PA “Witchcraft” Part 2: Hex Hollow

Now I have a real-life tale about a witchcraft allegation that ended in murder. This took place in Stewartstown (York County) in 1928.  So, just like the fictional Nancy Drew mystery The Witch Tree Symbol, this took place in South Central Pennsylvania.

I first heard about this event through Aaron Mahnke’s Lore Podcast. If you want to listen to Aaron Mahnke’s tale, it is Episode 62: Desperate Measures, dated June 11, 2017.

Keep in mind the following:

  • Large numbers of German immigrants settled in PA in the centuries after William Penn established his colony in the 1680’s. (In fact, I’m German-American on both sides of my family.)
  • In the 1600’s and 1700’s, immigrants from a specific region of Germany, with its own German dialect, settled in Eastern and Central PA. This group was known in German as the “Deutsch.”  Outsiders confused the word “Deutsch” with the word “Dutch.” As a result, outsiders referred to them as the “Pennsylvania Dutch.”
  • However, this group did NOT descend from the Dutch. (See above.)
  • Not all German immigrants to PA were Deutsch.
  • The term “Pennsylvania Dutch” developed to include a variety of Christian affiliations with different beliefs and practices. The Christian German immigrants in this region included the following affiliations: Lutheran, German Reformed, and Anabaptists. (The Anabaptists included Mennonites and Amish.)
  • I absolutely DON’T imply that all “Pennsylvania Dutch” observed the beliefs mentioned in this blog post.

So here’s what happened: in the late 1800’s / early 1900’s, a man named Nelson Rehmeyer lived in a farmhouse in what came to be known as “Hex Hollow,” also known as “Rehmeyer’s Hollow.”

Rehmeyer practiced “pow-wow medicine,” or “pow-wowing.” This practice depended on traditions of some Pennsylvania Dutch, as well as on the book Pow-Wows; or, Long Lost Friend. “Pow-wow medicine” included elements of faith-healing and witchcraft.

In the early 1900’s, Rehmeyer used pow-wowing to treat a very ill young boy named John Blymire. Blymire recovered.

As Blymire grew up, he studied “pow-wowing” himself. He set up his own “pow-wow medicine” practice.

However, as Blymire entered his 30’s, his health failed him again. He suspected that somebody put a hex on him.

In 1928, Blymire consulted Nellie Noll, the famous local “River Witch of Marietta.” Noll “confirmed” to Blymire that Nelson Rehmeyer had put a hex on Blymire.

Blymire believed that he needed to destroy Rehmeyer’s copy of Long Lost Friend and also bury a lock of Rehmeyer’s hair in order to break the hex and restore his own health.

Blymire recruited two teenagers to help him break into Rehmeyer’s house in “Hex Hollow.”  They confronted Rehmeyer. They demanded that Rehmeyer surrender his copy of Long Lost Friend.

Rehmeyer refused to surrender his book. So, the trio beat Rehmeyer to death and then they set Rehmeyer’s house on fire in hopes that this would break the hex.

The house did not burn down. All three men were tried, convicted, and imprisoned. The “York Witch Trial” made national headlines.

Rehmeyer’s house still stands.

York County renamed the hollow “Spring Valley Park.” Per my review of the county website, the public can rent a picnic pavilion at this park.

Disclosure: I was born in South Central PA. I lived in rural Perry County until I turned seven. My family patronized Amish businesses there. I’ve never been to Spring Valley Park. Also, I’ve never been to Dutch Wonderland, the amusement park in Lancaster. My family visited Knoebels Grove instead.

What experiences have you had in Central Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania “Witchcraft” Part 1: Nancy Drew is a Witch in Amish Country

This summer I Googled books that take place in Pennsylvania.

I found The Witch Tree Symbol, by Carolyn Keene, which is one of the original Nancy Drew mysteries.

The book took place in Central PA Dutch country – Lancaster County. It involved the Amish community.

I once loved Nancy Drew books and I also grew up in PA locales that included Amish farms, so I purchased this book for a fun read.

My (used) copy listed copyright dates of 1955 and 1975.

First, I want to say something about the author: I grew up thinking that Carolyn Keene wrote my favorite Nancy Drew books. It turned out that “Carolyn Keene” was a pseudonym. Edward Stratemeyer hired several ghost writers, including his daughter Harriet, to write the original Nancy Drew books. I learned on Wikipedia that Harriet Stratemeyer Adams wrote The Witch Tree Symbol.

I read The Witch Tree Symbol in one afternoon, in one sitting. I may have also read this book when I was twelve – I don’t remember.

Now, I DO want to call out the original Nancy Drew books for something that has bothered me ever since I was a kid: the constant fat-shaming.  The Witch Tree Symbol brought its own pile of this nonsense. The “plump” characters did a bunch of really dumb things. Some of them (cough, Nancy’s sidekick Bess, cough) talked constantly about food. The author also mentioned throughout the book that the “plump” characters were “nervous.” (The first page of this book made sure to refer to Nancy as slender and attractive.)

So this is how the book started: Mrs. Tenney, Nancy’s “plump” neighbor in fictional River Heights, New Jersey, did something stupid. Mrs. Tenney’s stupidity resulted in the theft of her inheritance. The inheritance included twin coffee tables which were valuable due to a vague GEORGE WASHINGTON connection. The coffee tables were the most highly prized part of the inheritance. However, the fleeing Coffee Table Thief dropped a picture of a Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign.

Nancy deduced that the Coffee Table Thief fled to Lancaster County, PA.

Nancy and her sidekicks travelled to Lancaster County and solved the mystery – sort of. They located the missing coffee tables. They discovered in the process that one of the coffee tables was actually a replica and thus GEORGE WASHINGTON never touched it. However, they didn’t actually track down the Coffee Table Thief. The police located the Coffee Table Thief.

However, before Nancy found the coffee tables, the Coffee Table Thief managed to convince a significant part of the local Amish farmers that Nancy practiced witchcraft. Several members of the local community expelled Nancy from their property. Nancy could not interview “witnesses” until she convinced folks that she was not a witch.

I learned some new things about Amish culture and cuisine from this story.

I still maintain that The Witch Tree Symbol was a weird mystery.

Spoiler alert: It turned out that the Coffee Table Thief descended from a local Amish family that has seen SEVERAL family members disappear without a trace over the years. Nancy learned about a hidden sinkhole on that family’s farm. The sinkhole sat above a “crystal cave.” Years ago, one of the thief’s distant family members fell in love with a “gypsy” woman who lived in the woods next to the family farm. This “gypsy” knew about the sinkhole and the cave. She warned her Amish lover about the cave by hiding a message in a hidden compartment of the genuine coffee table that GEORGE WASHINGTON touched.

The Coffee Table Thief could possibly become rich by buying up this old family farm and taking advantage of the crystal cave’s wealth. There was just one hitch: the Coffee Table Thief needed to steal the coffee tables so that he could find the message that would lead him to the sinkhole – and to the crystal cave.

And yet, NOBODY  in this story batted an eye at the news that a bunch of Amish people disappeared over the years because they fell down a hole in the ground.  The book said nothing about the whereabouts of all of these bodies. I guess that all of the bodies are still at the bottom of this hole.

So, this book spent over 100 pages fretting about the whereabouts of a bunch of coffee tables. It spent maybe a paragraph discussing the location of several missing people (bodies).

“Carolyn Keene” should have titled this story “Nancy Drew and the Coffee Table Thief.”

(Also, the whole backstory about the “gypsies” living in the woods is just so 1955.)

So, the “Nancy Drew” creators gave us a fictional story about Central PA witchcraft allegations.

Stay tuned for Part 2 to learn about real-life witchcraft allegations here.

The witchcraft allegations in Part 2 result in death.

My New Ken Haunted History Walk

Last week, my husband Jonathan and I learned about the history of Brackenridge and Tarentum during Prospect Cemetery’s ghost walking tour.

This tour raised funds for Prospect Cemetery’s upkeep.

Some of the volunteers involved with the cemetery tour have also in past years performed ghost walking tours of downtown Tarentum.

In these tours, guides lead their groups to actors dressed up as local historical figures. The actors tell stories about their assigned figures.

Jonathan agreed to attend past tours of Prospect Cemetery and Tarentum with me because the tour organizers indicated in media posts that these tours weren’t the type of events where people jump out of the darkness to scare guests. (Jonathan refuses to attend scary ghost events.) Nonetheless, we heard true tales of murders, fires, accidents, and illness.

New Kensington could host its own haunted history walk. I didn’t grow up in New Ken (and neither side of my own family ever lived here), so I don’t know many of the old yarns. However, I compiled my own list of historical figures and events based on my knowledge of Western PA history. I welcome anybody with intimate knowledge of New Kensington history to supplement this list. In fact, if you have anything to add, please feel free to tell me in the comments!

 

Robert E. Lee . . . Just kidding! I don’t have any reason to think that Lee ever came to New Kensington.

 

Simon Girty  –  Girty  went just about everywhere in Western and Central Pennsylvania. Also, in olden days, Girty’s name was arguably more controversial than Lee’s. (Spoiler: Girty defected from the Americans and fought with the other side.)

Girty was born in Central PA in 1741. During his violent childhood, Seneca warriors raided the Girty family farm and took him prisoner.

Girty grew up learning the Iroquois, Delaware, and Shawnee languages. He lived with (and fought alongside) the Senecas during several battles of the French and Indian War. The Native Americans returned Girty to the British colonists during a prisoner exchange in 1764.

Girty worked as a trader and interpreter. He frequented Pittsburgh and travelled these rivers, including the Allegheny River.  Girty originally served with the American forces during the Revolutionary War. However, he changed his mind after American troops attacked a Native American settlement. (The campaign came to be known as the Squaw Campaign because the Americans killed the women found in this settlement.)

Girty defected to the British in 1778.

Girty was present at the execution of American Colonel William Crawford in 1782 and sources allege that he actually egged on the Native Americans who tortured Crawford.  Girty eventually fled to Canada, where he died in 1818. Some sources list Girty as a Canadian.

I believe that Girty travelled the Allegheny River past present-day Parnassus and downtown New Kensington.

My own grandma in North Huntingdon Township often joked about mischief caused by the Ghost of Simon Girty.

 

Soldiers of Fort Crawford in Parnassus  – Settlers built Fort Crawford next to the confluence of Pucketa Creek and the Allegheny River in the 1700’s. The remains of Fort Crawford later became the Parnassus neighborhood of New Kensington. A stone marking the fort, and also remembering Colonel William Crawford, now sits next to the grounds of the Presbyterian church and cemetery there. For a history walk, actors could dress up as soldiers and tell the fort’s story.

We could even have an actor dress up as Colonel William  Crawford. In 1782, at the end of the American Revolution, Crawford led American forces into Ohio as part of the Crawford Expedition against Native Americans. Lenape and Wyandot warriors defeated Crawford and his men. They tortured and executed Crawford. Simon Girty was there.

 

The Frank Alter Family – Frant Alter Sr. was one of the founders of the Keystone Dairy Company in Parnassus. Alter and his family originally owned my present-day house in Parnassus. In fact, an Alter child carved his initials into the woodwork in my attic. The Alter family are now buried in the cemetery owned by Parnassus Presbyterian Church. Here is some research that Jonathan did on the Alter Family.

Johnstown Flood Debris –  We residents of New Kensington live alongside the Allegheny River, downstream from Johnstown. After the Johnstown Flood of May 31, 1889 killed at least 2,209 people, flood debris (and bodies) washed downstream. It washed past our current home and also past all of the other Allegheny River towns downstream from us.  In fact, David McCullough noted in The Johnstown Flood that rescuers pulled a living baby out of the river at Verona.  This happy-ending story is perfect for a history walk.

Here are some more ideas that I blogged about in 2014:

Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle

The Logan Family 

Aaron Burr

Victorian Houses in Parnassus

If you have more stories, feel free to add them to this list. I didn’t grow up here. I would love the insights of those who did.

Peck Family Cemetery – Somerset County, PA

This is the Peck Family Cemetery. It dates back to the mid- 1800’s.

You can view this cemetery from the highway between the true high point of Mount Davis and Deer Valley YMCA Camp.

Mount Davis is the highest point in Pennsylvania. It sits in Somerset County. The true high point sits about 10 miles from the border with Maryland.  (Yes, Mount Davis belongs to the Laurel Highlands. Yes, Mount Davis is slightly north of the Mason-Dixon line.)

Deer Valley YMCA Camp actually owns the land upon which this cemetery sits. They maintain the cemetery.

If you plan to visit Mount Davis, please watch your speed. The highway leading up to the true high point passes a sizable number of Amish and non-Amish farms. Depending on the day and time of your visit, you may encounter a high volume of horse and buggy traffic. For instance, my last visit to the top of Mount Davis occurred on a Sunday. We passed several farms that had multiple buggies parked in front, and we also shared the road with buggies in both directions.

Haunted Road Tripping: Bloody Handprint Edition

Picture this: your little daughter takes her allowance money to her elementary school’s book fair. Your daughter returns with a book that has an angry-looking skull on its cover.

The book contains ghost stories.

Your daughter reads these stories to her little sisters. One of these stories involves xenophobia,  a bloody labor dispute, executed miners, and a handprint on a jail cell wall. Your daughters tell and retell this story about the Bloody Handprint at every family campfire for decades.

This happened to my poor mom.

My sisters and I liked the “Bloody Handprint Story” so much because it happened in Pennsylvania. Wow, we ALSO lived in Pennsylvania!

So let me tell you now about the famous “Bloody Handprint” of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania:

First, Jim Thorpe wasn’t always called “Jim Thorpe.” In the 1950’s, officials renamed this borough “Jim Thorpe” after the Native American athlete from Oklahoma who was “educated” at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (in Pennsylvania). That whole story deserves its own blog post. (Or else its own blog.)

Back in the 1800’s, everyone still referred to this town by its original name, “Mauch Chunk.” (This came from the Lenni Lenape people’s name for the nearby mountain. I mean, the irony  . . . )

Jim Thorpe – the former Mauch Chunk – sits in a gorge in the Lehigh Valley. Many inhabitants earned their livings from the coal mined above Mauch Chunk. In the 1820’s, they built the Switchback Gravity Railroad from these coal mines. 

The mine owners employed significant numbers of Irish immigrants. The mine owners exploited and oppressed these miners.

The Irish miners fought back against the brutal working conditions. They formed a labor union. Some joined a secret society called the Molly Maguires (the Mollies).

The mine owners hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to bust the union and the Mollies. The Pinkertons planted a mole inside the Mollies. Then the local law enforcement (who were all totally in the pockets of the mine owners) arrested several of the Mollies’ alleged members for murder.

The authorities tried and hung several alleged Mollies at the Carbon County Jail in Mauch Chunk (Jim Thorpe) in June 1877.

Before the hanging, though, one of these men – Alexander Campbell – slapped his hand on the wall of his jail cell and swore his innocence shortly before his execution. He left a “Bloody Handprint.” (In one version of the story that I read, the Handprint started off as a “muddy handprint.” In another version of the story, Campbell slapped the wall so violently that he left blood on the wall.)

This particular jail cell wall still has the Handprint. In the version of the story that I read, this wall has been painted and re-plastered, and the Handprint keeps reappearing.

The old Carbon County Jail where this all happened is now the Old Jail Museum. You can tour this old jail and see the cell with the Bloody Handprint.

In fact, I and two of my sisters DID tour the jail. We DID see the Bloody Handprint. Unfortunately, the museum does not allow visitors to take photos of the Handprint. The museum conveniently sells their own photos of the Handprint in their gift shop.

All of the photos in this blog post belong to my sister Katie.  The gallows in the top photo are now kept INSIDE the jail museum. However, the actual executions took place outside, next to the jail.

In this bottom photo, my brother-in-law Brendan peers inside a jail cell that held Irish coal miners. (As you will note by his hat, Brendan roots for the Phillies. However, we can forgive him for this since he is good to my sister and my nephews.)

The Old Jail Museum’s physical building witnessed a haunted, loaded history.  As such, it now carries several ghost stories. The museum features these stories on its tours and also on its website.

(One word about the tour: visitors are required to climb up and down several staircases. This is NOT a comfortable tour for people with mobility issues.)

Do you have a favorite ghost story based on a historical event? Did you actually get to visit the scene of the historical event? Drop me a line in the comments!

Also, check out these blog posts:

1.) My post about the Switchback Gravity Railroad of Mauch Chunk.

2.) My sister Katie’s post about Jim Thorpe.

Quakertown Train Station and the Month of Turnpike Baptisms

Jonathan and I returned to Pennsylvania at the end of July. Then, in a three-week span, we witnessed the baptism of two brand-new nephews, on opposite sides of this state. (One baby belongs to Jonathan’s sister, and the other baby belongs to my sister.)

I joked to Jonathan that August was the month of turnpike baptisms.

(FYI if you’re not familiar with our family or with Pennsylvania: Jonathan and I live in a suburb of Pittsburgh, in Western PA. The first baptism that we attended was also in Western PA, and thus on the western end of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The second baptism that we attended was in Eastern PA, and thus on the eastern end of the turnpike.)

For this second baptism, we stayed in Quakertown.

The temperatures during each day of our trip hit the 90’s. We spent our “free” time before and after the baptism enjoying the hotel pool and air conditioning.

Thus, we only explored and photographed one thing: The Quakertown Train Station.

I linked the train station’s official website above so that you don’t have to witness me poorly regurgitate the website. To paraphrase the website, the station was built in 1902. At some point before 1989, the building stopped being used to service rail passengers. In 1989, a fire significantly damaged the building. Non-profit restoration efforts saved and repaired the building. The public can now rent the train station for private events.

The train station sits at an intersection. When we pulled into the train station parking lot, the first thing that I noticed was a classic car with a “for sale” sign at the edge of this parking lot. A mural promoting Quakertown landmarks covered the building on the other side of the intersection. The photo that I took of this car is the first photo in this blog post.

Then, I took the second photo of this blog post. Now, these are the only two photos of this blog post that I took.

Jonathan took this photo of the restored train station:

Now, Jonathan also took these photos of the non-restored freight house next door, as well as the surrounding tracks:

The freight station brought to my mind the Stephen King short story “Willa.”

See also:

Here is a hand-operated jib crane for loading freight:

Here are the photos that Jonathan took of the building that housed the Quakertown Traction Company. “Traction” is another word for “trolley.” This building sits across the tracks from the train station and the freight house:

Here is the front facade for the Quakertown Traction Company:

If you would like to see more of Jonathan’s railroad photos, leave me a comment here or on Facebook.

 

Laurel Highlands Mystery Series

I grew up in the sticks of Somerset County. (I grew up in Berlin, Pennsylvania, the potato chip capital of Western Pennsylvania.)

When I was a kid, I got so excited whenever the outside world paid the slightest bit of attention to our little corner of the world. I still do.

That’s why I want to mention a novel that came out last month: Root of All Evil (A Laurel Highlands Mystery Book 1) by Liz Milliron.

The Laurel Highlands includes these counties: Cambria, Fayette, Somerset, and Westmoreland.  Mountains and small towns cover the region.  “Laurel Highlands” serves its purpose as a marketing term; however, in my opinion, Bedford County should also be included.  (That’s another post for another day.)

Root of All Evil has two (fictional, of course) protagonists: Pennsylvania State Trooper Jim Duncan, and his love interest, assistant public defender Sally Castle. Milliron published several short Laurel Highlands Mysteries about these two characters before Level Best Books published Root of All Evil. All of these Laurel Highlands Mysteries belong to the “police procedural” sub-genre of crime fiction.

At the beginning of this story, Duncan and Castle run into each other during Friday afternoon happy hour at a Uniontown bar. Castle is there with her colleague, Colin Rafferty. Castle and Duncan chat with each other, and Castle sees her co-worker Colin arguing with an unknown person.

A few days later, after a Pittsburgh Steelers game, co-worker Colin ends up dead in the Fayette County Courthouse.  Meanwhile, Duncan receives a hot tip about a new Fayette County meth lab.

Castle and Duncan flirt with each other while they try to find Colin’s killer and also shut down the meth operation.  (We also learn that Duncan lives in Confluence, Somerset County.)

I don’t know the author personally. However, she is a past officer of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime, a writing organization that I just joined. I learned about the Laurel Highlands Mysteries during a chapter event. Since I actually lived in the Laurel Highlands and she didn’t (from what I understand), I was really curious about her perspective of the area.  So, I attended her book release party in Oakmont last month. I read half the book that same afternoon.

I respect that Milliron acknowledged  a few serious problems in this region (the drug trade and limited economic opportunities) without portraying all Laurel Highlanders with tired “hillbilly” or “deplorables” stereotypes. Root of All Evil entertained me and kept me in suspense until the end. I intend to read the next book in this series.

Bringing Pennsylvania to Port Huron

When we drove home to Pennsylvania from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula this summer, we spent one night in Port Huron, Michigan.

Port Huron sits where Lake Huron meets the St. Clair River.  Port Huron belongs to St. Clair County.  The St. Clair River flows into Lake St. Clair.

One theory claims that settlers named the river, the lake, and the county after General Arthur St. Clair from Scotland and Pennsylvania. Here are some fun facts about General St. Clair:

1.) He settled in Ligioner, Pennsylvania in the 1760’s. He faced a court-martial for giving up Fort Ticonderoga to the British in 1777. He was exonerated.

2.) After the Revolutionary War, he served as the first Governor of the Northwest Territory. This territory included present-day Michigan.

3.) In 1791, a Native American force (which included Pennsylvania native Simon Girty) ambushed St. Clair at the Battle of the Wabash. The ambush resulted in the greatest defeat of a U.S. Army by Native Americans in history. Once again, St. Clair was exonerated.

4.) The United States failed to repay a substantial debt owed to St. Clair.

5.) He died in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He is now buried in Greensburg’s St. Clair Park. Today, St. Clair Park regularly hosts “SummerSounds – Concerts in the Park.”

6.) Lore says that General St. Clair’s ghost and his wife’s ghost haunt the museum at Fort Ligioner. (Ligioner and Greensburg are about 20 miles apart if you take Route 30.) My fourth grade class visited Fort Ligioner several decades ago. I didn’t see any ghosts.

7.) From what I read about General St. Clair, his supporters argue that St. Clair didn’t have adequate resources to succeed at Fort Ticonderoga or at the Wabash.

Anyway, back to Port Huron:

We spent one night at the Hilton in downtown Port Huron, to the left of the Blue Water Bridge that crosses the St. Clair River to Canada. The Fort Gratiot Lighthouse sits to the right of the bridge. These mark the confluence of Lake Huron and the St. Clair River.

Jonathan specifically chose this hotel so that we could watch river traffic (specifically, freighters) travel under the Blue Water Bridge.

Directly across the highway from the Hilton, we accessed the Blue Water River Walk along the St. Clair River. We saw the lights of – gasp – a CANADIAN casino directly across the river.

About a dozen people – men, women, and children – sat on the river walk to fish. Bicyclists with lights on their handlebars rode past us. The bugs bit on our shins even after we coated ourselves with repellant.

Jonathan took this photo of a barge traveling under the Blue Water Bridge:

The next morning, we ate brunch at the Hilton’s restaurant, named Freighters. Freighters’ dining room includes picture windows that face the river.

We saw more boats.

We also saw a statue of Thomas Edison. We wondered why. I did some research and learned that Thomas Edison grew up in Port Huron. Edison publicly demonstrated his phonograph for the first time on the porch of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

We checked out from Freighters Restaurant and from the Hilton, then drove to the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse. Jonathan took the photo at the top of this blog post.

We drove back to Pennsylvania that day. However, we look forward to our next trip to downtown Port Huron.

What places excite you about visiting?

With this post, I wrap up my series about Michigan.

I look forward to bringing you many more stories of Pennsylvania and its people, history, and lore.

Do you want to read more ghost stories here? See more gravesite posts? Do you have any other ideas of things that I should blog about here? If you do, drop me a comment here or on my Facebook page.

McGulpin Point Lighthouse – Stay Here If You Dare

I discovered that Emmet County, Michigan, rents out an apartment next to the McGulpin Point Lighthouse.

This light sits on the Lake Michigan, Lower Peninsula  beach of the Straits of Mackinac. It’s less than 5 miles from downtown Mackinaw City.

The United States Lighthouse Board built this lighthouse in 1868-1869.

We ended up at the McGulpin Point Lighthouse’s beach s0 that we could view the Lake Michigan side of the Mackinac Bridge.

(FYI if you judge me on my spelling: Mackinaw City is correctly spelled with a “w.” The Mackinac Bridge, Straits, and Island are all spelled with a “c.”)

Stay Here If You Dare

On the lighthouse’s website, I found a link to a “A Brief History of the McGulpin Point Lighthouse” by Terry Pepper. According to Pepper, the lighthouse keeper, James Davenport, lived at McGulpin Point during the shipping seasons with his wife and children. In 1891, his wife and one of his children died. One day in December 1893, Keeper Davenport traveled to Mackinaw City and left his nine surviving children at the lighthouse.

Out on the Straits, the Waldo A. Avery (a wooden propeller) caught fire. The captain steered the burning boat full steam toward the McGulpin Point Lighthouse so that the crew would have a chance at rescue.

Now, according to Pepper’s article, “the children were a resourceful group, and made preparations for the care of the survivors.” I took this to mean that the kids got the rescue boat ready.

Keeper Davenport and the townsfolk of Mackinaw City got word of the shipwreck. Davenport and several men booked it to the lighthouse and managed to rescue the entire crew.

In my opinion, this little story buried in the middle of Pepper’s article was the most interesting part.

I want to know more about the adult lives of these Davenport kids.  If you grow up at a lighthouse and think on your feet when you see a burning ship heading straight toward you, then you can handle whatever else life throws in your lap.

The Australian Diary

This story of the wreck at McGulpin Point reminds of a website that I found years ago and bookmarked about lighthouses in Australia. Unfortunately, the link that I bookmarked no longer works and I haven’t found a new link to the information. Anyway, this website included excerpts from the diary of an Australian lighthouse keeper’s wife – that is, the third keeper’s wife. As in, this particular lighthouse had three keepers. The diary writer’s husband ranked third – last – in the seniority rank of the three lighthouse keepers.

Anyway, this wife of the third-ranked Australian lighthouse keeper journaled about the aftermath of a shipwreck at this lighthouse, in the fog, during her husband’s shift. When the diary writer witnessed the disaster, she first wondered in a panic if her husband would be blamed for the incident. Did he fall asleep and let the light go out in the fog? Then she started on her own first aid duties in the rescue of this ship’s passenger and crew. At the beginning, everything was in her lap to handle. As soon as the wives of the second-ranked and first-ranked lighthouse keepers showed up on the scene, she let them take charge of the first aid response.

Isn’t this just the parable of life? Out of nowhere, a huge mess falls into your lap. You wonder how you and yours are going to be blamed for the whole thing. Did you do enough to CYA? It’s too late now; this baby is now your mess to handle! Then someone with more rank shows up and pushes you out of the way.

If you can’t take the heat, stay away from the lighthouse keeper’s family life.

The Big Rock

Now, the website for the McGulpin Point Lighthouse also promotes the “McGulpin Rock” which the website also refers to as the “Big Rock.”

The website claims that the Big Rock is five times the original size of Plymouth Rock in New England. According to the website, French explorers in the 1600’s used the Big Rock in order to gauge the water levels on the Straits of Mackinac.

Did René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle use the Big Rock when he explored the Straits of Mackinac?

I saw signs for the Big Rock when we visited McGulpin Point. In fact, other visitors stopped me to ask for directions to the Big Rock. To be honest, I didn’t actually try to find the Big Rock myself. I was hot, tired, and cranky.

So, you will have to settle for this photo of a couple of seagulls sitting on a Normal Rock at McGulpin Point.

To reiterate, this is NOT the Big Rock.

Do you have a special rock that you like to visit?

Lake Superior: Shipwrecks, Storms, and Pictured Rocks

My sisters and I liked to sing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” along with a mixed cassette tape during road trips in our parents’ station wagon.

This ballad by Gordon Lightfoot recounts the real-life sinking on Lake Superior of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald during a storm on November 10, 1975.

As it turns out, my future father-in-law, Dennis Woytek, worked for a radio station in Northern Michigan during this storm. The Associated Press sent him to cover this story as first responders searched Whitefish Bay for the crew.

So of course, I will blog about my visits to Lake Superior before I wrap up my series on Michigan.

My first trip to Lake Superior started with a trip to the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie and proceeded to Whitefish Point, on the tip of Whitefish Bay. (The Fitzgerald sank less than 20 miles from the bay.)

During our drive, we listened to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” on the radio. And then, I kid you not, the radio station broke into the song to issue a severe thunderstorm watch.

Whitefish Point includes the Whitefish Point Lighthouse, a museum, and also a memorial to the Fitzgerald crew.

Here’s the tip of Whitefish Point:

 

On my first trip to Whitefish Point, the storm clouds held off long enough for me to see all of these.  I dipped my feet in the bone-chilling water. (It was August.) The flies bit my ankles.

Point Iroquois Lighthouse

We drove southeast back to Sault Ste. Marie, and on the way we stopped at the Point Iroquois Lighthouse.

I climbed the lighthouse steps and watched a freighter pass.

Then the thunderstorm hit.

July 2016: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Now, if you hop about one hundred miles southwest of Whitefish Point, you will reach Munising, Michigan. Munising also sits on Lake Superior. Folks visit Munising in order to tour Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

See, sandstone cliffs line this portion of Lake Superior. Mineral deposits (such as iron, copper, and manganese) coat the cliffs. These cliffs reflect splendid colors when the sun hits them.

In late July 2016, Jonathan and I trekked with his parents Denny and Fran to Munising. We actually drove along the northeastern shore of Lake Michigan for part of our trip.

Now, hiking trails do exist along the shore of Pictured Rocks. However, our research suggested that we needed to be on the water or in the air for the best views.

Outfitters rent sea kayaks in Munising. In fact, we saw many sea kayaks during our Pictured Rocks trip. Our group of four didn’t feel confident to paddle on the deep water of Lake Superior. In fact, during the same week that we visited, the Coast Guard had to assist in the rescue of several kayakers along this lakeshore.

A tour company with clear-bottomed boats advertises cruises that show off the local shipwrecks. However, for roughly the same cost as four tickets for this two-hour trip, we rented a pontoon boat for five hours.

Jonathan piloted our rental boat.

We visited the famed shipwrecks that the clear-bottomed boats touted. We also passed these two landmarks:

1.) The rock formation known as Miner’s Castle:

2.) And the East Channel Lighthouse:

Note the following:

1.) I took all of my photos with a telephoto lens. Therefore, in my photos Miner’s Castle looks much closer than we physically were in relation to it. Since the water was choppy, we didn’t want to get too close to the shore.

2.) The boat concessionaire that we chose pleased us with their customer service. However, we turned around halfway through the trip that the concessionaire recommended for a five-hour rental. Why, you ask? Well, we found the lake very choppy.  (Otherwise, the weather was gorgeous. Not a cloud in the sky. A comfortable breeze. We took our boat trip during a Midwestern heat wave. The bank sign in Munising listed the temperature as 90 degrees.)

Multiple boats from Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours passed us. We opted not to purchase tickets from their tour company since we preferred to rent our own boat. However, here is their website.  It provides information about the local shipwrecks.

 

Do you like to search for shipwrecks?