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Crossing the border

September 8, 2010
By Ted Rowe

Forty-two years ago I crossed the border from Minnesota to Michigan. That is an unusual border to cross and many folks might not even know that such a border crossing exists thinking that you would have to cross Wisconsin (via Superior and Bayfield and such) to get to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Not so. Probably the most common border crossing from Minnesota to Michigan is by taking the ferry from Grand Portage, Minnesota, across to Isle Royal National Park that is part of the famous Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

In that summer of 1968 I had been taking graduate courses in statistics at the University of Minnesota as part of a National Science Foundation program. Four of us had decided to do a little sight seeing along the north shore of Lake Superior. Gene had taken the initiative to map out our journey. He was interested in traveling in general so we were willing followers. After we had finished our coursework at the U, we did more extensive traveling heading west to the Rockies, stopping at the Black Hills, heading on to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, then south into the eastern edge of Idaho in order to find the marker of the birthplace of Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who was responsible for Mt. Rushmore. Borglum was born in St. Charles, Idaho. Now that is a stop most people would never have thought of putting on their itinerary, but Gene is a most unusual person.

We continued on to Arches National Monument, then off to the middle of nowhere so we could be photographed with each of the four of us standing in a different state - the four corners area of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Gene is of Italian decent - he would correct anyone on the pronunciation saying, "[it] was not pronounced eye-talian - you certainly don't say eye-taly do you?" However, he was not above making fun of names of others like the time when we were having a sandwich in Jackson Hole, Wyo., shortly after the Republican National Convention when he asked for a Spiro Agnew Sandwich. The waitress had said something like, "Spiro what?" Of course at that time not many people had heard of soon to become Vice President Spiro Agnew.

Within a couple of years of that trip, Gene had accepted a position with the Unites States Information Agency and though now retired, he has been stationed all over the world, so has had the chance to cross many borders. Coincidentally while stationed in Panama he came to know two musicians from here in Marshall, Julieta Alvarado (harpsichord) and Daniel Rieppel (piano.)

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All of the above I began thinking about because my wife and I were in the U.P. last week so I thought about that crossing the border from Minnesota to Michigan. My wife is a native Yooper (derived from U.P.-er) so I am an adopted Yooper. The trip last week was the second time this summer when we were in the U.P. Earlier we had traveled across it on our driving trip to Montreal, Canada. That trip we had taken in order to cross the Mackinac (pronounced Mack-in-aw) Bridge, a magnificent engineering feat that connects the U.P. to the lower peninsula. The Mackinac Bridge had been completed in 1957. Before that, the only crossing was by ferry which I had done with my parents and family when my brother had been stationed at Sawyer AFB in Marquette, Mich. I had also been across the Mackinac Bridge shortly after its construction when my brother-in-law had been stationed with the air force in the Sioux Ste. Marie area.

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Though the U.P. comprises about a fourth of the land mass of the state of Michigan, it has only about 3 percent of its population. When Michigan was a territory in the early 1800s, the U.P. was sort of an afterthought. Its boundaries were actually settled in a bargaining that involved the state of Ohio. The western part of the U.P. especially was signed off to Michigan with the Toledo strip going to Ohio. A document from that time said that the U.P. was a "sterile region of the shores of Lake Superior destined by soil and climate to remain forever a wilderness."

Michigan became a state in 1837 and shortly thereafter, in the 1840s, the true value of the U.P. was recognized. Copper and iron deposits were discovered, particularly in the Keweenaw (that finger-shaped peninsula that sticks out into Lake Superior). Soon more mineral wealth came from the U.P. than that of the California Gold Rush. The Soo Locks connecting Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes was opened in 1855 and by the 1860s the U.P. supplied 90 percent of American copper ore. The copper mines were at their peak in the late 1800s and early 1900s, almost closed down during the Great Depression, but reopened again during WWII. None of the copper mines are still operating.

The economy of the region is currently heavily dependent on tourism. Winter sports, especially skiing, are active especially in those areas that get the lake effect. Some communities have received 390 inches of snow a year! Gosh, did I really mean to talk about snow this early in the fall?

Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!

 
 

 

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