Museum Round Up: Year of Museums, Part I.

Back in January, I wrote that my New Year’s Resolution was to visit one museum a month for 2014. We’re now almost halfway through the year, and a regular reader of my blog would think that I had completely failed at my year of museums! In fact, I have visited a number of museums (although not quite one a month) but I haven’t written about any of them here. So I thought I would do a quick round up of my Year of Museums so far, and mention some of my upcoming museum plans.

I really didn’t make it to many museums in the early part of the year, and none at all in Michigan. In January, I visited Mabry Mill along the Blue Ridge Parkway while visiting family in Virginia. Mabry Mill is an outdoor complex that features a number of historic structures, including a sawmill, gristmill and blacksmith’s shop. Unfortunately, the buildings are only open from May-October, so during our January visit we could only walk around the exteriors and read some of the interpretive signs. It was still very interesting, and the scenery along the Blue Ridge Parkway was stunning, even in winter. I’d love to go back in the summer sometime, but it’s a bit far away!

Mabry Mill in Virginia

Mabry Mill in Virginia

In April, I visited the Arab American National Museum for the first time in a few years. The building itself is an architectural beauty and the exhibits inside are equally impressive. There are three main exhibits on the top floor: Coming to America, Living in America and Making an Impact, as well as a rotating exhibit space on the first floor. When we were there it was an exhibit on art in the Orthodox church, which I thought was fascinating. I don’t want to give too much of a review of the museum here, as it turns out I’m going to be spending a lot more time at the AANM in the future – I was recently offered a position there in the collections department, so I will be starting a new job in a few weeks!

Gorgeous ceiling at the Arab American National Museum

Gorgeous ceiling at the Arab American National Museum

May was a museum bonanza – I visited 3 that month alone! The Detroit Historical Museum was first, and I brought my grandparents as a late Christmas gift (my parents came along as well). I thought it had been a while since I had visited that particular museum, but they said they hadn’t been there since the 1960s or 70s! The newly remodeled exhibits were amazing, and included lots of fun interactive activities. Because I visited with my grandparents and my parents, all of whom have spent most of their lives in Metro Detroit, I especially enjoyed the Allesee Gallery of Culture. The Gallery of Culture isn’t one of the big, maquee exhibits. It is just one circular room, set up as a timeline of Detroit in the 20th century. Each section covers a decade or two and contains stories about living in Detroit in that era and artifacts and images from the era as well. It was so fun to go through this room with my parents and grandparents, because we were all drawn to the different sections that resonated with us.  I really enjoyed hearing my family talk about the different items and events they remembered that were represented in the exhibit. I imagine this exhibit isn’t ideal for an out-of-towner, or a group of friends the same age, but if you are bringing family to the museum, it is a wonderful multi-generational conversation starter!

Allesee Gallery of Culture

Allesee Gallery of Culture

A few weeks after the DHS, I went to the Detroit Institute of Arts with some friends to check out their traveling exhibition “Samurai: Beyond the Sword.” It was an excellent exhibit, but obviously had nothing to do with Michigan history, so I won’t talk to much about it here. You can read more about the history of the DIA here. I do want to note that I love love love that the DIA is open late on Fridays, AND serves drinks and food downstairs in the Kresge Court. I love being able to go to an exhibition at 8pm and then hang out with a glass of wine in the middle of a museum (of course, the wine stays in the court). Maybe that sounds like a lame Friday night, but judging by the number of people that were there at the same time, I’m clearly not the only one who enjoys history and art in the evening! Oh, and of course I spent a few minutes in Rivera Court – I can’t visit the DIA with out spending time with the Diego Rivera murals. Rivera Court is mostly lit through skylights, so it becomes darker in the evening, giving it a more ominous look.

"Detroit Industry" by Diego Rivera

“Detroit Industry” by Diego Rivera

My last museum in May was the Thumb Octagon Barn Agricultural Museum. This was a surprise museum trip while I was visiting my sister in, where else, the thumb of Michigan. She wouldn’t tell me where we were going until we got there! It was a lot bigger than I expected. Besides the barn, which is huge (and of course, 8-sided), there’s also a one-room schoolhouse, a small schoolhouse museum, a carriage house, and the farmhouse itself. We received a tour of most of the buildings from one of the volunteer docents, who drove us all over the complex in a golf cart. While the other buildings are interesting, the barn is clearly the centerpiece of the museum. Built in 1923-1924, the owner modeled it after a similar barn he had seen in Indiana. At the time, round and octagon barns were hailed as the “barn of the future” because you could fit more square footage inside one. That idea definitely rings true with this barn – it’s huge, at 102 feet across and 70 feet high. The architects employed a unique ventilation system to regulate the temperature inside so it does not become stuffy, even on the higher levels. It was a fascinating piece of architecture, both when it was built and today. Currently, the main floor is used for events, and also has a display of buggies. The second floor is filled with a variety of agricultural instruments from the 19th and 20th centuries. There is also a small exhibit sponsored by one of the local electrical companies, which features a number of early electrical appliances. It is certainly a unique museum that is worth a stop if you ever find yourself out that way.

Thumb Octagon Barn Agricultural Museum

Thumb Octagon Barn Agricultural Museum

That completes my museum round up! As it stands right now, we’re 6 months into 2014 and I’ve visited 5 museums. 4 in Michigan, 3 about local history. Not bad! I should be adding a bit to that list in a few weeks, as I’m heading up the U.P. on vacation, and I’m looking to hit a few museums up there. I’ll be mostly in the Keweenaw peninsula, so I’m using the list of museums and historic sites on the Keweenaw National Historic Park website for ideas on what to visit. Feel free to leave me some suggestions in the comments, I’d love to hear what places I shouldn’t miss!

 

Joe Louis Arena: the Heart of Hockeytown

Playoff hockey is back in Detroit! I went to one of the last regular season games a couple of weeks ago, which of course meant heading over to Joe Louis Arena. I love the Joe, as there’s not a bad seat in the house. It’s certainly not the fanciest of stadiums – bland concrete is it’s main aesthetic – and it was once even voted the worst sports arena in the country by Maxim (not that we care about Maxim’s opinion). Many Detroiters admit it is a dump, but it’s our dump! However, we won’t be watching hockey games there much longer, as a new arena is slated to be built within the next few years. I’m interested to see the new arena, although I’m not thrilled about how it is being funded. And it will be sad to lose the Joe, as it witnessed the rebirth of the Red Wings. When the stadium was built, in 1979, the Wings were terrible, earning themselves the nickname of “Dead Wings.” In the 35 years since then, they’ve become one of the best teams in hockey, winning the Stanley Cup in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008. Detroit has earned the nickname Hockeytown thanks to the Wings’ many victories, and the Joe was a huge part of that. In honor of the last days of the arena, here’s five facts about its history:

  • Joe Louis Arena is one of only 3 NHL arenas without a corporate sponsor name, and the only one named after a person (the other two are Madison Square Garden and Nassau Veterans Memorial Colosium, home of the New York Rangers and Islanders, respectively).
  • Joe Louis, the famous boxer for whom the stadium was named, has an interesting story himself. He catapulted onto the national stage in 1935 after beating heavyweight champion Primo Carnera, and quickly became a champion in his own right. He wasn’t only known for boxing, however. He also became a patriotic figure during WWII. Near the beginning of the war, he participated in a charity bout benefiting the Navy Relief Society. He fought (and defeated) Bobby Baer, raising around $88,000 in the process. The next day, he enlisted in the Army – who then wanted him to do another charity bout, this time benefiting them. He quickly agreed. In an event leading up to the fight, Louis was quoted saying about the war and his enlistment “We gonna do our part, and we will win, because we are on God’s side.” The media, and the military, quickly latched on to the quote, and it was used in recruitment posters and other propaganda throughout the war. He served in a special services division and traveled around the states and overseas, mostly participating in exhibition fights for the troops and visiting hospitals. Although Louis never saw combat during the war, his role as troop entertainer and morale booster was still considered a significant contribution to the war effort.
Joe Louis recruitment poster (source)

Joe Louis recruitment poster (source)

  • Bruce Norris, who owned the team in the 1970s, seriously considered building a stadium out in Pontiac to replace the Wings’ former home, Olympia Stadium. Not wanting to lose another team to the suburbs (the Lions had already left the city for the Pontiac Silverdome, and the Pistons followed soon after), the city offered him a great deal on riverfront property if he stayed in the city. Thank goodness for that!

    Construction of Joe Louis Arena (source)

    Construction of Joe Louis Arena (source)

 

  • The Joe has hosted many non-hockey events over the years, including the 1980 Republican National Convention in which Ronald Reagan was nominated. I mainly bring this up so I can show this amusing picture, from the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University. It is clearly a posed portrait, taken either during the set up or tearing down of the event. I love the combination of the construction equipment in the background, the one random woman on the ice with balloons and that awesome 80s style.
  • Another non-hockey event: the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Yep, the one with the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan mess. Although the attack actually happened next door at Cobo Hall, the championship events took place on the ice at the Joe. Did you know that leading up the the event, the big news was that the International Skating Union had decided to allow skaters who had skated professionally to return to amateur status so that they could compete in the Olympics? Brian Boitano, 1988 gold medalist who had spent a few years on the professional circuit, returned to amateur competition at the event came in second place. Too bad his big comeback got overshadowed by the crazy event’s on the women’s side.

There’s your five facts about Joe Louis Arena! What do you think about the Joe? One of your favorite spots in the city or are you relieved it’s getting replaced?

 

 

Mormons in Michigan: Beaver Island

This terrible winter, and not-so-great spring so far (it was SNOWING two days ago!) has kept me from doing as much visiting of historical sites and museums as I would like. So to satisfy my Michigan history itch, I recently read Women and the Lakes by Frederick Stonehouse, which included many interesting stories of women on and around the Great Lakes. Much as I enjoyed reading about female lighthouse keepers, ships’ cooks and even a few ships’ captains, the story that most stuck out for me was actually about a man – a king, in fact. King James Jesse Strang of the Mormon Kingdom of Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan.

 

King James Strang (source)

James Strang
(source)

The book mentioned Strang when telling the story of Elizabeth Williams, who lived on Beaver Island as young girl and later as lighthouse keeper at the St. James lighthouse. Elizabeth wrote a memoir of her life, titled A Child of the Sea; and Life among the Mormons, which includes her memories of the brief Mormon takeover of the island. In it, she states that her family was driven from their home in the dead of night at gunpoint by the Mormons. To understand what Mormons were doing driving people off an island in Lake Michigan, we’ll need some background first:

Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion, died in 1844, creating a power vacuum among his followers. Most Mormons followed Brigham Young (and eventually traveled to Utah), but a small minority followed James Strang, a charismatic leader who who had only become a Mormon five months previously. Strang’s followers first settled in Voree, Wisconsin, but he began moving his group to Beaver Island in 1848. They settled on the island because they needed more land and so that they could be more isolated from other white settlers, who they called Gentiles.

-

Problem was, there were already many of these Gentiles living on the island, including Elizabeth Williams’ family. Although the Mormons started out a small group, they quickly grew as more moved to the island. Within two short years they had become 74% of the population. Tension with the locals was high, and conflicts erupted over land, fishing, and the Mormon religion, especially polygamy. In 1850, the increased Mormon population took over many elected offices, cementing their power on the island.

Also in 1850, Strang proclaimed himself King, with a coronation ceremony that included a crown, robe, shield and scepter. Although Strang claimed not to hold authority over non-Mormon residents, in practice he tried to control them. He clearly wanted them off the island, and the Mormons were accused of forcibly seizing property and physically assaulting locals. Violence occurred on both sides, as the Gentiles wanted the Mormons off the island as well. At one point, Strang was even arrested for obstructing the U.S. Postal Service and taken to Detroit for trial, although the case quickly unraveled and he returned to Beaver Island.

Eventually, Strang and his follows stopped even pretending to follow the laws of the land. He claimed to have a vision from God stating that the islands were to be controlled by the Mormons, and through a process of intimidation and violence, forced the last remaining Gentiles off the island. The Williams family was one of the last to flee. I’d love to read Elizabeth’s memoir at some point to further understand the perspective of non-Mormon settlers on the island at this tumultuous time.

After the Mormons had completely taken over, rumors began to fly on the mainland that the Mormons on the island were engaged in piracy and other nefarious deeds. Stories claimed Mormon ships would troll the shoreline, looking for unprotected towns and farmhouses to raid. Using his faithful Mormon voting bloc, Strang was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1853 , where he used his influence get a Mormon lighthouse keeper appointed to a nearby lighthouse. After the Mormon keeper took his post, lake captains claimed that he would periodically turn the light off so that ships would get stuck on the rocks and then plundered by Mormon pirates. The most vicious tales accused Mormon crews of attacking ships on the lake, killing their crews and stealing their cargo. Most of these stories have no proof, and those that have some basis in fact may have been greatly exaggerated. Nonetheless, just the fact that these stories were told shows the level of the animosity between the Mormons and the Gentiles.

Despite these tales of treachery, the Mormons on the island also accomplished a number of good tasks. They founded the town of St. James, which became the most populous on the island. They also founded first newspaper in northern Michigan, the Northern Islander. Strang himself was instrumental in getting two lighthouses built on the island – one of which would later be kept by Elizabeth Williams. The Mormons built up the infrastructure of the island, including many roads, businesses and public buildings, creating a much more modern community than had previously existed.

Ultimately, conflict within the Mormon community brought down Strang. King Strang had some strange ideas and tried to dictate the minutia of his followers’ lives, which they did not always appreciate. In 1856, he proclaimed that all women must wear bloomers, a garment many hated. When one women dared to refuse the order, he had her husband flogged in public. In retaliation, the husband and a friend shot Strang in the back. Neither man was ever convicted of the crime and Strang died a few days later on July 9, 1856.

 

Young girl in bloomer outfit, mid 1800s (source)

Example of a bloomer outfit on a young girl, mid 1800s
(source)

After Strang’s death, people from nearby islands and the mainland drove the Mormons off Beaver Island. Although many were former Beaver Islanders, the leaders were likely speculators interested in the land cleared and cultivated by the Mormons. These Gentiles showed no kindness and mercy to the Mormons – most were forced on to boats without any possessions, ending up in Detroit or Chicago with nothing but the clothes on their backs and losing everything they had built on Beaver Island. The settlers took back their own homes as well as those built by the Mormons, thus ending the strange and sad tale of the Mormons on Lake Michigan.

Most of the Mormon buildings are gone from the island, including the “King’s Cottage,” Strang’s home, which was allowed to fall to ruins after his death. However, a print shop built by the Mormons still stands and contains the main museum of the Beaver Island Historical Society (they also run a marine museum and a historic house museum). Guess I need to add another museum to my list!

I hope you found this story as fascinating as I did – who knew there was a Mormon Kingdom in Michigan!

 

Famous Michigander Friday – Olympic Edition

The Olympics are Pure Michigan

The Olympics are Pure Michigan

One of my favorite parts of the Sochi Olympics was watching Meryl Davis and Charlie White win gold in Ice Dancing. Davis and White both grew up in Royal Oak and still live and train in the Metro Detroit area. In honor of their win, and all the Michiganders in Sochi, here are my five favorite medal-winning Michigan Olympians:

Ralph Craig

Michigan’s first Olympic medalist, sprinter Ralph Craig won gold in the 100 meter and 200 meter at the 1912 Stockholm Games. 2 golds in one game is nothing to scoff at, but what really impressed me is that Craig returned to the the Olympics 36 years later, as an alternate for the yachting team at the 1948 London games. The 59 year old Craig did not get a chance to compete, but he did receive the honor of carrying the American flag at the opening ceremonies.

Richard Degener

Diver Richard Degener competed in two Olympics, 1932 in Los Angeles and 1936 in Berlin. He won bronze in 1932 and gold in 1936, both in the 3 meter springboard event. My favorite part of his story comes right after his victory in 1936 – a few monthes later, the White House presented Detroit with a plaque honoring its athletic victories (the Tigers, Lions and Red Wings had all recently won championships). Initially, the plaque was going to honor a baseball player, football player, hockey player, power boat racer, and a boxer. The boxer would be famous Detroiter Joe Louis. However, a stunning loss by Louis weeks before the plaque was finished caused the makers to remove his image and replace it with a more up-and-coming-star: Degener. I love this story because few people remember Degener today but Joe Louis is one of the most famous Detroit athletes of all time. I’m glad Degener got a brief moment in the spotlight, he certainly deserved it!

Eddie Tolan

Another sprinter, Eddie Tolan repeated Craig’s feat of winning both the 100 and 200 meters at one Olympics  – 1932 Los Angeles. Tolan, who grew up in Detroit and attended Cass Technical High School, had some serious hometown pride. He played football at Cass Tech, and was often quoted saying that “the six touchdowns he scored in one game as a 131-pound quarterback at Detroit’s Cass Tech High School was his greatest thrill, rather than his double win in the Olympics.”

Sheila Young-Ochowicz

Michigan’s first female medal winning Olympian was speedskater Sheila Young. Young won gold, silver and bronze at the 1976 Innsbruck games in the 500m, 1500m, and 1000m, respectively. Young is part of an incredibly athletic, and Olympic, family. Her husband Jim Ochowicz, and brother, Roger Young, both competed in cycling at the 1972 Munich games, with her Jim going on to the 1976 Montreal games as well. Her brother’s wife, Connie Paraskivin-Young, was a speedskater like Sheila, competing at the 1984 Sarajevo games before switching to track cycling, for which she won a bronze medal in 1988 in Seoul. Sheila’s daughter, Ellie Ochowicz, followed in her mother’s footsteps, competing in speedskating in 2002 in Salt Lake City, 2006 in Turin and 2010 in Vancouver.  Wow!

Shelley Looney

Shelley Looney is a hockey player who won gold with in the 1998 Nagano games and silver at the 2002 Salt Lake City games. Her other claim to fame? In 1980, as a kid in Brownstown, she wrote a letter of thanks to Canada for their role in rescuing the six Americans who escaped from the U.S. embassy at the start of the Iran Hostage Crisis. Her letter was actually turned into a single by Mercury Records, called “(This is My Country) Thank You, Canada).” Her gratitude didn’t extend to hockey, however, as she scored the game-winning goal in the 1998 game to beat Canada and win the gold medal.

Honorable Mention: Mark Wells and Ken Morrow

I have to give a final mention to Mark Wells and Ken Morrow, both member of the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey team. Not only are they both from Michigan, they also both attended and played for Bowling Green State University, my own alma mater (yes, I went to school in Ohio). Go Michigan, but also, go Falcons!

The Big Heads….They’re Following Me!

Back in 2012, I wrote a post about Detroit’s Thanksgiving Parade, including a short blurb about the Big Head Corps:

“There’s a number of unique aspects to Detroit’s parade. The Big Head Corp is one. As I mentioned before, these have been part of the parade since the very beginning, as Charles Wendel had seen people wearing giant fake heads in Italy during Carnival and wanted to bring the idea here. The heads were made in a studio in Viareggio, Italy by Alfredo Moreschalchi and staff. The ones used in Detroit are smaller than the ones used in Italy. The heads depict characters, animals and famous Detroiters/Michiganders such as Henry Ford, Joe Louis and this year, Sparky Anderson.”

I’ve always loved the Big Heads. They are such a unique part of the parade, and showcase some of our best local celebrities. So I’ve been thrilled, lately, that I’ve been seeing the Big Heads around the city in other venues. Why should these awesome figures only be seen once a year?

First, I ran into some historic big heads at the Fisher building when I went to go see War Horse at the Fisher Theater in early January. These heads date back to before 1940, and show very different figures than the big heads of today. Instead of famous locals, most of these heads are shaped like animals or generic characters like pirates and clowns. Made in Viareggio and imported to Detroit for the parade, the Italian newsprint used in the papier-mâché construction is still visible on some of the heads (sadly, I have no pictures of that).

How you wear this while walking, I have no idea

How you wear this while walking, I have no idea

The board below these say two roosters, but I'm pretty sure the one on the left is a hippo....

The board below these say two roosters, but I’m pretty sure the one on the left is a hippo….

So what were these big heads doing at the Fisher? Pure Detroit (the same company from my tours of the Fisher and Guardian buildings), worked with The Parade Company to put on the display, called “Big Heads Take the Fisher.” The Parade Company, which is the non-profit that runs the Thanksgiving parade, owns over 300 big heads, ranging from the 20 historic heads on display to the modern ones still seen in the parade (which are now made locally). Although Pure Detroit and The Parade Company organized the display partially to show off the great history of the big heads, there was another goal as well – many of these older heads are in poor condition and in need of restoration. The Parade Company is looking for people to adopt individual figures to help pay for the necessary conservation work so that these antique heads can eventually  be put back in the parade. Wish I had the cash to adopt one – I would love to see more of these historic figures Thanksgiving morning!

Sometimes I get fancy. And pose with creepy pirates.

Sometimes I get fancy. And pose with creepy pirates.

A few weeks later, I went to the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) downtown. Although the main floor just featured cars, the downstairs exhibit room included a few other displays, including one by The Parade Company. The ParadeLand KidZone, as it was called, offered a mini-tour to kids (and adults!) of some of the floats and big heads used in the parade. They also participated in the daily parades through the main floor, although we sadly missed that part. I loved getting a chance to get up close with the big heads and floats, especially when I (once again) wasn’t expecting to see them.

I see Joe Louis and Henry Ford, and I think Aretha Franklin - not sure about the guy in the middle!

I see Joe Louis and Henry Ford, and I think Aretha Franklin – not sure about the guy in the middle!

One of these days, I would love to go on a tour of The Parade Company’s warehouse downtown and see more of the behind the scenes work for the parade. You need a minimum of 10 people for a tour however…..so I need to find 9 friends who are as crazy as me!

Has anyone else run into any unexpected history lately?

2014: The Year of Museums

Happy New Year! Yes, I know, I’m a few days late.  Everybody is already sick of talk of new year’s resolutions, but I’m going to talk about mine anyway. My initial thought had been to resolve to “blog more.” But “more” is too vague, and I don’t want to make blogging into a chore. I blog because I like to write about the awesome history of Michigan, and I don’t want to write because I feel like I have to. Which got me thinking – my favorite topic to write about is visits to museums, so instead of resolving to just “blog more,” why don’t I resolve to do more that will then inspire me to blog? Which is why I’m making 2014 The Year of Museums: I want to visit at least one museum a month for the whole year.

First off, reflection. Where did I go in 2013? How many museums did I visit? (I’m counting any kind of museum here – art, science, history, etc; but not other cultural institutions/locations that have museum-like qualities, i.e. the Detroit Zoo. Also, to be fair, I won’t count the museum I work at.)

In Michigan, I visited:

I went to a few out of state museums as well:

  • Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, FL*
  • Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, DC

*Denotes that it was my first visit to that museum

Seven museums – not bad. Still, it’s barely over half of my goal for this year.

Where do I want to go in 2014? There’s quite a few nearby museums I’ve been meaning to visit:

Those four will make a good place to start. I’m sure I’ll hit a few more Detroit, and I always search for local museums whenever I’m travelling out of town. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to visit museums all over Michigan. I’m sure one or two will be out of state, however, I’ll try to resist writing about those here!

What museums do you think I need to visit this year, both in the Detroit area and throughout the state? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter – I’m always open to suggestions!

At The Henry Ford last May

At The Henry Ford last May

The Frostbitten Convention; or, How Michigan Ended the Toledo War and Became a State

177 years ago today, on December 14th, 1836, Michiganders signed a compromise that lost them the city of Toledo, gained them the Upper Peninsula and allowed them to become the 26th state in the union. The compromise was accepted at what became known as the Frostbitten Convention due to both the cold spell sweeping the area and also due to the frosty feelings of many towards the signers  of the questionably legal document – a document that many saw as an acceptance of defeat. Defeat by our enemy to the south, Ohio.

Marker commemorating the event in Ann Arbor (source)

Marker commemorating the convention in Ann Arbor
(source)

You may or may not have heard of the Toledo War – a “war” fought between Michigan and Ohio concerning the Toledo Strip, a narrow strip of land at the northern end of Ohio claimed by both states. Toledo and the surrounding area, which included the Maumee river and access to Lake Erie, were considered valuable to both sides due to the existing waterways and potential for canals, a major mode of transportation. The origins of the dual claims root back to the creation of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, which stated that if states were eventually formed out of the territory, their border would be drawn by an east-west line extending from the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Only trouble was, nobody was sure exactly how far south Lake Michigan went, and in fact thought it was much farther north than it actually was (cartography wasn’t so good in those days).

When Ohio petitioned for statehood in 1803, it assumed it would include the Toledo area, but then discovered that Lake Michigan went further south than they thought, which would cause them to lose Toledo and possibly even their access to Lake Erie. Their solution was to add a provision into their constitution protecting their claim to the land, no matter the boundary of Lake Michigan. Congress accepted the constitution but essentially ignored the provision. Two years later, in 1805, Congress created the Michigan Territory, using the same boundaries designated in the Northwest Ordinance. Although residents of the area pushed for a resolution to the issue for years, it was not resolved until 30 years later when Michigan petitioned for its own statehood – including the Toledo strip.

Michigan asked Congress for statehood, Ohio objected and stalled the measure, and both became determined to stick to their guns. Literally. In 1835, both Ohio and Michigan (led by hot-heated “Boy Governor” Stevens T. Mason) raised militias and sent troops to the Maumee River to basically taunt each other. There were two conflicts of what is now called the Toledo War – although neither  caused any casualties. The first, known as the Battle of Phillips Corner, is a bit of a misnomer. In April 1835, Ohio surveyors out trying to mark their claim of the border were forced to retreat by members of the Michigan militia. Although a few shots were fired into the air, nobody was hurt. The second incident occurred over the summer. Monroe County Sheriff Joseph Wood set out to arrest Toledo Justice of the Peace Benjamin Stickney, but he and his sons resisted. Although all were eventually subdued and arrested, Wood was stabbed in the scuffle by Stickney’s son, Two Stickney (yes, his name was Two. Guess what his older brother’s name was?) with a pen knife. Wood survived the injury, but the incident caused tensions to rise, especially after Ohio refused to extradite Two to Michigan for trial.

It is also remembered in Ohio (source)

It is also remembered in Ohio
(source)

Meanwhile, President Andrew Jackson realized that Ohio, with its growing influence in Congress and political position as a swing state (yes, even then), was more valuable to him than Michigan. In an attempt to end the conflict and keep Ohio happy, he urged Congress to propose a compromise in the summer of 1836 – if Michigan would give up Toledo, it would be granted statehood and gain the western Upper Peninsula from Wisconsin (Michigan already had the eastern portion). Because the UP was mostly still Indian territory, Michigan voters saw this as a raw deal and rejected it at a state convention in September in Ann Arbor.

Throughout that fall, Congress and President Jackson continued to pressure Michigan to accept the deal. Additionally, Michigan was in bad financial straits due to high militia expenses and needed the support statehood would give. The United States Treasury was posed at the time to distribute a $400,000 surplus to the states – but not territories. So they called another convention in Ann Arbor in December, which later became known as the Frostbitten Convention, and voted the compromise into law.

The convention was very controversial – it was not approved by legislation (neither the territorial legislature or the U.S. Congress), the delegates were chosen by caucuses rather than elections, and some counties (including Monroe, right on the border with Toledo) refused to participate – all of which caused many to say it was illegal. Many Michiganders rejected the results. Congress, however, agreed that the convention was questionably legal, but chose to accept the results anyway. Michigan officially became a state on January 26th, 1837.

And that is how on a cold, dark day in December, 177 year ago, we realized we had been beaten and gave up the Toledo strip in exchange for statehood. But hey, I think it turned out to be a pretty good deal. Although many wrote off the U.P. as useless wilderness at the time, it turned out to have vast stores of copper and iron that became a major industry in the state. Also, it’s just breathtakingly beautiful and Toledo is…….not. So I’m going to go ahead and call this a win, and celebrate the Frostbitten Convention with a steaming mug of hot chocolate while I watch the snow outside. I hope you do the same!