Michigan Tech Archives Reopening for Reference Appointments

Three men riding horses on a city street
We’re back in the saddle!

Following Michigan Tech’s resumption of on-site classes, the Michigan Tech Archives will be reopening for in-person research on a modified appointment-only basis. Appointments may be scheduled from 1pm to 5pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, subject to availability. As in the fall semester, appointment requests must be confirmed by an archives staff member a minimum of 24 hours in advance. Per university policy, patrons must wear a face covering for the entire duration of their appointments and complete a symptom tracking form (available at the Michigan Tech Flex Portal) before arriving on campus.

Appointments may be requested via email at copper@mtu.edu, by phone at (906) 487-2505, or through our appointment form.

We look forward to assisting you!


Flashback Friday: It’s Electric

Image of large wooden pavilion with sign reading "Electric Park"
The hub of entertainment at Electric Park.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Much about life–the way Americans dress, the types of jobs available to them, their methods of travel, the ways they communicate–has changed since 1900, and yet so much remains the same. People have a fundamental desire to visit with old friends, meet new ones, let down their hair, and enjoy themselves. The Copper Country is no different, and, in its heyday, the opportunities for entertainment grew as numerous as the mines. In a prior Flashback Friday, this blog profiled the bands formed by mining companies and communities. Now the focus turns to a venue where these bands often played for eager listeners and excited dancers at the turn of the last century.

Nestled in the woods between the bustling copper metropolises of Hancock and Calumet sat Electric Park, a project of the Houghton County Street Railway Company (later the Houghton County Traction Company). In the early 20th century, rail lines crisscrossed the western Upper Peninsula, carrying new arrivals into the region and bearing products like copper ingots and timber to points beyond. The street railway’s electric cars filled a niche for local passenger traffic and established what railroad historians Wally Weart and Kevin Musser characterized as “the only true interurban line in the Upper Peninsula.” When the streetcar line opened in 1900, travelers could go only between Houghton and Boston Location; within a year, the route expanded to Calumet and subsequently added a branch line to Hubbell. A final expansion, completed in 1908, carried riders as far north as Mohawk, with stops all along the way.

Passengers normally rode interurban lines to journey from community to community, but businesses like the streetcar company saw a profitable opportunity in creating another reason to ride their trains. What if they could be the exclusive transportation to an attractive leisure destination, the sort of place where friends wanted to gather and have fun? As spring arrived in 1902, the company moved quickly to capitalize. It obtained access to a patch of land, a little north of Boston Location, dubbed “the Highlands” and hired a contractor to begin clearing brush from the property. The Copper Country Evening News described the plans for the park:

“The pavilion will be a structure of 100 feet by 50 feet and will seat in the neighborhood of 300. When the floor is cleared dancing will be indulged in by several hundred couple [sic]. Amusement each evening and on Sundays will be furnished and refreshments being served on the grounds, people will be able to stay and enjoy themselves several hours at a time.

The entertainments given will be of the best and will be free of charge, all that the railway company will make off the investment will be the revenue derived from the fares to and from the Highlands. The fares promise to be quite an item and the resort or park will prove to be a very popular place for certain classes in this section.”

Streetcar and people next to wooden station
A Houghton County Traction Company streetcar at Albion Station, one of its regularly-scheduled stops. A sign propped against the building advertises a band concert at Electric Park.

This strategy worked. Enjoying high-quality entertainment with friends and basking in the delight of a Copper Country summer for no more than the cost of a streetcar fare drew scores of residents to the park. In 1910, the Houghton County Traction Company recorded some 50,000 visits to the little grove during the warm weather season. By this time, the park had long since shed the Highlands moniker. After a few years of being called Anwebida–a name purported to mean “here may we rest” in Ojibwe–it became Electric Park, a title that required no explanation to those who didn’t speak the language. And the atmosphere there was as electric as the name.

Electric Park kept bustling throughout the summer seasons. The 50,000 visits in 1910, as in most years, covered a whole host of events, gatherings, and activities. Bands descended on the park from the start, with both the Calumet & Hecla and Quincy corporate ensembles playing afternoon concerts. A typical C&H program covered a vast artistic field, incorporating Verdi, patriotic marches, ragtime, and other genres so as to appeal to all tastes; if hired for a dance, the musicians served up an evening of waltzes and two-steps, the toe-tapping favorites of the time. Dances proved particularly popular at Electric Park and in some years were held three times a week. The original dance pavilion burned to the ground in 1906, but its popularity prompted an almost immediate reconstruction and an expansion by nearly 25 percent.

An advertisement for band concerts and free dancing at Electric Park
Ad for Electric Park that ran in the Calumet & Hecla semi-centennial edition of “The Keweenaw Miner.” The streetcar company’s wholesome entertainment–the kind that didn’t lead to hungover or drunk men skipping work–was appealing to efficiency-driven C&H, too.

This new pavilion was well-suited not only to the fashionable dances held at Electric Park but also to the other entertainments and groups that descended on the grove. A stage and dressing rooms, balconies framing the dance floor, large open-air porches, and game tables provided crowd-pleasing, well-equipped spaces. Fraternal organizations rented the Electric Park pavilion to host their own festivities. The UP Federated Italian Societies, for example, hosted a reunion and picnic there with a “program of speeches and sports,” a band concert, and a boccia ball tournament, promising “a day of fun and entertainment for everybody.” The Laurium chapter of the Knights of Pythias held dances at Electric Park; the Hancock and Calumet councils of the Knights of Columbus did the same. Elementary students celebrated the end of the year with a big to-do at the park. Nearby Lutheran and Methodist Sunday Schools took their students out to the grove for picnics and showcases of what they had learned. The Methodists in particular made a habit of bringing large events out to Electric Park, hosting an annual “chautauqua” (convention) of presentations, missionary visits, and music for members of the denomination there throughout the 1910s.

Whether they came to attend a Sunday School picnic, a company band concert, or a fraternal organization party, Electric Park kept its visitors happy. Children zipped down wooden slides and played merrily on unique “boat swings” that sometimes attracted adults, too; management had to post a sign on each reminding older visitors that “this swing is for children only.” Men and kids alike played baseball on a diamond surrounded by a thick stand of trees. As the sun faded, a massive “ELECTRIC PARK” sign, said to be the largest electric sign in the region, blinked on and cast a romantic aura on the grove. When guests of the park needed something to eat or drink, they could purchase snacks like popcorn and sarsaparilla–or visit the outdoor water pump for free refreshment. In the earliest days of the park, supposedly, those looking for adult beverages could find their poison also close at hand. Quickly, however, Electric Park abandoned any liquor sales and forbade patrons from bringing their own, hoping to preserve a true family atmosphere not available at most Copper Country entertainment venues.

Three children on a rocking wooden swing
Three children enjoying the popular boat swings at Electric Park.

Although Electric Park tallied tens of thousands of annual visits for many years after its inception, as first the Copper Country entered an economic decline and then the Great Depression arrived, its days were numbered. As a cascade of mines entered hibernation and people moved away to seek jobs in Detroit, Milwaukee, or Chicago, fewer and fewer passengers rode the Houghton County Traction Company’s streetcars. The company folded. All operations ceased on May 21, 1932. Orphaned by the collapse of its parent organization, Electric Park struggled on for a time. Concerts and dances became much more sporadic, although organizations still put on the occasional picnic, but the summers when the park dominated local entertainment became mere memories. World War II and the cost of maintenance proved the last straws. Electric Park’s pavilion was soon scrapped, sold, and reassembled as a potato barn. Only traces remain of its once-bustling streetcar station, picnic grounds, and dance hall, buried in the underbrush like so much Copper Country history.


Flashback Friday: Strike Up the Band

Living in the Upper Peninsula has always, to some degree, required Yoopers to know how to make their own fun. When the snow falls to the tune of two or three hundred inches annually, a person either learns to love winter or how to pack up and move. Likewise, the resident of a small town who longs for the attractions of a big city either contents himself with what he can do at home, or he does his best to bring the city home.

From the early days of industry in the Keweenaw Peninsula, its residents sought to do something of both, combining the entertainments they knew elsewhere with the feel of the region. Mining towns throughout the Copper Country, both large and small, devised their own ways of having fun, which often took the form of creating bands. Copper mines throughout Cornwall, the western region of England from which many early immigrants came, often supported the establishment of a brass band; the band both provided wholesome diversion for residents and promoted the mine. Musical groups began to form in the first few decades of copper mining in Michigan as companies and communities took root. Unsurprisingly, in composition and style, these ensembles reflected the musical traditions of the new arrivals. By 1873, men at Calumet & Hecla had organized into a traditional British brass band, a group dominated by cornets with supplementation by clarinets, horns, and a small percussion section. These days, a cornet might be unfamiliar to many audiences, but the instrument’s mellow tone and bell shape–an appearance something like a modern trumpet–were instantly recognizable to the Cornish people of the early Copper Country. As bands at Calumet and Central Mine, among other places, became more established and increasingly entertained at concerts, dances, and Fourth of July festivities, they contributed to a vibrant cultural life in an industrial world.

Band in front of wooden building
The Calumet & Hecla band at an Independence Day celebration, 1873.

Among the best-documented mining company and community bands of the region was one established by the Copper Range Company, a sizable competitor of C&H with its heart of operations at Painesdale. The band seems to have been formed in 1910, about a decade after the birth of Copper Range. By this point, the ethnic composition of the Keweenaw Peninsula had changed considerably; alongside the English, German, and Irish immigrants of forty years earlier were substantial numbers of new arrivals from Finland, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Italy. The band membership, as recorded by its secretary E.W. Kruka, demonstrated the extent of Finnish settlement along the range: surnames like Ylijoki, Laukka, Hyrkas, and Waara dominated the list. In fact, only two men–Thomas Letcher and Helmut Steinhilb–out of the two dozen musicians did not have obvious Finnish heritage. Despite the change in background, however, the style of the band remained much in line with the traditional British brass form. One of Kruka’s first responsibilities in March 1910 was to place an order for cornets, horns, and trombones, as well as books of solo music for these instruments and drums. Band leader and conductor Charles Holpainen, unsurprisingly, took a prominent role among the cornet section. He, Kruka, and other officers of the band proceeded to lay in a large supply of music for the Copper Range men to learn, attempting to keep their repertoire contemporary, lively, and interesting to their audiences. Throughout the year, Kruka dispatched letter after letter on behalf of the band to suppliers around the Midwest, ordering popular waltzes like Strauss’s “Blue Danube,” rousing tunes with titles like “Swedish Guard March,” and arrangements designed to appeal to the national pride of audiences, such as “Selection of Finnish Melodies.”

Typed list of musical pieces
A program of music to be performed by the Copper Range Band at a Finnish temperance society hall in Painesdale, undated.

The Copper Range Band also sought to bring a touch of professionalism to their performances with the addition of uniforms. Earlier bands had commonly been photographed in good suits and hats, as in the case of the Central Mine ensemble. Men looked nicely-outfitted but not coordinated as a group, given the variations in suit colors and hat styles. For the company’s new band, Kruka placed an order with a tailoring house to equip each man with matching coats and caps. Holpainen’s apparel received extra attention, with “band” embroidered on the hat and “leader” along the coat’s shoulder straps. The uniforms were slow in arriving, even before the special order for Holpainen’s conductor’s gear, and Kruka wrote again to the business, greasing the skids a little with a hint that it would secure uniform orders for his fraternal organization if only the uniforms came through expeditiously. With any luck, they arrived on time for the performance.

Company bands and their members regularly enjoyed particular status in the community in exchange for their work. The leaders experienced this most of all. Calumet & Hecla’s band master, for example, earned $100 monthly, a handsome salary at the time; historian Larry Lankton succinctly described the job of the Quincy Excelsior Band’s director as “cushy.” But even for men who were part of the rank and file, being in the band brought along perks. In response to a letter from John McCarthy asking that “one of the Painesdale bands,” much in demand, come down to Winona for the community’s all-day Fourth of July celebration, Kruka wrote that members of the band “usually get $5 per man for a ‘Fourth of July’ service.” Since McCarthy had outlined a program that would require the musicians to arrive the day before and stay two nights, missing the next day’s work, Kruka drove a harder bargain. To compensate for the lost shifts, he requested an additional $2.50 per man, as well as for Winona to cover the roundtrip train fare. Naturally, the men would be riding the Copper Range Railroad to their destination.

A poor-quality image of the Copper Range Band in uniform, undated.

In their regular lives, the Copper Range men drilled into rock walls, hammered iron, and managed inventory. In their musical lives, they played for fraternal organizations, community concerts, and local dances; they provided accompaniment for rallies advocating for Prohibition, entertained groups of socialists, and serenaded conservatives. Music, they say, is universal, and the Copper Range Band illustrated it. Finnish men played German waltzes in British style to American audiences, bringing tastes from over the Atlantic to Michigan to serve a varied people in a remarkable place. What could be more universal than that?


Flashback Friday – A Paltry 69 Inches

Shelden Avenue in downtown Houghton after a snowfall.

Flashback Friday takes us back to this weekend in 1958. From the Daily Mining Gazette: “Go Ahead, cry in your beer, but the fact of the matter is, Copper Country cars are at least visible beneath their snowy burden. Houghton boasted a paltry 69 inches this morning, hardly enough to fill your galoshes as the photo indicates. It was taken on Shelden Ave.”

There is no rhyme or reason to it. Sometimes December brings us double digits of powdery white snow, and sometimes it reminds us of the end of October. We wait, with snowshoes and ski poles and pure winter hope!


Flashback Friday – Thanksgiving Week

In honor of the upcoming holiday season, Flashback Friday reminds us that not all meals are traditional. This image, of Sigma Rho students cooking lunch underground at Copper Falls Mine in the 1950s, shows us that we can still smile and be safe as we share a meal. While safely gathering may have a new meaning today, in this context safety measures are indicated by the mining helmets and lanterns! The staff of the Michigan Tech Archives wishes you a happy, healthy Thanksgiving holiday, whether you are zooming in for turkey dinner, gathering outside for a holiday picnic, or having a small, safe gathering with loved ones or a solo chef date.

Also, please note that we will be unavailable for remote research services next week to give our staff a much-needed break. We’ll be back to answering your remote inquiries on November 30. Thanks for understanding and happy turkey day!


Flashback Friday: Loyalty

Massive crowd of people surrounding a flag-draped stage
A glimpse of the crowd gathered to celebrate Calumet & Hecla’s semi-centennial.

In 1916, Calumet & Hecla celebrated its semicentennial in grand fashion. The company normally abhorred any stoppage in work not demanded by market conditions, making its decision to halt work for the July 15 festival particularly remarkable. That day, star-spangled banners fluttered on buildings and bandstands throughout Calumet, and workers–male and female alike–marched through the streets to the acclamation of spectators. Near the head of the parade walked Charles Alschbach. At Calumet’s “commons” (later Agassiz Park), he and his peers listened as Michigan Governor Woodbridge N. Ferris feted the success of Calumet & Hecla. They dined on lunches provided by the company–some 19,000 of them. Then, at two o’clock, C&H President Rodolphe Agassiz rose to salute the loyalty, efficiency, and service of the company’s longtime employees. Concluding his speech, he invited Alschbach and 168 of his peers to come forward so that he might present them with gold medals honoring 40 to 50 years of employment at C&H. Spectators who obtained copies of The Keweenaw Miner’s commemorative program could peer at the photographs provided of “Gold Medal Men” and see Alshbach among them. A mustachioed man with a receding hairline, he looked proud to stand before the camera in his dress suit. He was the epitome of a model employee.

Which makes his abrupt termination two years later even more remarkable. Remarkable, perhaps, but very much of its time.

Headshot reading "Charles Alschbach."
Charles Alschbach’s photograph as it appeared in the commemorative program.

Charles Alschbach was born in about 1860 in Eagle River. The 1870 census found him residing there as the second son in a family of seven children. His father, George, worked as a stone mason; his mother, Caroline, tended to the home. Although Charles’s older brother, Henry, and sister, Catherine, were both recorded as “at school,” Charles was not. Perhaps the nine-year-old’s first census offered a glimpse of his life soon to come.

In 1874, the Alschbach family moved from Keweenaw County down to Lake Linden. While the northern county had been a nexus of copper mining in the early days, the geography of the Copper Country had shifted since Charles’s birth. First the Hulbert Mining Company and then its two child organizations–the Calumet Mining Company and the Hecla Mining Company–began to work one of the richest copper deposits in the world, located in northern Houghton County. After original operator Edwin Hulbert blundered his way through the first years, the board of directors of the Calumet and Hecla companies ousted him in March 1867 and installed Alexander Agassiz, father of Rodolphe, as superintendent instead. The two companies, which quickly became profitable, merged in 1871 but counted their original, separate birthdates of 1866 as their shared founding year.

Successful mines reaping copper-bearing rock–and up to 15 percent of what came out of C&H’s early workings was copper, a remarkable sum–needed a place to mill it, separating the valuable metal from the poor rock and preparing it to be smelted into ingots. Ready access to water made the critical difference between making money and losing it: the copper needed to be washed and to be crushed under steam-powered hammers, and some early mines faltered for placing their mills in poor locations. C&H chose more carefully. Between 1868 and 1870, first the Hecla and then the Calumet mining companies built stamp mills on the shores of Torch Lake. Men flocked to work at the mills, and the town of Lake Linden grew up in their shadow.

View of industrial building with sloped roof
An early stamp mill for the Calumet & Hecla mining companies in Lake Linden, circa 1870.

Charles Alschbach and his family arrived during this early boom. Although Lake Linden already had a school, constructed with the eager support of its residents, his thoughts and priorities lay elsewhere. In 1875, at fourteen or fifteen years old, he walked into the C&H employment office and applied for a job.

Child labor had long been tightly bound up with copper mining. In Cornwall, where mining predated the birth of the industrial Copper Country by centuries, whole families regularly went to work at the local mine together. Children, daughters and sons alike, accompanied their fathers and sometimes their mothers to work from an early age. Eight- or nine-year-olds sweeping up the hoist house were not an uncommon sight; occasionally, even a child of four or five might be found helping to carry and stack small rocks. Adolescent girls learned to hammer ore into smaller chunks in preparation for additional milling. At twelve, boys frequently made the switch to working underground, gaining skills that they would eventually bring with them to Michigan. An 1839 report found that 7,000 children worked in the Cornish mines. While the population of underage boys working in their Copper Country counterparts probably never reached the same levels, photographs taken at the Quincy Mining Company in the late 19th century depict a number of small faces.

Group of boys and men standing and kneeling
Among the Quincy Mining Company’s employees photographed in the late 19th century were a number of young boys.

C&H in 1875 was no different, and Charles Alschbach did not become the youngest worker on the payroll when he accepted his new job at the stamp mill. He appears to have been a general laborer for at least the first few decades: asked in 1894 to describe the nature of his work, he wrote that he “work[ed] at all kind [sic] of jobs” in the company. About a year later, he settled in the mill’s machining department, where he built boilers, and began to earn $52 each month: not a bad wage for the time and place. And he needed the money, too, in light of his growing family responsibilities. Charles had married Anna Opal in 1884, and they welcomed daughters Theresa in 1891 and Irene in 1897.

By 1916, when Rodolphe Agassiz handed him a gold medal and shook his hand, Charles’s life was firmly bound up in the operations of C&H. His home sat on land leased from the company. He paid for it with an income that had steadily increased over the years: by 1913, he earned $78 per month. Through all the tumult of the 1913-1914 strike, Charles remained loyal to the company and walked to the stamp mill in the dead of winter, the heat of summer, and as leaves budded on springtime trees and fell, crimson and gold, from them in autumn. When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, pledging to support the Allied Powers in their fight against Germany and its partners, C&H also joined the fight. The Copper Country mines, wrote Larry Lankton in his seminal Cradle to Grave, reached “their highest peaks ever of production and profitability.” All hands went on deck to help, including Charles Alschbach.

Men in suits lined up to receive small boxes
Men receiving their service medals from Calumet & Hecla in 1916, the year before America entered World War I.

Historically, wars have tended to carry with them two prominent traits: heightened patriotism among the people and a profound need for money on the part of the government. To address the latter, taxes ticked upward nationally, and the federal government began to issue what it called Liberty Bonds, which allowed it to receive loans of money from private individuals on the promise of repayment with interest. The first Liberty Bonds or Liberty Loans, totaling $1.9 billion, rolled out shortly after the declaration of war in April 1917. Three subsequent issuances of bonds followed: $3.8 billion in October 1917, $4.1 billion in April 1918, and a final round of $6.9 billion in September 1918. The bonds sold well by calling upon patriotic fever sweeping the United States–and something else. No one was required to purchase a bond, at least not officially, but failure to do so led to askance looks from neighbors, suspicion from coworkers, and even intimidation from the most passionate supporters of the war effort. Newspaper articles warned Americans that failure to participate in the Liberty Loan scheme and provide funds for military supplies could cost the United States the war. And who could confront the possibility of being conquered by the Germans? Only those who must secretly resent American democracy and pine for the autocratic rule of the Kaiser.

Anti-German sentiment was not new to the United States, but it reached an apex during World War I. How could the people that Americans held responsible for unprecedented carnage in the trenches of Europe successfully integrate into their society? The German neighbor who had run a butcher shop had seemed innocuous before; now, he seemed like he could be a possible spy for the kaiser’s forces, who were themselves butchering the young men of France and the United Kingdom. Now, with American doughboys headed overseas, discomfort with all things German intensified. A town in Michigan that had, for decades, carried the name Berlin shed its moniker in favor of Marne, honoring a battle in which the Allied troops prevailed. Diners sat down not to enjoy sauerkraut or hamburgers but liberty cabbage and liberty steaks. Theodore Roosevelt had cautioned in 1915 that “there is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.”

Newspaper with headline: "ARE YOU WITH OR AGAINST THE HUN?"
This Kansas newspaper illustrated the kind of patriotic rhetoric surrounding Liberty Bonds in World War I.

Immigrants and native-born Americans of German descent who hesitated to purchase Liberty Bonds–or who spoke German around the dinner table or stood on the corner reading a German-language newspaper as the war waged–seemed suspicious in their loyalties, as far as those who took Roosevelt’s admonition most to heart were concerned. Many German-Americans attempted to prove that they were truly American in Roosevelt’s sense of the term by enlisting in the service, volunteering with the Red Cross, proudly declaring their support of the American Expeditionary Forces, and, of course, participating in the Liberty Loan program whenever new bonds were issued.

Charles Alschbach was a first generation American. George and Caroline Alschbach both immigrated from the small states of Germany to the Copper Country. Although Charles spoke English as his native tongue and had never resided anywhere but the United States, he bore a German surname, and his family attended a German Lutheran church. Perhaps he flew an American flag in his window; perhaps he remained thoroughly ambivalent about the war and its aims. We have no record of his private thoughts. We have only an inference.

On September 25, 1918, Calumet & Hecla abruptly dismissed Charles Alschbach, Gold Medal Man, from his employment. Forty-three years of association with C&H ended that day. Alschbach never worked for a copper mine again. His cause for dismissal, the only blot noted on an impeccable record:

“Making disloyal remarks regarding the Liberty Loan.”

Portion of Charles Alschbach’s Calumet & Hecla employment record describing why he was dismissed from the company.

The last round of Liberty Bonds, the one totaling nearly $7 billion, was poised to be deployed within days of Alschbach’s dismissal. His comments on the matter may have been truly appalling to even an objective observer. On the other hand, they could have been innocuous remarks about how much money the government was spending, or expecting Americans to spend, that aroused deeper criticism because the son of German immigrants spoke them. Regardless, the word that C&H chose to describe Alschbach’s comments–disloyal–carried with it a heavy weight. It cast a pall on his citizenship, his care for his neighbors and friends, his ability to be a true American, his allegiances in the largest fight the country had joined since its birth in 1776. What must a man who had given more than four decades of his life to a single company, let alone resided in the same region since his birth, have thought when he was branded disloyal in any capacity?

The next few years saw dramatic changes in Charles Alschbach’s life. For emotional or financial reasons, or maybe to join his brother Christian, he and his family left Lake Linden. By 1920, they were settled on Waverly Avenue in Detroit, where Charles had found work in an auto factory, most likely Ford. Daughter Theresa became a teacher. The other Alschbach daughter, Irene, and her husband resided with Charles and Anna Alschbach, and the presence of a growing brood of children likely brought joy and comfort to their grandparents, especially when Irene died at a young age.

At 73, Alschbach retired from work. The next two years he spent in failing cardiac health, passing away on September 2, 1935. He was buried in Roseland Park Cemetery in Oakland County, a world away from the mining company that accused him of disloyalty after hailing him one of their Gold Medal Men.

The Library of Congress’s “Shadows of War” and Sara J. Keckeisen’s “Coming of the Night” informed this post.


Flashback Friday – Ghoulish Gourds

Entries into a campus pumpkin carving contest.

Perhaps there is no surer sign of Halloween than pumpkins carved with ghostly and grinning faces, lit up with candles and perched on porches and in darkened windows. People have been making jack-o’-lanterns during the late fall season for centuries. Seasonal vegetables like large turnips and potatoes were used in the early lanterns where the practice originated in Ireland and later taken up in Scotland and England (where beets were used.) Celtic rituals, tricks and warding off evil, and deals with the devil all played a part in the origins of the iconic Halloween symbol. For instance, the name jack-o’-lantern comes from an old Irish folktale about someone named Stingy Jack and European immigrants brought the tradition to America, where pumpkins were plentiful. The tradition has been a part of Halloween in the United States since the 1800s, but the use and meaning of the carved gourds has changed over time. 

Today’s Flashback Friday takes a peek at some of the prize-winning carvings created by Michigan Tech students. Looking back to the 1980s and 1990s, it was common for students to have carving contests as part of their Halloween festivities in dorms and at off-campus housing. Some student organizations hosted similar events. These ghoulish examples are courtesy of the Michigan Technological University Photograph Collection. Perhaps you know the creator of one of these monstrous masterpieces! Happy Halloween!


Flashback Friday: A Coppertown for the Copper Country

Good times seem that they will never end.

When Calumet & Hecla was in its prime, the future seemed to promise unalloyed brilliance. The company was the richest in a district that produced 12 to 16 percent of the world’s copper between 1880 and 1910. The company “ruled its region,” historian Larry Lankton wrote, “with a haughty self-assuredness that the only way to mine for copper, or to run a mining community, was the C&H way.” In the late 1800s and early 1900s, C&H seemed vindicated. Although plenty of have-nots called the residential areas around its mines home, Calumet and Laurium also abounded with signs of prosperity. In 1900, the imposing Calumet Theatre, with its sandstone facade and a proscenium arch adorned with murals of the Greek muses, opened on Sixth Street. Pedestrians strolled along wooden sidewalks underneath a growing spider web of electrical wires. Shoppers could browse through a number of specialty shops, including photographers’ studios, multistory department stores like the Vertin Brothers, and jewelers. Multiple newspapers circulated in town. Presidential candidates campaigned personally in the area: Theodore Roosevelt stopped in Laurium to promote his 1912 third-party bid. Although no truth existed to later rumors that Calumet would be made the capital of Michigan, it was undoubtedly the capital of the Copper Country.

Image of wide stone store building
The Vertin Brothers store was just one example of the many mercantile opportunities in Calumet in its prime.

But no boom town lasts forever. Calumet’s star faded in the wake of the 1913-1914 strike, a post-World War I slump in the copper market, and later still with the onset of the Great Depression. In 1910, the population of Calumet Township was 32,845; by 1920, it had declined to 22,369, a decrease of more than 31 percent, as people sought jobs elsewhere. By 1970, the township had only about one-quarter of the population it had enjoyed at its peak. Even more notably, Calumet & Hecla had finally closed for good. Failure of employees and management to agree to terms on a new contract in August 1968 led to a strike that dragged into the spring of 1969. The company’s new owners, Universal Oil Products, ultimately elected to cease all mining operations. Although some hope remained of eventually dewatering the Centennial Mine, and some Calumet workers rode daily chartered buses down to Ontonagon County’s White Pine Mine, the era of mining had ended.

The profound changes wrought by mining and population growth remained, and so did the people who remembered and appreciated the Copper Country in its heyday. Local residents had long been passionate about history, forming societies and museums to keep their heritage alive even when the mines were still running. The Keweenaw Historical Society, under the leadership of John T. Reeder and John A. Doelle, began to collect archival material on the Keweenaw Peninsula in 1912. The Houghton County Historical Society, a successor organization, began in 1961; its counterpart in Ontonagon County dates to 1957. Yet appreciation for history as a means to keep the Copper Country alive reached greater heights after the mining period drew to a close.

One proposal perceiving history as a means of revitalization took a particularly grand, sweeping, and in some ways eyebrow-raising approach. Its creators dubbed the vision “Coppertown U.S.A.” In an April 3, 1973 presentation in Calumet, Robert Teska, a representative of the project through Barton-Aschman Associates, described Coppertown as “a plan to restore and expand the former Calumet & Hecla headquarters… into a historic mining, ethnic, and tourism complex.” The project’s main purpose would be “the creation of a historic center and service facility for Copper Country tourism, to be entertaining and educational and to be integrated into the social and economic fabric of the two communities of Calumet and Laurium.” Ideally, Teska explained, Coppertown would span “in excess of 300 acres overall” across the heart of the old C&H properties, with its center “ideally located at the historic crossroads of U.S. 41 and Red Jacket Road.”

View of church at a crossroads with a stone building behind
A view of Barton-Aschman’s ideal location of the Coppertown U.S.A center at Red Jacket Road and today’s US-41, once the home of the Calumet Congregational Church.

The Coppertown U.S.A. complex proved broad not only in scale but in scope. Teska laid out a plan for multiple “development units” surrounding the “theme center.” The heart of Coppertown would host parking for well over 1,000 vehicles. Mine Street, the road along which so many shafts had been dug, would become a pedestrian path along which tourists could stroll. Behind the former C&H library building–serving as administrative headquarters–Barton-Aschman Associates envisioned the old roundhouse transformed into an entertainment megaplex, in conjunction with a newly-constructed motel. There, visitors could dine, browse boutiques and art galleries, pick up drug store necessities, or take in a musical performance. While most of Coppertown had a tourist orientation, the roundhouse would be designed as a gathering place for locals, as well.

The theme center was just the start. A second development unit incorporated “several satellite activities” of diverse types. A museum village consisting of “10 to 15 authentic buildings moved to the site from [throughout] the Copper Country and restored to reflect a period in history” would sit adjacent to Mine Street. Teska’s presentation suggested that the village might consist of a general store, church, schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, and “several residences that would typify the homes of early miners and of various ethnic backgrounds.” Summer employees and school tour groups traveling from a distance would bunk down in a special dormitory built for their use. When they ventured out beyond the roundhouse and museum village, they would find a host of activities devoted to copper mining awaiting them.

A drawing of the expansive redevelopment and historic incorporation envisioned by Coppertown.

Recognizing the popularity of the Arcadian Mine in Ripley–and presaging the success of Quincy, Delaware, and Adventure–the Barton-Aschman proposal for Coppertown U.S.A extensively incorporated demonstrations of mining technology, techniques, and properties. “The highlight of the satellite activities would be the Osceola Mine,” explained Teska, “a modern facility that would be restored for use as a major attraction offering an underground tour of an actual copper mine.” Tourists visiting Osceola could hop aboard “a small historic mining train,” sure to delight children and adults alike. Later, back on Mine Street, they would find Coppertown’s exhibition center, “an entertaining and educational display featuring the history of copper mining, the technology used, old equipment, and demonstrations of actual mining and maintenance techniques.” From there, the visitors would stroll through another hall displaying new copper products. If they tired of studying copper mining itself, the Coppertown ethnic and cultural center would provide them the opportunity to learn more about the cultures of Keweenaw people, both immigrant and indigenous. “The center would be a place where ethnic crafts and food would be made and sold, Teska said, “where people of all ages would come to participate in authentic folk music and dancing, and where the joys of folklore would prevail. Employees would be dressed in costumes representing their native homelands.” Folk culture would spill out into the “festival plaza,” a decorated outdoor space that would be “a focal point of community as well as tourist activity.”

Crowning the entirety of Coppertown, “several hundred feet to the northwest” of the festival plaza, would be a statue of a miner standing some 70 to 80 feet tall. If Keweenaw Bay had its shrine to Bishop Baraga, then Calumet would have a monument to the industry that built it.

Schematic showing the layout of a tourist park
A drawing of the Coppertown U.S.A site plan showing the various structures to be included.

Of course, none of this–the renovation of Osceola, the construction of a new motel, the commissioning of a copper statue–would come cheap. Barton-Aschman estimated that, in addition to land, Coppertown U.S.A “will require… a considerable investment of approximately 12 million dollars.” In 2019, an equivalent investment would total over $70 million. To assuage anyone who balked at the high price tag, Teska promised that Coppertown would quickly pay for itself, bringing droves of visitors to the Keweenaw with money to spend. The statistics presented by the consulting firm were staggering: one million visitors per summer to the area by 1980, with as many as 850,000 people–both locals and tourists–stopping in at Coppertown. Each summer, the Barton-Aschman presentation said, Coppertown would lead to a gross income of over $5 million; winter tourism would be the icing on the cake. In addition, the complex stood poised to bolster local tax revenues, employ a populace that could no longer look to the mines, and unify Calumet and Laurium.

At the time that Barton-Aschman Associates presented the plan for Coppertown U.S.A, it must have seemed like a marvelous and realizable dream to its boosters. If the inspiration and funds of Henry Ford could bring Greenfield Village to life, why could the people and companies of the Keweenaw Peninsula not do the same? Supporters who signed on to the plan early on included Endicott Lovell, a former president of Calumet & Hecla, William Nicholls, vice president of the Copper Range Company, and Louis Koepel, who had charge of the Quincy Mining Company property in Hancock; joining them were prominent local contractor Herman Gundlach, multimillionaire philanthropist and Laurium native Percy Ross, and historian Arthur Thurner, among others. Although some local residents, despite fundamental agreement with developing tourist appeal in the region, expressed skepticism of the project, its Copper Country directors set up in the old Calumet & Hecla library building with great anticipation. Promotional literature brimming with optimism scurried through the post offices and into newspapers across the state, and a sign proclaiming Calumet the future home of Coppertown went up on the edge of town.

Yet the project’s grand scale proved to be in large part its undoing. Despite the support of millionaires and bank executives, the $12 million needed for that initial investment was difficult to raise. By 1975, although the dream remained alive and its board active, some reductions had already been made. A newspaper article describing the aim of Coppertown described the would-be iconic miner statue as standing some 35 to 40 feet, only about half of its original intended height. Plans for the motel, the roundhouse shopping complex, and hauling historic buildings from their homes throughout the Copper Country stalled. In 1979, the old Calumet & Hecla pattern shop opened as a museum and visitor center for the future project.

Interior view of industrial building
A historic interior of the Calumet & Hecla pattern shop, later the Coppertown U.S.A museum.

By 1980, however, local newspaper the Copper Island Sentinel wrote that Coppertown was highly unlikely to come to fruition as originally planned.

“According to the original plans, Coppertown was to be a complex of buildings, including a hotel, library, cultural center, 70 foot statue and plaza area that would accommodate 650,000 tourists a year. Those plans have yet to be totally abandoned, unlike the mines it was to hold in tribute. But the reality of the present is those future dreams rely on the 14 women of the Coppertown Auxiliary and the profit margin of a small boutique that supports the only operating attraction of the development–the Coppertown Museum.”

Despite the best efforts of the auxiliary women and those who staffed the pattern shop, the Coppertown U.S.A project went no further than that. However, a little over a decade after the Sentinel piece, a different effort to organize, preserve, and promote the Copper Country’s historic resources saw its hopes realized. Keweenaw National Historical Park was officially established on October 27, 1992. Although its approach to tourist facilities proved quite different than its predecessor project, the new park shared certain values with Coppertown: a passion for a special past, a devotion to revitalizing mining towns, and a desire to share the ethnic treasures of our community with the world at large. Today, the Coppertown U.S.A museum remains in operation as a long-term member of the Keweenaw Heritage Sites network of the national park. Long after the mines have faded, the heritage left behind is more vibrant than ever.


Flashback Friday – Campioni’s

Campioni’s Market on the corner of Michigan Street and Minnesota Street in Hancock, Michigan

The date of this photograph is unknown, but it was donated to the archives on this date in 1985. Flashback Friday takes us back to the days of the neighborhood market. This building is a reminder of the era before Big Box Stores and warehouse size supermarkets.

This building was the original Campioni’s Market in West Hancock. Established by Guido and Mabel Campioni in the late 1920’s, it was a go-to for Hancock residents for all sorts of dry goods, meats, and sundries. The market stayed in the family for several decades, later run by Joseph and Margaret Campioni. After Joseph and Margaret passed away, their son Bill, and later his sister, Mary Anne Crooks took over operations.

This particular image shows the end of the Campioni era, as Crooks sold the building to the Keweenaw Co-op when she was preparing to leave to grocery business. The image shows the hallmark G. Campioni sign on top of the building, but there is also a side-shingle indicating the Keweenaw Co-op.

Some clues in dating the photograph can be found on the Keweenaw Co-op website. Their history section states, after starting in 1973 as a pre-order bulk-buying club, the co-op first operated out of the back room of Funkey’s Karma Cafe in downtown Houghton. After quick growth, the co-op soon moved to a small retail space in Hancock, and, after two more moves, settled in its current location in 1986. It seems a circa 1980 date, give or take a few years, is a fair guess in dating this great community photo.

The official opening of Funkey’s Karma Cafe, August 1973.


#AskAnArchivist Day 2020

On October 7, archivists around the country will take to Twitter to respond to questions tweeted with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist. Staff of the Michigan Tech Archives encourage everyone to take this opportunity to engage with us via Twitter or Facebook to ask questions about the archival profession, collections at Michigan Tech and local history generally. 

Questions will vary widely, from the silly (What is the strangest thing in your collection?) to the practical (How can I preserve my family photographs?) 

Please tweet us @mtuarchives or follow the Michigan Tech Archives on Facebook and be sure to use the hashtag #AskAnArchivist. We hope you will join the conversation!

#AskAnArchivist Day is celebrated every October during American Archives Month.

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