In pursuit of Marquette trivia

Charles T. Harvey on his experimental elevated railroad in New York City. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — Where was Worchester, Michigan? What famous Italian sculptor made the bust of Peter White and the oddly similar statues of Father Marquette? What does Granot Loma stand for? If you know they answers to any of these questions, you must love Marquette County trivia.

Trivia is defined as bits of information, often of little importance. But is it really? The word trivia has Latin roots, tri = three and via = way or roads. In Ancient Rome, a trivium was where three roads met and came to mean commonplace. In Medieval Latin trivium referred to the lower division of the seven liberal arts included in a classical education, covering three subjects: grammar, logic and rhetoric. Eventually something was said to be trivial if it was only of interest to an undergraduate.

Then in the 1960s trading questions and answers, particularly about the popular culture of their youth, became a casual pastime for nostalgic college students (and others). In 1965, a Columbia Spectator article humorously applied the grandiose Latin term to an inter-collegiate contest testing significant yet essentially unimportant facts.

Trivia became a phenomenon. The game Trivial Pursuit was released in 1981 and has sold over 100 million copies. The ever popular TV show, Jeopardy is currently in their 34th season and has aired over 7000 episodes. We have high school bowl, college bowl, and trivia nights in bars. Locally the now closed J.T.’s Shaft was known for their trivia night and the tradition is being continued by DIGS Gastropub, 906 Bar and Grill, Iron Bay Restaurant and Drinkery and Wings and Things.

Trivia is considered to be trivial and unimportant and most school children will tell you that history is boring. But when we combine the two, trivia becomes a fun way to learn and preserve our collective knowledge about local history. No longer just a dry recitation of facts about important men, these local facts and stories add flavor, color, and depth to our heritage. Psychologists say that mental exercises improve memory. Maybe the same thing is true of our collective memory about local history. As powerful as it can be, it is also fragile. We risk forgetting what makes this such an amazing place if we don’t exercise our memory of local history.

When you look at the strange and interesting facts that make up Marquette County’s history, it comes clear that this area has had profound and sometimes unexpected influences on the rest of the world. Remember how Fred Rydholm used to say New York wouldn’t be New York without Marquette? There are some fascinating stories packed into that statement. Did you know that local businessman Louis Graveraet Kaufman, was the “father of branch banking”? His bank also financed the construction of the Empire State building. Another local, Charles T. Harvey, the engineer who built the Soo Locks, also built an experimental single-track cable-powered elevated railway in New York.

Come show off your local history knowledge at the Marquette Regional History Center’s 100 Years, 100 Questions Trivia Night on April 11th at 6:30 PM. This competition celebrates National Library Week and our 100th birthday. Round up a team of four or five friends, bring your preferred libations, and we’ll provide the snacks. Tickets are $5 per person and you might win fun prizes from Dead River Coffee, Everyday Wines, Getz’s, Marquette Baking Company, Snowbound Books, Superior Outfitters, Queen City Running, and more.

*Hint, there are clues to some of the answers in this article.