July 1, 2000


If there's one thing the Chamber of Commerce of Manistique, Michigan, sells it's - well, I'll let them tell it. "Visitors trade traffic jams and hectic work schedules for scenic beauty and a collection of shops, restaurants, along with interesting places to visit." Its days as a lumbering center are long past, now it manufactures serenity, a commodity it shares with the rest of this upper end of Lake Michigan. In the past its main attraction was the fact that its harbor was the only one in the Upper Peninsula to remain ice-free all year. (Of course, if others didn't, the competitive edge was somewhat blunted).

After leaving the light on St. Helena, the boater glides past small islands, villages only slightly larger, and great stretches of Lake Superior State Forest. Past Manistique (the name an Indian one meaning Vermillion, due to the color of the water), this end of the lake will soon become extremely jagged, sharp points of land separated by deep bays. Take a look at a map of the lake and it becomes evident that the bays are actually the northern reaches of Wisconsin's Green Bay, courtesy of the glaciers.

Arriving at Manistique travelers learn that there are a few breaks in the serenity, if they absolutely have to do something. First of all, while they wait around to see the sidewalks being rolled up at night, they can amble on over and watch the siphon bridge do its thing. When U. S. 2 crossed the flume, completed in 1920 to carry water to the pulp and paper company, the two pathways hit an impasse. Faced with a fast-moving chute of water that would quickly weaken most bridge supports, engineers engineered and slide rules slid. The final, ingenious solution was to divert part of the flume's contents to a channel four feet below and float the highway on top of the racing jet of water. If you're of a certain age, you may have read about it in Ripley's Believe It or Not.

Quiet as Manistique may be, the community of Fayette would be more so, except for today's tourists. Named for Fayette Brown, a director of the Jackson Iron Company, the town out on the Garden Peninsula was established in 1867, as a site for the production of charcoal from the U. P.'s timber. Local blast furnaces would burn the charcoal to produce pig iron from the mines. When the timber gave out 20 years later it became much more economical to ship both coal and ore to mills in the lower Lakes, cutting out the intermediate step. The townsite was sold off in 1920. Today the almost ghost town is operated as a reconstructed village.

Surrounded by all this serenity, it may seem ironic that the region's major impact on history will be carried on the shoulders of a quiet laborer on the Manistique Railroad, a loner with a deadly mission, who would travel to a city at the other end of the Lakes in 1901, and put an abrupt, violent end to a presidency. A loner named Leon Czolgasz.

OUTRO For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor

© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte