Category Archives: About the Archives

This category is used for posts that talk more about the people, services, and operation of the archives as a department.

Michigan Tech Archives Seeking Graduate Intern for Summer 2019

The Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections, a department within the J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library at Michigan Technological University, is currently seeking applicants for the Friends of the Michigan Tech Library Graduate Archives Internship for summer 2019. The archives provides a high level of service to scholars, students and a wide range of walk-in visitors and global patrons through virtual reference. Summer services are fast-paced and we see an increase in visitors, especially through our role as part of the Keweenaw Heritage Site network, a partnership with the Keweenaw National Historical Park. Areas of emphasis include manuscripts, maps, print and digital images which document the Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan’s Western Upper Peninsula (U.P.) and university history. The intern selected will receive experience in both public service and collections handling. The intern will assist in day-to-day reference activities, including greeting and assisting researchers, retrieving and shelving collections, and assisting university and community patrons with use of materials and equipment. The intern will also gain experience in organizing, describing, and processing archival collections.

Preference will be given to applicants currently enrolled in or recent graduates of (within six months) a graduate archival studies program, but consideration may be given for equivalent education and experience. The following skills are required:

  • Knowledge of contemporary archival practices, policies and procedures, including arrangement and description, and familiarity with DACS, MARC, LCSH, Dublin Core, and MPLP.
  • Demonstrated analytical and research skills.
  • Ability to work independently and exercise initiative, discretion, and judgment.
  • Ability to work collegially and effectively in a team-based environment.

This is a 35 hour per week, part-time summer position intended to span seven weeks. The preferred start date is July 1. There are no benefits included with this position and the successful candidate will be expected to cover travel expenses to Houghton, Michigan. The intern will be compensated for actual work performed in the form of a stipend up to $5,000, to be paid out bi-weekly throughout the duration of employment. Offers of employment are contingent upon and not considered finalized until the required background check has been performed and the results received and assessed. Housing options in the Copper Country include independently requesting a single occupancy dorm room and included meal plan (depending on availability) or making off-campus housing arrangements. In addition to a great working environment you will enjoy exquisite scenery, moderate temperatures, and outdoor activities near the shores of Lake Superior!

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

Applications are due by April 19, 2019. Direct any questions, or submit your cover letter and resume to:

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

Michigan Technological University is an Equal Opportunity Educational Institution/Equal Opportunity Employer, which includes providing equal opportunity for protected veterans and individuals with disabilities.


Flashback Friday: The Great Tony ‘O’

Tony Esposito with the NCAA Trophy
Tony Esposito with the NCAA Trophy, March 1965.

The National Hockey League (NHL) Stanley Cup Playoffs are just around the corner, so for Flashback Friday it seems appropriate to fondly remember one of the most recognizable NHL faces connected to Michigan Tech hockey; Tony Esposito! This photograph appeared in the Daily Mining Gazette on Monday, March 22, 1965. The image depicts Tony holding the NCAA hockey championship trophy. Esposito tended goal for the Huskies that season and held Boston College to only two goals in the 8-2 championship final.

Tony Esposito with 1965 trophy.
Tony Esposito celebrates in 1965.

Esposito has some pretty impressive stats from his Michigan Tech days, some which have stood the test of time:

  • Three year letter winner
  • Three time All-America first team selection
  • Three time All-WCHA first team selection
  • Named first team NCAA All-Tournament Team choice in 1965
  • Currently second in goals against average (2.55)
  • Currently third in career saved percentage (.912)

Esposito’s post-Michigan Tech career included a legendary 17-year run in the NHL. His debut was with the Montreal Canadiens during the 1968-1969 season against the Oakland Seals, a relief for starting goalie Rogie Vachon. But more interesting was Tony’s first NHL start, which was a match against the Boston Bruins on December 5, 1968. Tony’s older brother Phil, an intimidating center and seasoned NHL ice man, was a leading threat on the Bruins. Oddly enough, Phil recalls the night being one of apprehension:

“I think I was more nervous than Tony that night. In fact, it was probably the most frightful game of my entire hockey career. I had been a pro since 1962 and was then in my sixth season in the NHL. I was an established player getting ready to shoot pucks at my own brother, who had been in the league only one week.” – Phil Esposito, excerpted from The Brothers Esposito

The game ended in a 2-2 tie. Phil scored both goals for Boston, which Tony recalls as being “lucky shots” which he “should have gotten glove on,” but at least he was able to hold his brother to only the two goals. It is important to mention, Tony made an impressive 33 saves in his first NHL start.

The Brothers Esposito
The Brother Esposito by Phil and Tony Esposito. This book is available in the Michigan Tech Archives.

Not since their street hockey days back in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada had the brothers found themselves on opposing teams. To say the least, it was a historic moment, and one that adds the necessary dose of drama that makes for good hockey stories and sets the foundation for legend-status. Both brothers have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and have been named on the 100 Greatest NHL Players’ in history list.

Tony’s run with the Habs lasted for only one season and he would go on to join the Chicago Blackhawks off waivers for the 1969-1970 season. He put up a phenomenal season, recording record-breaking shutouts and winning a lot of league accolades, including the Calder Memorial Trophy and the Vezina Trophy. This is the year that earned him the nickname Tony ‘O’ for his shutout skills. Esposito remained with Chicago the duration of his on-ice career, making it to the Big Show several times. However, the Stanley Cup alluded him. But clearly, not all legends get to hoist the Cup.

Every now and then, there is a good Tony ‘O’ story that comes across us in the archives. To us, he will always special, and yes, always a Husky!


Flashback Friday: Unexpected Change: Fire at the Metallurgy Building

The Metallurgy Building on fire, March 15, 1923.

For this week’s Flashback Friday we’re remembering how quickly change can happen overnight, sometimes when you least expect it.

 The early 20th century Michigan Tech campus looked vastly different than it does today, not only in terms of the courses and degrees it offers, but its physical landscape. Many of the earliest buildings on campus are gone, lost to changes in the needs of the university or unexpectedly by disaster. Today marks the 96 anniversary of the fire that destroyed one such building.
Metallurgical building at the Michigan College of Mines.

On this date (March 15) in 1923 fire blazed through the metallurgy building at the Michigan College of Mines. According to a report in The Michigan College of Mines Alumnus from that year, students who arrived first on scene were credited with saving much of the valuable equipment inside the building. First responders reported that the fire appeared to be contained on the second floor of the building, but “minutes later the fire broke out over the whole building.” The Houghton and Hancock fire departments arrived on scene, but by then the fire had spread “into the walls and ventilation ways.”

It was clear that the building was going to be a total loss ($250,000) and not just in terms of the classroom and office space. Students lost personal possessions, records and data for experiments were destroyed, and one particular professor lost a decades worth of research notes. In its wake, classes were moved to the Chemistry Building (which had incidentally burned in 1920) and the department was forced to conduct work “with make-shift apparatus.”

Metallurgy building after the fire, 1923.

However, by September 1923, the Alumnus reported that plans for rebuilding the metallurgy building were underway and by January 1925 the publication was asking alumni to weigh in on a name for the new structure. The new metallurgy building opened for students, faculty, and staff later that year and christened McNair Hall, the college’s former president who died tragically in an accident in 1924. While this building bears the same name as a current resident hall at Michigan Tech, these were two distinct buildings.

McNair Hall. This building replaced the Metallurgy Building.
Regardless of which building it has occupied, since the establishment of the Michigan Mining School in 1885, metallurgy in one shape or form has been integral to this campus. It has evolved from mineral dressing to metallurgy, to metallurgical engineering, to metallurgical and materials engineering, before finally becoming the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in 2000.
Building disasters and failures like the one at the metallurgy building show how change can happen in a blink of an eye. Luckily no one was harmed and rebuilding happened in its wake. It’s a reminder that our landscapes can change quickly, that they aren’t always able to be thoughtfully planned, but even with unexpected change this campus and community continues to grow and evolve.
If you would like to know more about the metallurgy building fire, visit the Michigan Tech Archives during our regular research hours, Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or contact us directly by phone at (906) 487-2505 or email at copper@mtu.edu

Flashback Friday: Young at Heart

Elderly woman with birthday cake
Mamie Nelson of Hancock celebrating her 123rd birthday.

On February 3, 1948, Mamie Nelson celebrated her 123rd birthday. For the occasion, she donned a black dress that matched the fashions of an older era and made the journey from her residence at the Houghton County Infirmary down to a photographer’s studio. There, no doubt with great care, she settled into a chair before a painted arbor backdrop and fixed her rheumy gaze upon the camera. One eyelid no longer seemed to open; the other did so after a valiant struggle, revealing a blind eye. She mustered the best smile that age allowed her and made sure her close-cropped white hair had been tucked neatly behind her ears. On a carved stand next to her, someone placed a birthday cake, elegantly scalloped with white frosting for the big day. With the click of a shutter, Mamie Nelson’s birthday entered history. Locally, at least.

If it seems unlikely that a person could live more than 120 years and remain so unknown to the world, it should. Mamie might have celebrated the 123rd anniversary of her birth, but that didn’t mean that she had actually reached such an age. Somewhere along the line, it appears that Mamie started to age more than one year at a time. So, who was this woman who claimed to be a supercentenarian? What was her story?

According to an obituary published in the Daily Mining Gazette–summarizing information that Mamie had offered in a number of interviews–the aged Mrs. Nelson was born in Ireland in 1825. At that time, the writer noted, “James Monroe, fifth president of the United States, was completing the last year of the second term of his administration… the king of the British realm at that time was George IV, son of the king who lost the American colonies.” Mamie described an impressive and interesting childhood. She attested that she had seen Queen Victoria in person on at least one occasion. This was the least of the wonderful sights, however. “Her father was the master of a sailing vessel engaged in trade between England, China, Japan and India,” the Gazette said in her obituary, “and as a girl Mrs. Nelson made many voyages with her father to the land of the Far East.” In total, she would claim a total of 32 transatlantic voyages. The circumstances that had brought this supposed globe trotter across the Atlantic one last time went unexplained.

At some point after her arrival in the United States, according to Hidden Gems and Towering Tales: A Hancock, Michigan Anthology, Mamie said that she resided in Illinois; she moved to the Copper Country in 1863. She described vivid memories of Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861 and his tragic assassination in 1865; she told of the horrors of the great Hancock fire of 1869 and the loss of the Lake Linden home that she shared with her husband, Carl, to a similar blaze in 1887. Later, the Nelsons operated a pasty bakery out of a residence in Hancock. 

Canoe passing by Lake Linden
Lake Linden in 1898, around the time Mamie and her husband Carl resided there.

As best as we can tell, these tales mix strict truth with colorful exaggeration or misunderstanding. Archival evidence about Mamie is scanty at best and often contradictory. She never deviated in declaring her Irish birth; this may have been a point of pride for her. She was listed in the 1910 federal census at 303 Quincy Street in Hancock, providing her age as 80 and her year of immigration as 1831. By 1920, she had aged to 94, with an immigration year of 1826. These appear to be the earliest instances of Mamie professing an exceptional age. In contrast, when the census taker came in 1900, he found Mamie (listed as Mary) and Carl Nellson [sic] living in Torch Lake Township near Lake Linden. In those days, Mamie gave her year of birth as a more modest 1855 and her year of arrival in the United States as 1856. This would have made her some 93 years old in 1948–a venerable number, to be sure, but not a record-breaking one.

If Mamie was indeed born in 1855, her true age did not preclude her incredible stories from being true. She would have been six when Lincoln was inaugurated and ten when he died; if she lived in Hancock, she would have experienced the great fire at fourteen years old. Such tremendous events as these stick in the minds of even small children and certainly in those of teenagers. Ask someone who was young when Pearl Harbor was bombed, Kennedy was assassinated, or 9/11 occurred about those times, and the memories come back as clearly as yesterday.

And perhaps Mamie’s father really was a ship’s captain who voyaged around the world, taking his daughter with him. Crossing the Atlantic nearly three dozen times was no less a feat if the journey started in the United States than if it started in Ireland. Maybe she truly did see Japan and India, and the wonders of these worlds inspired in her a new appreciation for her tight-knit Keweenaw communities. On the other hand, maybe these stories grew from a colorful and vivid imagination, the result of Mamie’s daydreams as she rolled out pasty crust and chopped potatoes. 

We may never know how Mamie Nelson spent her early days, how old she truly was, or what led her to believe or claim that she was 123 years old. One declaration may be made with certainty, however: whether the tales she told came from reality or from inside her head, this Copper Country woman lived an exceptionally interesting life.


Flashback Friday: There’s No Getting Around Winter in the Copper Country

Got snow? It certainly has been a snowy month here in the Copper Country and it looks like we’re in for another round this weekend. While some folks might be griping about all the white stuff, in the Copper Country we make the most of it, which is why we’re featuring this February 1976 photo from the Daily Mining Gazette for this week’s Flashback Friday.
Sometimes there truly is no getting around winter in this area, so what do you do? Just what Calumet native Joseph Meneguzzo, Jr. did at his home at 2042 Calumet Avenue–you go through it! Joseph’s neighbor, Julie Rauch, pictured here, shows off the impressive 15-foot tunnel the ingenious youngster made from the front steps to the road. While the tunnel seems to have been ideal for toddlers, not adults, it certainly shows the tenacity and creativity of most Copper Country youths.
If you’re looking for inspiration for what to do with all that snow in your front yard, look no further!

Archives Travel Grant Program 2019 – Call for Applicants

A photo of the photographer J. T. Reeder at his desk in the Calumet & Hecla offices, date unknown.

The Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections, a department within the J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library, is currently accepting applications for its annual Travel Grant Program, which brings scholars and researchers to Michigan Technological University to work with the archives’ collections. Financial support for the Travel Grant Program is provided by the Friends of the Michigan Tech Library, a support organization for the Van Pelt and Opie Library. Grants are awarded for up to $750 to defray the costs of travel to visit and conduct research in Houghton, Michigan. In addition, graduate students applying to the program may request up to an additional $200 to help defray any duplication costs incurred during a qualified research trip.

The Michigan Tech Archives houses a wide variety of historical print, graphic and manuscript resources related to the Copper Country and Michigan Technological University. Subject coverage is vast, some of which includes university and campus life, regional towns and cities, local industries and businesses, social organizations, events and personalities of the Copper Country and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Primary topical research areas include the western Upper Peninsula, industrial history, particularly copper mining and its ancillary industries, social history, community development along the Keweenaw Peninsula, transportation and the environment. Finding aids for some of the collections can be found here: http://www.mtu.edu/library/archives/collections/.

To apply for funding through the Travel Grant Program please visit the program website: http://www.mtu.edu/library/archives/programs-and-services/travel-grants/

Applications are due on March 29, 2019. Award recipients will be notified by late April or early May. The successful candidate must complete their travel by December 6, 2019. Electronic submission of applications is required.

For further information, please contact:
Lindsay Hiltunen, University Archivist
Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections
J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library
1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, MI 49931
Phone: (906) 487-3209
E-mail: copper@mtu.edu


Flashback Friday: The Town’s Not for Burning

Image of town in ruins
Hancock in the aftermath of the great fire of 1869.

April 11, 1869 was a Sunday. Many residents of Hancock woke up and went about their regular routines in the early dawn hours: cooking breakfast, dressing for church, wishing for a little more sleep. Who could have suspected that normal life was about to take a long hiatus?

Others in the flourishing little village hadn’t gone to bed yet. They had spent the time from Saturday night into Sunday morning dancing at a saloon just a stone’s throw from St. Anne’s Catholic Church, on the north side of Hancock. As the rambunctious party broke up that morning, it seems that someone knocked over the stove whose glowing warmth had kept the dancers cozy through the long night. The burning fuel spread across the floor of the bar. “Without attempting to extinguish the flames which at once sprung up,” wrote the Portage Lake Mining Gazette in an article republished by the New York Times, “the party decamped and left the building to its fate.”

The loss of the saloon would have been tragedy enough for its proprietors. Unfortunately, a minor catastrophe quickly escalated into a major disaster. As with most newborn mining settlements, Hancock’s buildings had primarily been constructed from wood. Worse yet, the wind was blowing from the northwest, swiftly fanning the fire east and south into the heart of town. “In less than half an hour,” wrote the Gazette, “there were half a dozen buildings in flames” on the saloon’s side of the street, “and soon those on the other side caught from the intense heat, and burst out with unexampled fierceness.” In modern firefighting parlance, Hancock had flashed over, a particularly vivid and appropriate term for the rapid spread.

Hancock had prepared to fight a fire, but its people had not anticipated a blaze on this scale. The town had a modest water reserve (Portage Lake was frozen) and an even humbler municipal firefighting apparatus, underwhelming even by the technology of the time. Within half an hour, the water had run out without abating the flames that had already engulfed at least thirty-five structures. The fire continued to spread, forcing inhabitants to flee as it consumed building after building. “The air was hot, suffocating, and thick with blinding smoke–now settling down like a pall over the whole town,” explained the Gazette in an attempt to recreate the horror of the scene. When the winds did lift the smoke a bit, the frightened refugees glimpsed “broad sheets of flame from fifty to five hundred feet in length, and reaching, at times, almost the clouds.” No one whose home or business stood in the way of the blaze entertained any hope that the buildings would be saved. Instead, they banded together to try to rescue the contents. Store owners “tumbled their stocks pell-mell into the streets, and hundreds of willing hands conveyed them speedily, if not very tenderly, beyond the apparent danger.” As the fire’s path became even more ambitious, even the safe places where these goods had been taken had to be evacuated.

Town and structures in ruins
The smoldering remains of Hancock after the fire. Photograph looks north.

About six hours after they had broken out, the hungry flames found no fuel left for them to consume, and the roar of the blaze slowly died down to quiet smoldering. “Nearly all that remained of the once thrifty village of Hancock was an immense heap of embers, covered with a stifling cloud of smoke,” said the Gazette. Some modest buildings formed “a small fringe” along the northwest part of town, where the fire had started; two churches (St. Anne’s and the Methodist congregation) and two public halls that still stood among the ashes must have seemed towering by comparison. Among the estimated twelve acres scorched were some 130 houses and “every store in the town.” Rebuilding would be a massive process.

One cannot help but see parallels between the Hancock fire of 1869 and the flash flood of 2018 in the community’s responses to each. “The people seem to have accepted the situation, and have gone to work with a will,” the Gazette explained in 1869. Their words might as well have been written in 2018. Within a matter of days, Hancock residents and their neighbors had erected the beginnings of more than two dozen temporary structures where the burned ones had stood. Photographs taken of Tezcuco Street later in the year showed a maze of new buildings and framework lining each side of the road; piles of lumber in the middle of the route stood ready to finish the work. Although those who had lost homes and businesses no doubt suffered and continued to struggle, they also fixed their eyes on the path ahead and let their persistence carry them through. Neighbor helped neighbor; friend reached out to friend. Slowly, the normalcy that had existed in the early morning of April 11, 1869 returned.

Today, Hancock bears little resemblance to either the town that existed before the great fire nor the town that rose, phoenix-like, from the ashes in its immediate wake. Survivors of Hancock in its pre-1869 infancy remain, however. Along Hancock Street (the southbound portion of US-41 in town) sit the O’Neill-Dennis Funeral Home and a residence bearing a “CELTIC HOUSE” plaque. As the parsonage of the Congregational Church in Hancock and the residence of Dr. W.W. Perry, respectively, both endured the fire and testify to the endurance of the city. The municipal government also makes available the New York Times reprint of the chronicle of the blaze. These, along with archival materials and books available at the Michigan Tech Archives, tell the story of a town that won’t go down without a fight.  

Want to know more about the fire of 1869? John S. Haeussler’s 2014 book “Images of America: Hancock” provides the most complete collection of photographs showing the before and after, as well as detailed captions that helped to inform this blog post.


Flashback Friday: Winter Carnival Then and Now

Today’s Flashback Friday celebrates all things Winter Carnival with this image from on this day in 2001. Students work diligently to finalize their statue just as our campus community saw a few nights ago during the 2019 all-nighter.

Winter Carnival is a time-honored tradition here at Michigan Tech, with its beginning taking place back in 1922 when the Student Organization presented a one-night show called the “Ice Carnival.” The show consisted of acts, whimsical displays and performances put on in the traditional circus style, with students in an assortment of costumes. The show was held in the old Amphidrome ice rink, so of course the carnival also included ice skating events, including speed and figure skating contests. The circus theme continued for the next two years and, behold, the tradition was born.

The carnival progressed and made changes as the years went on, with the addition of a Carnival Queen competition and the parade in 1928. There is film footage of the 1928 carnival available on YouTube.

A glimpse back at Winter Carnival Queen Candidates.

After 1929, there was a lapse of a few years, but in 1934 the Blue Key Fraternity took over the sponsorship of the festivities and put one on that year. The Winter Carnival of ‘34 looked more like the carnival of today, with a two-game hockey series, a parade, skiing, skating, and snowshoe races, and a dance. The focal point of carnival was the parade, with Greek organization, campus societies, and other student organizations developing elaborate floats.

1936 was the debut of the snow statues, which were built by students and student organizations, as well as local school children. As information on the building methods was passed on from year to year, the statues became bigger and more elaborate, with fine detail work and inclusion of ice art.

Decades, and nearly 100 years later, Winter Carnival continues to be a most treasured time of year for Michigan Tech. This year’s theme is “Years of Innovation STEM from this Snowy Situation.” For more information about activities, contest results, and more, please check out the official Winter Carnival website

A glimpse back at the Winter Carnival Beard Competition.

The Michigan Tech Archives will be open for Second Saturday during Winter Carnival from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, February 9. Take a break from statue gazing and stop in to see some memorabilia and photographs from Winter Carnivals gone by. For more information, please call the archives at (906) 487-2505 or e-mail copper@mtu.edu.


Flashback Friday: Flashback to the Tamarack


Image of Tamarack shaft-rockhouse

Tamarack No. 2 shaft buildings pictured in 1892.

An employee walking to work at the Tamarack mine in early October 1901 would have seen the same landscape he saw every day: smokestacks coughing fumes into the air, mighty logs waiting to be hewed into shaft timbers, tall industrial structures silhouetted against the autumn sky. Everything would have seemed normal to him, the prelude to another regular day. Yet the Tamarack was not an ordinary place, and joining the employee at work that day were several men about to do something especially unusual, something that would raise eyebrows for years to come.

The Calumet & Hecla Mining Company (C&H) had already proven the richness of the Calumet conglomerate lode when the Tamarack Mining Company was organized in 1882. Hamstringed by C&H’s property holdings, other mining investors desperately spent years seeking some way to tap into the lode and the profits. Time after time, they fell short. Then, finally, one had an epiphany. John Daniell was the superintendent of the competing Osceola Mine and a crafty mining engineer, and the plan he devised was entirely in keeping with his line of thinking. Daniell knew that copper lodes did not follow strictly vertical paths.

Isometric sketch of the Calumet Conglomerate lode
A sketch of the geography of the Calumet Conglomerate lode, 1931.

Rather, they ran under the earth’s surface at angles. C&H might own the land with the easiest–and most economical–access to the Calumet conglomerate lode, but their holdings couldn’t possibly cover the whole deposit, especially thousands of feet underground. With the cooperation of some notable investors, particularly Joseph W. Clark and A.S. Bigelow, Daniell and the Tamarack Mining Company drove five deep shafts at the very western reach of C&H property. Eventually, they hit copper–and paydirt. The Tamarack lands proved to be remarkably profitable, and the mine flourished.

Daniell’s strategy of plunging deep into the earth was also precisely what allowed the Tamarack to become a massive laboratory. In October 1901, scientists and engineers from the company and from a certain local mining school gathered to study magnetic attraction, gravitational forces, and the behavior of pendulums underground. The Tamarack mine shafts afforded them an unprecedented opportunity. How often, after all, did an experimenter have the chance to work with a plumb line over 4,200 feet long? Since the employees of the mine had already done the dirty, backbreaking work of excavating nearly a mile into the earth, the shafts could serve a dual purpose.

To keep the description succinct, in short the experimenters expected that two plumb lines suspended in a mine shaft would be nearer to each other at the bottom of the line than at the surface. The earth is convex (curved on the exterior), so the plumb lines would be drawn together as they descended toward the core, allowing a precise calculation of the angle the planet’s convexity caused convergence. If that line confused you, don’t worry; that’s as technical as today’s Flashback Friday gets. If that line left you wanting a better and more scientific explanation, head over to a post that Donald Simanek, an emeritus professor at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, wrote to analyze the physics and mathematics in greater depth.

Carefully, the engineers present at the Tamarack that October day selected and tested what the Daily Mining Gazette at the time described as “No. 24 piano wire” for their experiment. Once the wire met with everyone’s approval, “it was necessary, of course, that each wire have something attached to it to carry it down. It was not thought best, however, that common weights be used, as it was feared they would in some manner get caught in the timbering [of the mine] and ruin the whole experiment.”

Portrait of F.W. McNair
Fred Walter McNair, one of the men involved in the Tamarack experiment.

Instead, the men fashioned two “balloons… each ten feet long and built entirely of wood… they were two and one-half feet in diameter at the centre, tapering to a point at either end.” Balloons and piano wire descended together into the No. 2 shaft. When they reached the designated stopping point at the 29th level, the balloons were replaced with “50-pound cast iron bobs… then immersed in engine oil in order to kill all the vibration possible.” Now, data could be collected.

The wires had, thanks to the changes in weight as the bobs were replaced and the buoyancy of the engine oil, underground various fluctuations in length. The scientists found these normal, natural, and anticipated. Measuring the distance between the two bobs in the shaft proved more interesting. They hadn’t converged at all. On the contrary, the bobs of the two plumb lines sat 0.07 feet farther from each other than the tops of the lines to which they were attached.

What could have caused the strange result? No doubt, experimenters felt excited by this point. To the layperson, 0.07 feet of divergence might seem insignificant; to an engineer expecting the opposite outcome, it was an interesting problem. Later observers would propose a variety of potential solutions: variations in the density of the crust, buoyancy of the oil, geometric quirks, gravitational effects, or mere misinterpretation. Professor Simanek laid out all of them in turn in the aforementioned Lock Haven article, and those wanting to dig into the nitty gritty may enjoy his piece. Suffice to say, however, it took more than casual spitballing over a few cups of coffee to narrow down the cause.

More interesting, perhaps, to the casual Flashback Friday reader is the way in which the Tamarack mine found itself catapulted into conspiracy theories and weird science. After all, mused some, couldn’t the failure of the plumb bobs to converge mean that there was nothing attracting them in the first place? Perhaps the earth was actually hollow. Maybe, instead of being convex, it was actually concave, curving inward beneath the surface. Surely the Tamarack experiment had shown that more was afoot than met the eye.

Image of men in timbered mine shaft
Underground at Tamarack No. 5, circa 1915.

Of course, in Houghton County in the peak of the mining boom, there was always more going on underground than met the eye. Imagine the thousands of men roaming the shafts day in and day out, carrying tools and lights and conversing in dozens of languages, meeting those just trying to haul rock and those trying to calculate the convexity of the earth. Perhaps the crossroads of the world were not above it at all but instead a mile below its surface.

 


Flashback Friday: MLK Week Tradition Lives On

An MTU Lode article about Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations in 2003.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2019 will be observed on Monday, January 21. This year, Michigan Tech is celebrating 30 years of the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Banquet and MLK Week under the theme of “Living Fearlessly.” Today’s Flashback Friday honors Michigan Tech’s tradition of celebrating MLK in creative and inclusive ways. 

The tradition of formally recognizing Dr. King was started by campus leaders in the late 1980s and has taken many forms over the years. The banquet and reading of speeches have been important components since the early years of the celebration, but there have also been art installations, discussion groups, campus and community marches, and other enriching outreach and service activities throughout the history of Tech’s MLK celebrations. 

MLK Day vigil, 2009.

Staring on Sunday, January 20, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, along with campus and community partners, will kick-off an entire week of activities planned to honor King’s legacy and remember his activism and leadership. Programming begins with a community-wide gathering and panel discussion at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church called “Let’s Talk About Race.” On Monday, during the official observance of MLK Day, Michigan Tech students will visit local elementary schools to read from selected works highlighting the life, leadership, and lessons of the civil rights leader. The annual banquet will be held Monday night.

In an effort to join the celebrations, the Van Pelt and Opie Library will be hosting a small display of books and images related to Civil Rights and Black History on the first floor of the library. In addition, the Michigan Tech Archives will post a call for participants for phase two of the Black Voices in the Copper Country – My Michigan Tech Experience Oral History Project. The oral history project is part of an ongoing effort to support diversity in the department’s collection development strategy. 

A full schedule of events is included below:

Sunday, January 20, 2019

“Let’s Talk About Race,” in the Copper Country– A Community-Wide Gathering and Panel Discussion
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 4:00 pm
1100 College Avenue, Houghton, MI

Monday, January 21, 2019

MLK Reading Day
Houghton, Hancock, and Dollar Bay Elementary Schools, 9am-3pm

30th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Banquet
Memorial Union Building (MUB) Ballroom, 5:30pm
Keynote Speaker- Donzell Dixson, Michigan Tech ALumni

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Fearlessly Facing Fear Panel Discussion
Memorial Union Building (MUB) Alumni Lounge, 6-8pm
Presented by Speak It Tour featuring: Donzell Dixson, Elijah Kondeh, and Donte Curtis

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

NSBE Host’s “What Do You Know about Dr. King?” discussion
Fisher 138 @ 6 pm

For more information about MLK Week celebrations at Michigan Tech, please contact the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at (906) 487-2920. For more information about the Black Voices project or the Archives, please call (906) 487-2505 or e-mail copper@mtu.edu.

Banner image for the 30th annual MLK Day Banquet, courtesy of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. For more information about the event, visit the Michigan Tech Events Calendar. Tickets are free for the Monday night banquet but registration is required.