If you look at a good outline map of the southwest shore of Lake Superior, notice that it has the appearance of sequential film frames showing the growth of a peninsula. First is the infant stage that stretches out to the Apostle Islands. Moving eastward, the new peninsula seems to have grown considerably. This thrust of land reaches out for Manitou Island. Further east, the final, adult stage corresponds to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, or the U. P., as the residents (or yoopers) call it.

We will sail quite a distance after leaving the Bad River Indian Reservation, before passing another settlement of any size. First we reach the mouth of the Montreal River, which forms the boundary here between Wisconsin and Michigan. A lot of timber from the Montreal River Lumber Company made its way down to the Lake at one time, now the area's noted for nearby ski slopes. About fifteen miles upriver lie the iron-mining centers of Hurley, Wisconsin, and Ironwood, Michigan. By the 1890s the region was shipping out almost 3,000,000 tons of iron ore every season.

Ironwood, settled on the east bank in 1885, was named for a local mine captain named James Wood, nicknamed "Iron". Its story is told by Internet writer Joe Carlson in his essay, A Not-So-Serious Glimpse Back on the History of Ironwood . The town grew rapidly, and three years after its founding had a population of a thousand souls. Mining towns seem to attract bands; Ironwood had four in 1890. Parades were popular, especially in '98, with the Spanish-American War in full swing. Every organization in town seems to have participated, including a float with the "girls" of Paddy O'Neill's saloon, many recently out of jail. In the late nineties, Ironwood had grown to nearly 10,000 people.

Things have quieted down quite a bit since then. Carlson makes it sound a little like the fictional Cicely, Alaska, of the Northern Exposure television series. Cows and horses no longer wander through town (I guess that goes for moose, too). "but we can watch cars and pickup trucks fall into potholes."

But the Wisconsin town had the more outrageous reputation. The setting of Edna Ferber's novel Come and Get It , Hurley was known as the hell hole of the Gogebic Range. An old saying among the ironworkers on the Lakes was that the four toughest places in the world were Cumberland, Hayward, Hurley and Hell. The saloons, dance halls and ladies of the evening lining the infamous Silver Street guaranteed that the most red-blooded, redeye guzzling, red-dust-covered, red light district roue could exchange the rough-and-tumble work in the mines for some equally rough relaxation. Or at least as long as he didn't light his see-gar while he sat on top of the dynamite wagon.

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

©1998 David Minor / Eagles Byte