UNDERWEAR WAR

1927 was an eventful year

By Larry Chabot

We’ve survived trade wars, proxy wars and tug-of-wars, but seldom one like the Underwear War waged among Marquette-area clothiers in 1927. Stern & Field started the conflict with $19.50 men’s suits, which unleashed a rash of ads from rivals. The battle changed focus when men’s long underwear (known as the union suit) was on the line—in the heat of summer, no less, when a 99-degree temperature was Marquette’s highest in 56 years.
In a Mining Journal display ad, Cowell & Burns began the bid with union suits for 91¢—a modest garment at a modest price. From the frenzied reaction, one might have thought they were discounting diamonds. Penney’s quickly weighed in two cents lower, as did W.L. Katz Company. The A.E. Archambeau’s store cut another penny, to 88¢, before Stern & Field called everyone’s bluff with an unbeatable offer of 85¢, followed by silence. Potential buyers, fearful of the cold winter ahead, must have been in a tizzy, maybe returning the previous favorite and hustling over to the next lowest retailer. There couldn’t have been an unbought union suit. The unclad had to buy from a catalog, paying a whopping $1.04 (including postage). The tussle certainly caused a flap.
A bigger, more dangerous story took place at a service station on West Washington Street in Marquette. The owner was indelicately described in the July 18, 1927, newspaper as “a corpulent garage man…who is somewhat enlarged about the equator …always seen with a tobacco pipe in his mouth. His pipe last evening was almost the cause of him losing his pants.” The reporter, who had already stained the man’s reputation, wondered sarcastically if he even went to bed with the pipe in his mouth. Even though the man’s name was never mentioned, everyone in town must have known who it was.
With the pipe clenched as usual between his teeth, the rotund proprietor was pumping gasoline into one of the garage’s automobiles. Another employee waited to move the vehicle after the tank was full. Suddenly, a pipe spark ignited the gasoline; flames shot from the nozzle and gas tank. Then, the pumper’s pants caught on fire.
“Fire to the right of him, fire to the left of him,” noted the reporter, who thought the pyrotechnics were better than the city’s Fourth of July fireworks. The waiting employee rushed up with a fire extinguisher, which did no good, then jumped in the car and roared away from the pumps at high speed, with flames shooting out of the tank. People in nearby homes heard the commotion and rushed into the street. One was heard screaming that the world was coming to an end.
The driver soon returned, still trailing flames, as 40 or so bystanders—standing dangerously close to the fire—were laughing at the spectacle. Cometh a cooler head in state police trooper McDermott, who “calmly clapped his leather-gloved hand over the lighted gas hose [and gas tank] and scotched the fire.” The big guy counted his losses: his pipe, his pants, and his composure.

Firemen’s Firewater
The Negaunee Iron Herald sported an ad inviting folks to the annual U.P. Firemen’s Tournament in Ontonagon on July 20-22. Featured events included boxing exhibitions, races, music by the Ironwood and Ontonagon city bands and Bessemer High School, airplane rides, nightly dances and reduced rail fares. “All roads are good,” bragged the ad.
Well, you’ll never guess what happened. The July 25 Mining Journal reported that Ontonagon was “wild and open” during the tournament and “that liquor flowed freely is verified by the fact that eight arrests on charges of violating the liquor law have been made as a result of raids made by state police.” More arrests were expected, quoted a trooper, who said that “every other building on the main street was a booze joint. I have never seen the liquor law more openly violated than it was during the firemen’s convention.” Moonshiners had stocked up for the firemen, and even teenagers were drunk in the streets, according to state police.
Of course, nationwide Prohibition was in effect then, banning the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcoholic beverages. But the law had a big loophole: there was no ban on drinking.
A truly gross tragedy rocked Bath Township just north of Lansing, when a series of explosions killed 44 people and injured 58 more. In May 1927, Andrew Kehoe, a former school board treasurer angered by his defeat at the polls and high taxes, and facing a foreclosure on his property, blew up his farmhouse with his wife inside (she had just gotten out of a hospital). Kehoe had been buying explosives for many months, hiding most of them in the Bath Township school.
After dispatching his wife and farm, he headed to town to detonate the explosives at school, which killed 38 elementary students and four more adults. As he sat in his truck, he blew that up, too. Authorities found many unexploded bombs throughout the school, detonation of which would have made the carnage worse than it was.
In National Mine, a local postal worker lost his life in a freak-of-nature accident on July 1 in 1927. Postmaster Thomas Clayton had been working outside in the rain and had come into his house soaking wet. As he stood at the kitchen sink drawing water from his pump, a bolt of lightning came through the window and electrocuted him, then passed through him to crack the wall below.

Kudos For Kaufman
Louis Kaufman was the toast of Marquette for many years: a banker, philanthropist and loyal son who made it big here and in New York. Locally, the First National Bank was erected on land he donated, and he provided funds for the site of a new high school building (named for his mother, Juliet Graveraet). His Granot Loma estate north of Marquette, called the biggest log cabin in the world and the most expensive residence in Michigan, hosted a grand opening party in 1927 with guests from all over. Boxer Muhammad Ali once romped on the lawn with a bunch of neighborhood kids, then offered to buy the place with a paper sack full of $20 bills. Author Tyler Tichelaar reported that President Gerald Ford considered Granot Loma as a Michigan-based White House, but neither purchase came to pass.
Kaufman was honored at an October banquet for his many accomplishments. Over 500 diners cheered their hero, who responded modestly that he was “mighty proud of Marquette, proud to point to it as my home town. It is the biggest little city in the world. I am proud of its churches, schools and fine residences…evidence of the sterling character of its people.” Kaufman praised Roy Young, who began as a messenger in his bank and was now on the board of governors of the Federal Reserve Bank. Mayor John Robertson spoke for all when he said, “I take pleasure in paying tribute to a member of one of the most respected families in the history of Marquette.”
Marquette Branch Prison, known for its hard-core inmates, was in the news several times during 1927. On the Fourth of July, prisoner John Podolski grabbed a guard who had innocently opened Podolski’s cell on a fake errand. By the time he was apprehended, Podolski had involved 20 other inmates in his escape plan, which brought a lockdown for the escapees and anger from the rest of the population for having missed a promised Fourth of July shindig. Later in the month, prison trusty Austin Farnsworth walked away from the lockup. He was spotted in Ohio by a county sheriff and his son, who brought Farnsworth down with a flying tackle as he was breaking into a home. The convict was soon back in Marquette after his 12-day vacation, and the sheriff’s son collected a $100 reward.
On November 1, another batch of cons pulled off an escape which Warden James Corgan called the “sportiest” of his experience. Joseph Perrin, Owen King and Austin Farnsworth (who hadn’t learned his lesson from his first breakout) snuck out the back door of the chapel, crawled the length of a horizontal exhaust pipe and headed for the open road. In the deep woods, they shared lunch with a woods worker who’d been in the forest for a week and hadn’t heard of the escape. One convict was nabbed in Ohio, another in Minnesota and the third in Seattle. Escapee Perrin brazenly blamed the warden for the escape because “it was his job to keep me in prison.”

Planes, Trains and Yearbooks
Airplanes were still a novelty in those days, and the U.P. was thrilled by daredevil men in their flying machines. According to historian Jim Carter, aviator Ernest Berg of Minneapolis arrived in the U.P. in 1926 to give flying lessons and public rides and to open a flying school in Escanaba. When business brought him to Marquette, Berg used an area near the eighth tee at the Marquette Golf Club as his air field. Berg claimed friendship with Charles Lindbergh, who flew the first non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in May of 1927.
For most people, railroad trains were the best way to go. Tracks ran almost everywhere. Little Michigamme once had twelve passenger trains and four freight trains passing through every day. A popular local line had two daily round trips between Marquette, Negaunee and Ishpeming; each summer, the line cancelled its Sunday runs. Not to worry: Bill Billing was operating a 20-passenger Studebaker vehicle between Ishpeming and Negaunee. As of January 1, the Duluth South Shore & Atlantic no longer offered direct passenger service to Duluth, requiring a transfer to the Northern Pacific at Iron River, Wisconsin. Car and truck drivers faced a new gasoline tax of 3¢ a gallon (Michigan’s current combined state-federal gas taxes of 56¢ is fifth highest in the nation).
What a year for inventions: the jukebox, garbage disposals, talking motion pictures, overseas phone calls. Bob Dobson’s Ishpeming Iron Ore compilation captured local amazement at a new phonograph that could play an amazing 12 records, one after another, for a whole hour. Dobson also noted that the Barnes-Hecker Mine, where 51 miners had been killed the previous November, was closed permanently by the mining company in January. Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company was in the process of moving 90 homes from their east Negaunee location because of fear of potential caving.
Finally, the 1927 Marquette High School Tatler yearbook was dedicated to the taxpayers who made the new school possible. That was the final annual published out of Howard High School. Among the 55 graduating seniors was Jean Gordon, president of the Good Handwriting Club, which promoted high standards in all written work. Still-active advertisers were Getz’s, Swanson Funeral Service, Washington Shoe Store, Donckers and Bell Telephone.
The Lake Superior water level that summer was 602.33 feet above sea level. Today, it’s only half an inch lower. Everything else has changed.

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