Norman ‘Nommy’ Boulden
MARQUETTE — Eleven-year-old Nommy Boulden hopped off the daily train from Marquette to Big Bay in 1919. He was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in June 1908 and came with his family to the busy lumbering town when his father landed a job there.
Young Nommy wiggled on the seats of the wooden schoolhouse during the day. He wanted to be out in the woods, doing things. His first job was spotting pins at the bowling alley at night.
He soon wrote to The Mining Journal, the Milwaukee Journal and Grit (another newspaper) asking for a newspaper route. All three papers hired him. He would run for the train, hoping to catch his bundles of papers before the baggage men threw them into the snow or mud.
He delivered papers in the village before heading out to 13 lumber camps within a five-mile radius. He regularly sold 75 Mining Journals and 15 Milwaukee papers. He said “I took the beach [route] home from the camps, scared to death when I head the coyotes howl.”
Boulden eventually joined the CCC and worked his way up to sergeant. He ran the camp in Big Bay, overseeing the boys on the weekends as well as in the woods.
They would go into to the village for dances. Jim Cherette played violin, accompanied by his wife at the piano, and Charlie VandeZande on the drums. They played until midnight for $10, and $1.50 per hour after that.
In a town that boasted about 15 girls to 150 men, the lumberjacks and CCC boys fought for a female partner, then learned to dance without one. If there weren’t enough girls to go around, there were fights enough for everyone.
“We’d pay 50 cents, stand on the porch and drink moonshine until the fights started.”
One night when the fighting got heavy, Nommy backed a truck to the door, lowered the tailgate and threw in everyone wearing a CCC uniform. When he got back to camp he found that he’d also grabbed a man from Big Bay and two strangers in the tangle.
After the CCC camps closed in the area, Boulden worked as a carpenter around Big Bay. He served as caretaker and maintenance man for Bay Cliff Health Camp for 25 years.
One of Nommy’s big claims to fame came on the night of July 31, 1952, when he witnessed the murder of Mike Chenoweth, the basis for John Voelker’s Anatomy of a Murder. Many of you are probably quite familiar with the story.
He was at the bar when Mrs. Peterson arrived, and he danced with her that evening. At one point, she took off her high-heeled shoes and handed them to Boulden who stuck them in his hip pockets and they danced on. Finally, Chenoweth, the bar owner, offered to drive Mrs. Peterson home to her trailer in Perkins Park. A few minutes later, Chenoweth returned.
Boulden was standing at the jukebox in the bar, pushing another selection onto the turntable when he noticed Lt. Peterson backing into the parking lot.
He later recalled, “The next thing I knew, the lieutenant shot Chenoweth. Someone screamed and everyone ran for the ladies rest room, men and women. So many people jammed into the rest room that they couldn’t get the door open when the shooting was over.”
The story was eventually made into a book and later a movie, partially filmed in Big Bay. Boulden noted, “In the last Big Bay scene, [Jimmy] Stewart sat in the hotel, gazing out the window at Lake Superior. [Lee] Remick’s shoes, just like the ones in my pockets that night, were draped over a barrel in the corner. After the stars left, I went back to the hotel. The shoes were still hanging on the barrel, I stuck them in my hip pockets and took them home.”
To learn more about other interesting individuals from Big Bay’s past, join the Marquette Regional History Center for a cemetery walk on Saturday at 11:30 and 1:30. The walk is being held as part of the Big Bay Stewardship Council’s Fall Fest. The Big Bay Cemetery is located on Raymen Street, just one block from Draver Park where the Fest is being held from 11-4.