Pictured Rocks of the past
History on Tap event explores descriptions of local landmark
MARQUETTE — The multi-colored and cavernous rocks along the Lake Superior shoreline known as Pictured Rocks and the pristine beaches tucked between its unique formations are beloved and frequented by locals and tourists alike. It’s one of the Upper Peninsula’s many great beauties and the view has been a bewildering one to all who’ve seen it for centuries.
Local historian Russ Magnaghi gave a presentation titled “Approaches to Pictured Rocks over the Centuries” at Ore Dock Brewing Co. in Marquette Tuesday evening as part of the Marquette Maritime Museum’s History on Tap series. The presentation focused on the descriptions given of Pictured Rocks before the existence of colored photography, prior to the 20th century.
Magnaghi said the earliest known documented account of the rocks was in 1659 by a French fur trader who captured the beauty of the rocks and the fury of Lake Superior.
“After this we came to a remarkable place,” the description states. “It is a bank of rocks that the native people make a sacrifice to … which signifies the likeness of the devil. They fling much tobacco and other things in its veneration. It is a thing most incredible that the Lake Superior should be so boisterous that the waves of it should have the strength to do what I have to say by my discourse … The waves go into these caverns with force and make a horrible noise like the shooting of great guns.”
A similar description was given in the late 18th century by an Irishman who eventually settled in Sault Ste. Marie.
“While row boating along the front of this precipice you see sand and stone of every instant rolling down. Yet the beach never increases in depth or height … The waves of Lake Superior would roar and echo and create booming sound. The sandy mountain is terminated by a point of red and gray freestones which projects nearly a mile into the lake and surrounded by cliffs chiefly under water.”
Native Americans thought of Pictured Rocks as a spiritual place often leaving gifts on the rocks as they past, Magnaghi said.
The descriptions and drawings could not capture the color or beauty of what Magnaghi says was at one point one of the three great tourist attractions in the United States next to Harpers Ferry in the Appalachian Mountains and Niagara Falls. The trouble was simply getting to the rocks, he said.
Magnaghi aims to promote the rich area history and local attractions by sharing these historical descriptions of Pictured Rocks, he said.
“It’s still a tremendous tourist attraction and a tremendous beauty. Sometimes this happens when people live in an area of tremendous beauty, you tend to overlook it,” Magnaghi said. “It just becomes a part of your life. You forget the smell of pine trees and then someone has to go and say ‘Gee, it’s beautiful,’ or even the smoke from a fire or something gives you that forest feeling. A lot of these things like Pictured Rocks, a lot of local people probably haven’t seen it. It’s one of these things, ‘It’s beautiful. Yes, I know about it. I’ll see it next year. I’ll go sometime,’ and so on. It’s a major tourist attraction in the Upper Peninsula. Sometimes we overlook that and by going back we can relive what passing visitors saw and how they were awed by the rocks.”
Magnaghi is currently working on a book tentatively titled “Pictured Rocks as seen by Visitors” to be released in 2020. He plans for the book to be an inexpensive way for tourists or interested locals to take home memories of Pictured Rocks. The book is expected to be available at the Munising Visitor Center, Snowbound Books, the Marquette Regional History Center and other local stores.
Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.