All posts by Emily Riippa

Flashback Friday: “…When the waves turn the minutes to hours…”

Thanks to singer Gordon Lightfoot and his smash hit single “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” it’s a rare Michigander indeed who doesn’t know that Lake Superior “never gives up her dead when the gales of November come early.” The Fitz is the most recent lost freighter and undoubtedly the most famous, but it is far from the only large ship to be wrecked on the vast, powerful lake. As the Copper Country braces for the arrival of this year’s gales of November, let us take a look back at just a few of the other vessels that Superior has claimed.

The most adventurous of Great Lakes divers will recognize the name Kamloops. The steamship, a package freighter, was bound from Hamilton, Ontario, to the Thunder Bay region in late 1927. Among the cargo was special machinery imported for a Canadian papermaking company and a substantial amount of food, including rolls of Lifesavers candies. When the Kamloops entered Lake Superior from the Soo Locks on December 3, it paused to wait out a wintry squall. Unfortunately, this wise decision to avoid one storm placed the Kamloops directly in the path of another as it neared Isle Royale three days later. It seems that the ship either capsized under the burden of waves and ice or, blinded by the falling snow, sailed unknowingly onto the reefs surrounding the island. Searchers did not locate any sign of the Kamloops nor its crew of 22 men and women until the following spring, when the bodies of nine people were discovered on the nearby shore. They had donned lifebelts and fought their way to land in a lifeboat, only to perish while waiting for rescue. Fifty years after the sinking, in the late summer of 1977, divers finally found the hull of the Kamloops itself, lying on its side in two hundred feet of water just off Isle Royale.

Map of Isle Royale shipwrecks

Map from a Daily Mining Gazette article showing the locations of notable shipwrecks near Isle Royale. The site of the Kamloops is noted in the north central part of the map.

Isle Royale was the site of another notable wreck a little over forty years before the Kamloops went down. The Algoma, launched in 1883, was a steamship operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway and described by one observer a century later as “modern and capable even by today’s standards.” The steamer had electric lights throughout, a remarkable feature in the 1880s, and its hull was equipped with watertight compartments advertised as a sure way to prevent sinking. If this sounds faintly like a certain 1912 shipwreck in the Atlantic Ocean, it should. What felled the Algoma was not an iceberg, however, but a natural feature on Lake Superior. On November 5, 1885, the ship departed Owen Sound, Ontario, in Lake Huron, en route to the north shore of Superior. Driving winds and freezing rain from one of the lake’s famous storms pummeled the Algoma as it neared Isle Royale. Miscalculating his ship’s proximity to the island due to low visibility and limited navigational aids, Captain John Moore unwittingly ordered the vessel be sailed over craggy rocks that obliterated its rudder and sent it into a vicious roll, scattering lifeboats uselessly into the lake. Vicious waves continued to break off pieces of the Algoma, which remained hung up on the rocks that had doomed it, throughout the night. Eventually, the eleven survivors managed to launch the last remaining lifeboat and a number of crude rafts, which carried them to relative safety on Isle Royale’s Rock Harbor. At least thirty-seven other souls aboard the  ship were lost.

The SS Algoma was no stranger to rough seas on Lake Superior. The year before it sank, the ship was photographed arriving at its destination with a heavy coat of ice, courtesy of waves breaking over its railings.

The close of World War I brought one of the most unusual and mysterious Superior sinkings. In late 1916, the thick of the war, the French navy had ordered a large number of minesweeping vessels to clear their ports of explosives left by the Germans. The ships were to be built near Thunder Bay, Ontario, and sailed across the sea under French command after a formal commissioning. Two of these minesweepers, the Cerisoles and the Inkerman, were completed in September and October 1918, respectively. When sister ship Sevastopol was launched in late November–after the war had ended–the three began their journey toward France. The course their commanders plotted would take them past, yes, Isle Royale, around the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, down along the south shore of the lake, and finally downbound through the other lakes. Unfortunately, the weather, always capricious on Lake Superior, had soured by the time the minesweepers passed Isle Royale and headed for the Keweenaw. According to an article written by amateur historian Richard Rupley, winds reached gale force, wet snow fell in sheets, and “waves mounted into dark mountains of crushing water,” forcing all hands into a battle with the elements. No one has ever determined precisely what happened that dark November night, but when the Sevastopol drew up along the leeward side of the Keweenaw, it did so alone.

Some delay in reporting the disappearance of the Cerisoles and Inkerman undoubtedly added to the mystery, but the lack of obvious debris or victims in the water made the investigation even more challenging. Weeks of searching uncovered only a few possible pieces of flotsam and sketchy reports of potential sightings or distress calls. Even investigations several decades after the sinking, conducted with the best of modern technology, could not locate the final resting place of the minesweepers nor of the seventy-eight men on board. Just in time for the centennial of the loss, however, a team of researchers is preparing to try again. Perhaps this time will be the charm. 

The Navarin, a sister minesweeping ship to the Inkerman and Cerisoles. Both lost vessels would have been essentially identical in appearance to this one.

Will the gales of November come early this year, especially around Isle Royale? Some would say that we had our first taste in October, but the forecast for the time being seems to call for smoother sailing. Let us hope that this shipping season on the Great Lakes passes uneventfully, bringing everyone on the waters safely home.


An All-Star Flashback Friday: John Scott at Michigan Tech

Two hockey players on the ice

John Scott (Huskies #20) in action on the ice, 2004

At 7:37 tonight, the puck will drop in the opening game of the 2018-2019 season for the Michigan Tech Hockey Huskies. A team of veterans–fresh off the second consecutive WCHA Men’s championship–and eager freshmen will take the ice in brilliant Tech black, gold, and white, hoping to defend their title for yet another year.

Many famous figures in the world of hockey have worn the Michigan Tech jersey over the years. Tony Esposito, now part of the Hockey Hall of Fame, played goalie at Tech and helped to propel the team to an NCAA Championship in 1965. Mel Person, one-time Huskies head coach and now leader of the University of Michigan men’s hockey program, suited up as a forward between 1977 and 1981. Randy McKay, an alumnus later who later served as an assistant coach at Tech, put his name on the Stanley Cup twice as a part of the New Jersey Devils.

Lately, however, conversation about well-known Hockey Huskies has centered around a name that has surprised many outside Michigan Tech circles. John Scott, who started at Tech in 2002 and received his mechanical engineering degree in 2010, rose to a new degree of national prominence in January 2016 through the most remarkable NHL All-Star Game in recent memory. As a professional hockey player, Scott had gained a reputation as an enforcer, a player who was unafraid to deliver hits, start fights to motivate his team, physically punish opponents who endangered a victory, or protect star players from enforcers on the other team. Forwards participating in the All-Star exhibition match were expected to be drawn from the NHL’s most remarkable players in terms of goal scoring and playmaking–traits for which Scott, with five NHL goals to his name, was not known. Taking advantage of the rule that allowed fans to vote for All-Star team members, viewers colluded to prank the NHL by casting votes en masse for Scott. Scott was initially reticent to the fan campaign but ultimately decided to take the place awarded him following a sudden trade, assignment to a minor league affiliate, and unwelcome remarks from an NHL official concerning the effects of playing in the game on Scott’s children. Over the weekend of competition, Scott scored two goals and was honored as the event’s Most Valuable Player.

Anyone who followed the NHL in 2015-2016 had to have heard the John Scott All-Star story, but few have taken a walk back through the Michigan Tech Archives to discover the John Scott Husky story. Scott’s first year on the hockey team went without much reporting by either campus or community newspapers, thanks in part to a shoulder injury that sidelined him for several games. As the rookie became a veteran, however, his dedication to his teammates, his physical talent on the ice, and his cheeky quips off it garnered him press attention. Journalists took one awed look at the 6-foot-7 Canadian then playing defense and chose a slew of colorful adjectives to describe him. “Hulking” turned out to be their favorite.

John Scott with teammates

Scott proved a valuable addition to the Huskies blue line. By his own admission in his autobiography A Guy Like Me: Fighting to Make the Cut (co-written with Brian Cazeneuve), he joined a team that was struggling to put up wins, especially in the first two years. From day one, wrote a local reporter, Scott was a “tower of strength” on the team. In his absence following that freshman-year shoulder injury, “the Husky defense looked dazed and confused.” In 2005, the Tech coach was quoted as saying that Scott was “our best penalty killer” and that his no-holds-barred playing took “a tremendous load off of the rest of the defensive core.” Although “offense [was] not a big part of his game” and defense was his primary focus, when he scored, observers noted, “it counts.” His first goal as a college player broke a tie against the talented University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Other articles over the years recorded key moments when Scott knotted up a game with a “greasy goal” against a big rival or a highlight-reel wrist shot received from a teammate’s no-look pass. As the end of his college career approached, it was clear that Scott’s presence on the ice made a world of difference for his fellow Huskies.

And, yes, there were fights. The local papers loved it when John Scott dropped the gloves: it gave them a chance to trot out even more vivid descriptions than the adjectives they used for his height. After a game versus the University of Alaska Anchorage where Scott and Seawolves forward Justin Johnson took a few good shots at each other, one reporter boasted that Scott’s “stomping” on Johnson made the UAA player realize that “he picked the wrong Husky to mess with.” In the last few minutes of a 2004 match-up, University of North Dakota’s Ryan Hale “made the mistake of challenging hulking MTU defenseman John Scott.” With tangible satisfaction, the paper wrote that Hale “came away having landing [sic] maybe one punch and his face completely mauled by Scott.” 

Appropriately enough, it was at another UND-MTU game in Scott’s senior year that a lucky reporter captured this classic quip, the one that might have best summed up his reputation: “I wish there was fighting in this league. I’d love to go out there… and pound on ‘em, but I can’t do it.”

John Scott, for your grit, your lip, and your heart, both on the ice and off–we’re proud to claim you as a part of Husky history.


Flashback Friday: When Storms and Miners Strike

National Guardsmen standing in the snow

National Guardsmen assigned to strike duty in Calumet found themselves in the midst of a freak snowstorm.

We’re no stranger to snow here in the Copper Country, but getting a taste of winter in September is unusual even for us. The bizarre weather and the tumult of the Western Federation of Miners copper strike combined to make September 1913 noteworthy for Houghton County.

On September 19, what the Calumet News described as “a freakish barometric disturbance” formed over Winnipeg and began to drift eastward. As it reached the Midwest on September 20, the storm apparently stalled, pummeling the Keweenaw Peninsula for nearly forty-eight hours. The weather bureau recorded winds of almost forty miles per hour, a number more typical of November weather than balmy September. Rain and sleet fell in sheets. The precipitation and high winds downed telephone lines and cut off service to some 600 phones, mostly in Calumet and Laurium.

Most notably, however, the storm blanketed the Copper Country with nearly three inches of snow. National Guardsmen called to Calumet to enforce order during the strike peeked out from their tents to find their neighbors’ shelters collapsed and coated in ice. A photographer captured five images of the storm’s aftermath in the camp on September 21, showing men with hands shoved into military-issued coat pockets, surveying the damage, squinting against the howling wind, and perhaps questioning their decision to join the National Guard. The images have since become part of the Brockway Photograph Collection (MS-019) at the Michigan Tech Archives.

Collapsed tents in the snow

Tents in the National Guard encampment fared poorly in the wintry gale.

It was a scene that could only have happened in 1913. At no other time in the Copper Country history could the weather and the course of labor relations have conspired to put these men and their camp in the midst of a September snowstorm.

Luckily, the forecast for Houghton County doesn’t include any snow for the foreseeable future. We will simply have to wait and watch to find out when those first flakes may fall. Anyone care to take a guess?


Collection Spotlight: Central Mine School Records

Photograph of shuttered Central Mine School

The second school built at Central Mine. Photograph taken by J.T. Reeder in July 1921, after the school building had ceased to serve students.

I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for Central Mine, the kind of soft spot that leads a person to wander the ghost town’s hillside on weekends and affix an “I <3 Central” decal to a car. It was that affection and the ongoing pursuit of my family history that led me to investigate a thin folder at the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections: MS-787, Central School Records.

The title of the collection is, perhaps, slightly misleading. This worn, weathered volume does not contain attendance statistics, names of teachers, or exam grades. Rather, it consists wholly of annual censuses taken, presumably, by the township school board of school-age children in the Central Mine settlement between 1877 and 1890. By this first year, students had already been attending classes in Central for two decades. What, one might wonder, was the sudden urgency in enumerating all of the children in the village? The timing suggests a certain conclusion. Simply put, Central Mine was successful–too successful. The population of the town soared in response, and the small schoolhouse on the edge of the settlement had been overwhelmed. By 1877, both it and the overflow classrooms in the Central Mine Methodist Episcopal Church were strained to their limits. The townspeople realized their obvious need for a new school, and knowing how many students it must serve was a critical part of construction. The expanded building, shown at the head of this blog post, opened for classes in 1878.

How can a survey conducted to gauge the student population at Central assist you in your research? Genealogists may consider it especially valuable. Consider that, while many mining families put down deep roots, others migrated from place to place within the Copper Country, following the fortunes of the mines from Clifton to Central to Calumet. You may find that your relatives drifted to Central for a year or two before moving on to a different location, where they were recorded in federal censuses. The school census particularly proves its worth in those years between 1880 and 1890. As any genealogist quickly learns, the 1890 federal census is essentially lost, forcing researchers to compensate with other records. Along with Michigan state census forms for Keweenaw County completed in 1884 and 1894, this Central Mine collection can help to bridge the gap.

In my case, I’ll always be grateful to this collection for giving me a few insights into my family tree that I never anticipated. I had two ancestors–a mother and a daughter–whom I believed to have arrived from England in about 1887, since the mother was married that year to a man with deep roots at Central Mine. I expected to find the daughter residing with her mother and new stepfamily in the 1887 school census, but she wasn’t included in their household listing. Had she stayed in England while her mother went on ahead? That would change my research in some interesting ways. I browsed through the other pages and finally found her with a family whose name I didn’t recognize. Further investigation showed that the mother of the family was the last elusive sibling in the mother’s extended clan, a woman who had seemingly dropped off the face of the earth. It turned out that she had merely moved to the ends of it instead, settling in Central with her husband and children. This was the one and only year that my ancestor lived with this long-lost aunt, who soon left Michigan, and I never would have made the connection between the two of them without the school census. This is just one of several instances where the Central Mine school census made the critical difference in my genealogical research, and it may do the same for you.

Want to check out MS-787: Central School Records for yourself and see what insights it can offer? We at the Michigan Tech Archives would be happy to help you. Please feel free to stop by during our open hours (Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm), to e-mail us at copper@mtu.edu, or to call us at (906) 487-2505.


Flashback Friday: Something About a Pasty

Woman preparing pasties

Preparing a batch of mouth-watering pasties. Undated photograph from the Harold Putnam Collection (MS-050).

A good old Cornish song proclaims, “There’s something about a pasty that is fine, fine, fine!” We Yoopers and friends know the truth of those words. The delicious dish nourishes the body and warms the spirit with its blend of meat, potatoes, and rutabaga, all nestled inside a flaky crust.

How did a meal synonymous with Cornwall become a staple of the Upper Peninsula? Cornwall’s long history of copper and tin mining led the rest of Great Britain to remark wryly, “Wherever you find a hole in the ground, you’ll find a Cornishman at the bottom of it.” Life in the mines of England often meant low wages and back-breaking labor, but it also cultivated a skill and knowledge of the work that made the Cornish miners a gold standard. As Michigan’s copper mines were first being opened for industry, their founders looked to Cornwall for able laborers, and the people of Cornwall, whose mines were tapering off, looked to Michigan for a new hope. Twenty Cornishmen, according to one scholarly history of the pasty, were already at work in the Copper Country by 1844. With them came their favorite workday meal, which was subsequently adopted en masse by colleagues of all backgrounds.

Text of pasty recipe

One of many variations on the pasty recipe held at the Michigan Tech Archives. This one was provided by the ladies of the Calumet United Methodist Church.

We don’t know for certain who invented this tasty pocket of joy, which has seen considerable changes over the years, but we do understand why it was so appealing to the men who worked in the mines and the women who prepared their dinners each day. The pasty’s hearty fillings can be prepared in a large batch and energize a person for a day of hard work; the meal can be held in the hand and eaten without utensils; and it’s easy, relatively speaking, for a miner to reheat a pasty over his candle far underground. Nowadays, you’ll see pasties around the Copper Country lunch table, sold at community fundraisers, at picnics by the shores of Lake Superior, or on parade at Calumet’s Pasty Fest, held this Saturday, August 18.

While we can all agree that pasties are scrumptious, debate rages about other aspects of pasty culture. Do carrots belong in a pasty? Should the potatoes be cubed or sliced? Can a pasty mascot appropriately be named Toivo? Most importantly, how can a person justify gravy when everyone knows that real pasties are eaten with ketchup?

Family joyfully eating pasties

Alfred Nicholls and his family show the joy of pasties at the Central Mine Reunion, undated.

 


Rooting Around for Your Roots: A Little Genealogy Advice

Five middle-aged relatives on a sofa

Genealogy brings the family together.

The arrival of summer in the Copper Country brings with it many travelers who come to the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections in search of their ancestors. Although we serve all kinds of patrons year-round, our staff affectionately dub the summer “genealogy season” in light of how many family historians arrive between Memorial Day and Labor Day. With that in mind, it seems that the summer is an ideal time for our blog to highlight some of the genealogy resources that the Michigan Tech Archives can offer and recommend a few online tools that have proven particularly useful to our staff.

Picture me, resident genealogist, rubbing my hands together in delighted anticipation.

With that, let’s begin our exploration.

Michigan Tech Archives

We’re fortunate at the Michigan Tech Archives to have a substantial number of collections of use to genealogists. In addition to a few resources that address the history of a particular family–such as MS-916: Baril Family Genealogy or MS-506: Bartle Family Genealogy Research–the holdings include several key collections with broad appeal.

If your ancestor(s) worked for Calumet & Hecla (C&H) or Quincy mining companies, you will find the information available in those companies’ employment records immensely valuable. Although the collections do not include every worker, their coverage is remarkable: in the case of C&H, employment cards number well over 50,000. Injury reports and employment cards from Quincy total some 20,000 records. The cards are full of gems, and researchers will find them immensely valuable to “mine” for such details as places of birth, physical descriptions, addresses, occupations, and names of family members. While some inaccuracies can appear in such records, they are often a tremendous starting point for further research and a wonderful snapshot of an individual’s working life. For more information about how to interpret a Calumet & Hecla employment card once you’ve found one, you may wish to read part 1 and part 2 of our posts on that topic from last year.

Sample Calumet & Hecla employment card.

Sample Calumet & Hecla employment card for a Slovenian miner, Peter Gasperic.

Should you be searching for an ancestor who didn’t work in the mines, or if you want to go beyond what the employment card offers, you’ll find numerous opportunities to do so at the Michigan Tech Archives. City directories published by the R.L. Polk Company–colloquially called “Polks” by our staff–offer information about individuals’ residences and occupations, mining and otherwise. The collection of Polks at Michigan Tech begins in 1895 and is generally complete through 1917. From there, the materials skip thirteen years to 1930 and then another nine years to 1939 before making one final leap to the 1970s. Each major town in the Copper Country (including Calumet, Houghton, Hancock, and Laurium) is included in the Polks; coverage of other areas, such as Lake Linden, Chassell, or South Range, can be more sporadic. Nevertheless, the Polks are a wonderful way to follow a family between census years, especially given the tragic loss of the 1890 federal census.

Once you’ve sketched in the basic outline of your family, you may wish to add some color and humanity to it. Perhaps you want to know a little more about your great-grandparents’ wedding, or you suspect that a great-uncle may have had an encounter with the law. For the former question, consider perusing our extensive collection of newspapers on microfilm. Michigan Tech holds titles from virtually every county in the Upper Peninsula, with a special focus on newspapers published in the Copper Country. This includes the Daily Mining Gazette and its predecessors, back to 1862, as well as several major titles that have since gone out of business: the Calumet News, the Copper Country Evening News, and the Evening Copper Journal, to name a few. Thanks to the hard work of volunteers from the Houghton-Keweenaw County Genealogical Society, staff at the Michigan Tech Archives can search for names in indices of several area newspapers through 1914 and provide the exact date and page on which an article about each person was published.

While most articles that appeared about individuals, aside from those especially prominent in the community, focused on major life events like marriage or death, at times your exploration of the newspapers may lead you to something more scandalous. For the details of criminal conduct or the dirty laundry surrounding a messy divorce, turn to the files of the Houghton County Circuit Court. A prior piece on this blog sheds greater light on that collection.

Online Sources

What if you’re not able to come to visit us here at Michigan Tech? You still have plenty of options for conducting your genealogical research! Our staff are always happy to assist with remote reference requests, such as copying obituaries, employment cards, or pages from Polks. Please feel free to contact us at copper@mtu.edu or (906) 487-2505 if you would like to put in a remote request.

Other resources can also help you to go further in your research. As a genealogist with deep roots in the Copper Country, I’ve found that several key websites have been crucial in helping me to dig into my family background, both here and abroad. All of these sites are free for basic use, though registration for no cost may be required to view some materials.

FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org/search): FamilySearch is a product of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a group known for dedication to genealogy. Along with innumerable other collections, it includes an index of Michigan deaths from 1867 to 1897, marriage records to 1925, and birth records to 1902. FamilySearch does require users to sign up for a free account before they can view search results in detail.

For British research, Cornwall OPC Database (www.cornwall-opc-database.org): Cornwall Online Parish Clerks (OPC) Database transcribes parish records of key events–like baptisms, marriages, and burials–from the various Church of England parishes and non-conformist groups in Cornwall. The collections are extensive, continually growing, and all available for free access. In addition to these vital records, Cornwall OPC Database includes some bonus materials, such as select lists of institution inmates and prisoners. Now I know that one of my ancestors, sentenced in 1822 for having two children out of wedlock, was a little over five feet tall with “grey eyes, full face, pale [complexion], [and] dark hair.” She behaved “very well.”

Table showing Cornwall OPC Database baptism record

Sample baptism record from Chacewater parish on Cornwall OPC Database.

For Finnish research, HisKi (hiski.genealogia.fi/hiski): HisKi is something like the Finnish version of Cornwall OPC Database. Almost all historic Finnish parishes are represented, to some degree or another, in various types of events: christenings, marriages, burials, and migrations. Some parishes on HisKi include records as recent as the early 1900s, while others begin as early as 1700 and continue through 1850. The search is extremely flexible, checking for variations on names (remember that Finland recorded all such records in Swedish through the late 1800s) and allowing for wide ranges of years to be perused. HisKi was the difference between my knowing virtually nothing about my Finnish ancestors and being able to add hundreds to my tree.

Table showing HisKi marriage record

Sample HisKi marriage record for Herman Salonen and Lisa Haapala.

For Michigan research, Seeking Michigan (www.seekingmichigan.org): We have the fine folks at the Archives of Michigan to thank for Seeking Michigan. While it features a wide range of materials related to Michigan’s history, genealogists will probably find its collections of death certificates and state censuses to be most useful. Images of the certificates are available from 1897 (the year that Michigan implemented these documents) through the early 1940s, and more join the site as certificates enter the public record under state law. Additionally, Michigan conducted state censuses in the 19th century, generally in years ending in 4. Sadly, for reasons about which archivists can only speculate, most state census records have since been destroyed. Records from Houghton County in 1864 and 1874 and Keweenaw County in 1884 and 1894 survive and can be searched on Seeking Michigan.

And there you have it–a little advice for genealogy season, courtesy of the Michigan Tech Archives. Hopefully, these resources and tips will be useful to you in moving your research forward. If there is ever any way in which our staff may be of assistance, or if you have further questions about family history research, please do not hesitate to contact us. Once again, our e-mail address is copper@mtu.edu, and our phone number is (906) 487-2505.

Happy sleuthing!


The Remarkable Brockway Women

View of Copper Harbor from Brockway Mountain

View of Copper Harbor from Brockway Mountain, May 2015. Photograph by the author.

Almost everyone who has visited the Keweenaw Peninsula has heard the name Brockway. Brockway Mountain, just west of Copper Harbor, offers a stunning panorama of Lake Superior, a smattering of nearby lakes, and the thickly-forested rolling hills among which Michigan’s northernmost town is nestled. In addition to its scenic roadway–a project that put local men to work during the Great Depression–the mountain enjoys another notable tie to history, having been named after early settler Daniel Brockway. After a sojourn in L’Anse as a government-employed blacksmith and mechanic, Brockway had come to the Copper Harbor area in the mid-1840s. There, and in later years at the Cliff Mine, Brockway was a prominent merchant, hotelier, and mine agent.

Yet Daniel Brockway’s laudable success in the Copper Country is only one part of the story. From the Brockway family tree sprouted a number of remarkable people, both in terms of careers and of character. Although Women’s History Month is just behind us, it is well worth keeping our eyes on women’s history; let us take a moment to “remember the ladies,” as Abigail Adams once said. While a single blog post could never do justice to their stories, we are privileged to be able to share a glimpse of what we see of the Brockway women through our collections at the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections.

Lucena Harris Brockway, the matriarch, left the greatest archival trail. Diaries she kept meticulously for some thirty years now reside in the Michigan Tech Archives, recording her life in her own words and shedding light on the interesting experiences of others in her family. What we see from Lucena’s writing are women who confronted the challenges of ordinary days, the heartbreaking difficulty of tragedies, and the world at large with courage, humor, strength, and flair. We’ll start with Lucena herself, then look down her familial line to see her spirit carried on.

Young Lucena ms 12 b1f2

Lucena Harris Brockway in middle age. From MS-019: Brockway Photograph Collection.

Lucena, born in New York in 1816, moved to southwest Michigan in her youth and there married Daniel Brockway in 1836. She became the mother of four daughters and two sons, one of whom died in infancy and whose birthday was remembered with mournful devotion in her diaries. With her husband, Lucena made the aforementioned transition to the various locales of the Upper Peninsula and there dedicated herself to carving out a new life from the rugged locale. Though her husband’s growing financial assets meant that Lucena was insulated from some of life’s difficulties, living in a frontier community nevertheless required her to confront thorny dilemmas with tenacious resolution. At times, those problems bordered on the absurd. In August 1880, for example, Lucena awoke to an empty house and headed to her kitchen in hopes of having “a quiet day, the first in a long time.” When she glanced out the window, however, she found that her dreams of relaxation had quite literally gone up in smoke. The wooden fence near the Brockway home had spontaneously combusted and was now engulfed in flames. “So I fought fire for sometime [sic],” Lucena wrote, recalling the event later in the day, “then ate my breakfast and the fire had broken out again.” Eventually, her persistence in firefighting paid off, and the blaze came under control. Little time remained for resting by this point, however. There were chickens to be fed and beans to be picked for dinner. Life went on.

Life also had its lighthearted moments for Lucena. Removed as we are from the past, and accustomed to seeing the staid faces that early photography–with the long exposure times required to capture an image–produced, it is only too tempting to think of the 1800s as a stuffy, humorless age. Lucena Brockway was quite the opposite. In the cash account pages of her 1880 diary, she jotted a few puns that must have especially tickled her funny bone. “Why are hot rolls like caterpillars?” one read. “Because they make the butter fly.” Other jokes poked fun in a way that seems very modern. “Why is a lawyer like a restless sleeper?” Lucena asked. “He lies first on one side and then on the other.” There’s a certain humor not only in the joke but in realizing that attorneys have been the subject of light-hearted derision for centuries.  

Charlotte Brockway, Lucena’s oldest daughter, left fewer clues to her life, but what can be pieced together from the archival record indicates that she was a woman fashioned in her mother’s mold. By the time she was five, she had moved with her parents from New York to the western Lower Peninsula, north to L’Anse, and from L’Anse to Copper Harbor. The realization that the last relocation included Charlotte’s two younger sisters–a toddler and an infant–speaks once again to her mother’s fortitude. At the tender age of fifteen, according to one source, Charlotte was bright and mature enough to teach the Copper Harbor school. In October 1863, the twenty-two-year-old married Oliver Atkins Farwell, the superintendent of the Phoenix Mine. Mr. Farwell, as Lucena always called him in her diaries, was in his early fifties. Despite the considerable difference in their ages, the marriage seems to have been affectionate, if not passionate: eleven children were born to Charlotte and her husband, including a set of twins.

Portrait of an older Charlotte Brockway

Charlotte Brockway Farwell in her later years. From MS-019: Brockway Photograph Collection.

June 1881, as revealed in Lucena’s diaries, demonstrated the determination of the Brockway women to carry on in the face of great tragedy, and Charlotte was at the very heart of it. First, Sarah (“Sallie” or “Sally”) Brockway Scott lost her husband to illness; he was only 43. “Poor Scott breathed his last a quarter to three o’clock this morning,” wrote Lucena sadly on June 7. “…He knew he was going and bade us all good by [sic]. It was hard to see him go[;] he wanted to live longer if it had been so he could.” Sallie, who had already seen a daughter die in infancy, was now the widowed mother of a young son. Yet Charlotte would face an even more turbulent month. On June 18, Lucena noted that Oliver Farwell, who had begun feeling ill around the same time as Sally’s husband, was not improving. Three days later, the same note: “Mr. Farwell was worse and probably dying.” On June 22, Lucena said, “I stayed all day at Mr. Farwell’s with Charlotte. Mr. Oliver A. Farwell died 20 minutes past 3 o’clock P.M.” And, on June 25: “In the afternoon…Charlotte Farwell had a daughter born the day after her husband was buried.”

Portrait of Olive Farwell in middle age

A photograph of Olive Farwell published in the Daily Mining Gazette in January 1997. From the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections Farwell biographical file.

This daughter, named Olive Lucena in honor of her father and grandmother, would experience a life of great length and variety, testifying to the fortitude and courage of the Brockway women. She might not have achieved the fame of her brother, a notable librarian and botanist, but Olive carved her own niche. Her mother moved the family many times in Olive’s childhood, attempting to give her children the best life possible. From Keweenaw County, they headed south to Ypsilanti for educational reasons, then west to New Mexico in pursuit of a healthful climate. After a brief return to Lake Linden with her mother to spend time with Lucena and Daniel in their last days, Olive departed for Chicago to study interior design. Unsurprisingly, she made a success of it and established a studio in Spokane with another artist. Later, her obituary recalled, she returned to Chicago, first to work for a chain of department stores and then to establish her own prosperous candy kitchen. When World War II broke out, Olive again left Lake Linden–where she had moved in 1935–to become a Rosie the Riveter on a Lockheed production line in Burbank.

Lucena and Charlotte each lived to be 82. Olive surpassed them both, suffering a fatal stroke in the Brockway house in Lake Linden at the age of 98. Though these Brockway lives can hardly be compressed with any justice into an essay of such brevity, Lucena’s wide range of diaries–together with two other Brockway collections and articles clipped from the Daily Mining Gazette on Olive’s long life–show their shared character, spunk, and persistence. If you’d like to investigate the Brockway women further, or if you’re interested in discovering some remarkable women from your own family tree, please do not hesitate to contact the Michigan Tech Archives at copper@mtu.edu or (906) 487-2505.

And Anna Medora Brockway Gray, Lucena’s youngest daughter, who struck out on her own as  a physician in 1883? Well, that’s another story for another day.