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New Beaumier exhibit opens

51st state?

Dan Truckey, director of the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center, points to maps inaccurately depicting the Upper Peninsula at a new exhibit — “The 51st State?” — at the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center. The exhibit examines how the Upper Peninsula became part of MIchigan as well as initiatives to separate it from the Lower Peninsula. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Will a map of the United States include the Upper Peninsula or not? It can be a crapshoot, as indicated by a sampling of incorrect maps — either mislabeling it or just leaving out the U.P. entirely — now on display at the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center at Northern Michigan University.

Its new exhibit titled “The 51st State?” explores how the Upper Peninsula became part of Michigan and how various initiatives tried to separate it from the Lower Peninsula.

“People are always asking us, ‘Why is the U.P. part of Michigan? Why isn’t the U.P. a separate state from Michigan?'” Beaumier Director Dan Truckey said.

The oft-asked question inspired the new exhibit, he said.

“We need to do an exhibit about statehood, not only why we’re part of the state and that, but also that there have been efforts going back to the 1850s to make the U.P. separate from the state of Michigan,” Truckey said. “Some of them were kind of half-hearted overtures and others were serious efforts and initiatives to make it happen, but didn’t go anywhere, obviously.”

The exhibit explores how the U.P., originally the homeland of the Anishinaabek, was acquired by the United States.

“The exhibit talks about how the state of Michigan formed and why the U.P. is part of Michigan, but then it also looks at these different initiatives over the years,” Truckey said, “and then it ends with really looking at some of the cultural separation between the U.P. and the Lower Peninsula, and also the economic realities of why statehood probably would not work out for the U.P. very well.”

One of the initiatives was spearheaded by the late state Rep. Dominic Jacobetti, who, according to the exhibit, was the first member of the Michigan Legislature since the 19th century to openly advocate for the secession of the U.P.

“He believed, like many in the region, that the interests of the U.P. were not being served by Lansing, especially legislation and environmental laws that he felt curtailed mining activities,” one panel reads.

Following Jacobetti’s lead, several communities in the U.P. and counties throughout Michigan put statehood initiatives on the upcoming election ballots. However, the proposals were soundly defeated in November 1975. Jacobetti, though, didn’t give up.

On March 18, 1978, he introduced House Bill 6115 that would separate the U.P. from the rest of the state. The bill was sent to committee but never was brought up for a vote on the House floor.

“Though he did not win the battle, Jacobetti had put the plight and needs of the Upper Peninsula front and center in Lansing and the region would benefit from his efforts in the coming decades,” the panel reads.

Regardless of how strongly a person feels about the U.P., many would admit the state has an odd geographical set-up.

It didn’t happen that way by accident.

In 1836 at “The Frostbitten Convention” in Ann Arbor, delegates ratified a compromise between the state of Ohio and territory of Michigan, which finalized the location of the border between the two neighbors. As compensation for giving up its right to the “Toledo Strip,” Michigan was given most of the U.P., even though the land still had not been officially acquired from the region’s Native American tribes.

Michigan residents’ initial disgruntlement over the deal was tempered when the region’s great abundance of natural resources began to be explored, which fueled the growth and expansion of Michigan and the United States.

In fact, the Beaumier exhibit has an 1805 map with the U.P. labeled as an area “abounding with wild animals.”

Even though most Michiganders understand the borders, sometimes the rest of the world hasn’t caught on. The exhibit shows a sampling of maps with the U.P. omitted, with one map correctly delineating the U.P. but not labeling it as part of Michigan. In fact, it is just a yellow space with no label at all.

“Sometimes these people who are making maps for whatever reasons don’t have knowledge of the geography of the state, don’t understand there are two parts in the state,” Truckey said.

For example, National Geographic once had the U.P. as part of Wisconsin, he said.

“Even the pros sometimes get it wrong,” Truckey said, “and it’s such a frequent thing.”

It’s not just maps that are incorrect.

Tim Robenalt of Marquette, who visited the exhibit on Wednesday, mentioned he saw cutting boards of Michigan when he recently was downstate.

“They didn’t have the Upper Peninsula,” Robenalt said.

Playing during the exhibit is a short film on the building of the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the two peninsulas. Truckey said people feared the U.P. culture would change with the bridge’s completion.

“That hasn’t been the case, and it’s because there’s these two identities of the two peninsulas,” he said.

Truckey believes the exhibit will get people talking about the “what ifs?” were the U.P. to separate from the Lower Peninsula.

“What would it mean for the U.P. to be its own state?” Truckey asked. “Why would it be its own state? What would the benefits be of that? It seems mostly an emotional thing versus a practical thing.”

As one display panel in the exhibit put it: “For over 180 years, there has been at times an uneasy alliance between the Lower and Upper Peninsulas. But it is also true that we need each other. Being a part of a greater Michigan has given the Upper Peninsula more economic security than it would’ve had on its own.

“Michigan needs the U.P. as well. Without its resources, the state could not have become an industrial powerhouse.”

“The 51st State?” will be on display in the Beaumier gallery in Gries Hall until March 28.

Beaumier hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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