And away we go

Story by Larry Chabot

Illustrations by Mike McKinney

Here’s a unique, one-of-a-kind world tour, to faraway places and historic landmarks, all without leaving home. It’s almost certain that this particular path has never been taken before, because it follows a single latitude line from Marquette all the way around the globe.

The tour begins with a quiz, the answer to which lies in the following story. Here is the quiz:

Traveling due east from Marquette, one passes closest to which European city: Venice, Italy;  Paris, France; London, England; or Helsinki, Finland?

Most guessers have failed this test since the answer is so different from their assumptions. To find the correct answer (it’s all right to sneak a peek), we need to know that Marquette’s latitude is 46.55 N, which is over halfway to the North Pole from the equator. Here, the Earth is “only” 17,000 miles around (vs. 24,900 miles at the equator). Following Marquette’s line due east opens a rich texture of geography, history, genealogy, mythology, map reading and a bunch of other fascinations, like Alex Trebek, Lindbergh’s flight, Dracula and the fate of the Coast Guard tug Escanaba.

It’s a given that latitudes are the horizontal lines on maps and globes; longitudes are the vertical lines running from pole to pole. Together, they establish locations on the Earth. For instance, 45N and 90W is west of Wausau in Marathon County, Wisconsin, and is exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole and a quarter of the way around the world from ground zero (zero longitudinal line) in England. Marathon County has placed a marker there to celebrate its significance.

We’re off! Marquette’s latitude passes historic Pine Stump Junction in Alger County, where mail for area logging camps was stuffed into an iron mailbox attached to a big pine stump for loggers to retrieve; come and get it. Farther along, at the eastern terminus of the Upper Peninsula, Sault Ste. Marie is celebrating its 350th anniversary as “Michigan’s first city.” Then it’s over the International Bridge to Canada and a look at Sudbury, Ontario, hometown of Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek. Sudbury, which has sent an astounding total of 81 sons to the National Hockey League, has a landscape scarred by early nickel mining, which has served as a moon-like training ground for American astronauts.

Skimming well north of Montreal, Quebec, we realize that more than half the population of our “northern neighbor” actually lives south of Marquette; in fact, Canada’s southernmost point is almost even with Michigan’s southern border.

The Escanaba In Peril

The line zips through northern Maine into Canada’s maritime provinces and Newfoundland, a region rich in history. Charles Lindbergh flew over the line on his solo flight to Paris in 1927. The 1941 Atlantic Charter meeting of President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, where the two world leaders met to plan the post-war peace, took place just north of the line. The Upper Peninsula was tragically represented in these waters in 1943 when the Coast Guard tug Escanaba (named for the Delta County city) was sunk after a mysterious explosion. Among the casualties was Quartermaster Thomas Somes of Sault Ste. Marie, who is still listed as “missing in action.” Just four months earlier in the same general area, the Escanaba had rescued 133 survivors of the torpedoed USS Dorchester (home ship of the famous Four Chaplains).

Crossing the North Atlantic, our tour follows or crosses the World War II convoy routes which carried troops and supplies to Europe (at least seven U.P. servicemen died on these routes). We finally make European landfall just north of LaRochelle, the last French city liberated in World War II. There is a reverse connection with the eastern Canadian provinces and the great fishing fleets which sailed from France (including LaRochelle) and Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries to fish Canadian waters. It’s rumored–and probably true–that many a French crewman jumped ship there, including some of my own relatives.

Trolling east through the French countryside, travelers encounter “ground zero” in the longitude business, because straight north is Greenwich, England, home of the Earth’s zero longitude line; all the vertical longitudes fan out from Greenwich. London, one of our four quiz cities, is almost at zero. Its location 330 miles north of Marquette eliminates it as a quiz answer.

We have a winner!

The line soars over the Alps and into Italy, where it passes 88 miles north of Venice (our winner!) through the Italian town of San Candido near the Austrian border. This is ski country, in the Dolomites, nearly 4,000 feet above sea level. Continuing east, we travel north of Trebnje, Slovenia, the 1797 birthplace of Frederic Baraga, first Catholic bishop of the Marquette Diocese. Then into Transylvania, home of the fictional Dracula and the longitude location for another quiz entrant: Helsinki, Finland, which–to many Yooper’s surprise–is a whopping 940 miles north of Marquette. If one went due east or west of Helsinki, they would be in Anchorage, Alaska.

Big water is encountered next: first, the Black Sea and it’s resort city Odessa. Beyond Odessa is the Crimean Peninsula, dangling from the north rim of the Black Sea like a bloated appendix. Crimea was the site of the 1854 war (England vs. Russia) which inspired Alfred Lord Tennyson’s renowned Charge of the Light Brigade with it’s most famous line: “Ours not to reason why, ours but to do or die…”

More big water: the mighty Caspian Sea, largest lake in the world, more than four times bigger than Lake Superior and large enough to easily accommodate all of the Great Lakes. But since the Caspian is salty, Superior claims title to the largest freshwater lake by surface area. Near the north shore of the Caspian, the line encounters Astrachan where the Volga River (Europe’s longest) empties into the Caspian. Astrachan was the birthplace of the father of Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Russian Communist party.

Are we there yet? No, the line pierces northwest China, where we find Jili Hu Lake, whose coordinates are almost the exact opposite of Marquette’s in the northern hemisphere. Mongolia and Siberia are traversed, then the Kurile Islands north of Japan, where the Japanese fleet assembled for its voyage across the northern Pacific to attack Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941 (the U.P. lost 12 servicemen on Pearl Harbor Day).

Finally, landfall at Aberdeen, Washington, just north of Mount St. Helens, which disastrously blew its top in 1980. The line runs north of Portland, Oregon, where former Marquette Catholic Bishop Alexander Sample is now the archbishop. Then on to Duluth, Bergland, Michigamme and home at last.

From one’s own location, with maps as guides, anyone can travel the world in any direction to savor its history, culture and treasures along the way. Wherever you go, something happened there.

Great maps are available in many places. The Lydia Olson Library on Northern Michigan University’s campus has a special map room, and every library has some type of collection. The Marquette Regional History Center’s maps span several hundred years. The Michigan Gazetteer is a wonderful document, with 119 detailed pages covering every Michigan county. Sanborn maps, also called “fire maps,” show building locations in 12,000 cities and towns, including many in the U.P.; they were last issued in 1977. For highway maps of a foreign countries, contact their embassies in Washington. Other sources for specialty maps are federal, state, county and city agencies. One of the most unique historical U.P. maps is woven into the carpeting in the lobby of Thomas Theater in Marquette.

An all-time favorite is the venerable county plat book, showing land ownership and other unique details. Plat books are wonderful primers on land measurement. Once you know the dimensions of an acre, for example, you can pace one off yourself.

Have a great trip…


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