Local author shares tales of U.P. people who made their mark
MARQUETTE — Many people of note have lived and worked in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — and over 40 of these individuals are discussed in local author Sonny Longtine’s book “U.P. People: Incredible Stories about Incredible People.”
Attendees of a Northern Center for Lifelong Learning event held Tuesday had a chance to learn more about a few individuals in the book from Longtine.
“The outstanding characteristic of almost every one of them is perseverance,” Longtine said. “And since we’re from the U.P., we’ll use the Finnish term ‘sisu.'”
One person who exemplified this was Maggie Waltz, who was born in Finland in 1862 and eventually made her way to the U.P. to make her mark as the “the first great feminist in the Upper Peninsula,” Longtine said.
Waltz came to the United States as a very young girl, Longtine said. She started off doing “menial jobs,” but eventually became successful selling real estate and commodities in the Keweenaw Peninsula.
She would go on to organize the Women’s Finnish Society in Hancock, “much to the chagrin of many males,” in the area, Longtine said.
“That was almost unheard of at this time; we’re talking long before the feminist movement, we’re talking long before the talk of the glass ceiling,” Longtine said. “She did it the hard way, but she never thought of it that way. She was looking for her own equal rights and this is what she did.”
Later, Waltz, who was “a capitalist in many ways,” would embark on her most ambitious project yet: a women’s utopia on Detour Island, which is in Lake Superior off the eastern side of the U.P.
A utopia is a society in which all people are equal; a society in which all equally share the work and equally share the wealth,” he said. “Now this is ironic because in many ways, she’s a capitalist, selling farmlands and real estate and she liked to call her self a socialist-capitalist. I don’t know how you marry the two, but she did it.”
However, the agriculture-based women’s utopia quickly ran into some troubles due to the poor quality of soil, he said, noting “the colony floundered right from the very start”.
Furthermore, in-fighting and disagreements about leadership developed, which eventually led to the closure of the colony.
“It didn’t quite work for her,” he said. “But she did attempt it. It’s better to have tried and failed to have not tried at all. And that would certainly apply to Maggie Waltz.”
Another person with U.P. ties who embodied perseverance was William Bakewell, who was “a participant in one of the greatest sea adventures ever in the history of the world,” Longtine said.
Bakewell, who was born in Illinois in 1888, was a “wanderer” from the start, Longtine said. He worked all over the country before eventually convincing a ship captain in San Francisco to hire him, despite his lack of experience.
“So then he started his adventure of sailing around the world on different ships,” Longtine said.
Bakewell eventually ended up in South America, where he would make “a very fateful decision,” by becoming part of the explorer Ernest Shackleton’s crew on the Antarctic-bound Endurance, Longtine said.
He took off with Shackleton’s crew in 1914, first stopping at South Georgia Island to prepare for the journey. However, as they approached Antartica, where Shackleton hoped to embark on a 1,400-mile trek, the Endurance became “mired in ice,” Longtine said.
At first, the crew wasn’t concerned — they read books and played football on the ice to pass the time.
“They all believed totally in Shackleton,” he said.
But six months later, spring arrived, and the ice began to move and crush against the ship. The men could hear the “creaking boards, the timbers cracking and breaking,” and watched the ship slowly sink into the icy waters over a period of a few weeks,” Longtine said.
“There they are, just off the coast of Antartica. Nobody knows where they are,” he said, noting Bakewell said that was the first time he had a “lump in his throat.”
The men and dogs then floated north on an ice pack for 1,000 miles for six months, hoping to find their salvation in open water — and hopefully solid ground.
Then, they finally hit open water and knew they were just a few days away from Paulet Island, which they could travel to in several 30-foot boats they had with them.
But after five days of travel, they realized they passed Paulet Island.
The next closest island was Elephant Island, a five-day journey over open water. Finally, they arrived at Elephant island and constructed make-shift shelters out of two of the boats.
The crew realized there was no hope of anyone finding them there, so Shackleton and four of his men took the third boat back to South Georgia Island, where they stared.
After 18 days in open water in “miserable conditions,” they finally reached South Georgia Island, but were on the wrong side and had to scale an 11,000-foot peak to reach the whaling station on the island’s other side — which was nearly impossible with the lack of equipment, Longtine said.
Against all odds, they made it up and down the peak and arrived at the whaling station, where whalers were shocked to see them return.
Then, they traveled back to Elephant Island for the remaining men. Four trips and fourth months later, all 27 men were rescued, nearly two years after the journey began.
“Not one died,” Longtine said. “And every one of them faithfully believed that Shackleton would get them out of the mess. And he did.”
After this eventful journey, Bakewell would eventually go on to reside in Skandia for the remainder of his life, Longtine said, with the odds-defying expedition truly making him an incredible U.P. person.
For more information on the NCLL and it’s programming, visit https://www.nmu. edu/ncll/home.
Sonny Longtine is the author of several books, including titles such as: Marquette Then & Now; Murder in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: Life, Legends and Landmarks.