On This Date: Photo taken 8/8/2006

Grand Portage National Monument, in northern Minnesota, on Lake Superior near the Canadian border. Grand Portage was the frontier headquarters for the North West Company, trading goods for furs.

The national monument’s a reconstructed fort/trading post, not unlike Michilimackinac at Mackinaw City in Michigan. The buildings and displays–not to mention the scenery–are worth the trip, though it’s kind of out of the way unless you’re already north of Duluth.

Number of pix taken on various August 8ths: 1127
Year of oldest photo: 1991

How I Rated the Date’s Photographs:

  • 1 Star: 13
  • 2 Stars: 154
  • 3 Stars: 726
  • 4 Stars: 217
  • 5 Stars: 17

There’s a Gap in Strange Highway

There's a Gap in Strange Highway

On This Date: Photo taken 2/13/2015.

Strange isn’t actually strange–it’s named for an early white settler and his family–but it is intermittent. I’m pretty sure it used to continue down this stretch, but the maps suggest this mile’s been gone for over a century.

By the way, I’ve used this title before.

‘Twas pretty much this pic or the cat.

Of the 36 February 13 photographs, over half were variations on a pile of books taken for my 2012 photo-a-day project. Another group were new-camera experiments taken with the D70. There were two versions of another photo taken from the same location and at the same time as this pic.

And a handful of really bad, mostly hurried, photos. The selection’s really quite poor on Feb 13.

Also, but not counted: I took about a dozen photos for an eBay auction in 2007, and I twice took pics or scans of documents for SABR members doing baseball research projects on this date. Evidently the thought of “Pitchers and Catchers” kickstarts thoughts about other things baseball.

See? This pic or the cat.

Number of pix taken on various February 13ths: 36
Year of oldest photo: 2003

How I Rated the Date’s Photographs:

  • 1 Star: 0
  • 2 Stars: 19
  • 3 Stars: 16
  • 4 Stars: 1
  • 5 Stars: 0

A Fine Place for a City by Nick Kekic: a review

This is a far better book than I expected. While it can be viewed as a biography of Kalamazoo’s founder, Titus Bronson, structurally it’s five short essays exploring aspects of his life and character. Along the way you get a lot of information about the early history of Kalamazoo County, learn a bit about Kalamazoo’s other founders, explore probably more of the history of English Puritanism than you perhaps want, and get a good description of the busiest land office in history. Nicely done.

And the map on the cover–Bronson’s original plat of the village–is just delightful.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

The East India Company, 1784-1834 by C.H. Philips: a short review

This is a terrific book. The focus is the interactions between the East India Company directorate (called the Court) and the Parliament’s Board of Control (generally with the Board’s president, as the board rarely met), so the emphasis is on the internal dynamics of the Court and on the ever-changing relationship between the two authorities. This is, therefore, essentially a book about politics, writ large and small.

Moreover, the book’s primarily about the principal actors in the negotiations; minor players are often mentioned but are rarely given more than cursory notice. It helped a whole lot that I was already familiar with some of the figures participating; even so, I needed to review the biographies of Henry and Robert Dundas, and to remind myself of the Indian roles of the Wellesleys.

All that said, this wasn’t the book I’d hoped to read. I was hoping for more about the routine activities of the merchants and shippers. While there’s certainly information about those ventures in this book, it’s pretty much incidental to the main discussion. I may have to hunt down another book.

Just a short note on the ebook conversion….

This was originally an academic work published in 1940. The ebook is built from an excellent scan, and in general the conversion went well. But–what to do about the footnotes? The original manuscript had footnotes on each page, numbered from 1 to whatever. Preserving that format was clearly not an option, so instead the notes became chapter endnotes–with their original numbers. This was likely a mistake, as a routine result of following a hyperlinked footnote is to find a page with two or three footnotes numbered 2 (or whatever). Figuring out which note was relevant to your interest can be a bit problematical.

Better, I’d think, to change the numbering system. It’s not like abandoning the original numbers would damage the book.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Portrait and biographical album of Barry and Eaton counties, Mich. by Chapman Bros: a review

This book–like all Chapman Brothers books with similar titles–is pretty much what the title says: a collection of biographies of folks and families who lived in Eaton and Barry Counties in 1891. The local biographies are preceded by a couple hundred pages of biographical sketches of the presidents of the United States and governors of Michigan.

The Chapman Brothers mass produced similar books for many Midwestern counties by selling subscriptions and sending out questionnaires. If you paid the subscription fee and returned the survey your biography would be printed in a book, which would arrive for you to place on your bookshelf. Chapman’s staff members in Chicago turned the questionnaires into very formulaic biographies, which were gathered into the book in no evident order. The resulting bios are as reliable as their sources–which varies, of course–and as interesting as the information the sources provided. Any impression one might get of local history or local geography is incidental and unintentional. That does not much meet my research interest.

For my purposes, the book is pretty frustrating. With no historical overview in the book, no deliberate organization, and neither maps nor other geographical clues, trying to glean any understanding of local history is difficult. Moreover, the template used to compose the biographies becomes pretty aggravating after the third or fourth example–you get a brief overview of the subject’s life, then reviews of his parents’ life stories, then back to the original person’s bio with more detail and perhaps a story or two. Unless you’re otherwise familiar with the person whose life’s being summarized, by the time you get to the meat of the composition you’ve often forgotten the subject’s name.

Another issue is the subscription model. Lacking either a geographical or alphabetical organization, I made searches for people and places I was aware of in both counties. These searches often came up empty, even for families I know to have been resident in the area around 1890. This, of course, indicates that the Dow and McCargar families, to pick two prominent Roxand Township clans, were uninterested in subscribing–which is OK, to be sure, but it leaves important gaps in the story. Side issue: This book consistently calls this township Roxana, and never calls it Roxand. I’m quite tempted to do so myself.

I do not mean to imply that this book has no value. I found a (somewhat) useful biography of Sylvanus Peabody, for instance, and now know a bit about him; this is information I’d not found elsewhere and knew I wanted. Which is a clue about the book’s usefulness: If one of the biographies is someone who’s interesting to you, it’s probably useful. That’s reason enough to locate a copy, and keep it around. But if you’re looking for an overview of local history, the Chapman books likely won’t meet your need.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Deckhand by Nelson “Mickey” Haydamacker and Alan D. Millar: a short review

This is a brief (100+ pages) “as-told-to”, with Haydamacker the storyteller and Millar the transcriber/editor. Both did excellent jobs, and produced an interesting book about the day-to-day life of deckhands on Great Lakes freighters in the early 1960s.

Mickey Haydamacher was just out of high school and looking for a job. He grew up near (and on) the St. Clair River and had family members who crewed on lakers, so he applied for a job with the Interlake Steamship Company. This book is his retelling of his two years as a deckhand on Interlake ships.

The book’s subtitle, “Life on Freighters of the Great Lakes,” is a good description of its contents. This is a book about everyday life–fighting to open and close hatches, washing things down, surviving the weather, sharing a smoke, visiting waterfront bars. It’s also about friendships, growing up a bit, and getting on with life.

The author served on (then-)new boats–the Eldon Hoyt 2nd and J.L. Mauthe–and a “bucket of bolts”–Col. James Pickands–so he can make some valuable best-and-worst comparisons. He visited most of the upper lakes ports, and tells tales about a few of those. But mostly it’s a book about his ships, his shipmates, and the things he did every day on the ships.

It’s a different perspective than offered by most who write about lakes shipping. It’s well done, and worth your time.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

The Burlington Fire

The recent fire at West Michigan’s ballyard set me to searching for coverage of the only comparable event in Midwest League history, the fire at Community Field in Burlington, Iowa, on June 8, 1971. The best treatment I could locate was in the Des Moines Register on June 10.

The caption under Larry Neibergall’s front page photo read:

Firemen play streams of water on the burning grandstand at Burlington’s Community Field early Wednesday in a futile effort to save the stadium. Loss in the fire, which swept through the wooden structure, was estimated at $75,000. John Cox, general manager of the Burlington Bees professional team which plays its home games at the field, said he was working in the office at the stadium late Tuesday and though he heard a noise outside. He went to investigate and found a section of the grandstand in flames. Cox escaped moments before the grandstand collapsed.

There was more detail on page 2-8:

Burlington Damage Set At $75,000

A fire Tuesday night which practically destroyed Community Field, home of Burlington’s Midwest League baseball team, caused an estimated $75,000 damage, authorities revealed Wednesday.

The Bees’ office said workmen were tearing down the charred remains of the grandstand in preparation for this weekend’s action. The park’s new lighting system, with the exception of one pole, remained intact.

Bee General Manager John Cox was working in the team’s offices at the park when the fire broke out. Cox said he heard what sounded like footsteps outside his office at about 11:30 pm.

Cox investigated, but found no one. A short time later, he investigated again and discovered the first-base stands ablaze.

The fire destroyed one dugout, a concession stand, the press box, the team’s offices, a ticket booth and most of the wooden grandstands.

A car parked outside the grandstand belonging to Bee player Tommy Sandt was destroyed by the blaze, but three other autos and a camper were moved in time after their windows were broken. The Bees’ home uniforms were at the cleaners and escaped the fire.

The ball park, constructed in the 1940s, is owned by the American Legion, which leases it to the city. The city, in turn, leases the facility to the Burlington Baseball Association, which operates the Bees.

The Bees, who were playing at Appleton, Wis., Tuesday night, are scheduled to return home Sunday night for a game with Quincy, Ill. A high school doubleheader between Assumption of Davenport and Burlington was played at the stadium just hours before the fire.

The Burlington High School Invitation baseball tournament will go on as scheduled Saturday at the stadium, which will have temporary bleachers.

Burlington’s current facility dates from the 1973 season.

Found the newspaper coverage via

A Sioux story of the war by Wamditanka: a short review

This is a journal article, not a book, although it’s available as an ebook from the Internet Archive.

This article offers a different perspective on the Minnesota events reported in Theodore Potter’s Autobiography, which I’ve recently reviewed here. The “author,” also known as Big Eagle, was an officer on the Indian side during the second battles at New Ulm and Fort Ridgely. Big Eagle talks about the reasons for the war, the tribal politics of the decision to go to war, and gives accounts of the battles he participated in. The narrative generally rings true, and is therefore interesting, but there are some problems.

The first problem is that it’s a translated interview. The interviewers and the interviewee had no common language. While the transcription appears to be a good-faith effort, the method is problematical. Nonetheless, it appears to be a good effort.

The second problem is that the interview occurred over 30 years after the events described. Of course, Potter’s account was written even further from the events, but age and subsequent events often make the past hazy, even for first-person accounts.

The third problem is Big Eagle’s need to constantly proclaim his Christian faith, and to contrast it with his former heathen beliefs. This is distracting, and does not contribute much to the story; it also tends to undermine the reader’s confidence in the interview subject’s perspective.

It’s a short article, and well worth reading if you’re interested.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

The Autobiography of Theodore Edgar Potter: a review

In 1890 I sold my Vermontville farm and bought another in the same county, located on the new line of railroad being built by the Pere Marquette Railroad where I laid out the present village of Mulliken, Michigan, and continued a few years longer as a farmer with an incidental lumber business. My Mulliken farm I soon sold to my eldest son and purchased a quarter interest in the Potter Furniture Manufacturing Company at Lansing, Michigan, which city has been my home for the past thirteen years.

I live on Potter Street in Mulliken, and that quotation explains why I read this book. I’m pretty sure that 1890 date is wrong, as the railroad line and settlement both date from 1888, but we’ll allow an old man that error. I stumbled across this while looking for something else, so I snagged an electronic copy of the book. It’s far better than I expected, though potential readers should be cautioned that it describes many brutal events.

Potter was a competent writer and a gifted story-teller. His memoir is largely concerned with the years from 1852 to 1865, during which the author joined the California gold rush, took part (after a fashion) in William Walker’s Nicaraguan filibuster, visited New York, New Orleans, and Saint Louis, and took up residence in southern Minnesota. He was a captain in the militia which defended New Ulm during the Dakota War of 1862; later he was a Union officer whose troops participated at the fringe of the Battle of Nashville–mostly they chased, and sometimes caught, partisan guerillas. Some years later he was involved in the apprehension of the Younger brothers gang, again in southern Minnesota.

Theodore Potter–it’s pretty clear his friends called him Ed–was born in Saline, Michigan, in 1832. His family moved to Eaton County (at or near what became Potterville) in 1845 and Potter spent his teen years in the area. The first chapter largely tells of his teenage escapades; these tales have a delightful grasp of the local geography. About half the book recounts his California adventure; in tone and in substance it’s much like Twain’s Roughing It, and enjoyable for pretty much the same reasons. The Minnesota portion of the book is largely devoted to describing the Dakota War and the Army’s subsequent efforts to quell the rebellion, and is an exceptional rendering of what folks call “the fog of war.” While the last chapter describes his encounter with the Youngers, it also provides a sketchy overview of his subsequent life (through, apparently, 1904; the book was published in 1913, three years after Potter’s death.)

A few notes: It’s fair to say that Potter was sympathetic to the plight of the plains Indians, except when they were threatening his family and neighbors. He had far less sympathy for the rebel cause. The author’s wife gets surprisingly little mention, though their marriage lasted over fifty years. And the book describes a surprising number of truly gruesome events.

In 1916 the Minnesota Historical Society published a version of Potter’s account of the Indian war, which is available here. (A casual check seems to show it to be nearly identical to the account in this book, with some changes.) The footnotes published with the MNHS account make it clear that while Potter’s memory of details cannot be fully trusted, his account is essentially true. One would reasonably suppose that to hold true for the rest of his story.

Ed Potter’s life wasn’t particularly remarkable, as he notes on the last page of his book. It was, however, not an untypical life for a man born on the American frontier before the Civil War, and he recounted it well. The book deserves more attention than it’s received.

This ebook is a 254-page Google scan, though my copy’s via the Internet Archive. The scan deserves a couple comments. The first 180 pages are excellent, with only the minor punctuation and capitalization errors which plague most OCR scans. These are followed by a half-dozen pages of often-garbled text, with usual result that the reader’s obliged to guess occasional words and to sometimes puzzle out the meaning of entire sentences. After this rocky stretch, the scan returns to the previous excellent rendering. Then from pages 244 through the end the scan remains excellent but the text retains the page headers that had evidently been edited out of the rest of the book. It is, all in all, an odd rendering that defies obvious explanation. Overall, though, it’s unusually readable for a Google scan.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.