Noting notable people

Local author Longtine releases new book

Local author Sonny Longtine has written a new book, “U.P. People: Incredible Stories About Incredible People.” He wrote about notable figures like George Shiras III, John Longyear and Charlie Kawbawgam. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — The cover of Sonny Longtine’s new book shows photos of notable Upper Peninsula people. Even longtime residents of the region might not know all of them by sight, but they should after reading the book.

Longtine has just published “U.P People: Incredible Stories About Incredible People.”

Longtine, a lifelong Marquette resident who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northern Michigan University, has published other books, including “Marquette Then and Now” and “Murder in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.” He retired from public education after 33 years as a counselor and history/government teacher.

“The book takes 42 people from across the U.P. from way back in history, the 1850s up to the present time, that made some contribution to the U.P. in some way, shape or form, culturally, economically,” Longtine said. “They’re entrepreneurs. They’re inventors. They made a significant impact upon the Upper Peninsula.”

However, he acknowledged putting in a few “personalities” who maybe didn’t have a big impact but were too interesting not to include in the book.

It took Longtine three years to write the book, during which time he went to many places for his research, traveling the Upper Peninsula back and forth as well as visiting libraries and historical societies.

“I go to different communities,” he said. “I go to the libraries. I asked the librarian who’s a resource I can rely upon to give me information about some significant people.”

One of the earliest stories detailed in the book deals with John Burt, who designed a water entry and exit system for the Soo Locks but never received a dime in compensation from his employer, the federal government. He also was involved in building the first railroad in the Upper Peninsula in 1856.

Achievement ran in his family; his father, William Burt, invented the solar compass.

In his book, Longtine wrote about this “locked out” pioneer inventor: “Burt was not one-dimensional; he brought many skills to the table, and the Upper Peninsula profited from his knowledge, tenacity, and vision. Burt, cloaked by the shadow of his father, languished in semi-obscurity until an examination of his achievements dispelled any doubts of his contribution to the growth of the Upper Peninsula.”

William L. Bakewell also is featured in the book as “Shackleton’s Savvy Seaman.” Bakewell was a member of explorer Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated 1914 voyage to Antarctica that turned into tragedy when the expedition ship became mired in ice, with the hull eventually being crushed.

Bakewell and others spent months on Elephant Island waiting to be rescued, which eventually happened. It was a harrowing ordeal that involved eating seals, penguins and dogs, and not bathing or changing clothes for 10 months.

Bakewell later retired to a farm in Dukes.

Maggie Walz, the “Feisty Finnish Feminist,” was an immigrant who settled in Hancock.

“She led the feminist movement long before there was a feminist movement,” Longtine said.

Walz helped organize the Northern Star Temperance Society in 1885. She became manager of the Naisten Lehti, or Women’s Paper, in 1889, cautioning female readers not to enter into a “loveless” marriage with a “drunken” husband but instead work on self-improvement and community projects.

“She was just a dynamo herself,” he said. “She carved her own niche as a woman back in the Copper Country, back when it was not fashionable.”

Annie Clemenc led the Calumet copper miner’s strike in 1913. A 6 feet, 4 inches, she was an imposing figure.

“She would walk down the street with 5,000 miners behind her, and if anybody got near her, she had a bucket full of feces and a broom, and she would lace them with that,” Longtine said.

One of the “personalities” was “Big Louie” Moilanen, a Copper Country resident who was 8 feet, 1 inch tall.

Apparently ill-suited to circus life, according to the book, Moilanen held several jobs, including one in a copper mine. However, the physically restrictive conditions in the mine shaft made it difficult to work.

Longtine wrote that “Big Louie,” who died in 1913, was happiest at the family farm near Houghton.

He said another powerful story was that of Maxwell Reynolds Sr., who created primitive respirators that saved children’s lives during the early 1940s polio epidemic.

A photograph that accompanies this chapter shows Reynolds with one of his early respirators constructed from packing cases and other assorted spare parts.

What is a common thread among all these “incredible” U.P. people?

Longtine’s answer was quick: perseverance.

“They never gave up,” he said. “They kept pushing forward. They were creative.”

“U.P. People” is available at Book World, 136 W. Washington St., and Snowbound Books, 118 N. Third St. Longtine said that eventually the book will be available at the Marquette Regional History Center, 145 W. Spring St.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is