Gary Navarre: Artisan Pottery in the North Woods

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In the great north woods of the Upper Peninsula an accomplished artist practices his craft in Norway, Michigan, a small town built around the Norway iron ore mine.  The town, which sprang up nearly overnight when the Menominee Mining Company established a settlement at the Menominee Range near Iron Mountain in the late 1800’s, is where this talented artisan finds his inspiration.  Just miles from the Wisconsin border on the southwest point of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Dickinson County town was once the home of Jazz musician Art Van Damme and early NFL players Rudy Rosatti and John Ralston.  A deep forested landscape alive with beauty and rich historical significance, the quiet town of Norway is now the home of artisan pottery maker Gary Navarre

Artisan Pottery Making - Gary Navarre

Navarre, originally from the Metro Detroit suburb of Dearborn, has been creating unique and beautiful pottery designs most of his life, and he first began experimenting with fired clay at a very young age.  On his website Gary describes his first experiences, saying “Clay found me at the end of Junior High School in 1961 in Dearborn, Michigan. In high school I did very well in Art and clay,” and while attending Edsel Ford High School in Dearborn, MI in the early 1960’s, Gary cultivated a natural talent for working with clay designs.

Gary Navarre working clay

Navarre discovered his own deep passion for the process, receiving awards and honors in high school for his art.  He knew early on that clay was his favorite artistic medium and after graduation he studied Ceramics, Fine Arts, Sculpture, Jewelry, and Geology at Henry Ford Community College, the Center For Creative Studies, Wayne State University and Western Michigan University.  He has also pursued a lifelong interest in Photography, as well. 

Reflections of an artist

Spirited, creative, guided by muse and the inspiration of a richly experienced life, Gary takes a philosophical view of art instruction and the creative process:

I’ve attended Art schools, Universities and lived in the Art Scene most of my life.  Over the years I’ve actually done more living and learning about living than art but that is where Art comes from, living and learning.  One can make academically successful pieces and do quite well, however, truly inspired creations come from the inspiration of every day experiences distilled through the vision of meditation.  I find balance in the spontaneity of capturing a moment in a photo and the stability of creating in clay. One deals with an instant, the other with long term processes, even geologic time.  

Describing his early years in the craft and the teachers who most inspired him, Gary said, “Besides being encouraged by my high school Art teachers, Gawaine Dart was an early teacher who showed us how to trim a decent foot ring on a piece. Then I learned single fire glazing from John ‘Jack’ Foster.”  He also studied under Bill Pitney in the Detroit area. 

Navarre studio

Navarre later moved to Venice, CA and joined the The Pot Shop, a cooperative pottery studio.  While practicing his skills at the co-op, which at one time boasted a membership of more than 300 artisans, Gary had the experience of living with other artists and learning from their skills.  He then went on to independent study, reading books and practicing new methods.  “In the late ’60’s I found the co-operative studio The Pot Shop in Venice, California and lived with other artists for the first time. I met and partied with a few famous potters but most of the later years I [learned] on my own. I studied books by Bernard Leach, Michael Cardew, and Danial Rhodes for some of the basics of kiln building but most of pottery is learned by doing.”  It was then that Gary Navarre learned how to build his own kiln, and many years later in Norway, Michigan, that is what he did.

Navarre Hobagama Kiln

Years of planning and a lifetime of vision came to fruition in the deep woods of Norway, where Gary Navarre makes his home.  Pictured above is the deceptively rustic outside view of the 9 foot long, 60 cubic foot wood burning kiln (covered for weather) used by the artist to fire his pots.   The kiln was constructed entirely by hand by Gary and just a small group of friends, and once seen from the inside, is almost as awe inspiring an accomplishment as the pieces of art fired within it.  The kiln, designed in the Hobagama tradition preferred by Navarre for firing his unique clay works, boasts a 16.5 foot high chimney and 2 stage firebox.  Gary meticulously recorded the process for the benefit of other pot throwers and aficionados and, of course, for posterity.  Below is a small excerpt of the process, which took six years of hard work and planning.  This video, which Gary produced on YouTube where he goes by the name “GindaUP”, explains some of the main elements of the kiln as it was being built, including the ‘Pignose’, ‘Mousehole’, ‘Bourry box’ and chimney in the earlier stages.

In Ceramics: Mastering the Craft 2cd Edition (published 2001), Richard Zakin explains that most fuel burning kilns, including wood burning, are built by ceramists, and not commercial users.  In the book he states:

To build them requires knowledge, time, and skill.  Many kilns are the result of innovative and creative thinking and have a real impact on the life and work of the ceramist. 

 Zakin describes a variant of a wood kiln built on a hill that contains multiple connected chambers where the flame passes through from one chamber to the next, moving up the hill.  This design, which relies on height at the top part of the kiln to act as a natural chimney, was known to the Chinese as a ‘Dragon Kiln’ and to the Japanese as an ‘Anagama Kiln’.

The Hobagama Kiln design used by Navarre differs from the ancient Anagama tradition in that an added element –  a hob –  has been bricked into the interior to enable the fuel logs to be suspended above the coal pile.  Gary Navarre explains, “The Asian potters use a type of kiln called Anagama, a single chamber with the fire inside on one end and an exit stack on the other end. These are usually loaded from the front and then bricked in so the fire can be stoked through a hole and air comes in underneath. During the later 1800’s in Europe, Emiel Bourry devised a downdraft firebox that used a hob bricked into the interior so the fuel logs would be suspended above the coal pile on their ends.  The primary air is drawn down through the fuel to mix with the hot gasses released and the flame drawn in through the throat arch into the chamber. More secondary air can be added through the Pignose which is an attachment in front of the Bourry box that is used for the pre-heating fire.”

To see how truly ingenious the kiln design is requires looking inside.  Gary has provided in-depth footage of the inner realms of the Hobagama here, where he walks viewers through the chambers and demonstrates loading the kiln for firing:

(We love you, too, Gary. )

Wood burning kilns burn at extremely high and dangerous temperatures.  Gary, and many more pottery artists around the world, choose to use this method of firing clay in spite of the risk and physical labor involved because the natural glaze effect caused by the wood ash is so unique.  It is so unique, in fact, that the glazing is never the same even on consecutive firings and differs even by species of tree used as fuel.  Richard Zakin writes that firing a wood kiln requires constant attention and calls for an instinctual understanding of what is going inside the kiln.  He explains the process that results in the unique effects so valued by clay artists:

High temperature wood firing is still used today by ceramists who value the richness of its wood ash, flashing, and reduction effects.  During the firing the ashes of the wood fuel fall naturally upon the ware, and if the firing temperature is high enough the ashes are volatilized and become a glaze.  These glazes have a soft dappled imagery which covers the top surfaces of the piece and falls gently away toward the foot of the piece.

Gary himself describes the risk and the effect obtained in terms more indicative of his philosophy both as an artist and as a fellow traveler on the journey through history we each hold our place in: 

“My devotion to working in clay has led me to study the ancients and how they developed much of the technology that is still being utilized by potters today. The process of creating and firing clay forms has ignited my own spiritual fire and this is expressed in many of my pieces.
The geological and spiritual forces that created our earth have deeply influenced the technique and imagery of my work within the framework of traditional thrown forms. Some of these pieces have been exposed to temperatures in excess of 2400 Fahrenheit. Many have been fired more than the customary one or two times to achieve a more dynamic effect reminiscent of batholiths, flowing magma and folded mountains.
These pieces have been exposed to the flames of wood firing, resulting in a bombardment of caustic ash which melts into the glaze creating exquisite colors, textures, and flow patterns.
I love firing with wood and all of the risk that it involves. It is a process that expresses my own spiritual nature and inspires me to keep working.” 


Gary uses scrap wood and limbs from local trees, such as Tamarack and Spruce, collected in the forested area of Norway and Iron Mountain to burn in the Hobagama for firing pots.  He also uses another natural occurring resource abundant in the area, Strawberry Lake Red for slip glazes that he makes from the dark red clay found at nearby Strawberry Lake.

Artist Gary Navarre has been recognised for his work, not only for his artisan pottery wares but for his photography, as well.  In June of 2010, he won the First Place Award of Excellence for his pottery display at the Art For All art show held at Bay College, earning him a cash prize with the award.  In September of 2009 Gary was awarded First Place for his Landscape photography and given Honorable Mention for his Wild Plant photography by the Dickinson Conservation District and his photos have been displayed in the Dickinson Conservation District’s annual calendar.

Pot throwing, kiln loading and firing, and clay work are all intensely physical, demanding activities.  To see such a talented ceramist in action, throwing clay on the wheel and creating something beautiful from mere clumps of earth is truly inspiring.  Click on any image below to view the Gary Navarre gallery:

Gary balances his craft with other interests such as fly fishing, skiing, maple syruping, and Morel mushroom harvesting.  The life of the artist is both beautifully creative and constantly challenging, and we can only imagine it is that much more inspiring in the great north woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Somehow, gifted artist Gary Navarre seems up to the challenges and we look forward to future visits with “GindaUP”. 

What does the future hold for Gary?  He isn’t quite certain, as he may be relocating back downstate next year.  We wish Gary the very best in all of his endeavors, wherever they may lead, and here at Wintermitten we hope our readers enjoyed meeting Gary Navarre and sharing a view into the life of our friend the artisan pottery maker from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  As Gary himself would say,

Stay in there, eh?  Later!   


To contact Gary Navarre, e-mail to

To purchase Gary’s original clay art or handmade Balsam holiday wreaths, please visit him on  

To learn more about Gary Navarre or to purchase his original photography, go to his site at

*all photo credits for this story go to Regina Bruner Markowicz


Mysteries of the Lakes ~ “They’re out there, and they’re whispering”

Michigan history holds within its memory the stories and dreams of all those who came before us, and many of those memories are closely guarded secrets buried deep within the waters surrounding our state.  The lure of adventure, or wealth – or both –  has called many the brave traveler to explore the waters of the Great Lakes.  Fraught with peril, many of those journeys ended in tragedy and left behind them only questions about their fate.  Mysteries unsolved, stories left untold, their tragic ends impress upon us how quickly our own fate can change.

In our last story, Wintermitten shared the history of the Mariners Church of Detroit and the sinking of the famous S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald. 

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald in the St. Mary's Riv...

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But the mighty “Fitz” is but one of thousands of such tales of seafarers’ peril on the Great lakes.  As inland seas, the Great Lakes are infamous for their hurricane force storms and hold in their strength the power to crush even the strongest of vessels, bringing ship and crew quickly to a watery grave below. 

We are the only state in the country that touches four out of the five Great Lakes – Huron, Michigan, Superior and Erie –  and the boundaries of the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan are surrounded by over three thousand miles of fresh water coastline.  In the depths of these mighty lakes lies all that remains of those who never finished their journeys. 

From the SSEFO research website: 

Approximately 6,000 shipwrecks have occurred on the Great Lakes with the death toll totaling upwards of 30,000 lives. 

Many of these ships have disappeared under mysterious circumstances, often lying hidden for decades before their final whereabouts are discovered, and sometimes leaving behind little or no traces of their disappearance at all.  Because of this, some believe that something more powerful than even a gale force storm may be at play, something strange and even…paranormal

For decades, many have thought that the inland seas of the Great Lakes may actually have a mysterious, perhaps magnetic, force at work similar to that of the Bermuda Triangle.  Calling it The Great Lakes Triangle, there are those that believe these mysterious disappearances may have been the result of some unknown force of nature yet unseen or discovered by science.  So much mystery surrounds some of these events that their stories have made their way in to modern mythology and urban legend.

The triangle is said to have claimed not just ships, but airplanes and human lives.  The compelling stories have attracted not only local curiosity but even reached more mainstream interest.  In 1977, author Jay Gourley wrote The Great Lakes Triangle , and the widely viewed television series “In Search of…”, hosted by Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame, came to Michigan and the lakes to research the story.  From “In Search of…The Great Lakes Triangle“:


“There is a body of water from which the cry of distress comes more often per square mile than any other body of water in the world.  It is not the Devil’s Sea off Japan, the tumultuous waters of the Cape horn, nor the deadly calm of a Sargasso Sea.  It is an area where the search and rescue capabilities have no equal – not the Bermuda Triangle, but another triangle, a triangle formed by the Great Lakes locked in the heart of industrial North America.

Too often the crack search and rescue units of Canada and the United States come back empty-handed.  A ship or plane vanished for no apparent reason or [is] destroyed by forces no one can explain.  An extraordinary statistic has been recently disclosed – fully one-third of all the unsolved American air and sea disasters take place in the Great Lakes Triangle…”

But even amidst the speculation and legends, the mysteries of the lost ships, downed flights and missing persons in the area around the Great Lakes remains, leaving a painful open-ended question for the families and survivors of those whose lives have been lost.  Those families, and all those dedicated to recovering the wrecks and solving the mysteries have found an unexpected ally and resource in a world famous author.

Acclaimed novelist Clive Cussler has dedicated himself to finding answers to these mysteries.  In addition to writing books that are read by 125 million fans in over 100 countries, Cussler is the founder and Chairman of the National Underwater & Marine Agency (NUMA).  The agency’s goal is to find, recover and preserve not just the wreckage of lost ships, but maritime history, as well.  From the NUMA website:

 The National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) is a 501-C3 non-profit, volunteer foundation dedicated to preserving our maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts.

Our purpose is also to reinforce public appreciation of our marine past, present and future by initiating and supporting projects designed to uncover and explore historically significant shipwrecks before they are lost and gone forever.

Clive Cussler founded the agency in 1979 and he and his crew have had tremendous success in their work.  The marine experts at NUMA, with help from volunteers, have discovered over sixty historical underwater shipwreck sites, including the Hattie Wells near South Haven, MI.  The Hattie Wells schooner barge was found in Lake Michigan in 2010 by NUMA and the Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates (MSRA) in “well preserved” condition, after having been missing since its disappearance 1912.  The ship was built by Stewart & Fitzgerald in 1867 in Port Huron, MI.  

The Hattie Wells was found while the NUMA and MSRA crews were actually searching for Flight 2501, a downed commercial airliner missing since 1950.  Cussler and his team were searching for remains of the wreckage or clues to the sudden disappearance of the plane, when they found the 1867 schooner.  The plane disappeared off of radar under highly mysterious circumstances and has never been recovered.  

On June 23, 1950 Northwest Airlines Flight 2501 left from La Guardia airport headed for Seattle with 55 passengers and a 3 person crew.  As the flight was heading over Battle Creek, MI Captain Lind, the pilot of the DC-4, requested clearance to air traffic control to lower his altitude.  The request was denied.  That was the last communication with the fated passenger flight and the DC-4 went missing over Lake Michigan between Benton Harbor, MI and Milwaukee, WI, and was the worst aviation disaster in history at that time.  The Holland, MI based MSRA, headed by Valerie and Jack van Heest describes what happened next:

On the other side of the lake, just before midnight Central Time, Northwest Radio at Milwaukee advised New York, Minneapolis and Chicago that Flight 2501 was overdue reporting in at Milwaukee. At that point, all Civil Aeronautics Administration radio stations attempted to contact the overdue flight on all frequencies, but to no avail. Northwest air traffic control alerted air-sea rescue facilities to stand by. Flight 2501 was missing!

The true fate of Flight 2501 remains a mystery to this day, and Cussler and the MSRA team continue the search.  All that was ever found immediately following the disappearance of the airliner were bits of debris and some small, rather gruesome remains of the passengers on board.  The tragic disappearance was shadowed and soon forgotten as the United States entered into the conflict in Korea.  The researchers at NUMA and MSRA decided to team up to search for the wreckage in 2004 when Cussler read an article about MSRA’s search for the flight and in 2007 they began the search anew.  The group held a memorial service for the surviving family members of those lost in the flight in 2010 and the search for 2501 continues.  While actively seeking significant clues to the whereabouts of the Northwest airliner, they have found two shipwrecks at the deep bottom of the big lake, an 1887 vessel and another not yet identified.  

The two teams have discovered the wreckage in Lake Michigan of the Joseph P. Farnan, lost at sea in 1889.  The ship was headed north to Escanaba from St. Joseph when fire broke out on board after the crew had been battling rough seas and winds for many long hours.  The entire crew was safely rescued, but the ship went down in flames and was never found, until now.  The researchers have also found another ship in the deep waters, believed to be an historic 1830’s era vessel, but it remains to be identified. 

The  stories of peril on the open waters of the Great Lakes related above are but a mere few of the over six thousand shipwrecks known to have occurred.  The severe storms of the inland seas surrounding our state have challenged even the most highly seasoned and experienced mariners throughout history and have claimed the lives of over 30,000 people – sometimes under mysterious and unexplained circumstances.  Researchers, speculators, and surviving family members continue to seek answers to the untold mysteries behind many of these disappearances, and the voices of those who have perished continue to call to those who remain.  For those who hear them, those voices are irresistible.  And for those who dare brave the brilliant, beautiful waters of the lakes to bring forth their treasures and secrets, remember these words from author and explorer Clive Cussler: 

The bottom line is that when the final curtain drops the only things we truly regret are the things we didn’t do.  Or as an old grizzled treasure hunter put it to me over a beer in a waterfront saloon late one evening, “If it ain’t fun, it ain’t worth doin’.  To those of you who seek lost objects of history, I wish you the best of luck.  They’re out there, and they’re whispering.” ~ Clive Cussler

Mariners Church: Twenty-Nine Chimes for Each Man on the “Fitz”

 “The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald...”


The haunting lyrics of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” immortalized forever the true story of the now famous November 10, 1975 sinking of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald freighter.  The Canadian folksinger wrote the song to honor and commemorate the shipwreck and loss of the 29 souls manning the ship the fateful November day.  News of the ship’s disappearance broke after a raging storm took the “Fitz”, leaving behind only an oil slick and debris. Families of the crew, and radio listeners and television viewers around the world were devastated to hear of the tragedy at sea, including Lighfoot–who read about the ship in Newsweek, and soon after wrote the ballad.

The songwriter told the story of the freighter’s journey carrying a load of iron ore from Wisconsin, and the hurricane force storm that took her down, “And ev’ry man knew, as the captain did too ’twas the witch of November come stealin’/The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait when the Gales of November came slashin’/When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain in the face of a hurricane west wind “. 

Known as the November Witch or the Gales of November, the storm carried winds of up to 100 miles per hour and brought waves that rose up to 35 feet high:

The Witch of November is a late-fall storm only known to the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes are freshwater seas that are so large that they can produce their own weather systems. The water temperature of the Great Lakes is still warm in late fall. When cold arctic air from Canada collides with warmer air over the lakes and those brought from the south, severe storms develop bringing winds from 50 to 100 miles per hour.  Wave heights can reach 20 to 35 feet.

The most infamous Witch of November came 35 years ago this month when 60 mph winds, 100 mph gusts and waves of 35 feet sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975. The ship carried 29 crew members and iron ore from Superior, Wisconsin to Detroit, Michigan when she sank near White Fish Point in Lake Superior.

   According to the Farmer’s Almanac:

The November Witch, sometimes phrased as “the Witch of November,” is a popular name for the frequent and brutal system of windy storms that come screaming across the Great Lakes from Canada every autumn.

Though termed “lakes,” North America’s Great Lakes are each large enough to create their own weather systems, making them, more accurately, inland seas. In fact, collectively, the Great Lakes chain makes up the Earth’s largest system of freshwater seas. Each year, right around mid-November, violent gales occur when the low pressure from the frigid arctic air north of the lakes come into contact with warmer fronts pulled up from the Gulf of Mexico. These storms can be so severe that their force is equivalent to a low-level hurricane, with winds above 80 miles per hour and towering 20-foot seas.

In the song, Lighfoot describes the church in downtown Detroit, MI where “the church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times” for the crew of the ship, known as the “Fitz”.  Lightfoot sings, “In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed in the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral.”  The church he describes, actually called the Mariners Church, is the oldest stone church in Detroit.    

The limestone church was originally built in 1842, but was later moved less than 900 feet in 1955.


From the website Experience Detroit Architecture:

This rectangular, front-gable Gothic Revival church with walls of grey, irregularly coursed limestone topped by a crenellated roofline is the oldest stone church in Michigan. The facade shows a single-story dominated by a central rose window depicting a mariner’s compass and mariner’s wheel. The church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was immortalized in the 1975 ballad “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as the “cathedral” where “the church bell chimed ’til it rang 29 times” for each man that perished on the doomed freighter.

In 1818, Colonel John Anderson and his wife Julia (along with her sister Charlotte) came to the area that is now downtown Detroit.  The city was still ‘frontier’ and had recently been witness to fire in 1805, and the War of 1812.  Col. Anderson was commissioned to Detroit to establish an Army Corps of Engineers for the Upper Great Lakes, and the couple acquired a double lot near ‘the wharf’ of the Detroit River. 

Julia and her sister Charlotte later established the church, after her husband died in 1834.  From the Mariners Church of Detroit website:

With the opening of the Erie Canal, the invention of steam-powered boats, and the burgeoning of Detroit, Julia Anderson and her sister Charlotte observed increasing numbers of seamen traverse the city. These sailors were too often marginalized and treated as outsiders—relegated to the back of society, and literally, to the backs of churches. With a heart of compassion Julia Anderson (a widow since 1834), willed in 1842 that her “lot on the corner of Woodward Avenue and Woodbridge Street in Detroit become “a site for a Mariners’ Church…” She also specified that it be a stone church (built for the ages), with “forever free” pews so that mariners would not have to be relegated to the back.

The church was thus constructed on the site of Julia Anderson’s mansion and its exact size was dictated by the lot on which her mansion stood. Initially organized in 1842, within a year Mariners’ commenced upon its mission to watch over the spiritual well-being of sailors and the greater community, and the current stone structure was consecrated in 1849.

  Mariners Church at the corner of Woodbridge and Woodward Ave., circa 1936:
Mariners_Church_1936[1] wikipedia commons (public domain)

The church had to be moved in 1955, with the construction of the new Civic Center, now known as the Renaissance Center.  A Detroit News columnist named George Stark saved the building from demolition by asking his readers to donate funds for the church to be moved just 880 feet to a site that had been the Indian Council House and also the Army Corps of Engineers Topigraphical Corps offices.  The relocation process was featured in the April, 1955 issue of Life magazine.  During the move a pre-civil war tunnel was discovered that had been used by the church as part of the Underground Railroad to assist former slaves from the building’s basement to the waterfront where Detroit meets what is now Windsor, Canada. 

The church was successfully relocated and the Renaissance Center (now the home of the General Motors World Headquarters) was constructed, seen here with present Mariners Church building:

The churches present and permanent location is tightly nestled under the looming shadow of not only the GM headquarters but sits directly on the busy street front of Jefferson Ave. next to Hart Plaza and within feet of the front of the International Detroit Windsor Tunnel:

Windsor-Detroit International Border crossing:

The Native Detroit Women’s Club presented the church with this plaque, placed on an outside wall of the building, in 1961:

While much of the original structure and design were used to rebuild the church in the move, there was also enough donations money left over to add several new elements to maintain the aesthetics of the new locations higher visiblility.  For instance, the original structure abutted another building, so when it was moved the corner stones and side walls which had not been visible before had to be changed. 

East facade of church:


West facade:


Southeast corner:

Southern facade:


Northern facade, on Jefferson Ave:


Several new architectural elements were added to the new structure, including the cross atop the western entrance:
The Brotherhood bell tower:

Stained glass windows were added, created by J & R Lamb Studios of New York City.  The western facade rose compass and side windows in stained glass can be seen here.


 On the grounds of the church various historical markers and points of interest have been added, including  memorial markers and a bronze sculpture (circa 1966) of George Washington donning a master mason’s apron:



On that historic night in November, 1975 Rt. Rev. Richard W. Ingalls, Sr. was awakened with news that the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was in peril.  Soon after, he received word that the ship and crew had perished at sea and he came from the rectory in Grosse Pointe, MI to the Mariners Church to ring the Brotherhood Bell twenty-nine times, one time for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.  He tells his story in the video below:

Partial transcription:

“I was awakened by Robert E. Lee, curator of the Dossin Marine Museum on Belle Isle, who said that the “Fitz” was in trouble.  He had a ship-to-shore phone–radio.  And so I immediately began to get dressed.  In a few minutes, he called me again and said, “It doesn’t look good”, which was a way of course of saying that this ship has gone down but no official word has been made.

I came from the rectory in Grosse Pointe down Jefferson Avenue to this old church, and as this video will probably show (I retraced my steps) entering into the door below, coming up the steps, going across the north…[not clear]…and down into the bell tower, where I rang the Brotherhood Bell twenty-nine times.”

The Mariners Church of Detroit is still open and holds regular services.  In March each year the church holds a Blessing of the Fleet for those going out to sea, and a Great Lakes Memorial Service each November for those who have  lost their lives at sea.  The Great Lakes memorial will be held on November 13, 2011.  For more information, please go to the Mariners Church website.

In the famous song ‘Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’, Gordon Lightfoot described the beautiful gothic stone church “musty” and “old”, but many years later changed those words.  Upon visiting the historic church built to honor mariners and provide a free place of worship to those at sea, Lightfoot told the church that he would substitute the word ‘rustic’ in all future performances of the haunting ballad.  

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, MI in the upper peninsula is now the home of the bell of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald.  From their website:

The legend of the Edmund Fitzgerald remains the most mysterious and controversial of all shipwreck tales heard around the Great Lakes. Her story is surpassed in books, film and media only by that of the Titanic…The Edmund Fitzgerald was lost with her entire crew of 29 men on Lake Superior November 10, 1975, 17 miles north-northwest of Whitefish Point, Michigan. Whitefish Point is the site of the Whitefish Point Light Station and Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) has conducted three underwater expeditions to the wreck, 1989, 1994, and 1995.  At the request of family members surviving her crew, Fitzgerald’s 200 lb. bronze bell was recovered by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society on July 4, 1995. This expedition was conducted jointly with the National Geographic Society, Canadian Navy, Sony Corporation, and Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. The bell is now on display in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum as a memorial to her lost crew.

Finally, in honor of the twenty-nine men who perished on November 10, 1975, I leave you with a video of the famous song:

♫ See the USA in your Chevrolet…♫ ~ Chevy Turns 100

On November 3 Chevrolet celebrated its 100th anniversary.  From the humble beginnings of a Swiss race car driver to an iconic namesake, what an amazing century it has been.  From Detroit to the world, the Chevy brand has made its way into music, television, and history.  It’s as American as ‘baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie’.  The Chevy name is as much a part of Michigan history as Detroit itself, but the story of Chevrolet begins in Switzerland, where Louis Chevrolet was born and raised.

Inventor of Chevrolet Car - Louis Chevrolet

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Christmas Day, December 25, 1878 Louis-Joseph Chevrolet was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland and moved to France when he was nine years old.  Louis learned to repair and build bicycles, learned the basics of gears and mechanics, and eventually built and sold his own bicycle called the Frontenac. 

Louis is said to have been inspired to come to America when he met American millionaire William K. Vanderbilt.  Vanderbilt needed his cycle repaired while vacationing in Europe and was so impressed with young Louis he told him he should go to America where great opportunities for someone of his skills awaited.  And in 1902, after living in Montreal, Canada for a time, that is what he did.  On May 2, 1902 the Chevrolet family arrived in Brooklyn, NY aboard the S.S. La Savoie. 

Louis Chevrolet had developed an interest in bicycle racing early on in Europe and that interest had progressed to automobiles easily.  Chevrolet became known for his mechanical skills and began racing cars in 1905, soon after to be selected as a Fiat Team driver.  In 1909 Louis and his brother Arthur joined the Buick Race Team, where he met William C. Durant.  Durant founded the General Motor Company in 1908, and urged Chevrolet to join him and build a luxury six-cylinder automobile.  On November 3, 1911, William “Billy” Durant and Louis Chevrolet co-founded the Chevrolet Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan.  The relationship between Louis and Durant was short lived and in 1913 Chevrolet parted ways with the company, leaving behind his name as the Chevrolet brand, which is still in production today.

For one hundred years Chevrolet has produced many vehicles, such as the Corvette, Bel-Air, Camaro, Impala, El-Camino, and Suburban.  But the Chevrolet name, and all that it represents–whether it be freedom or youth or luxury or style–has become a part of popular culture in ways that not even Louis-Joseph could ever have predicted.  From the Wall Street Journal:

Chevy also embedded itself in American culture, sometimes changing it by knowing what people wanted to drive before they did. Snappy jingles and slogans dominated radio and television, and bands mentioned Chevys in more than 700 songs. No other automotive brand has come close to the adoration that Chevy won from customers, especially in the 1950s and ’60s.

In music it has been immortalised in Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ ~ “Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry” and in ‘4-0-9’ by the Beach Boys.  Famous Michigan rocker Bob Seger’s song ‘Night Moves’ tells of a liason out in the backseat of his ’60 Chevy and ‘Like a Rock’ was used as an ad campaign selling Chevy trucks.  But perhaps the two most well known Chevrolet memories are the Dinah Shore Chevy Show and the “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet” ad.

The Dinah Shore Chevy Show

Image via Wikipedia

In 1956 Dinah Shore became the first woman to host her own TV show, the Dinah Shore Chevy Show.  Dinah ended the show by singing ‘See the USA in Your Chevrolet’ every episode and did numerous commercial ads for the company.  Dinah can be seen performing the song here:


And who could ever forget this famous 1970’s Chevrolet commercial, as much a part of American culture as, well…baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie:

“They go together, in the good old USA.”  Indeed, they do.

After Louis-Joseph Chevrolet parted ways with Durant and General Motors, selling his stock and forfeiting his own namesake, he went on to design race cars under the brand name Frontenac from his earlier days and continued with his great love, racing.

General Motors has seen many tumultuous changes of its own through the years.  However, the company is making headway and whether one approves of the so-called “auto-bailouts” or not, the car company is making great progress both in its corporate restructuring and its committment to designing cars with the future in mind.  General Motors employs 209,000 people and sells over 7.5 million vehicles in 120 countries worldwide.  The General Motors World Headquarters is located in downtown Detroit, where it engages in the oversight of all of its brands which include Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, GMC, Daewoo, Holden, Isuzu, Jiefang, Opel, Vauxhall and Wuling .


The GM offices are housed in the Renaissance Center building on Jefferson Ave. in the New Center area of Detroit, MI.  View of the GM World Headquarters from Hart Plaza:

View of the south entrance from the Port Detroit riverside:

View from the south on the riverwalk looking up:

The story of Chevrolet is very much a part of the story of General Motors, and has played a major role in not only the industry of a nation and the world, but in popular culture, as well.  Through the last century that story has seen struggle and change and reformation and it all started with a mechanically inclined young man named Louis-Joseph Chevrolet.

That’s all for today.  Please visit Wintermitten on Facebook and share these stories with friends.  If you have an idea for a story, or know Michiganders who are making a difference and would like us to share their stories,  please contact Wintermitten at

Boxing the Compass: Michigan History and Quick Facts

The month of November marks the anniversary of some important moments in Michigan history, events that have left lasting impressions on both our state and the world.  Coming up this week Wintermitten will share some of those stories, but before we do let’s take a brief look at Michigan history through time.

To gain a better understanding of a group of people, a place, a culture, we need to think about certain aspects of history and major events that have helped form their worldview.  To understand a regional culture we must look at things like weather patterns, natural resources, agriculture, and much more to truly understand how even contemporary politics and entertainment and holidays have been enculturated into a viewpoint or ideology.  Like points on a compass, historical events can act as a map, a navigational tool, to better understand a culture, group, or way of thinking. 

A compass rose, sometimes called a windrose, is a figure on a compass, map, nautical chart or monument used to display the orientation of the cardinal directions — North, East, South and West – and their intermediate points. via wikipedia

On a traditional compass rose there are thirty-two directional points.  Naming all 32 points on the rose is called “boxing the compass”.  Modern compasses show two rings, a smaller inner circle set inside a larger outer circle.

The outside ring denotes true cardinal directions while the smaller inside ring denotes magnetic cardinal directions.  

The larger outer ring can be seen as metaphor for the overall culture–representing the natural landscape, geographic location etc–static conditions that are less variable through time.  The inner ring represents more mutable events and ideas–discoveries, inventions, disasters–that form the ideology and lifestyle of a region.  As the Great Lakes state, Michigan is surrounded on three sides by the largest sources of freshwater in the United States and has developed trade, shipping and fishing as part of our economy.  Michigan has a long manufacturing history and is known as the automobile capitol of the world.  Through time we have seen fur trade, race riots, labor uprisings and revolutionary inventions that have helped shape both our people’s viewpoints and in many ways the collective existence of the larger whole of America and beyond.  If we look at important events in Michigan history as points on a compass, we can gain some insight into the broader view of the modern daily culture and understand not only where Michigan has been in the past, but perhaps take  a peek into where we might be heading in the future. 

A brief 32 point timeline of Michigan history:

1.6 million years ago – 10,000 years ago – Pleistocene Epoch.  Last ice age, glacial ice carves out what is now called Michigan.

12,000 – 10,000 years – Michigan’s First People (Paleo-Indian) believed to have migrated from Asia over Bering Land Straight.  10,000 years ago Woodland Nations, Huron, Miami, Council of the Three Fires – Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi (Algonquian language speaking Nations).   

1622 –  Aided by Native American fur traders,  French explorer Etienne Brule and first Europeans reach Michigan at Lake Superior.

1668 – First permanent European settlement founded where Pere Jacques Marquette established Catholic mission at Sault Ste. Marie.

1701 –  Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac founds Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit ( Fort Pontchartrain on-the-straight).

1812 – War of 1812.

1837 – Michigan becomes 26th state in union, bill signed by President Andrew Jackson.

 1842 – Land cession treaty finalized wherein Ojibwe Indians cede lands in Upper Peninsula to federal government.

1846 – Michigan first state in union to abolish death penalty.

1847 – Lansing becomes state capitol.

1855 – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow publishes “The Song of Hiawatha“, set in Michigan’s upper peninsula; the passage of the steamer Illinois through the locks at Sault Ste. Marie marks the opening of unobstructed shipping between Lakes Superior and Huron. 

1866 – Detroit pharmacist James Vernor invents Vernors ginger ale.

1903 – Henry Ford and eleven investors incorporate the Ford Motor Company, Dearborn, MI

1908 – William “Billy” Durant incorporates the General Motors Corporation (and establishes Chevrolet in 1911).

1920 – WWJ Detroit is first radio station in U.S. to broadcast commercial programming.

1925 – Mass oil drilling begins in Saginaw, MI.

1926 – Ernest Hemingway publishes his first novel, Torrents of Spring (Set in Petoskey, MI).

1928 – Malcolm X, civil rights leader, moves to Lansing, MI.

1933 – Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School closes (established in 1893).

1935 – United Auto Workers union (UAW) formed.

1936 – Auto  workers begin spontaneous sit-down strike at General Motors Corporation, Flint, MI.

1942 – First B-24 bomber rolls off the assembly line at the Willow Run Bomber Plant near Ypsilanti.  

1943 – Race riots in Detroit.

1957 – Mackinac Bridge opens to traffic, connecting upper and lower peninsulas; civil rights leader Rosa Parks moves to Michigan.

1963 – Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. joins “Walk to Freedom” in Detroit, largest civil rights demonstration in nation’s history at that time.  The march culminated with a speech by King that described his “dream” of blacks and whites “walking together hand in hand, free at last.”  It is widely believed this speech was the beginning of King’s “I have a Dream” speech made in Washington later that year. 

1965 – Giant Uniroyal tire landmark erected at the tire company’s I-94 Allen Park sales office (it was originally a ferris wheel at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.)

1967 – Race riots in Detroit.

1973 – Construction of Interstate highway I-75 in Michigan is completed, running from Miami, FL to the upper peninsula of Michigan. 

1977 – Sleeping Bear Dunes becomes a national park.

1987 – Michigan celebrates 150 years of statehood.

2008 – 2010 – Michigan has highest unemployment rate in the country.

2010 – 20,000 barrels of crude oil spilled in Kalamazoo River by Enbridge Energy.

The above timeline is only a small listing of some of the many important events that have helped shape Michigan’s culture and change not just our state, but in many cases, the nation and the world. Labor struggles and civil rights movements and invention and industry have been an undeniable factor in the ever changing landscape of this beautiful state.  Throughout our sometimes painful history, the people of Michigan have built a foundation that transcends our economic and social struggles and survives and improves with each passing generation.

Finally, before we end our lessons today, here are some quick facts about Michigan:

  • The name Michigan is derived from the Indian words “Michi-gama” meaning large lake.
  • Michigan includes:
    • 57,022 sq. mi. of land area (16,439 sq. mi. in the U.P.)
    • 1,194 sq. mi. of inland waters
    • 38,575 sq. mi. of Great Lake water area
    • 3,126 miles of Great Lakes shoreline (more fresh water coastline than any other state)
    • 19,000,000 acres of forest cover 
  • The population is 9,883,640 (2010 Census).
  • Michigan is the only state that touches four of the five Great Lakes. 
  • 40 of Michigan’s 83 counties touch at least one of the Great Lakes.
  • Michigan has more than 11,000 inland lakes and more than 36,000 miles of streams–you are never more than six miles from one of them.

Image of Coat of arms superimposed over the Great Seal

Michigan’s official state motto is:

“Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice”

“If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”

This statement holds many truths. Michigan is a land of great splendors. Full of natural beauty, historical importance and citizens full of hope and energy as we enter into a new millennium. 

But just ask any Michigander and they’ll tell you, the un-official state motto is “if you don’t like the weather, wait a few hours.”

Thanks for reading and we’ll see you soon.  Up next, Chevrolet turns 100 years old, and a deeper look into the story of a famous shipwreck.

Further Reading:,1607,7-153-54463_54466_20840—,00.html

Greetings from Michigan–a blog is born!

Welcome to wintermitten, a spanking new blog about Michigan living and Great Lakes culture.  We’re ready to roll, as shiny and new as an “Imported From Detroit” Chrysler 300 right off the production line .

The Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan, i...

Image via Wikipedia

In times to come we’ll be sharing stories about Michigan’s diverse history, culture,  and — most importantly — the people who live here.  Readers can look forward to future dispatches on a wide variety of topics — a centuries old cannon found in a river, a rare book long forgotten in a  dusty attic, a city known for its strange healing baths. We’ll discover Pewabic pottery, petroglyphs, and shipwrecks. We will take a new look into our historic past, and meet some folks who are working in their communities to make a better future.   

Upper Falls, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Mic...

Image via Wikipedia

We’ll explore lighthouses, learn local myths and folklore, and find out how urban farming is changing a blighted city landscape.  In weeks and months ahead we will stop ‘by woods on a snowy evening’, sing the Song of Hiawatha and part the rushing waters of Tahquamenon. 

 After a long day skipping petoskey stones, playing snowsnake, and listening to the sighs of singing sands, we’ll share some recipes and sit a spell over a nice glass of cherry wine.  
Michigan, the “mitten” state, has plenty of stories to tell, and we’re sure you haven’t heard the best ones yet.  That’s why we’re here.  We hope you will join us on our journey and visit often.  Come along and find out why Michigan’s state motto is “if you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”
  Lake Michigan / Sleeping Bear Dunes