Tag Archives: Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday: Thank You, Michigan Tech Nurses

 

Image of nursing students from promotional brochure
Michigan Tech nursing students shown in action for a brochure advertising the program.

Michigan Tech has long been recognized for the excellence of its programs across the board. From biochemistry to forestry to mining, it’s hard to find a field where Huskies haven’t opened up new opportunities and excelled as Crazy Smart professionals.

Many Tech students, however, don’t wait until after they graduate to start blazing trails. Between 1973 and 1982, a group of students–the majority of them women–paved the way for a new brand of nursing education in the Copper Country and laid the groundwork for several top-notch programs in health sciences and medical technology that serve Huskies today. Those who have majored in kinesiology, biomedical engineering, medical laboratory science, and other health and pre-health programs owe a debt of gratitude to the nurses of Michigan Tech.

Image of St. Joseph Hospital buildings
The St. Joseph Hospital campus, circa 1952. The tall building at the center left replaced the one at the far right as the main hospital in about 1951.

From the early 1900s on, nursing education in the Copper Country had generally taken place in hospital settings. St. Joseph’s Hospital (later Portage View/UP Health System Portage) in Hancock established its own school of nursing in 1920 and trained 700 nurses over the course of fifty years. Teachers came from the hospital’s staff, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. The Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s marked the beginning of difficult times for many religious orders, however, and in the years that followed the Sisters of St. Joseph began to turn the operation of the hospital over to the local community. As part of the transition, the nursing school would be shuttered; the class of 1974 would be the last to graduate.

The western Upper Peninsula still desired a place to educate its nurses close to home, though, and Michigan Tech stepped up to take the place of St. Joseph’s. It was a logical decision: the hospital’s nursing school had begun to hold some non-clinical classes on the Tech campus in 1965 and to enroll its students in university science courses. By 1972, a St. Joseph’s nursing student could receive a certain amount of financial aid from Tech, reside in its dormitories, and earn 31 hours of credit at the university over the course of a twenty-month diploma program. Michigan Tech proposed to construct an associate degree program in the School of Technology that would conform to university standards and meet state requirements for nursing education. The program was formally announced in August 1973, and students enrolled in pre-nursing science courses in the fall quarter. Nursing classes began the following spring, and the first students graduated with Michigan Tech nursing degrees in June 1975.

Image of nursing profile in alumni publication
The nursing program was profiled for an alumni publication in the winter of 1976. “Typical of Tech,” wrote the article’s author, “it’s rigorous and demanding.”

What were the experiences of these students like? Most enrollees were women, mirroring the demographics of other American nursing programs at the time; an article written in 1976 noted that 114 of the current 120 students were female. They were an elite group: the program had almost immediately attracted enough interest to form a waiting list, and only those who could meet Michigan Tech’s stringent admissions requirements were accepted. The nursing degree imposed an additional condition that reflected the unique demands of nursing: good physical and stable emotional health. Instructors were highly experienced nurses who emphasized strong relationships with their students, creating an effective learning environment. More than 80 percent of students enrolled in those first years graduated; the national average for nursing programs at that time was 70 percent.

The high graduation rate, however, should not be understood as a sign that the program was easy. Courses and clinical work pushed and challenged aspiring nurses. In their first two quarters at Tech, nursing students studied human biology, microbiology, psychology, and sociology, as well as English composition and political science. Nursing coursework, which began in the third quarter, addressed such topics as the health impacts of acute stress, caring for those with long-term illnesses, and providing care to populations with varied needs and health considerations.

Clinical experience and field trips, so vital to any nurse in training, naturally played a significant part in a Michigan Tech education, as well. Nursing students ventured both into the local community and further afield for their practical experience. Calumet Public Hospital in Laurium hosted students for clinicals, as did Portage View Hospital and Houghton County Medical Care, a long-term facility, in Hancock. At this time, the storied Newberry State Hospital–renamed the Newberry Regional Psychiatric Hospital in 1977–was still in operation, and students made the trek across the peninsula to see how medical staff there cared for individuals facing mental health challenges. A second field trip took them to Bay Cliff Health Camp near Marquette, where children with physical disabilities could have fun and receive therapy.

Image of uniformed nursing graduates.
Class photograph for the 1976 nursing graduates of Michigan Technological University.

As at the nursing school at St. Joseph’s, and as it had been hoped, students graduating from Michigan Tech’s nursing program often chose to serve the local community. In 1980, about half of all Tech nursing alums remained in the Upper Peninsula, and approximately one-third worked in the western region. Many returned to the sites of their clinicals to find a job: that same year, nurses educated by either Tech’s program or its predecessor at St. Joseph’s constituted 90 percent of the nursing staff at Houghton County Medical Care, 60 percent at Portage View Hospital, and 57 percent at Calumet Public Hospital. At Baraga County Memorial Hospital in L’Anse, 58 percent of the staff claimed Tech or St. Joseph’s as alma mater.

While the nursing program at Michigan Tech ended with the class of 1982, its influences continue. Graduates, who number a little over 300 in total, continue to faithfully care for patients in hospitals across Michigan and throughout the country, earning professional accolades and successfully pursuing further education in their chosen field. Meanwhile, majors allowing Huskies to contribute to the ever-changing field of health professions continue to flourish: biological sciences, kinesiology, bioinformatics, and other programs remain popular, groundbreaking choices on campus today.


Flashback Friday: Rolling Into Commencement Weekend

Soichiro Honda
Soichiro Honda and Michael Comstock pose on the Honda CB 350 Four that was given away at the May 1974 commencement ceremony.

Commencement weekend is upon us once again! To honor all the hard work of those graduating this spring, our Flashback Friday looks back to the honest words shared during a very special commencement. It was May 18, 1974 and President Raymond L. Smith, the Board of Control, students, faculty, and guests were very pleased to welcome Soichiro Honda, Founder of the Honda Motor Company, as the commencement speaker and recipient of an Honorary Doctorate in Engineering. It was fitting that this most special commencement, to that point the largest one held at Michigan Technological University, should have a surprise or two.

First, Honda’s address to the 736 graduates was presented in Japanese with accompanying translation. Yet, the biggest surprise, much to the delight of the graduates, was when President Smith closed out the ceremony by rolling out a brand new super-deluxe Honda CB 350 Four. He then announced that Mrs. Honda, who had accompanied her husband from Tokyo, would present the motorcycle to one of the graduates. Our Flashback Friday photo depicts Honda and the lucky winner, Michael Comstock, an honors graduate who received his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. Talk about starting your next chapter on the right foot, or wheel rather!

To help inspire and wish well all those who are graduating this weekend, the translation of Soichiro Honda’s commencement address is shared in full below. Best of luck Huskies! Onward and upward!

Mrs. Soichiro Honda
Mrs. Honda as she selects the winner of the motorcycle during the 1974 commencement at Michigan Tech.


Simple Rules for Life Cycling by Soichiro Honda
It was 15 years ago that my company first brought motorcycles into the United States. In this country at that time, motorcycles were ridden by only a limited group of people, notably those who were labeled “black jackets,” and who were not well received by society. I was told by many people that trying to sell motorcycles in the United States would be ridiculous and a waste of time and effort.

But, I knew from my own experience of youth what young people are attracted to. Furthermore, I was convinced that if we brought in new, original motorcycles that would shatter the past image, we would be able to popularize them. My basic thinking was not that we wanted to make motorcycles by imitating other people because the market was there, but rather we would create the market with original products.

Obviously, we faced many hardships, but we were on the right path. Today, our motorcycles are popular among peoples of all ages and all walks of life in well over 100 countries throughout the world, and they are there to stay. In the United States, the YMCA’s throughout the country are conducting a major program, using our mini bikes, to combat juvenile delinquency. The federal government has given its positive support, and this program has been most successful.

If we had done nothing but imitate others 15 years ago, there would not have been the motorcycle popularity there is today. I take pride in saying that our originality and creativity were factors behind today’s success.

The third point that I wish to emphasize is that the solution to any problem should be sought at its very root. As an example, I would like to touch on the air pollution problem. Pollution of the air through automotive exhaust emissions has become an increasingly serious problem not only in the United States but throughout the world. In 1970, under the leadership of Senator Edmund S. Muskie, the Clean Air Act was amended, requiring a drastic reduction of unwanted emissions from automobiles. Later, a similar law was enacted in Japan.

In order to meet the standards of this legislation, we tackled the problem of how to clean exhaust gases within the engine itself. This is because we thought that a basic solution could be achieved only if the exhaust gases were clean as they came out of the engine.

We endeavored to change the combustion process itself, and successfully developed what we call the compound vortex controlled combustion, or CVCC, engine system. It has been established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that this system can meet the stringent emission standards originally set forth in the Clean Air Act without the use of such aftertreatment devices as catalytic converters. This, I believe, is a success which could not have been achieved without a philosophy of seeking the solution to a problem at its very root.

Lastly, I would like to speak on harmony among men. In today’s modern civilization, where science and technology are making rapid progress in every field, we often observe a tendency to think that the machine has priority over humanity, or that science is omnipotent. I think, however, that such thinking is not only very dangerous but fundamentally wrong.

No matter how much progress and development is made in science and technology or social structure, it must not be forgotten that it is men who operate them. And this cannot be done by just one person alone. It takes the heart-to-heart unity of purpose of many people if they are to become “masters” who effectively operate machines and social structures, and thus contribute to mankind. It is with this thought in mind that I tell young employees of my company: “Don’t be used by the machine; use the machine.”

It has been an honor to have this opportunity of speaking to you on some of the things that are always in my mind. Nothing would give me greater pleasure and satisfaction than if they might be of some use and value to you in the future.

In closing, I would like to say how pleased I am to have had the opportunity of making friends with Dr. Smith, members of the Board of Control and the faculty. Furthermore, my wife and I are very happy to have been able to meet with and talk with many beautiful and kind ladies.


Flashback Friday: Snow Melt, Go Smelt

Group of people with nets
A group of happy smelt dippers near Chassell on April 19, 1958.

Spring in the Copper Country means that–finally!–the snow begins to melt, the songbirds return, and the smelt begin to run. When we talk about smelting at the Michigan Tech Archives, usually we’re referring to the process of turning milled copper into ingots under high heat. Spring brings a different meaning, one that’s more fun and more than a little fishy.

If you’ve lived around the Copper Country, odds are you’ve encountered a smelt or two, in the wild or on your plate. For the uninitiated, a smelt is a small fish about six to eight inches in length, though smelt elsewhere have been known to grow to more than two feet. The story goes that smelt were introduced into the St. Marys River downstate on four different occasions–unsuccessfully–as feed for sport salmon before someone stocked the inland Crystal Lake with them in 1912. It’s hard to find a small lake in Michigan that won’t connect with a Great Lake eventually. The smelt learned this as they traversed the waterways that led them to Lake Michigan, where they were first detected in 1923. By 1925, they had traveled to Lake Huron and by 1929 to Lake Ontario. They wouldn’t make it to Lake Erie until 1932. In between, in 1930, smelt showed up in Lake Superior. 

For a time, the smelt population in the Lake Superior region remained fairly small. Though the first sport salmon struggled, other fish like lake trout found the smelt to be a tasty snack. As Sea Grant Minnesota explains, though, when invasive sea lampreys arrived in the Great Lakes, they went after the fish that had kept the smelt at bay. In classic predator-prey form, the number of smelt soared. Meanwhile, the burgeoning population of smelt contributed to the problem by feeding on the larvae of cisco, or lake herring, which were also food for the lake trout. As long as the trout remained at bay, the smelt could frolic freely in Lake Superior and the streams that fed her. 

People waiting in line at lunch stand
Enterprising Chassell residents raised money for the Panthers sports teams by selling coffee, hot dogs, and sweets to the smelt dippers.

These predator-prey-invasive species dynamics helped to create the phenomenon of smelting, or smelt dipping, in the Upper Peninsula. With the warming temperatures of spring, as Fred Hartshorn explained in his piece for the publication Copper Country Anthem, “the jelly in the egg sack of female smelt starts to break up, telling her she should start up stream to spawn.” This movement, known colloquially as running, occurs when the water hits about 38 degrees Fahrenheit, generally in April. Locals eager to take advantage of the running smelt have descended on streams with hand nets for decades and especially since the population spiked in the middle of the last century, making a fishing trip virtually guaranteed to be successful. For many years, it wasn’t uncommon to see smelting parties of hundreds of fishermen descending on places like Chassell’s Pike River, armed with nets and ready to catch buckets full of the little fish to sell or eat.

Nowadays, the population of smelt is not nearly what it was in the heyday of smelt running, but people still flock to the streams in hopes of coming away with a bucket of the good stuff. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, smelt season goes through May 31, so grab your net and your fishing license, and head on out while the weather is fine!


Flashback Friday: The Sands of Mine

Image of dredge spraying water
A Calumet & Hecla dredge in action on Torch Lake

The Copper Country has its icons: Lake Superior, the Quincy No. 2 shaft-rockhouse, the Portage Lake Lift Bridge, to name a few. Those with a passion for industrial heritage or a penchant for exploring might also point to a landmark on Torch Lake. On the shoreline of the mill town of Mason along M-26, a rusted and decaying hulk looms out of the water. This industrial dinosaur, out of commission for decades and now known simply as “the dredge,” once cut an impressive figure as it and others like it trawled the lake in search of red metal.

Early in the heavy industrial period of the Copper Country, Torch Lake developed as a central location

Image of mills along Torch Lake
Map of Calumet & Hecla smelting and mill works. Notice the immense spread of stamp sand created near the Hecla Mill (right).

for company stamp mills. Copper, of course, does not come out of the ground already processed and molded into shining ingots; it is largely piecemeal, lodged in larger chunks of poor rock from which it must be removed. With steam-powered machines fueled by the abundant waters of Torch Lake, stamp mills crushed that rock into small pieces and sorted the usable copper from it. The sizable pieces of poor rock could be preserved for use in construction of roads or buildings. In the years before about 1910, however, the smallest fragments (tailings) offered little value to companies like Quincy and Calumet & Hecla. For the sake of convenience and cost, they dumped this waste material virtually wholesale into the adjacent lake.

The mining companies, however, kept an eye on and indeed played an important role in the development of innovative technologies that could improve their efficiency and maximize their profits. In the dawn of the twentieth century, however, new processes and devices offered the Copper Country’s bigger players a chance to turn their trash into cash. In March 1913, C&H chief metallurgist C. Harry Benedict received a patent for a procedure that would use ammonia solutions to “leach,” or drain, native copper from the rock containing it. We’ll skip the technical details for now, but interested readers might enjoy a description published in the professional Mining Journal in 1915. The sophisticated and yet logical system suddenly opened up possibilities for what historian Larry Lankton estimated as 152 acres of C&H tailings dumped in Torch Lake. Rather than waste, they were brimming with copper ready to be reclaimed.  

Before the copper could be leached from the rock with Benedict’s ammonia process, it had to come out of the lake. Here’s where the dredge sailed into the picture. Other mining districts, including parts of California, had just begun to adopt these large, multi-story vessels to scoop up river rock in search of gold, and C&H quickly got on board. A report in the Mining and Scientific Press described the proposed operations of the company’s new dredge:

“This old tailing, after passing through the usual pipe-line supported on pontoons, will discharge at a point on the shore of the lake near the regrinding plant, where a second set of suction pumps will pick it up and raise it to a set of classifying and dewatering tanks… the main dredge has a capacity much greater than the rest of the plant… and a portion of the sand pumped will be diverted to fill the excavation [of the lake] made during the winter.”

Image of dredge inner workings
Inside a Calumet & Hecla dredge

The dredge that arrived to begin the reclamation process in about 1915 was the handiwork of South Milwaukee’s Bucyrus-Erie Company, and, according to one Daily Mining Gazette article, weighed some 1150 tons. A second dredge, also with a hull and machine by Bucyrus, arrived in 1924; the company appears to have owned a third only briefly. Until the 1950s, the dredges did exactly what C&H had hoped, scooping up over 50 million tons of Torch Lake tailings that produced 423 million pounds of copper. Men from the mill towns of Hubbell, Lake Linden, and other settlements in particular found employment in the C&H reclamation division, which pioneer Benedict–in a remark that may seem somewhat self-aggrandizing–credited as preventing the complete collapse of the Copper Country when prices for the mineral fell in the wake of World War I.

Dredge submerged in Torch Lake
The sinking of a Quincy dredge

The Quincy Mining Company also got into the reclamation game, but their dredge purchases came much later. Buck Construction in Superior built the house of their first dredge; Bucyrus provided the hull and machinery. Quincy Dredge #1 began its work in about 1943 and sank unceremoniously into the lake on January 15, 1956. It remains there, hidden under the gently lapping waters, to this day. This sinking, however, did not put Quincy out of the reclamation business. Shortly before, C&H had sold its original dredge to the competition. According to the Gazette, Quincy operated this grand old vessel until 1967, when its work was over, and it collapsed, exhausted, on the stamp sand beach.

Thus ended the era of copper reclamation on Torch Lake, and so began the slow decay of an icon. Today, it bears the rust and rot marks of time and the scars left by visitors. In spite of its infirmities, the dredge offers a fascinating testament to the ingenuity and scientific advance of the copper mines and the industrial heyday of the Keweenaw Peninsula.


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: 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: Women’s History Month

Biography - Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks at a press conference at Michigan Technological University, May 20, 1989.
Biography - Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks poses for a photo after the press conference.

Today marks the beginning of Women’s History Month. This years national theme is Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence. To help kick-off the month our Flashback Friday pays tribute to a national treasure and icon of peace, Rosa Parks. Parks, an American activist in the civil rights movement best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, was an honored guest at Michigan Tech during the 1989 spring commencement exercises. She spoke at the graduation ceremony and also received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the program. While on campus she also engaged with the university community through a press conference and various discussions with campus leaders and students.

Please be sure to check our other social media outlets throughout the month of March for various posts dedicated to the many visionary women of Michigan Tech!

 


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: 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.