Local history explored in words, paintings

Lake Effect: A Deckhand’s Journey on the Great Lakes Freighters

by Tyler Tichelaar

Many people have romantic notions of life aboard a ship with nothing to see but the breathtaking beauty of Lake Superior. In his own personal memoir, Richard Hill has captured what life was like aboard an ore freighter, when during the 1970s and 1980s he worked as a deckhand on “the boats.”
Hill recounts the stunning beauty of the Great Lakes, but also hardships and deprivation, loneliness and longing to be with one’s family, hard work mixed with games, the excitement of shore leave, the inability to escape your coworkers and the camaraderie of their constant presence.
The strongest asset of Lake Effect is the depictions of the men. While the bosun, Dirty Dan, is the most memorable, several other sailors provide humor and diversity throughout the book’s pages.
These men were Hill’s real-life shipmates, but their colorful language and occasionally rough behaviors make them read like characters from a Jack London novel.
Beneath their swearing and occasional frustration with each other is a humor and brotherhood that kept the sailors together through festive trips to bars and through dangerous November gales.
Hill tells his personal story of why he chose to work on the ore boats, what he loved about the life, how it changed him, and why he eventually left from a need for a more creative and free life with his family. Hill places his experiences within the tumultuous time period of the 1970s, the Watergate scandal, and the shock of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. He writes honestly and with a perspective that makes Lake Effect history, memoir, and adventure.
Richard Hill describes how technology is changing this way of life, yet year after year, the great freighters haul iron ore from the mines of Upper Michigan and Northern Minnesota to the southern lakes to maintain the steel industry.
Lake Effect gives much deserved attention to an industry vital to the U.S. economy, one often overlooked, but demanding sacrifice, courage, and a sense of humor. Only an accomplished writer who experienced this life firsthand could have written such an effective portrait.
Through Hill’s experiences and vivid descriptions, I felt I was aboard the freighter Leon Fraser for at least a few hours. Take the journey with Lake Effect. You won’t be disappointed.

51hXn-8ZlqL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Houghton County: 1870-1920

by Richard E. Taylor

Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series has continued its success in making the past come alive through photographs with Houghton County: 1870-1920. Despite the dates in the title, the book actually begins discussing explorations for copper in the Keweenaw in the early nineteenth century. Copper mining was the life-blood of the region, and the book’s predominant focus is on the mining companies and the communities that grew up around the mines.
“Go West, young man” was Horace Greeley’s famous cry in his enthusiasm over reports of the mineral riches of the western Upper Peninsula. Greeley even invested in the Pennsylvania Mine, but after visiting the area, he went away with lasting impressions of mosquitoes and gnats, and he later wrote articles warning against mining investments. Such interesting stories and information fill this book, but as short paragraph captions below the photographs.
Historical photographs are the book’s highlight. The majority are of the mining buildings, the miners, and the mining communities. One of the most remarkable is of the old “House of Many Gables,” the No. 6 shaft house of the Quincy Mine that burned in the mid-1950s. This hodge-podge building looks like a failed wooden Tower of Babel, with story upon story and at least eleven visible gables in the picture. Pictures galore exist of men going into the mine, the hoists, the railroads, and the shipping. The homes of miners, the mine owners’ Victorian mansions, and the churches are all here.
The book is broken into chapters that highlight individual mines and towns including Calumet, Houghton/Hancock, Quincy, and Lake Linden and Hubbel.
Separate chapters also pay homage to the history and importance of logging and shipping in Houghton County. The book ends fittingly with a chapter on the 1913 strike and the well-known disaster at the Italian Hall when during a Christmas party, a cry of fire resulted in the trampling and crushing to death of seventy-three people in the stairwell, including fifty-nine children.
While the history of Houghton County is not presented in detail here, the photographs make the past come alive.
The book is highly recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of mining in the western Upper Peninsula.

51XxKpvVPcLDriftwood: Stories Picked Up Along the Shore

written and illustrated by Howard Sivertson

A picture is worth a thousand words, and it is a shame I do not have room in this column to display several of the paintings of Howard Sivertson from Driftwood. The paintings appear on every other page, accompanied by a one page story and essay about travel on Lake Superior or Sivertson’s own memories of life at Isle Royale.
The front cover’s painting is predominantly in lush greens, evoking a pleasant summer day, and the accompanying story tells of a moose who held hostage the raspberry picking patch.
All the illustrations are equally lush and warm—even the winter paintings have a glow and softness to them. They remind me of Norman Rockwell and N.C. Wyeth’s artwork, but with an outdoor Lake Superior setting.
The early portion of the book is about the French voyageurs and other travelers upon Lake Superior. While stories of the voyageurs are fascinating, it is Sivertson’s paintings that make the reader appreciate their experiences, filled with hardship that was compensated for by surrounding scenery. The latter part of the book focuses upon life at Isle Royale in the early twentieth century, a time when Sivertson and his family knew the island intimately.
Howard Sivertson grew up on Isle Royale, where his parents and grandparents lived as commercial fishermen. Sivertson’s words and paintings pay homage to a lost way of life upon the island—his own heritage as a young man was taken from him when the government forced the commercial fishermen to leave their homes so the island could be made into a national park.
My favorite painting in the book is alone well worth its price of $24.95. A moose that, after watching a man effortlessly skating across a frozen lake, sees no reason why he should not venture across the ice without trouble. The pink glow of the sky in the painting perfectly captures the beauty and cold of the winter evening.
Driftwood: Stories Picked Up Along the Shore with its warm summer pictures is a pleasure to read during these cold winter months, and its winter paintings reflect what most of us can only feel about that magnificent season without being able to put it into sufficient words or art.

—Tyler Tichelaar

Editor’s Note: Tichelaar is the author of The Marquette Trilogy. All books reviewed are available in local or online bookstores.

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