March 3, 2001

If you look at a peninsula on a map and it reminds you of a thumb sticking out into the water, look at the lands surrounding the western Great Lakes. They're obviously all thumbs. The most obvious is the one on Michigan's east coast formed by the indentation of Saginaw Bay, the one that gives the state's lower peninsula roughly the appearance of a mitten. We've already passed the Keewenaw, and the smaller one trailing off into the Apostle Islands, both on the upper peninsula, a thumb in its own right. But now, as we sail out of the head of Green Bay, hugging the eastern shore, we are passing the long, thin thumb, or finger if you prefer, of the Door Peninsula. The land is the remaining portion of the white dolomite Niagara Escarpment glacial ridge that was partially washed out when the waters of Lake Michigan pushed westward and turned a narrow lake into Green Bay, literally forming a doorway.

The first white man to pass by the tip of the Door, not having stopped to ask for directions of course, had not reached his intended destination. The natives must have been extremely impressed with Jean Nicolet as his canoe landed on shore. His clothing was described as, "a grand robe of China damask, all strewn with flowers and birds of many colors." Not your typical voyageur outfit. It probably didn't take him too long to figure out that these deerskin-clad natives were not citizens of Marco Polo's Cathay, and that he would not be having Chinese take-out this evening. Other French explorers would follow, and receive less friendly welcomes - by the waters, winds and currents of the bay. A National Geographic writer in the 1960s described seeing a two-foot thick cover of ice cleared from the waters in one fourteen-hour period. Many vessels did not survive such conditions, but sank with what another writer, Jake Page, has described as, "cunning regularity:" Those who did survive these ordeals soon began calling the area Porte des Morts, or Door of Death. At a later date the name would not sit well with the local chamber of commerce and would be shortened to just Door.

Door County, which makes up most of the peninsula, has more lighthouses, state parks and shoreline than any other county in the U. S. The towns, such as Sturgeon Bay, Ellison Bay, and Detroit Harbor are popular with summer tourists, especially in the peak cherry season in the north, when the bluffs are splashed with blossoms of pink that would rival Nicolet's robes. Citizens of Egg Harbor enjoy describing the day when the jokers of a trading flotilla began lobbing hardtack at each other, then switched to eggs, giving the village its name. Sturgeon Bay, the county seat, lies halfway up the peninsula, along the short canal that connects the bay with Lake Michigan. During World War II many of the patrol craft (or PCs) and subchasers defending Allied shipping were built here. Through the years shipmasters in nearby waters had other things than subs to concern them. La Salle's Griffin, the first European vessel built on the Great Lakes, disappeared from history near here, as did the Lucia A. Simpson, last of the full-rigged schooners on the lakes. Perhaps the best-known in recent history was the three-masted schooner Rouse Simmons, sunk in a November ice storm in 1912 while on its way to Chicago. It's cargo, hundreds of Christmas trees bond for Windy City revelers, were found clogging the nets of fishermen around the lake all the following summer.
For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor


Quaife, Milo M. - American Lakes Series: Lake Michigan (Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill, 1944)

Page, Jake - Wisconsin's Door Country (National Geographic Taveler, July/August 1990)




French explorer Jean Nicolet traveled west and arrived at Lake Michigan's Green Bay, thinking he'd reached China. He was far from the only European who made that mistake. For decades the concept of a separate North American continent was unsuspected. Men were certain that somewhere in this western country lay the rich lands of Cathay they had heard about in travelers' tales, the source of rich silks and exotic spices. Asia and North America must, they felt, be the same, if only they looked in the right place. As we would have said a decade or so ago - NOT!! The first travelers to whet the appetites of entrepreneurs of Spain, France, Britain, Germany and Italy were the Venetian Polo family (this site contends the Polos were actually from Korcula, Dalmatia, just across the Adriatic - decide for yourself). For a good introduction to Marco Polo hie theee off to the MARCO POLO & KORCULA site at
There you'll find a long essay, a detailed summary of Marco Polo's book Million, describing his adventures, including the arduous round trip and their lengthy stay at the court of the overlord Kublai-Khan. There are also articles on a Battle off Korcula, Marco Polo and the Venetian Government, and Literary Works that Feature Marco Polo. Not to mention links to an ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA article about Marco Polo, and a Polo genealogy. So, Go West Young Surfer. Or was that East?



The Game's Afoot !!


© 2001 David Minor / Eagles Byte