Reading Room Spotlight: Portrait of an Ancestor as a Young Woman

This week’s blog post is courtesy of our Assistant Archivist Resident, Emily Riippa. It provides a thoughtful spotlight on one of our reading room art pieces.

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For the past year, visitors to the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections have been captivated by the portrait of a striking young woman that graces a wall in the reading room. This painting of Christeen Shelden was donated by Therissa Jane Libby, a great-granddaughter of the subject, in 2016; a previous blog post by University Archivist Lindsay Hiltunen provides additional information about Mrs. Libby’s generous gift.

While our staff knew the provenance of the portrait, our knowledge of Christeen herself remained minimal. As we passed the painting many times in our daily work and fielded questions from patrons who had paused to admire it, the sense of mystery grew. Christeen was a scion of the respected Shelden family, yes, but what more could be said about her experiences? Did she live to a happy old age, or was her life cut tragically short? Did she pursue one of the careers available to women of her time? Did she marry and raise a family? As archivists, naturally, we turned to historical documents to answer these questions. Like researchers who come to investigate their family history here, we now are able to see this face from the past with greater clarity.

Donor Jane Libby and Archivist Lindsay Hiltunen pose with the framed portrait of Christeen M. Shelden, daughter of local historic figure Ransom B. Shelden. The painting was donated to the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections on Monday, June 20.
Therissa Jane Libby posing with the portrait of her great-grandmother, Christeen Shelden.

Christeen Shelden was born in May 1848 near the Portage Entry, where her father had recently built a store on the sandbars near Jacobsville. She was the third child and only daughter of Ransom and Therissa (Douglass) Shelden; Carlos and George were several years older, and Ransom, Jr., would join the family four years later. Hoping to further capitalize on the supply needs of the nascent copper boom, Ransom and his business partner relocated the store to Quincy Mine in the early 1850s and then to Houghton. Their operations flourished: by 1860, Ransom Shelden informed the census taker that his property was worth some $175,000.

Christeen grew up in Houghton, surrounded by her family and by the world that had sprung up around the mines: mercantiles, hotels, saloons, investors like her father, laborers who had spent everything they had to move to the Copper Country for a chance at something more than subsistence. Many of her neighbors were American-born, like her family, but just as many had come from places like Canada, England, and Germany. Undoubtedly, living in a boom town made for an interesting childhood, with the surroundings adding a real world touch to Christeen’s education. Based on the presence of a teacher named Emily Collingwood in the Shelden household in the 1860 census, it seems likely that Christeen received her formal schooling in her home. Census records also indicate that, as a young adult, Christeen probably did not elect to become a schoolteacher herself, one of the few careers available to a woman of her socioeconomic status. In 1870, her occupation was listed as “at home,” meaning that she likely filled her days by assisting her mother and their servants in household upkeep or by attending to social and charitable obligations. The style of Christeen’s clothing in the portrait suggests that it was painted at some point in the early years of this decade.

Love found Christeen in her twenties. She met a young man named Edwin Salmon Gilbert, a bookkeeper and the son of a Baptist minister. Edwin had spent his youth moving around the country, following his father between pastorates in his native New York, Illinois, and Marshall, Michigan, according to various federal censuses. From Marshall, the youthful accountant headed north and took a job with Ransom Shelden in about 1873. Christeen and Edwin fell in love and were married in Houghton on February 28, 1874. They remained close to her family: when the Michigan state census was taken later that year, the Gilberts and the Sheldens were recorded as living side by side.

Christeen and Edwin’s brief marriage was marked by moments of profound joy and sorrow. They welcomed their first child, Shelden Douglass, nine months after the wedding; a second son, Edwin Gage, followed in April 1876. Sadly, their next two children, who arrived in March 1877 and April 1878, were stillborn. Therissa I. Gilbert, named for her grandmother, was born on October 2, 1879.  Less than six months after her daughter’s birth, Christeen died; her headstone in the Shelden plot at Houghton’s Forest Hill Cemetery gives the date as March 8, 1880. She was 31 years old.

Christeen’s memorial in the Shelden family section of Houghton’s Forest Hill Cemetery as it appears today.
Christeen’s memorial in the Shelden family section of Houghton’s Forest Hill Cemetery as it appears today.

After Christeen’s death, Edwin and the children moved south to Illinois, residing with his parents at census time and likely trying to come to terms with their loss. They eventually returned to Houghton County. In 1883, Edwin remarried in Houghton and moved with his new wife to Santa Cruz, California, where voter registers the following year recorded him as a merchant. It is unclear whether Shelden, the younger Edwin, and Therissa accompanied him immediately or whether they remained with extended family in the Midwest. What is apparent, however, is that Christeen’s brothers felt it important that they take her children under their wing. Shelden Gilbert showed an aptitude for the law, and his name appeared in the alumni directories of Northwestern University and Yale Law School. When Carlos Shelden was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1896, he chose his young nephew as his private secretary. Sadly, Shelden Gilbert’s life was even shorter than his mother’s. While visiting the Copper Country in April 1899, the 24-year-old contracted cerebrospinal meningitis and died within a day.  

An obituary of Shelden D. Gilbert in the April 24, 1899 edition of the Copper Country Evening News.
An obituary of Shelden D. Gilbert in the April 24, 1899 edition of the Copper Country Evening News.

Edwin G. Gilbert, meanwhile, studied at Northwestern University and what was then the Michigan College of Mines, developing his abilities as a civil and mining engineer. Like his father, he moved to California, residing in Plumas County and San Diego. He died there in 1943, leaving a wife and one son.

Therissa Gilbert seems to have resided in Illinois for a time before also making the migration to California, where she married pharmacist Edwin Elliott at the age of 21. Their two sons thrived as professionals: the elder, Shelden, was a professor of law at New York University and dean of the University of Southern California School of Law, while Edwin Elliott, Jr., became a teacher and attained the rank of commander in the Navy during World War II.

It was Therissa Gilbert Elliott who inherited her mother’s portrait. Thanks to her faithful care and preservation of the painting over the years–a responsibility later taken up by her granddaughter–Christeen’s confident and thoughtful countenance will continue to charm onlookers well into the future, just as it has for over a century.



Discovering the Photography of Paul Hinzmann

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Paul Hinzmann with camera, Fort Wilkins, undated.

If you’ve had the chance to talk with any of the faculty or staff members at Michigan Tech, you know that each has an interesting story to tell and, more often than not, have interests and passions beyond the classroom.

In honor of National Photo Month we’re featuring the photography of Paul Hinzmann, former Michigan Tech professor and University photographer.

Paul Revere Hinzmann was born on May 23, 1913 in Tipton, Michigan to Walter and Lulu Hinzmann. The son of a Congregational Minister, Paul studied at the Case Institute of Technology and earned a degree in physics in 1935 and later obtained a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Michigan in 1936.

Hinzmann joined the faculty at the Michigan College of Mining and Technology in 1946 as a professor of physics, a position he retained until his retirement in January 1977. From all accounts, Hinzmann was a well-respected faculty member who relished teaching and was known for his dedication to his students.

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Man in field, undated.

Paul Hinzmann was also a man with varied interests, including photography. His collection of photographs and negatives reflect his interests in the landscape of the Copper Country and the campus he loved so much. Photographs and negatives from his collection in the Michigan Tech Archive include scenes of local businesses, street views, and the industrial landscape. Among the treasures donated to the archive are several antique cameras from the 1800s that reflect his love of the medium and its history.

Razing of McNair, undated.
Razing of McNair, undated.

Hinzmann’s work for the University eventually led him to commercial photography work for the Herman Gundlach Construction Company in Houghton. Evidence of this is sprinkled throughout his collection and largely document the various stages of construction in and around Houghton. Unsurprisingly there is overlap between Hinzmann’s campus photography since Gundlach was a major contractor for many buildings on campus.

Beyond his teaching responsibilities and photography, Hinzmann was an avid outdoorsman, spending time on Isle Royale and in the Boundary Waters. A lifetime member of the Isle Royale & Keweenaw Parks Association (IRKPA), Hinzmann served as board president from 1985 to 1988.

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Charlie Kauppi and Tech student at the helm of a vessel, 1948.

His love of wilderness and photography culminated in a rephotography project he undertook in the 1980s using photographer A. C. Lane’s glass plate negative collection of Isle Royale views from the 1890s.

Hinzmann died on November 30, 2012 at the age of 99 and a half years old. His reputation as a “patient, caring teacher who loved the enthusiasm of students” was remembered in the Spring 2013 issue of Michigan Tech Magazine. While his photography might not be as well known by most, Hinzmann’s work outside of the classroom served as the visual record of the University for over thirty years and represents the impact faculty and staff have to Michigan Tech community.

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Vintage cameras from the Paul Hinzmann Collection.

Would you like to see more of Paul Hinzmann’s photography? Please visit the temporary display currently on the first floor of the Van Pelt and Opie Library on the Michigan Tech campus. Interested in seeing even more? The Michigan Technological University Archives holds the Paul Hinzmann Photograph Collection (MS-580). The collection dates from 1954 to 1982 and includes miscellaneous photographic equipment, as well as photographs and negatives taken by Hinzmann documenting the subjects discussed in this post.


Photo of the Day – May 17, 2017

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From the Daily Mining Gazette in 1963: The Redridge Rhythm Ryders Band, carry on a tradition that was started 50 years ago. The young musicians have won considerable acclaim and recognition in the region, recently winning second place in a talent show at the Dee Stadium. Band Director William H. Brinkman plays the banjo.


Call for Volunteers, History Unfolded and Newspaper Project – Summer 2017

The Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections is currently seeking volunteers for a temporary newspaper project. The volunteer project includes participation in History Unfolded, an internationally significant research project administered by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), as well as assisting with upkeep for the Copper Country and Michigan Tech Vertical Files. The volunteer(s) selected will receive training and will gain first-hand experience in microfilm research and vertical file upkeep.

newspaper3History Unfolded, a project of the USHMM in Washington, DC, asks students, teachers, librarians, archivists and community historians throughout the United States to research what was possible for Americans to have known about the Holocaust as it was happening. Participants look in local newspapers for news and opinion pieces about 31 Holocaust-era events and submit articles they find to a national database. As of May 12, 2017, 1,561 participants from across the country have submitted over 9,900 articles from their local newspapers. However, to date only 125 of those articles come from Michigan newspapers. It is the goal of the Michigan Tech Archives volunteer project to make sure that Upper Peninsula news stories are included in the national database. In addition to microfilm research and participation in the History Unfolded project, volunteers will also be expected to assist in clipping and filing newspapers for inclusion in our local vertical file.

The following skills are required:

  • Knowledge of World War II and Holocaust history.
  • Demonstrated analytical and research skills.
  • Ability to follow instructions and work effectively in a team-based environment.
  • Ability to use basic office equipment and to learn new software.

This call is for 1-2 volunteer positions with work hours to take place Monday-Friday, between the hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. An ideal volunteer would be able to commit 10-15 hours per month, although there is flexibility in setting the weekly volunteer hours.  The preferred start date is June 26, to coincide with the university’s second summer session. There will be no compensation or benefits included with this position and the successful candidate(s) will be expected to complete the appropriate volunteer forms for the university.

To learn more about us, please visit our website: http://www.mtu.edu/library/archives/.

Volunteer applications are due by June 12, 2017. Applicants should send a short letter of interest to:

Lindsay Hiltunen, University Archivist
Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections
Attn: History Unfolded Volunteer Project
Van Pelt and Opie Library
1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, MI 49931
copper@mtu.edu | (906) 487-2505



Immunization Week Prompts a Look Back

The last week of April was World Immunization Week. A campaign of the World Health Organization (WHO), this special event celebrates the development of vaccines to prevent diseases that once ravaged communities. The Copper Country was no exception to the scourge of sickness: measles, meningitis, diphtheria, and other illnesses made the rounds of mine towns, often with devastating effects.

Mining companies took a keen interest in the spread of these diseases and others in their surrounding communities, both for the benefit of the corporation and the good of the workforce. From nearly the beginning of Copper Country mining, company payrolls included doctors, a holdover from the Cornish roots of many early miners. As the region matured, several mines constructed hospitals and medication dispensaries to serve their employees. For a modest monthly contribution and additional fees for inpatient care, workers and their families were entitled to diagnostic services–both at home and at the hospital–and medication. Calumet & Hecla (C&H) offered perhaps the archetypal example of this service. The company opened its first hospital in 1871 and, by 1897, boasted an expanded, state-of-the-art facility with a substantial staff. Patients seeking treatment visited this impressive building on the east side of Calumet Avenue (US-41), just north of Church Street. C&H also operated a clinic in Lake Linden.

 

After 1897, those seeking treatment from C&H company physicians could visit this attractive building on today’s US-41 in Calumet. The modern facility featured cutting edge surgical and diagnostic apparatus.
After 1897, those seeking treatment from C&H company physicians could visit this attractive building on today’s US-41 in Calumet. The modern facility featured cutting edge surgical and diagnostic apparatus.

 

By the late 1890s, C&H hospital physicians also aligned themselves with the growing field of public health. At the end of each month, doctors sent the company’s superintendent reports about the highly communicable diseases–now often preventable with vaccines–that its staff had treated. These dispatches, which C&H titled “Sanitary Bulletins,” recorded the nature of each illness, the neighborhood in which it had occurred, and the address of the patient; in an endeavour that presaged today’s emphasis on data visualization, physicians then carefully plotted the cases on a map of the Calumet area, using colored circles corresponding to the illnesses observed. The month’s average temperature, mean barometric pressure, total precipitation, and prevailing wind direction also featured prominently in these bulletins, which have been preserved as part of MS-002: Calumet and Hecla Mining Companies Collection.

The sanitary bulletins are a fascinating snapshot of the state of public health in Calumet in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Through the meticulous note keeping of the mine physicians, modern researchers glimpse the illnesses that struck the community and the geography of epidemics, how sickness spread through a mine town. In March 1910, for example, a physician was called to Rockland Street in Calumet location–a settlement along the east side of today’s US-41–to tend to a feverish patient, probably a child, who was suffering from a cough, running nose, and watery eyes. An angry red rash had erupted across the patient’s skin. When the doctor came to the home, his diagnosis confirmed what family members had no doubt suspected: a case of the measles. This became the first blue dot–that month’s chosen color for measles–in a wave of illness, the tip of the iceberg.

 

“Sanitary Bulletin” prepared by Calumet & Hecla physicians in March 1910. Notice the color-coded key to the various illnesses whose occurrences doctors plotted on a map of the area.
“Sanitary Bulletin” prepared by Calumet & Hecla physicians in March 1910. Notice the color-coded key to the various illnesses whose occurrences doctors plotted on a map of the area.

 

Four days later, C&H physicians were called to tend to two cases of measles down the road in Hecla location; the following week, the neighborhood where the outbreak had begun saw another four patients with the same disease. Measles began to spread west along Pine Street, branching into the community of Blue Jacket even as it took further hold in Hecla and Calumet locations. In April, the simple outbreak of measles exploded into an epidemic. Pine Street had 18 measles patients, Rockland Street a total of 25. Adjacent Caledonia Street topped them all: 45 residents came down with measles that month. Imagine this happening in your neighborhood! The epidemic, which faded by June, sickened over 200 people. No longer able to squeeze all of the blue dots onto their sanitary bulletin, C&H doctors settled for drawing one dot per street and painstakingly penciling the total number of measles cases beside it.

 

The April 1910 edition of the bulletin showed just how busy doctors had been in attending to what they acknowledged as an epidemic of measles. Notice how the house-by-house pinpointing of cases has given way to a summary of cases by street.
The April 1910 edition of the bulletin showed just how busy doctors had been in attending to what they acknowledged as an epidemic of measles. Notice how the house-by-house pinpointing of cases has given way to a summary of cases by street.

 

Although none of the 1910 measles cases appears to have been fatal, the sanitary bulletins often tell of patients who were not so fortunate. Diphtheria, a capricious disease, sometimes dealt a glancing blow–or led to a date inked onto the chart with the word “died” beside it. Pertussis (whooping cough) lingered in homes; a painful annoyance to older children, it frequently led to deadly pneumonia in infants. Meningitis killed without prejudice, taking up to 80 percent of its victims in a matter of days.

Today, vaccines dramatically curtail the spread of these diseases, sparing countless individuals from miserable illnesses and their families from grief at the premature loss of loved ones. Poring over these fascinating artifacts unlocks a vivid story of life and death, a world before widespread vaccination. To discover more of the story, visit or contact the Michigan Tech Archives–our friendly staff are always ready to assist you.

A special thank you to our Assistant Archivist, Emily Riippa, for another well-researched and thoughtful post.



A Man of Many Talents: The Poetry of A.E. Seaman

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A.E. Seaman, undated

Today, the name A.E. (Arthur Edmund) Seaman is well-known in the Copper Country, largely for his close ties to the Michigan Technological University and for the mineral museum along Sharon Avenue in Houghton that bears his name. Born in Casnovia, Michigan on December 29, 1858, Seaman was a graduate from Michigan Tech, having earned his B.S. degree in 1895 at the age of 37. Seaman later became a full professor in the Department of Geology and Mineralogy and was a noted authority on the pre-Cambrian geology of the Lake Superior region. Among his contemporaries, he had a reputation for having a wider, first-hand knowledge of the geology of the Lake Superior region than any other man.

Seaman retired in 1928 with the title of professor emeritus of mineralogy and geology, but was made curator of the mineralogy and geology museum, which was then housed on the third floor of the college’s new engineering building. According to the 1928-1929 Bulletin of the Michigan College of Mining and Technology, the collection was “unusually complete” and “famous for its well arranged and complete assortment of rocks and minerals from all parts of the world.” The museum was renamed in Seaman’s honor in 1932 as the A.E. Seaman Museum, later renamed to the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum and moved to its current location along Sharon Avenue.

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Peace With Justice, Daily Mining Gazette, November 17, 1918.

While Seaman’s contributions to the field of mineralogy and to Michigan Tech, a relationship he maintained until his death in 1937, cannot be understated, what is less widely known is the personal side of this important figure within the Copper Country. His granddaughter, Jeanne Seaman Farnum, described Seaman as being, “known as a kindly gentleman with a bubbling sense of humor” with “a habit of being cheerful.” A man of a seemingly friendly nature and genuine concern for his students, Seaman was a softhearted man of many talents. Among his non-academic interests was his penchant for writing poetry, something that he shared with family, friends, and students alike.

His poem, Peace with Justice, published in the Daily Mining Gazette on November 17, 1918 just days following the armistice is a reflection on the costs of war. Several of Seaman’s poems scattered throughout speak of war, freedom, sacrifice and patriotism, issues common throughout the country at the time. These were obviously themes that weighed heavily on his mind as well. His poem Cootie, The Mascot, however brings a tinge of humor to his World War I poetry, in his ode to the tiny lice that plagued so many of the men in the trenches.

His World War I poetry put aside, the majority of Seaman’s poetry reflects his life in the Copper Country, his love of nature and geology. In his poem What I Write About published in a family compilation of his work titled Reminiscence of An Old Prospector, Seaman writes,

“Of scenes along the woodland trail

Where joy is never known to fail;

Of crags that form the mountain crest-

Of things I love, I write the best.”

Indeed, the bulk of his poems to reflect the landscape, heritage, and natural beauty of the Keweenaw. References to the mining industry, local plant and wildlife, as well as geological makeup of the land permeate his poems. Poems in the collection reflect his interests in geology and history such as his poems Down The Ages, Dinosaurs, or Stories Of The Rocks, which directly reflect his interest in various geological eras and the beasts that occupied the land long before man.

Seaman wrote, at least in part, about his personal experiences. His poem My First Discovery (Idaho, 1899) chronicles his discovery of gold out west and subsequent digging where he “worked until the perspiration filled my/eyes and made me blind-/worked and toiled with muttered cursings-/no more colors could I find.”. It’s unclear whether the poem is biographical, thought the title does suggest it, or merely a musing on the feverish feeling of a first time discovery. However, read within the larger context of the mining history in the Copper Country Seaman’s poem speaks volumes to local mining tradition.

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Through Keweenaw, undated.

A.E. Seaman was a man of many talents and interests. His poetry may never be revered in the same way as Shakespeare’s, but it represents a fascinating layer to a man well-known in the Copper Country for his other achievements and one that provides a glimpse into the personal side of a very public figure.

You can view more of A.E. Seaman’s poetry in the Seaman Family Collection as well as in the semi-published compilation of his work, Reminiscence of an Old Prospector, at the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections.