Tag Archives: history

Behind the Scenes: Windows to History

Class of 1940 Window.
Class of 1940 Window.

If you have ever visited the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections, you might know that the staff are eager to welcome members of the campus and Copper Country community to the reading room. What you might not know, is that we’re equally excited to share information about the reading room itself and the objects that are visible to patrons every day. One of the most beloved aspects of our reading room are the three stained glass windows that adorn the south wall of the space. Each year we field a variety of questions regarding the windows, but today we’re going to reveal many of those secrets, as well as some that have recently come to light for our staff.

The first stained glass window ever installed in the archives’ reading room was the center window celebrating the class of 1940. The window was a created in tandem with the opening of an expanded facility for the University Archives in the Library in 1982, made possible through donations by the Michigan Tech Class of 1940. The window itself was designed by Walter Boylan-Pett of Mohawk. The new facility was celebrated with an open house to the public on August 6, 1982, debuting the window featuring the Michigan College of Mining and Technology school seal. Its original installation on the third floor of the library allowed for natural illumination by ambient light from the exterior of the building. Today, each window on the garden level is backlit by fluorescent lighting to give the illusion of natural lighting, which has the added benefit of making the reading room appear cheerful and sunny.

Michigan Technological University Centennial Window.
Michigan Technological University Centennial Window.

To the right of the Class of 1940 window is our stained glass window celebrating the University’s centennial. Dedicated in 1985 to celebrate the school’s 100th birthday since its founding in 1885, the window features a vibrant green, yellow, and orange pallet.

At the far left of the reading room is the “Window to the Copper Country” stained glass window. Designed by Peg McNinch by commission for the Michigan Tech Archives in the summer of 1988, the window was made “to honor the depth of local historical and natural resources materials” and has, by far, the mosting interesting story to tell of the three windows. The unveiling of the window in 1988 included a dedication by State Director of the Bureau of History, Martha M. Bigelow. The window, which stands at 6.5 x 5.5 feet, features a map of the region as its central focal point while border panels depict the local historical and natural resources for the which the window was designed.

The history of the Copper Country is indebted to the native peoples who occupied and made this area their home long before the establishment of modern mining operations. The Chippewa, Ojibway and Ottawa bands have resided in the Upper Peninsula for nearly 4,000 years, leaving a lasting legacy. The Thunderbird, which occupies a place of prominence at the top of the window is meant to represent a mythical bird believed to cause lightning and thunder while honoring the native peoples of the Upper Peninsula.

Several panels depict the natural resources of the Copper Country and incorporate local materials into the artwork. One panel on the middle-left of the window shows a waterfall representing the many natural waterfalls in the area such, as Douglass Houghton Falls, Hungarian Falls and Jacobs Falls. Local specimens of datolite are embedded into this panel. Another panel at the lower left shows the trillium and thimbleberry, well-known natural plants in the area. The thimbleberry in particular is a favorite of locals and makes excellent jam, which can be found throughout the Copper Country. A third panel on the middle-right depicts Estivant Pines, representing the last stand of virgin white pine in Michigan. Named after Edward A. J. Estivant, a pioneer who purchased the site in the 1870’s, this natural wonder is an amazing site that can be visited just south of Copper Harbor.

Window to the Copper Country.
Window to the Copper Country.

While the majority of the panels depict the aboveground history of the region, the bottom right panel containing a miner’s candle, hat and pick, is meant to commemorate the vast resources underground and the lasting legacy of the mining heritage of the Copper Country.  A quartz crystal, donated by the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum, is inlaid on the miner’s candle, which represents the earliest form of illumination used by miners while working in the underground mines.

Prominent buildings are represented among the panels to showcase different aspects of the commercial, entertainment, and recreational history of the area. The top left panel depicts the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. A fixture within the Copper Country, the Mountain Lodge is one of the major resorts in the area. Built in the 1930s under the Civil Works Administration, the resort is located off of U.S. 41 just outside of Copper Harbor and includes a 9-hole golf course.

Like the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, the Copper Harbor Lighthouse has long been an important building and site in the Upper Peninsula. Built in 1866, the lighthouse marked an important port of shipping on Lake Superior since water transportation was the sole means of accessing the area and moving people, supplies, and equipment until the age of rail transportation. The top right panel depicts the Copper Harbor Lighthouse and this important era in the history of the Copper Country.

Peg McNinch working on the Window to the Copper Country, circa 1988.
Peg McNinch working on the Window to the Copper Country, circa 1988.

During our research into the Window to the Copper Country, we made a very surprising discovery that we’re excited to share with you today. On the bottom center of the window is a panel depicting the Calumet Theater. Meant to symbolize the important role the theater has played since its opening in 1900 as a place of entertainment and social gatherings into today, the panel plays a subtle, yet significant, dual role of commemoration. In December 1913, following the tragic events of the Italian Hall disaster, which left 73 people dead, including 60 children, the dead were brought to the Calumet Theater, which functioned as a temporary morgue. This relationship between the Italian Hall and the Calumet Theater is solidified in the window, which includes a slice of brick imbedded in the panel from Italian Hall. While likely known by departmental staff at the time, this interesting aspect of the window was rediscovered during our research into the windows.

We hope that you enjoyed this one of a kind behind the scenes view of the Archives’ reading room. If you would like to view the windows in person, please visit us anytime during our regular operating hours, Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.!


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.


Women in the Copper Country: The Hancock Home Study Club

IMG_0879
Photograph from the Hancock Home Study Club centennial celebration, 1983.

 

In honor of Women’s History Month we’re featuring the oldest organized women’s club in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Hancock Home Study Club.

Established in 1883, the club held its initial meeting on May 16 to form a club for the study of art in connection with the Society for the Encouragement of Study at Home, a national organization based in Boston. The Society was initially founded in 1873 by Anna Eliot Ticknor as a means of encouraging women to pursue study and enlightenment beyond their traditional domestic duties.

Hancock Home Study Club meeting minutes ledger, 1889.
Hancock Home Study Club meeting minutes ledger, 1889.

The Hancock Home Study Club (HHSC) held its first official meeting in September 1883 as the Home Study Club with six founding members, all women from the Hancock community. Membership in the Club grew to fifteen by 1886 and extended to thirty members. While most early members lived in Hancock, the group eventually opened membership to those living in Ripley, Houghton, and other areas. It wasn’t until March 12, 1935 that the Club constitutionally changed the name to the Hancock Home Study Club.

The Club’s studies were carried out as correspondent courses on topics ranging from art and literature, to economics and world studies. While early coursework focused on international topics and regions, more recent studies have been geared towards topics relevant to Michigan and Copper Country history. Because reference material was hard to come by in this remote region in the late 1800’s, the bulk of the group’s study material were purchased outside of the region. As a result the group amassed a considerable reference library that was later donated to various public libraries and schools.

Resource request card to the Society to Encourage Studies at Home, 1884.
Resource request card to the Society to Encourage Studies at Home, 1884.

The Club met in homes until January 1898 when it rented a room in the Y.M.C.A. building for meetings. Poor heating at the Y.M.C.A. forced the group to relocate to City shortly thereafter, but they found the new location noisy and resorted to moving their meetings to various locations until 1959 when they returned to the home-based meetings.

While not a service club, the club has been active in many forms of social support over its long history, assisting with Red Cross Relief in 1914, as well as state scholarship funds, various wartime commissions, and local social agencies including the YMCA, Elks, Goodwill, Salvation Army and the Houghton Club.

Today, the Hancock Home Study Club continues to be an active organization in the community, meeting at least semi-regularly as it has since its founding in 1883. The Club has celebrated major milestones, like its centennial celebration in 1983, complete with a historical pageant that the ladies put on for the occasion.

The Hancock Home Study Club Records are a fascinating look into women’s social organizations in the late 19th Century, particularly in the early decades of an isolated, rural area. The records serve as evidence of the importance of social bonds between women in a growing community and interest in academic pursuits beyond the home. The records of the Hancock Home Study Club (MS-056) can be viewed onsite at the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections and include the club’s constitution and bylaws, meeting minutes, financial records and annual reports, as well as photographs, programs, and anniversary celebration memorabilia. You can also view the finding aid for this collection online by visiting the Archive’s collections page.


African American History Presentation to be Held on March 2

Dr. Michelle S. Johnson, a Community Historian with the Michigan Historical Center, will be presenting a talk on African American history in Michigan on Tuesday, October 27 at 4:00 p.m. at the Van Pelt and Opie Library. This photograph is courtesy of Kzoo Uncaged. See there website for a great interview with Dr. Johnson.
Dr. Michelle S. Johnson, a Community Historian with the Michigan Historical Center, will be presenting a talk on African American history in Michigan on Wednesday, March 2 at 4:00 p.m. at the Van Pelt and Opie Library. This photograph is courtesy of Kzoo Uncaged. See their website for a great interview with Dr. Johnson.


As part of the “Black Voices in the Copper Country” project, the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections will be hosting a talk by Dr. Michelle S. Johnson, a Community Historian with the Michigan Historical Center in Lansing.

The talk will be held at 4pm on Wednesday, March 2 in the Van Pelt and Opie Library’s East Reading Room. The presentation, “Exhibits for a New Century: Researching the African American Experience in Michigan from the Copper Country to the Capital,” will explore the historical center’s Exhibits for a New Century project, which is an interpretive exhibit documenting the African American experience across the state. Johnson will also discuss the methods and meaning behind the exhibit as well as a statewide research initiative to uncover and share African American narratives in Michigan history, such as the grant-funded project taking place at the Michigan Tech Archives.  This event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Johnson has executed extensive work on securing and promoting spaces where socially marginalized people express their autonomous and authentic selves. As co-founder and executive director of Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative, she collected and oversaw the collection of numerous oral histories around issues of place, community, race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality and history. Johnson served as the Freedom Trail coordinator for the State of Michigan from 2000-2008 and consults on 19th century history projects in the state and the mid-west region, especially the Underground Railroad. She researches, writes and lectures for academic and public settings on aspects of African American culture in Michigan. Her scholarship includes a community project in Loughman, Florida researching, interpreting and performing the work of Zora Neale Hurston. Named WIDR’s “most beloved DJ,” Johnson has appeared as a weekly host for Slip Back Soul for 9 years as DJ Disobedience.

This talk is made possible in part by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

 

MHC Publicity


Mining Memories Project to Start this Winter

The Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections is pleased to announce that its staff will be initiating an oral history project this winter. This project, funded in part by the Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission, aims to collect first hand accounts from Copper Country mine workers and their families in an effort to preserve local mining heritage.

Calumet and Hecla Photograph Collection
Calumet and Hecla Photograph Collection

 

Why are we doing this?

The Michigan Tech Archives has hundreds of cubic feet of mining company records within its collections but does not have nearly the same bulk of primary source materials characterizing mine workers and their families on a personal level. By reaching out to individuals who have stories to tell about the mines, the archives will give people agency over their own local history and will capture memories that would otherwise be forgotten.

Personal accounts of working for the local mines and of living in the local mining community will add so much to our historical narrative

Do you have a story to tell?

If you have worked for a Copper Country mine, or were close with a family member who worked for a mine, we would love to schedule an interview with you. We will be interviewing 15 people between January and May 2016.

Interviews will be scheduled for 45 minute blocks in the Michigan Tech Archives. The interviews will follow a predetermined set of questions, but will allow for freeform discussion as well. If you are interested in participating, but are not able to travel to the Michigan Tech Archives, please let us know. We may be able to set up another centralized location for interviews within our community.

Further Questions?

If you would like to learn more about this project or would like to schedule an interview, please email the archives at copper@mtu.edu or call us at (906)-487-2505.

 


Vintage Copper Country Christmas Advertisements

Have a look at these jolly Christmas advertisements for some last minute gift-giving inspiration. Below, we have provided a small curated sample of print advertising from the Daily Mining Gazette ranging from 1903 to 1953. (Clicking directly on any advertisement will make it larger for readability.)

 

Printed in the Daily Mining Gazette, December 19, 1919, page 7
Printed in the Daily Mining Gazette, December 19, 1919, page 7

 

A little extra heat is always appreciated in the winter, so why not gift an electric heater this year? The Houghton County Electric Light Company certainly hopes you do.

 

Printed in the Daily Mining Gazette, December 20, 1929, page 9
Printed in the Daily Mining Gazette, December 20, 1929, page 9

 

Part stationary furniture, part musical instrument – these wooden radios sold at Klingkammer’s Music Store in Houghton looked great and sounded even better. With light coming from the fireplace and Christmas tree, warmth from blankets on the couch and with Christmas specials quietly playing over your brand new radio, hardly a more cozy scene could be imagined.

 

Printed in the Daily Mining Gazette, December 22, 1953, page 15
Printed in the Daily Mining Gazette, December 22, 1953, page 15

 

“Second only to good food, no treat you can serve will add to the day’s pleasures like smooth, mellow, golden Bosch.” Brewed in the sportsman’s paradise, a case of Bosch would have made a great host or hostess’ gift.

 

DMG 12-22-1929 Pg 2
Printed in the Daily Mining Gazette, December 22, 1929, page 2

 

If you are lucky enough to be hosting your own holiday dinner this year, do not forget to take advantage of seasonal specials when grocery shopping. You may even be lucky enough to see Santa Claus, as shoppers of Riteway did in 1929.

 

Printed in the Daily Mining Gazette, December 19, 1903, page 10
Printed in the Daily Mining Gazette, December 19, 1903, page 10

 

In 1903, Santa visited the E. F. Sutton Company to meet with children, pass out candy and to see how his toys were selling at the store. During the two weeks preceding Christmas, the E. F. Sutton Company used the Daily Mining Gazette columns to call attention to their huge stock of holiday wares. Because of these ads, the store had huge sales in 1903 compared to previous years.

Prompted by the previous advertisement and Santa’s appearance at the E. F. Sutton Company, two young boys co-wrote and mailed a letter to Santa Claus at Santa Clausland, Lake Linden, Michigan, in care of the E. F. Sutton Company. This letter was printed in the Daily Mining Gazette on December 22, 1903, two days after Santa made his appearance at the E F. Sutton Company. It has been transcribed below.

 

Dear Santa Claus:

I now take the time to write you a few lines and hope I will see you tomorrow. Well, Santa Claus, I suppose I may give my order. I no you won’t forget us for you always come to see us no matter how far we were. Santa Claus,  I won’t ask for too much for I know that there is lots of poor people that I would like to see them have something too. Please may I have these things following: A game of lottos; a game of flinch; a  game of trip to New York; cherket board; the coon’s hunt; a glove box; a handkerchief box; a pare of leggons for boys; a merry go round; a child’s cornet; an airship; three funny books.

I don’t want no doll this year, but I like to have a doll’s head. The rest we will leave to you. Santa Claus, when you see papa’s stockings don’t laugh, but please fill them. Well, I must close, goodby.

P.S. – This is from Albert and I.

 

These newspapers, along with roughly 70 other local historic newspapers are available for viewing on microfilm at the Michigan Tech Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections. Feel free to call us at (906) 487-2505 or email us at copper@mtu.edu to learn more.