Tag: Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday: Anna Brockway Makes Her Own Way

Image of woman's portrait surrounded by men
Anna Medora Brockway, center, in her graduation photograph. Image courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

Author’s note: In 2018, we published a piece on three remarkable women from the Brockway family. The tale concluded with an allusion to Anna, the youngest Brockway daughter, and the promise that her story would be told on another day. That day is today.

Anna Brockway Gray believed in living boldly and without a moment wasted.

This, at least, is the impression created by the documentation left of her life. She did, she thought, she moved with great enthusiasm. She made choices and mistakes with decisiveness. She forged a path of her own in education, in medicine, and in publishing.

Of course, for those acquainted with Copper Country women, Anna’s determination was hardly surprising.

We have no official record of what February 1, 1851 was like at the tip of the Keweenaw. Likely, the day dawned like most Upper Peninsula mornings: cold, with a thick blanket of snow and the great hush of winter surrounding the Brockway residence. Nestled in the snug warmth of their home, thirty-four-year-old Lucena Brockway brought her fifth child into the world. She and husband Daniel christened their newest daughter Anna Medora, a name shared by a picturesque lake not far from their home. By name and by inclination, the newest Brockway would enjoy a deep and lifelong connection to Michigan.

Image of ruined
Ruins at the Northwestern Mine, where Anna was born in 1851.

Although the Brockways were pillars of Michigan’s northernmost communities, they also wandered. In those days, the Copper Country had just begun to boom; mines broke ground, flourished, faltered, failed. The family went where opportunity beckoned. Anna claimed the Northwestern Mine, where her father acted as agent, as her birthplace; she spent portions of her early years in Copper Harbor, in Eagle River, at the Cliff Mine, and downstate in Kalamazoo County, where the census taker found her and her parents in 1870. Anna became intimately acquainted with the roadways and waterways of the state, and perhaps the constant relocation helped to inspire a fascination with her homeland. As a young woman, she moved yet again to enroll in Albion College, where her uncle William Hadley Brockway served as an administrator.

Opportunities for women’s education beyond the offerings of local public schools increased in the mid-19th century, but Albion was still something of an outlier. Both sexes could partake in the degree-granting collegiate program as of 1861, an option available at few other institutions in the United States; the school also offered a preparatory curriculum for those seeking to ready themselves for further studies. A catalog from the 1859-1860 academic year asserted Albion’s convictions about women in the classroom: “the question of the ability of the female mind to contend successfully with that of the more favored sex has been too long settled to require discussion.” To the students of advanced classes, Albion promised “a thorough and systematic course of study; equal at least to the scientific course pursued in many of our Colleges.” Anna more likely than not attended preparatory lectures, based on a list of degree recipients published in 1910. If, by the time she arrived in the late 1860s or early 1870s, the curriculum remained comparable to that offered in 1859, her studies might have included trigonometry, algebra, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, logic, grammar, rhetoric, and history. The time at Albion helped to form an Anna Brockway who was ready to take on her greatest challenge yet.

The first woman received a degree from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1871. Dr. Amanda Sanford collected her diploma while male classmates showered her with spitballs to show their disapproval. Seventeen other women joined the medical course in the first year it had been opened to pupils of their sex. Emma Call, one of the inaugural female students, recalled that her peers were “naturally the objects of much attention critical or otherwise (especially critical) so that in many ways it was quite an ordeal” to study there. Most instructors treated the women fairly and with reserve, despite insisting that their lectures be conducted separately from those offered to male students. In chemistry class, however, instruction was coeducational, and certain men shouted and stomped their feet when women walked into the room. The “antiquated professor” who taught the course told “coarse, ribald stories” to his pupils, as Adella Brindle Woods recalled from her 1873-1874 studies. He “looked upon us women students as monstrosities.” Another instructor “was just and often said we were good students, always adding he doubted if we would ever become successful practitioners.”

The women showed how wrong his doubts were.

Image of people in auditorium attending a medical demonstration
Students attend a Michigan Medical School anatomy demonstration, circa 1893. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

Anna Brockway arrived at the University of Michigan in about 1880 to follow the trail that Amanda Sanford and her peers had blazed. The medical school itself was in flux at that time. When Michigan had first begun to educate doctors, the course of study consisted of a cycle of six to nine months of scientific and practical lectures that each pupil experienced twice. In 1877, the medical school expanded its curriculum to include a three-year option, which became mandatory in 1880. Clinical rotations in hospitals and laboratory work enjoyed new prominence in these studies. Anna’s training as a physician likely mirrored the late 1880s curriculum presented by Michigan historian Horace Davenport in his educational history of the medical school. In the company of a handful of other women, she spent the next three years doing dissections, conducting urinalysis, studying tissues under microscopes, and attending courses on physiology, obstetrics, pediatrics, medical jurisprudence, surgery, and physical diagnostic techniques, among others. The years of hard work and diligent study honed her mind and sharpened her practice, and Dr. Anna Medora Brockway joined the ranks of physicians upon her graduation in 1883.

Composite image of medical school graduates
Medical graduates of the University of Michigan Medical School, 1883. Anna Medora Brockway appears fourth from the right in the fifth row of students. Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

The new Dr. Brockway’s heart remained in Michigan, but her medical career took her to a different Lake Superior town. She hung out her shingle in Duluth, Minnesota, shortly after leaving Ann Arbor. Her pioneering place in Duluth soon attracted the attention of some of America’s most famous suffragists: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Joslyn Gage noted her medical practice as groundbreaking in their 1886 publication History of Woman Suffrage, Volume III.

As her fledgling practice began to take flight, so did another new avenue in her life. She became acquainted with a local attorney, Willard Gray, and the two married in Superior, Wisconsin, on April 15, 1884. Five years later, they relocated to the Keweenaw to advance their professions closer to Anna’s home and her aging parents. A son, whom Anna and Willard named Perry Brockway Gray, was born in Lake Linden on November 17, 1889.

While Perry flourished, the Grays’ marriage rapidly disintegrated. Anna filed for divorce, citing cruelty on Willard’s part, in January 1900. Her parents had passed away the year before, and she and her son ventured south to Grand Rapids. By 1910, they had relocated again to Detroit, where the University of Michigan mailed Anna a copy of the University Bulletin bearing the name “Mrs. Willard Gray.” A letter back to the college, now maintained with Anna’s necrology file at the Bentley Historical Library, captured the doctor’s spirit and autonomy in her own words:

“I have just received the University Bulletin addressed to Mrs. Willard Gray. I wish to ask that the address be… as I wrote it, Mrs. Anna Brockway Gray. Another woman writes herself Mrs. Willard E. Gray. Moreover not even Mr. Gray ever wrote me in that way nor has any one ever done so. My friends would hardly know that I was meant.”

Perceiving in her own misaddressed letter a broader problem, and bespeaking her deeper opinions on how women ought to be known in the world, she continued:

“Moreover I would suggest that each lady alumnus be recorded by the name under which she graduated plus her married name. Mrs. Willard E. Gray would mean nothing to those who [were] with me at the University, but Mrs. Anna Brockway Gray would identify me at once.

Kindly make the correction.”

Anna lived another twenty years after sending that letter, and she filled them with the same sort of independence and keen intellect. She joined the Daughters of the American Revolution on the basis of her descent from Ephraim Brockway, who had served in militias at Saratoga and West Point during the war. As her marriage broke down in the 1890s, she had begun to write prolifically and to collect historical documentation of Michigan. Naturally, the Copper Country proved to be her chief interest. By 1926, the personal diary where she stored her compositions spanned over sixty-one volumes, a remarkable output for any author or diarist. She contributed extensively to “Michigan History” magazine and compiled reminiscences of her early days as a pillar of Copper Harbor. In the moments when she wasn’t occupied with her historical work, poetry for young readers came tripping lightly off her pen.

If passion alone could sustain a life, the world would not be deprived of great minds and vivid souls so early. Anna’s heart began to trouble her as she turned eighty. No doubt she noticed the problem early; perhaps she suspected the diagnosis herself, her medical training having become second nature. No doubt, as well, that she recognized when there was no hope. When Dr. Anna Medora Brockway Gray died on March 29, 1931, a life of independence and distinction came to a quiet end. She returned to be buried to the only place that made sense: to the Keweenaw Peninsula, to Lakeview Cemetery in Calumet.

A remarkable Brockway woman could not be laid to rest anywhere but the Copper Country.


Flashback Friday: Exploring the Copper Country with J.T. Reeder

In the Copper Country, we know the four seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter, and mosquitoes. All joking aside, Yoopers take our seasons seriously. We ski, snowshoe, and snowmobile in the winter–and in the spring. We turn our ski lifts into color tour rides for brilliant autumns and spend cold mornings in deer blinds. In the summers, we trek up Brockway Mountain on our mountain bikes, gather for evening concerts along the Portage, and listen to the waves lapping against golden-lit rocks as the sun plunges into a luminous Lake Superior at the end of the day.

Some of these activities are ones that our neighbors in Wisconsin or Minnesota might enjoy or hobbies enabled by new technologies, like snowmobiles or four wheelers. But there is one all-season pursuit very particular to the Copper Country, something that is timeless and cherished by residents, tourists, old, and young alike. This is, of course, the exploration of ghost towns and mine ruins.

As the ice begins to peel away from the frames of abandoned buildings and the snow reveals traces of workings that came to naught, Flashback Friday presents a selection of images by one local photographer who knew how to wander the Keweenaw’s ruins. J.T. Reeder had an eye for capturing family life, daily activities, celebrations–and, most of all, the wistful beauty of nature reclaiming the mining landscape.

Image of stone ruins with collapsed roof timbers and a placid lake beyond
Stamp mill foundation and ruins at Lac La Belle, undated.
A shaft house at the abandoned Cliff Mine toppled by wind, undated.
Smokestack and ruins at the Cliff Mine, November 1915.
Petherick Location near Copper Falls, October 1929
Shop at Central Mine in disrepair, June 1930.
Copper Country cruising to the housing location of Ontonagon County’s Nonesuch Mine, August 1921.
The old Huron boiler house with Isle Royale Copper Company operations in the background, undated.


From Our Kitchens to Yours

They say food brings people together. A shared meal between friends or family can knit us together in the best of times and the worst of times; it can tell us about where we came from and our current situations. Right now, many folks are feeling very disconnected, both physically and socially, which is why we couldn’t think of a better post for Flashback Friday than one that highlights something that always makes us feel connected: food.

Copper Country, what are you cookin’ up for yourself and loved ones right now? While we sadly can’t smell or taste your delicious cooking, we want to see what you’ve been making at home that makes you feel connected! Dish it up and share away! We’ll get started with a couple of bites from our Van Pelt and Opie Library staff.

Erin Matas (Faculty Engagement and Research Support Librarian) and Cécile Piret

As a Belgian, chocolate is my core comfort. Sharing chocolate with my family during the 4 pm goûter is the bright light of my day. – Cécile Piret


Lindsay Hiltunen (University Archivist)

In these times of uncertainty and isolation, some of us turn to classic comfort food to fuel the soul and calm the heart. This dish is so special to me because it is one that I always made for others. Each time I cook it I think of the long afternoons cooking this slow cook dish, drinking wine with friends and family, blasting records, chopping veggies and sharing stories. 

Season with salt and pepper, then lightly coat with flour of your choice, then sear 2-3 lbs of stew beef (usually in two batches) in a big pot or Dutch oven on the stovetop. I use a butter and olive oil combo to serve as the fat to sear the beef in. About 4 tablespoons butter and olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot. You can add a little more to sear the second batch if needed.

Remove the meat, lower temp to medium high and add a bottle of red wine, deglaze the bottom of the pot to get all the good bits. Add meat back to the wine, add a quart of beef stock, 1 and a half teaspoons of ground cloves, 8-12 smashed garlic cloves (depends on how much you like garlic), 10 fresh thyme sprigs (or dry thyme is fine – not sure about conversion), two bay leaves, and salt and pepper to taste.  Then simmer the beef on medium or medium low (depends on your equipment) for three hours (first twenty minutes uncovered, the rest covered.) In the last hour I add a small bag of baby carrots (or chop up 6-8 regular carrots), 10-12 quartered yellow potatoes, and chopped mushrooms of your choosing. I like button or cremini mushrooms. In the last half hour I add a bag of pearl onions. Sprinkle with parsley or chives before serving. Enjoy with crusty bread and red wine, or all on its own!

Feeds a crowd or makes a lot of lefties for a couple and it tastes better the next day.

Allison Neely (Archivist)

Irish Potato Pie

While I would classify myself as an adventurous eater; I’ll always be a Midwestern girl at heart. The fact that I’m always that person scouting out the weirdest, wackiest food at the MN State Fair says a lot about my food preferences. That said, what could be more Midwestern than a dish containing meat and potatoes?! 


This Irish Potato Pie is a new recipe to my family and definitely a keeper. We pulled it out of the Internet ether to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year as a nice way to celebrate the day and enjoy some good old fashioned comfort food. Layers of golden potatoes, the saltiness of the bacon, and sweetness of the sauteed onion complemented the flaky puff pastry and the rich heavy cream drizzled above; making for a very hearty meal. Definitely one that will stick with you!

Chefs’ Notes

Times like this call for simplicity and creature comforts; for sharing knowledge and gifts with one another. We hope that these anecdotes from our kitchens and homes brighten up your day and give you some cooking inspiration. What are you cookin’ up this weekend?!

Stay tuned for our next installment of From Our Kitchens to Yours!


Flashback Friday: Reasons to Smile

This week has been a challenging one for many of us. It hardly seems necessary to remind our readers of the tumult, uncertainty, and anxiety that is even more common in the community as what we’re fighting against. With that in mind, Flashback Friday is going to take a different form this week. We’ve pulled some photographs from our Copper Country Historical Images (CCHI) database that give us a reason to smile–and a reason for hope.

Man in multicolored hat at graduation podiumIn time, we’ll be back to having Michigan Tech commencements featuring speakers in funny hats.

Group of boys playing hockey on a snowy residential street

In time, we’ll once again have pick-up hockey on the street with the neighbors.

Woman in white playing a piano with a dog resting his front paws on her bench

In time, our dogs will help us play the piano at real parties.

Group of people gathered around a long picnic table with a white cloth

In time, we’ll gather our extended families for picnics and bask in the sunshine.

Group of people of various ages, and their dog, on the porch of a house

In time, we’ll be out on the porch with our friends. Summer is coming.

Sun shining on the waves of Lake Superior

Lake Superior will still be breathtakingly beautiful on the other side of this.

Kittens and little kids are as adorable as ever, especially together.

The mines closed, Houghton County battled for years the state’s highest rate of tuberculosis, and a flood took a life, damaged our homes, and destroyed our roads. The Keweenaw is still standing because we’re Copper Country Strong. We’ll get through this.

While the reading room is closed at the Michigan Tech Archives and we’re assisting patrons only remotely, CCHI remains available for you to peruse from the comfort of your easy chair at any time of day. Photographs on that website may be used as you see fit and free of charge, so long as the watermark remains unaltered. If you have any questions, our staff can still be reached via e-mail at copper@mtu.edu or via voicemail at (906) 487-2505.


Flashback Friday: Splish Splash, I Was Taking a Bath

There’s nothing like a long soak in the tub at the end of a long day. Run the water hot, turn the lights down, and settle in among the bubbles with a good book to wash away stress and frustration. While this pleasure might seem a simple one today, for many Copper Country residents a hundred years ago, the luxury of a long bath at home was precisely that: a luxury. Mine managers, prosperous business owners, bankers, or other members of the upper crust might have a bathroom with hot running water for themselves and even their household servants. The family of the average trammer or surface laborer, on the other hand, hauled a washtub into the kitchen on Saturday nights, boiling water on the stove, and pouring it into the larger vessel for a scrub. 

Floorplan of large house
Floor plan of Calumet & Hecla General Manager James MacNaughton’s home, showing bathrooms with bathtubs.

The typical Calumet & Hecla company house in the early 1900s did not include a bath on initial construction. Upon written request, the company would be willing to install a flush toilet in the basement if the house were located on a street connected to the local sanitary sewer; if the homeowner had built his own house on land leased from the company, he had to purchase the fixture himself and pay for installation. By 1912, historian Alison K. Hoagland noted in her book Mine Towns, half of C&H company houses already featured this indoor convenience, and the company was responding to requests for more. The question of a full bath–and an installed bathtub–was another matter entirely. Large families and boarders who provided needed supplemental income strained the size of working-class company houses; residents needed all the square footage provided by bedrooms, kitchens, pantries, and common areas. Giving up sleeping spots for bathing room was simply impractical, and constructing an addition to make a space was beyond the financial means of a common laborer. 

Aerial view of workers’ houses in the Swedetown neighborhood of Calumet.

Yet while C&H was unwilling to provide the fixtures or the room necessary for its average employee to bathe conveniently at home, it did offer a compromise that represented, perhaps, one of its most enjoyable benefits. The company instead installed communal baths in a central location. At first, this was the basement of the C&H library building, a fine stone structure erected at the corner of Mine Street and Red Jacket Road. Bath patrons descended the western staircase of the building to a landing that separated them into male and female quarters. On the men’s side, showers proved more popular than baths. In the women’s facilities, tubs won out. While friends and family members browsed the vast selection of company-approved books a floor or two above, downstairs their bodies could be scrubbed clean of dirt, germs, and worry.

The new C&H bathhouse, opened in 1911.

The baths proved so popular–unsurprisingly–that C&H soon found a need to expand the facility, a move that also opened up more room at the library. Employees and family members looking to bathe didn’t have to go far to find the new place, however. In 1911, the redesigned and expanded bathhouse opened in a single-story structure just around the corner on Depot Street. Possibly to offset the $45,000 price tag and to subsidize operations, C&H imposed a small fee for male users: three cents for grown men with a half-cent discount for adolescents. Women, girls, and very young boys still enjoyed the bathhouse for free. Showers and tubs remained, but the improved building offered an extra treat: a swimming pool. Initially, swimming time, like the bath facilities, was strictly segregated by gender. Why? Unlike today, few people purchased special bathing suits. Swimming took place au naturel!

Bathers at the C&H swimming pool–thankfully after the introduction of swimsuits.

As the workforce shrank and C&H became increasingly disengaged from providing benefits like the bathhouse, homeowners found it more practical and more affordable than before to add bathrooms with bathtubs to the house. The former bathhouse still stands in Calumet, however, and scars of the original shower stalls in the basement of the company library can be seen today by visitors to the Keweenaw National Historical Park archives. One wonders if maybe a stray rubber duck from a miner’s bath long ago might one day be found tucked away in an office corner. 


Flashback Friday: The Man Behind the Camera

Underground in a Calumet & Hecla drift with two miners. Photograph by Adolph Isler.

The Michigan Tech Archives has been blessed with photographic good fortune. Ever since Joseph Nicéphore Niépce set a rudimentary camera up to his window at Le Gras, France, in the late 1820s and captured his first successful still image, people have been drawn to photographing their families, their homes, their neighbors, their pets, events of their communities–anything that catches the eye and seems to cry out for seeming immortality on film. As the Copper Country industrialized and grew in the late 1800s, and as cameras became available to more than just scientists and inventors, the Keweenaw Peninsula came into focus through the lens. Many of the images that resulted, whether taken by trained photographers or hobbyists, have made their way into our archives. They capture scenes of simple family life, booming industry, and bustling towns that have faded away.

Plowing snow with a Mineral Range Railroad train at Lake Linden. Photograph by Adolph Isler.

Among the prolific photographers of the Copper Country–including peers like J.W. Nara and J.T. Reeder–Adolph (or Adolf) F. Isler made his mark in a particularly profound way. At the time of his death, the Daily Mining Gazette wrote that he “probably had a wider acquaintance among the pioneers of the whole Lake Superior region than any other man in northern Michigan.” A true Renaissance man, Isler devoted himself intensely to a wide range of interests, each of which came to mark and shape his character and career. 

Isler was born on December 20, 1848, according to his death certificate. Most sources indicate that he was a native of Switzerland; the Isler family moved from Adolph’s birthplace in the mid-1850s and came to North America. Around 1860, the family settled in Hancock, where Adolph’s father, Henry, set up practice as a physician. There, Adolph grew up alongside the burgeoning mining community. No wonder “the building up of the great mining industry of the Lake Superior copper region,” as his obituary described it, fascinated him for the rest of his life.

A view of Eagle River on a breezy day, circa 1890. Photograph by Adolph Isler.

The Islers led a traveling life. In his youth, Adolph apparently carried the mail extensively throughout the Copper Country, bearing sacks by foot, by dog sled, and by horse cart from Hancock north to Eagle Harbor. By 1870, he and his father had relocated to Marquette, where the younger Isler labored as a store clerk. Subsequently, he established his own apothecary at L’Anse. Someone who has fallen in love with the heart of the Copper Country cannot stay away for long, however, and the Islers moved back to Red Jacket. Romance blossomed there between Adolph and a young English widow, Anna Rowe Retallack; the two married on March 7, 1878. Isler’s fatherly love–a trait reflected in his frequent choice of children as photographic subjects–knew no end, and Anna’s little girl Winifred (“Winnie”) from her first union became his daughter, too. Ten months after the wedding, Lena Isler was born. The happy young family settled down on First Street in Red Jacket, where the census taker found them in 1880. 

Although Isler seemed poised to embark on a medical career, following in the footsteps of his father, his vast range of interests soon led him elsewhere. By day, he worked as a pharmacist at Calumet & Hecla; outside of work, he increasingly focused on photography and journalism. In part, his decision seems to have been driven by a natural inclination to the news: he sought and received roles as correspondent for a number of publications, including the Mining Journal out of Marquette. Collections of Isler’s photographers now in the Michigan Tech Archives also show a dramatic uptick in production in the late 1880s into the 1890s, coinciding with Isler’s decision to invest himself more completely in the art. One cannot help but wonder, too, if there was a sentimental side to his increased interest. The years between 1880 and 1900 proved to be times of great personal loss for Adolph and Anna Isler, despite the birth of son Harry Fred in 1886. In 1883, little Winnie, described as “bright beyond her years” and endowed with “gentle manners [that] endeared herself to teachers and playmates,” died following a brief illness in 1883. She was a little shy of ten years old. By 1900, the Islers had welcomed–and buried–four more children. In 1888, Dr. Henry Isler passed away at the home of his son and daughter-in-law. Adolph’s brother, Arnold, died young, and the Islers took in his daughter, Marialotte. Perhaps, with such painful evidence of how tenuous one’s hold on life could be, Isler felt drawn to do something that would offer an enduring reminder of people and places slipping away. 

Lena and Harry Isler at home. Photograph by their father, Adolph Isler.

Isler’s photographic style soon developed a distinct flair. Children scampering down the sidewalk or playing in the family home often came into focus. In streetscapes captured during the height of a Copper Country winter, Isler propped a pair of snowshoes somewhere in the scene. Whenever he could, he scaled a tower, a smokestack, a building to take in the most expansive view possible of the town or mine unfolding beneath him. Keweenaw characters who enjoy panoramic photos owe much to Isler’s intrepid character–and fearlessness where heights were concerned. 

Panoramic view of Red Jacket (Calumet), Isler’s home of many years, taken by Isler.

Although Isler had left his job at C&H in favor of the Calumet News, the Hancock Evening Journal, and amassing one of the most impressive mineral collections to be found in the region, the company nevertheless relied on his expertise when it decided to assemble a certain exhibit of its own. As C&H opened its own library, it called upon Isler to select “a very complete collection of photographs of the region” that should become part of the new holdings. The vivacious Isler complied with great enthusiasm and even continued to add to the project until shortly before his death.

Workers and spectators at the deadly Osceola No. 3 mine fire on September 7, 1895. Photograph by Adolph Isler.

In about 1911, Isler’s health took a downturn. Physicians diagnosed bladder cancer. In January 1912, on the recommendation of his doctors, Adolph and Anna went south to Ann Arbor, there to seek treatment from the medical staff associated with the University of Michigan. The operation itself was a success, removing the malignancy, but Isler’s weakened body could not endure the infection that followed. He contracted pneumonia and rapidly took a turn for the worse. Early in the morning of January 23, Adolph Isler died in the hospital. “Mr. Isler’s figure, with its flowing, iron gray whiskers, his camera or fold of magazines and papers, and his little brown dog” would tramp the streets of Calumet, climb a smokestack at the mill in Lake Linden, or wander the shores near Eagle River no more. 

Hancock’s Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church after being struck by lightning in 1896. Photograph by Adolph Isler.

Surviving Isler were his wife Anna, his daughter Lena, and his son Harry. His body was laid to rest in Calumet’s Lakeview Cemetery. His photographs found new homes around the Copper Country before many arrived in the Michigan Tech Archives, where generations continue to discover scenes of Keweenaw past. 


Flashback Friday: The Queens of Winters Past

The 1947 queen is crowned.
The Winter Carnival Queen for 1947, Queen Barbara Green, is crowned. Pure joy!

The past few weeks the Michigan Tech campus has been gearing up for Winter Carnival 2020! The month-long statue contest began in earnest a few weeks ago, with some of the contests like snow volleyball, curling, snow soccer, and ice bowling taking place this past week.

A portrait of the 1959 carnival queen.
Carnival Queen 1959, Lee Schirmer.

One of the Winter Carnival highlights, the Queens Coronation, takes place on Saturday, February 1 at 7 p.m. in the Rozsa Center. Although not the longest running Winter Carnival tradition — the one night Ice Carnival started in 1922 and the queens did not appear until 1928 — the coronation is one of the most beloved. Bringing together campus and the community, the queens competition has been a fun spectacle almost since the beginning. To celebrate this special event, our Flashback Friday today is a pictorial, looking back at queens and courts of carnivals past!

The 1955 Carnival Queen candidates pose outside with a young man in a sled.
Winter Carnival Queen Candidates from 1955, left to right: Nancy Boyd, Kathy Laine, Dorothy Roy, Carm Guilbault (queen), Mary Aldrich. The women pose with one of the contestants from the Beard Competition.
The 1959 carnival court poses outside in the snow.
The 1959 Court.
The 1968 candidates pose outside in the snow.
The queen candidates pose by a statue in progress, 1968.
A portrait of the 1968 carnival queen.
Julie Anderson, Winter Carnival Queen 1968.
The 1970 carnival queen judges the beard contest.
Wendy Mickle, Winter Carnival Queen 1970, helps to judge the annual Beard Competition.
The 1971 queen candidates pose with a horse and sleigh.
Winter Carnival Queen Candidates of 1971.
Danni Croom, first African-American Winter Carnival Queen
Danni Croom’s reign begins, Winter Carnival Queen 1971.
The 1983 queen candidates pose outside.
Winter Carnival Queen Candidates, 1983.
The 1984 queen and runners up.
Winter Carnival Queen and runners-up, 1984.
Winter Carnival 2009 Queen: Melissa Meyer
Winter Carnival Queen 2009, Melissa Meyer .

This is just a quick glimpse into some of the wonderful photographs we have from queens and carnivals gone by. For more great images of past carnivals, you can check out the digitized Winter Carnival Pictorials on the Archives Section of Digital Commons @ Michigan Tech or stop into the archives anytime during our public reading room hours.


Flashback Friday: “There Have Been No Perfect Days Without You”

Envelope and exterior of the above card, sent from Tom to Lily on her own stationery, Box 3, Folder 1
Envelope and exterior of the above card, sent from Tom to Lily on her own stationery, Box 3, Folder 1

“Ten o’clock on Tuesday night, back in the Soo. And in case you can’t imagine what I am wanting at this hour, it is the sight of a golden haired lady with an unfailing smile. Believe it or not–I do, I always have, and I always must–love you.”  –December 30, 1941

Thomas Rowe Ford and Lily Orvokki Siren probably met in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she was working as a registered nurse at the University of Michigan Hospital and he was studying for his bachelor’s degree in education. Lily was the daughter of Finnish immigrants who had settled near Mass City; “Tom” was born in Illinois. Lily found herself besotted with the tall, serious man in his mid-twenties. Tom considered Lily the sweetest and most remarkable woman he had ever met. The two married in Ann Arbor on October 6, 1934.

Image #MTU Neg 00141--Mass City from Depot.
Image #MTU Neg 00141–Mass City from Depot.

For several years, the newlyweds resided together in Ann Arbor. Lily’s nursing career thrived. Although Tom earned a master’s degree in 1935, the Great Depression stymied his attempts to succeed as a teacher and writer. In late 1940 or early 1941, faced with the grim reality of bills, Tom took a job with Michigan’s State Tax Commission and was assigned to the Upper Peninsula. Lily remained at work in Ann Arbor, far from her road-weary husband, through the following summer. The two kept in contact by writing each other nearly daily.

“I stayed awake until four o’clock this morning, thinking and worrying about your pleurisy and your cough. Do you know what I thought about most? It was about a room at 204 Forest, with a magic door without a lock, which by tacit house-consent shut the place into a firm retreat.” –February 20, 1942

The letters the couple exchanged during their time apart are the heart of MS-427, Thomas R. and Lily S. Ford Correspondence, at the Michigan Tech Archives. Some handwritten on hotel stationery, others typed on State Tax Commission letterhead, Tom’s letters–the bulk of the collection–document the difficulties created by their separation, their ongoing struggles to have a child, their desire to relocate to a wooded retreat, dubbed Metsala, near Mass City. Through the countless obstacles endured Tom and Lily’s deep love and respect for each other, emotions that played out intensely and sometimes teasingly in their correspondence.

World War II tested the Fords further. In June 1943, the United States Army discovered a need for Tom; his service, which included fighting in Germany, concluded in October 1945. Any letters he and Lily–who returned to the University of Michigan to further her knowledge of public health in 1944–exchanged during this war have not come down to us.

“One thing about the time in Ann Arbor I shall always I appreciate. It may not have given us–or me–very much of a push toward fame, but whatever else it did or didn’t do, it kept me within five minutes walk of the dearest lady in the world. And I made that walk several hundred times, always with the deepest satisfaction any man can know–the satisfaction of going home to the one he loves.” –March 12, 1941

After demobilization, Tom and Lily Ford found the world suddenly full of possibilities. Tom received a job offer from what would become Michigan State University and joined its faculty as a teacher of English. He also became deeply involved in improving the curricula of junior colleges, particularly what is now Gogebic Community College. Lily took a position as a public health nurse in Lansing that found her offering continuing education to fellow professionals. Finally, the couple that had longed to be together for so long resided under the same roof, bringing a touch of the “firm retreat” of their Ann Arbor youth to the maturity of their marriage. The sweet reunion would be sadly brief.

On May 22, 1953, Lily stood at the front of a room in Grand Rapids, preparing to deliver a lecture to a gathering of doctors and nurses. Suddenly, she collapsed. While those present hurried to her aid and rushed her to the nearest hospital, it was too late. Lily Siren Ford was only forty-five years old.

There have been no perfect days without you, and the end of every day is dull and savourless. I love you, dear lady. I need you.” –February 6, 1942

Eventually, Tom Ford remarried. His new wife was Mabel Cosby, a teacher and native of Kentucky. Tom’s last years, however, were consumed by poor health, which forced him to leave his long-sought teaching position in Lansing. Illness eventually claimed his life on October 15, 1961. He, like Lily, was cremated and buried in Ontonagon County. But both Fords–and their hopes, sorrows, and dreams–remain forever alive in their letters, freely open for research at the Michigan Tech Archives.

“And always–whatever–my dear, you will be respected, and loved, and–my God–wanted.” –June 12, 1941

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our blog in February 2017.


Flashback Friday: Skaters Gonna Skate, Skate, Skate

Happy New Year, Copper Country! We hope that you had a fun and relaxing holiday. For many of you, the first work week of the new year isn’t until next Monday and for the rest of you, well, you’re skating into the weekend already! So despite the recent melting and rain, there’s still plenty of fun to be had outdoors with your free time, which is why for this week’s Flashback Friday we are focusing on outdoor fun with an ice skating photo collage! Enjoy!

[Making an outdoor skating rink], 1913. Image no. MS019-11-05-02
[Ice skating on an unidentified lake], undated. Image no. MTU Neg 00414
[Skating in L’Anse], January 13, 1964. Image no. MS051-021-005-001

Ice skating on Portage Lake, January 1, 1914. Image no. MS042-034-999-G137G

Off for the skating rink, December 27, 1915. Image no. MS668-01-06-30

Skating on Portage Lake, January 1, 1914. Image no. MS042-034-999-G137D


Flashback Friday – The Portage Lake Lift Bridge

The Milwaukee Road train passes under the bridge for the first time.
The Milwaukee Road uses the new bridge for the first time. The remains of the old bridge can still be seen.

Today’s Flashback Friday honors one of our most beloved and practical local landmarks, the Portage Lake Lift Bridge, which opened to traffic on this day in 1959. 

The night before the Governor of Michigan was to christen the bridge, many families in Houghton and Hancock were awakened by the sound of a ship’s horn. A Michigan Tech alum recalls that the bridge operator was supposed to sound the horn on the bridge that all was well, but the operator fell asleep and forgot to signal back to the ship.

The photo above is a 1959 view from Hancock of the old and current bridges from the John T. Reeder Collection.

The lift type bridge replaced the Portage Canal Swing Bridge, which was built by the King Bridge Company in the mid-1890s. The cost to replace the swing bridge was roughly 12 million dollars, although sources vary on the exact amount. The lift bridge was built by the American Bridge Company and it is still in operation today, with some minor outages for maintenance and testing. While the lower portion of the bridge used to be for trains to pass, it is now mainly used only in the winter for snowmobiles.

A popular focal point, the Portage Lake Lift Bridge is the subject of many photographs, artworks, company and community logos, and souvenirs. It is so beloved in fact, that Hancock and Houghton hold an annual celebration, Bridgefest, to honor the opening of the bridge and to show appreciation for it working to unite the two communities.