1949: Marquette turns 100

by: Larry Chabot

 The latest, most irresistible, life-changing force burst upon the U.P. scene at the William Norrgard home on Lincoln Avenue in Marquette on December 15, 1949. After returning from a trip to the Lundquist & Johnson Store, Mr. Norrgard hauled in the first home television set in the Upper Peninsula (an Escanaba tavern set one up earlier).
Since the U.P. wouldn’t have a TV station for seven more years, viewers had to squint at fuzzy images transmitted from far away. Meanwhile, radio still was the king of entertainment, with evening shows like Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, My Friend Irma, The Lone Ranger and the Kate Smith Hour pinning listeners to their chairs. One station—WIKB in Iron Mountain—made news by abandoning its Dickinson Hotel studio and moving to Iron River, where it’s been for the last sixty years.
It was a year for celebrations. St. Ignace townspeople staged a giant pageant honoring the 278th anniversary of Jesuit missionary Father Jacques Marquette’s founding of a mission there. The program featured the second annual swim from Mackinac Island to St. Ignace, and sunset services at Father Marquette’s grave. In a more modest, commercial event, Tonella & Rupp’s furniture and appliance store of Marquette marked its fifty-sixth year with a batch of $56 specials on washers, rockers, dinettes and furniture.
The biggest festival was in Marquette, which celebrated its 100th birthday. A parade of 100 units, viewed by an estimated 25,000 spectators, wound through downtown. Much excitement greeted the Olson Motors float with its original 1903 Ford—one of the first autos Ford made. Ford also sent 1904 and 1907 models for inspection.
A fancy promenade of 12,000 people strolled along Washington and Front Streets sporting a kaleidoscope of swell getups, like a woman in an 1849 bathing suit (which the local paper called “grotesque”) accompanied by her daughter in a modern version.
Other Marquette events included, oddly, an “open pistol shoot” at Marquette Branch Prison and Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams locked in a stock on City Hall steps for failure to grow a centennial beard; he was released on paying a $5 fine. In honor of the Fourth of July (on Marquette’s birthday weekend), the Mining Journal ran a full-page copy of the Declaration of Independence with portraits of its newspaper staff. And there were parties everywhere, such as Kelly’s Slide tavern, which headlined the popular Hiawatha Ramblers combo for four nights.
Three years before he was killed in what became known as the “Anatomy of a Murder murder,” Mike Chenoweth won the Best Beard contest.
Although the Chicago Weather Bureau had predicted fair-and-pleasant with thundershowers holding off until after the parade, some events were washed out by a powerful electrical storm that knocked out power and telephone service. More than three inches of rain fell on the festivities. There was one fatality: Munising resident Fred Lukowski suffered a fatal heart attack when his small fishing boat capsized during the storm.

Birds and Bucks

Hunting seasons came and went, with the usual oddities. Bird season saw four U.P. hunters wounded the first weekend. During deer season, Trout Lake’s Art Kersey plugged a buck with two shots; he was tracking it when he heard shots up ahead and came upon another hunter tagging and dressing out Art’s deer. A witness claimed the deer thief had found the dead animal, fired his gun into the air to suggest he’d killed it, but was forced to yield the prize when confronted by Kersey.
In another notable case, after a woman hunter shot and tagged a deer, it jumped up and bounded away. A second hunter plugged the wounded deer as it staggered past him, and was busy tagging it when the woman burst through the brush and pointed to her tag already pinned on the dead whitetail. The other hunter graciously said, “Lady, if you can run fast enough to tie a tag on a buck, he must be yours. Take it away!”
A tame buck named Jackie, with its antlers taped to keep it from hurting anyone, was missing from its usual haunts around Trout Lake in Chippewa County. Rumors spread that the deer, tape and all, had been killed several miles away.

Another Kind of Bird

Just as TV was in its infancy, so was scheduled air service. Wisconsin Central (predecessor to North Central and Northwest Airlines), began passenger and air mail service to several U.P. cities: Menominee-Marinette, Iron Mountain, Ironwood, Hancock and Marquette. Another line—Nationwide Air—served some of these same towns before being absorbed by North Central. A third line, Copper Country Air, also had a short life during this period. These rapid service expansions came as a record number of worldwide air crashes were claiming hundreds of lives.
Gorman Lumber Company, a venerable operator in Ontonagon County, was scheduled to close when local businessmen raised $7,500 to induce a Wisconsin businessman to buy the whole operation. But the prospective buyer changed his mind, the money was returned and the mill sold for scrap, thus ending decades of big-time logging and milling in that area.
A rash of robberies baffled Marquette merchants, residents and police. Among the heists were two valuable paintings stolen from the walls at the Wallace Nurses’ Home. The Shamrock Bar lost $8 in pennies and six bottles of hooch to a thief. In another case, the Mining Journal ran a priceless headline in the local paper: “Two drunks get ‘stiff’ jail sentence.”
Another kind of prisoner, a Holstein cow named Marquette Inka Burke, was celebrated for producing more than fifty tons of milk in six years at the branch prison. Only two thousand cows ever reached this mark in the United States, said proud prison officials.
At Northern Michigan College, 651 students enrolled in summer school, many of them former servicemen and women under the GI Bill of Rights. Women’s dorms were filled to overflowing.
Six deaths were among the seventy-three polio cases reported in the U.P., mostly young children. A University of Michigan geologist announced that any plans for a bridge across the Mackinac Straits were “unsound” because the underlying rock formation wasn’t strong enough to hold steel supports for such a bridge. Plans proceeded anyway, culminating in the magnificent Mackinac Bridge eight years later.
Nationally, gasoline sold for seventeen cents a gallon, postage was three cents (post cards were a penny) and the minimum hourly wage rose to seventy cents. The first Polaroid camera appeared, as did the first Volkswagen Beetle on U.S. streets. The top movie was All The King’s Men, reportedly based on the life of notorious Louisiana politician Huey “Kingfish” Long. Harvard Medical School graduated its first women physicians. Steel and coal strikes idled millions, rippling negatively through the economy. Born that year were Bruce Springsteen, Lionel Richie and Jeff Bridges. In Europe, the successful U.S. airlift to bring food and supplies to a West Berlin surrounded by hostile East Germans ended after 227,000 flights.
Important health breakthrough: Lucky Strike revealed that it willfully paid millions of extra dollars at tobacco auctions in order to produce “a finer cigarette…for real deep-down enjoyment.” Private Wallace Peterson of Negaunee, a paratrooper in North Carolina, was part of an honor guard welcoming President Harry Truman to Fort Bragg.
Hancock’s Eilert Eilertson claimed to be the oldest U.P. steeplejack when he retired at age eighty. He began working for mining companies looking for someone to paint all of their smoke stacks. He recalled a time at the Baltic Mine near South Range when he looked down from the top of the stack to see his safety line on fire, but made it to the ground at great peril to himself. The fire had been started by kids smoking cigarettes.
Remember the saying: if you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes? Well, in one twenty-four-hour period in December, Marquette experienced winter, spring, summer and fall.
Starting with nine inches of snow cover, the temperature shot into the fifties, triggering a downpour and high winds, a temperature drop to seventeen above, then a thunder-and-lightning show and ending with only one inch of snow left on the ground.
Some events repeat themselves over and over, and are mirrored in today’s news. Marquette city fathers announced a new truck route through the city: north on Lakeshore Boulevard, west on Fair, north on Pine and get out of town. And banner headlines blared the news at year-end: “Uranium Ore Found in Baraga.” The very next day, twelve more claims were filed.
—Larry Chabot

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