in business long...

And every 4th of July, the town hosts its very own Gay Parade. That comes complete with Annual Fish Toss, about which the less I say the better, so we'll just let it speak for itself. The Fish Toss begins @ 1:30...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

King Copper -- Wasteland: the Wolverine Mohawk Mills

The Wolverine Mohawk Location - Image courtesy of the MTU Keweenaw Digital Archives

Stamp mills are where valuable copper was separated out from the massive amounts of "poor rock" it must be pried from. Rock was hauled from the mines, gigantic steam-powered hammers crushed that, then water and chemicals washed pulverized poor rock away, leaving the heavier copper.

What's left -- water, chemicals and pulverized poor rock alike -- is waste.

Beginning near the turn of the 20th Century and ending in 1933, the Wolverine Mohawk milling operations generated approximately 25 billion kg of stamp sands and an unknown amount of chemical-laden water, all of which was funneled by the companies to the Superior shore and into the lake. Natural currents and prevailing winds distributed this toxic blend far and wide in ways that can barely be scientifically measured and in this instance, that can also be easily seen.

Nearly 80 years after operations at this mill ceased, the waste stretches all the way to Big Traverse Bay.

Behold one of King Copper's deserts, as seen from space:


While the Internet aspect of this project ranges from traveler's trivia to historical research and touches most points between, the core fieldwork consists of me doing what I've always done, which is documenting our footprint along the Superior Basin.

I don't show much of that work here, for a variety of reasons. But the Wolverine Mohawk site is about as extraordinary as there is, so today I'll make an exception.

Here's a photo essay drawn from work done at the site, beginning near the remaining stack at the mill and leading all the way down to what's been made of the Superior shore...

Mohawk Arch

Mohawk Pillars

Silent Owl

Rebar Madness

Love Among the Ruins


Planet of the Apes

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lake Superior Day

This Sunday is Lake Superior Day. Have you hugged your Lake today?

Grand Sable Dunes, from 4x5 chrome

I'm on something of a fool's errand, but I knew that from the beginning.

Trying to capture a spirit of place; to define it, translate that, distill the translation and disseminate the bonded spirits from barrel direct to bar is like trying to tell of the shimmering summer's day when a butterfly lit easily upon your hand to contentedly linger. Then, you knew the butterfly and it knew you.

Outside that penetrating moment, it's all just story. No matter how perfect the light we might shed on it, story is necessarily a reduction of life. The more reduced, the more magic is squeezed from it, breath leaves from it and the transcendent moment that translated without translator quickly becomes our favorite misrepresentation of truth -- the past.

From vintage 35mm chrome: crappy film, bad glass, amazing sky, indelible memory.

As a race, we're pretty unexceptional. We've not been around long enough to merit otherwise. Dinosaurs dominated the Earth for hundreds of millions of years and it seems only an accident took 'em out or perhaps today we'd be like furtive rats snatching our food from traps set by inventive lizards intent on keeping our filthy selves out of their garages.

Even the much maligned grey wolf has been what it is living where it does for better than 750,000 years, despite being subjected to a determined holocaust by us for nearly all of modern history. That's some survival skills.

We've barely 20,000 years under our collective belt and for only a slender sliver of that what we please to call "civilized", in which our greatest enemy is so demonstrably us that aspect of the human story's been granted aphorism status.

Our sole gift is invention. Of construct. Which we then use to protect ourselves from what we must instead embrace, lest our ingenuity eventually fails to save us and some other species waiting or yet unknown claims their rightful turn on Earth in our place.

While traveling around the Superior Basin, the word inexhaustible never strays far from mind. For the longest time it was something of an emblematic American word because that seemed to symbolize both the undiscovered country of America and also its people's "unlimited" potential, blessed by rightful possession of a magnificent land.  In certain circles the concept inexhaustible remains dear, though publicly the word itself has fallen properly to disuse. Not so, "rightful possession" whether as phrase or concept.

Around the Superior Basin, the long list of rightful possessions once considered inexhaustible included beaver, white pine, copper, iron, hemlock, lake trout, pure water and even the wilderness itself. All were wrong.

All were wrong.

Each time, every time, always. Often, folk could see they were wrong yet at the same time both maintained and celebrated the illusion, as when the great pine forests fell in that slow motion nuclear blast of commerce & ambition & need & heedless action in service of conflicting interests that's the lumbering gait of human progress.

Even today, if you travel the Basin and don't look close, the word can ring true to the senses. It's a wild sea of trees around an untamed ocean of blue. Birds fly. Fish swim. Bears buster about. Wolf and cougar lurk. The Superior landscape dwarfs us by such an order of magnitude that we can only wrap our brains around little pieces of it and not many of those at the same time.

We're fragile and finite. Utterly dependent upon construct. Only by comparison does the big lake and the wilderness around it appear inexhaustible. In fact, provided we don't first try to divine its story through us and when we manage to barely stitch but a few of the perceptible parts together into coherent narrative, it's obviously anything but.

The Kingston Plains, from 120mm chrome

After us, the wilderness is made of different trees. After us, the water isn't pure. After us, the lake trout and cougar and wolf and bear are penned to fragments of sanctuary, their essential role in the health of the Basin reduced mostly to story and made inestimably more difficult where it's not.

No one can see the future, though many pretend they can. Beware of those, as they hold their own ego well above your better interests.

What's true is that the next metals scabbed from the Basin will be the last of it.

What's true is that the next "resource" likely to be treated as inexhaustible is fresh water.

Aquifers decline, natural replenishment unable to keep pace with our accelerated need. Or they're debased, an unhappy byproduct of a particular sort of progress too often celebrated in ignorance. Then there're all those folk who live on landscapes not blessed by water because we've the inventiveness that's allowed them to do it. And all the land that's farmed to feed the world, though only through the construct of irrigation, which water we increasingly borrow from Peter to pay Paul.

It's been said that the coming water wars will make our constant contretemps over oil look like patty cake.

What's true is that even today there's conversation going on about the diversion of water from Superior, conversation held mostly behind closed doors, penned there like wolves on forest fragments by International Treaties and mutual agreement but everyone knows what those are worth when desperation trumps all and looses raw need to burst forth from the poorly constructed dam of our accumulated wisdom.

And if Superior still seems so large as to be inexhaustible, consider the unnatural fate of the Aral Sea, which in my lifetime was one of the four largest lakes in the world. Today -- because folk needed, because they could -- it's a super-sized mud hole, "have it your way" indeed.

Copper Harbor, from 4x5 chrome

Like with other commemorative 'Days', there'll be all sorts of events scheduled around the Basin for the weekend -- in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario, to celebrate this magnificent place.

So by all means get out and hug your lake. Hug it well. Not because someday you won't be able to. No one can say that for certain, though if we read the human story with even a bit of comprehension, storm clouds are likely closer upon Superior's blue horizon than it might otherwise seem.

Do it because the only way to know the butterfly is to first invite it to light upon your hand, then hope it will.

Digital Image captured with the Toy Cannon

Monday, July 9, 2012


In Mutual Embrace of a Splendidly Difficult Place

It's said: "Expect the unexpected". That's certainly true for travelers on the Keweenaw.

For instance, drive south out of Eagle Harbor along the road hard to the shore of Superior and when you get to Great Sand Bay, this is what you'll see:

That golden object clinging to the wilderness is the Holy Transfiguration Skete of the Society of St. John and if that's too much of a mouthful just call it a monastery.

The Monk's approach to their place on the landscape has much to offer the rest of us. On their website is found this surpassing wisdom, which I think provides a proper template for most anyone wishing to prosper near to anywhere along the Superior Basin:

This is indeed a difficult place, and life here is often something of a penance. But it was the sheer beauty of this land that convinced us (to stay). We came looking for Purgatory; we found Paradise.

The farther we go down our road together, the deeper we explore, the more I'm convinced that we need finally make peace with this place as our efforts to bend it to our will nearly always failed and have often led to disaster.

Each Saturday at 5:30 pm, the Brothers allow a limited number of the public to join them in Great Vespers. I looked for a sample of music specific to the Society and didn't find that, but if you'd like to hear a bit of vespers written by a contemporary composer, check out this music by Roman Hurko.

Heather and I attended and unless you're a monk, it's probably not like anything else you've experienced -- sublime, beautiful, difficult, revealing -- much like the Keweenaw itself. This service isn't a tourist sideshow but a profound exercise in faith. Be prepared to do a lot of standing.

And if you're not up for that, across the road from their beautiful gardens the Brothers run one of the finest bakeries on the Keweenaw or anywhere else. There you can buy an assortment of baked goods and their famous jams. During high tourist season cars line the road and a land office business is conducted. It's quite the thing, to watch a brother in his robe and beard, with humble manner swiping plastic so fast & frequent you wonder how it never melts the transmission lines.

Anyway, please take a good look at the Brother's website, which is robust. Then wander over to the page for the Jampot and dig in. 

It's here you'll find the best Thimbleberry Jam on the Peninsula, with shipping available. But if you're in the neighborhood, stop by and by all means pick up a blueberry muffin the like of which I've seen nowhere else and which holds me in good stead over many miles of travel the following morning.

If you're inclined to doubt, get a load of this:


The Harbor Haus

Speaking of good food...

Eating your way around the Superior Basin can be dicey.

While there're a host of great places to get quality cheap eats, there aren't many of the sort of restaurants where weary travelers can drop off the road to treat themselves to a genuine fine dining experience. The Harbor Haus in Copper Harbor is one of those places, even if it is out on the tip of the Keweenaw and within  a mile or two of the actual end of the road.

I keep hearing that the Harbor Haus is a "Five Star" restaurant, but as far as I can tell that's not an 'official' rating and the truth is if you're used to five star restaurants in Chicago or New York you might scoff at the notion. But all is relative, especially when traveling around Superior and with that in mind, the place offers about as fine a meal as can be found in at least half a day's drive. The food is thoughtfully prepared and presented, the service is excellent, the wine list extensive and the views can't be beat.

Large hunk of float copper to the left, the copper front doors of the Harbor Haus to the right

In fact, I know folk who'll drive nearly three hours to eat there and then drive the three hours back home after dinner, which tells you not only most everything you need to know about the Harbor Haus but about fine dining in the Upper Peninsula too.

I can absolutely vouch for the meat platter, which offers something akin to happy death through eating.

But perhaps the thing can best be summed up in the old realtor's adage: "Location, location, location'. The Harbor Haus sits on the site of the first commercial wharf and warehouse ever built in Copper Harbor. The dock you'll see there today used to be much longer and when a boat being unloaded caught fire, rather than lose the dock the ship was cut loose to burn in the harbor where it promptly sank and today is a popular site for sport divers of shipwrecks.

And if you like a bit of entertainment with your meal, the Harbor Haus offers that too.

On those evenings when the ferry to Isle Royale returns from its long voyage to Copper Harbor, the wait staff of the restaurant go out the door to greet it. Bells ring. The ferry sounds its horn. People wave from boat to shore & back to boat again. Then the staff of the restaurant does something extraordinary -- they join together in a high kick chorus line.

It's one of the most effective marketing efforts I know of. Here they come: bedraggled travelers off the rugged island, just minutes away from safe harbor and beckoned by the promise of cold beer served on white linen accompanied by real food - no flies - and attended to by a solicitous, friendly staff. Every night within an hour after docking, in they come.

Now, I messed this up so badly that I missed not only the high-kicking choristers but nearly the whole stinkin' boat besides. I wasn't gonna show it but humility is good for the soul and you'll get the gist of it all the same. You'll not find this clip on my YouTube Channel, as humility only stretches so far before becoming humiliation and who the Hell invites that?

At any rate, should you find yourself within an hour or two of Copper Harbor and its famed Harbor Haus, drop on by to see the real deal for yourself...


US 41

...And I was born in the backseat of a Greyhound Bus/
 rollin' down Highway 41...

Allman Brothers Band: 'Ramblin' Man'

Speaking of the end of the road -- OK maybe the beginning, depending on who's talking when or going where...

The Road Trip is as American as baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet.

We value our highways. Write songs about 'em, make movies of adventures both real & imagined that might be found along their way, open souvenir shops on hallowed routes and sell cultural significance to travelers intent on dropping off modern Interstates with their lookalike franchise islands and on to the road that's today less traveled.

At the northernmost reaches of Copper Harbor and pushed as far onto the Keweenaw as proper roads go, there's a monument to US Highway 41 -- at 1,991 odd miles of sometimes winding road, said to be the longest continuous North/South Route in the nation:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

King Copper -- La Roche Verte

Located at the eastern tip of Copper Harbor, the Voyageurs called it La Roche Verte -- the green rock. For hundreds of years or more the size and distinction of this rock served as navigational aide first to Native canoeists and later to Voyageurs alike.

Then came Douglas Houghton, Michigan's 1st State Geologist and his 1840 expedition to see what was what along the shore. Accompanying Dr. Houghton was the 28 year old Charles Penny, a onetime merchant from Detroit and one of two folk along for the ride who kept a detailed personal journal of perhaps the most significant expedition in the history of the Superior Basin.

From this rock, all things that followed flowed.


On Friday July 3rd, 1840, Charles Penny wrote:

...proceeded early in the day to Copperas Harbor, distant four miles. This is probably the only place on Lake Superior that will ever be of value for its minerals. (No soothsayer he, eh?) The Doctor...wishes to open the vein a little below the surface of the water...The vein at the water's edge is about twelve feet wide and rises to a height of four or five feet.

Over the next few days, Douglas Houghton and his crew blasted away at La Roche Verte, moving some tons of rock, which is why today this fabled spot looks like this:

Look closely to see the copper

On Wednesday July 8th, 1840, the expedition departed for points farther west and Copperas Harbor fell silent. For a time. Through illness, Douglas Houghton struggled to complete his report on the expedition, which brief was issued in 1841. In his journals, Houghton sent out both a clarion call and issued a warning:

(In the Keweenaw)...the copper ores are not only of superior quality but also that their associations are such as to render them easily reduced. Then, in a foreshadowing of what was to follow, Houghton warned the speculators:  ...look closely before the step is taken, which will most certainly end in disappointment and ruin.

With the State of Michigan in great financial difficulty, Houghton's report languished. Determined, in 1845 he organized an additional survey, this time funded by the Feds. It was during this expedition that on October 13th a small boat carrying Houghton & two companions overturned in the Lake during a storm near Eagle River. The three men drowned, with Houghton's body not recovered until spring of '46, when his remains were taken to Detroit and he was afforded a hero's burial.

Houghton Monument in Eagle River


The first great mineral rush in America's history began in 1843/44 on the Keweenaw Peninsula, not 1848 at Sutter's Mill, where the discovery of gold led to the California Gold Rush so celebrated in story & song. Besides, it was only gold discovered in the tailrace of Sutter's Mill -- mere wealth with which to buy stuff. On the Keweenaw was found copper. From that industry sprang, electricity was delivered and wars were won.

Such wealth is far greater than any amount 'o gold in them thar hills.

Following hot on the heels of the 1842 Treaty of LaPointe in which the native Ojibwa conveniently ceded most rights over the Upper Peninsula to the U.S. Government, the Feds opened a mineral land office agency in Copper Harbor. In quick succession Fort Wilkins was built to protect commercial interests and those interests followed when the Pittsburg & Boston Copper Harbor Mining Company set up shop in Copper Harbor and began to dig.

They sunk two shafts into the ground adjacent to the Fort and removed a quantity of copper oxides but by 1845, with $25,000 invested and only $2,968 returned, the effort was abandoned.

As was the Fort, which has since been restored.

Turns out, both Charles Penny and Douglas Houghton were right, as far as it goes. Copper deposits near the tip of the Keweenaw are black oxides of copper, the same sort then being mined in other parts of the world, notably Cornwall. The spare returns on the mineral and the remoteness of the region combined to make extraction economically unsound. The Copper Boom might have died right then & there, save for that the interest of larger companies with bigger investors had been piqued.

By 1845 they'd penetrated the wilderness and moved down the spine of the Peninsula in search of wealth. There they discovered the richest region of pure copper in the world. For the next 80 years or so, the rush was on. At one point, the Keweenaw supplied as much as 95% of America's copper -- right through the electrification of the nation.

King Copper born. The Keweenaw was transformed.

And with that, so were we.