The question comes up: Why did you use the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a backdrop for your novel MOTHER LODE? Did you grow up there? No, I’m from Lower Michigan— Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor. But my mother was raised in Ripley, a small town near Hancock. We used to visit my grandmother when I was a child. I remember her gardens, the tulips growing down the hillside, which she sold—in part to support herself. I recall the old well, the steep hill behind the house that led up to the Quincy Mine, the wrap-around porch with the Concord grapes I learned to love, and best of all the view of Portage Lake, with its parade of vessels, both pleasure and ommercial, plying the waters below. The other reason I chose Mining Country in which to place my story is that the mines became a metaphor for the lives of my characters, whose secrets and twisted passions lay as deeply below the surface as the copper they thrived on.
In 1845 huge deposits of copper were discovered in the Keweenaw Peninsula—the upper part of the Upper Peninsula, four years before the gold rush in California. It never created the romance that the gold rush did because it was not something a single man could go after and get rich, as little of it was on the surface. One had to work for a mining company at very poor wages. People came from every part of Europe, hoping to better their lives, but the money was in the East. Less than five percent of stock was owned by residents of Keweenaw.
Within ten years The Copper Country, as it is known, became a
hub of activity. As many as thirty-six trains rode the rails in key cities of Houghton, Hancock and Calumet. Demand for copper for electrical wire, the Civil War and WWI called for it. Copperdom became a significant part of the Industrial Revolution. Commerce of every kind reigned in these parts, including 99 saloons in Calumet alone!
Entertainment was big too. Enrico Caruso, Sarah Berhardt, Lillian Russell and Douglas Fairbanks were among those who strode the boards of theatres in Copperdom. The beautiful Opera House, which we visited in Calumet opened in 1900, with electric lighting from a chandelier.
In about 1920 the demand for copper tapered off due to an abundance of it produced at that time, and also, although there was still copper in the mines, it was too deep to make it financially viable to go after. Many of the mines were over a vertical mile deep!
So this is a bit of history– maybe more later if it interests you. Please leave comments. And where are you from? Let’s share stories.
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‘Til next time,