On Jan. 1, 2020, Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, will announce the 45th Banished Words List – a collection of misused, over-used, and useless words that offend the literary senses. More than a gimmick, the annual list reflects the well-earned literary spunk of this small-town rich in a literary tradition that has nurtured local writers of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for over two centuries. Whether you are a resident or planning a trip here, this selection of books by local authors will enrich your understanding of the Soo’s uniqueness and long history still evident in key sites within the city’s downtown.
Head to the River
River of Destiny: The Saint Marys by Joseph E. Bayliss, Estelle L. Bayliss with Milo M. Quaife is a great place to start building an understanding of the area’s history from the early 1600s when the French first made contact with the indigenous Anishinaabe (first people) until the 20th century. Changes in the colonial possession to the British and finally the Americans; wars; grand construction projects; and repeated boom-bust economic cycles mark the Soo’s history. A commemorative edition was published in 2018 to recognize the city’s 350th anniversary.
The Soo Locks attracts over half a million visitors annually, day and night, snow, rain, or shine. Upbound Downbound: The Story of the Soo Locks by Bernie Arbic and Nancy Steinhaus chronicles the history of the locks from the era of manually hauling boats along Portage Avenue around the rapids to construction and upgrades of the locks. For an insider’s view of living and working on the Great Lakes, Richard Hill’s Lake Effect: A Deckhand’s Journey on the Great Lakes Freighters tells the story of the author as a young man working on the boats.
One of the oldest streets, Water Street, was once the bustling center of the town. Today it is a quiet street that passes the old Fort Brady site (now a park) and an obelisk marker honoring the site of the Anishinaabe village and cemetery, which were displaced to build the fort. Past the U.S. Coast Guard station and parallel to the St. Marys River, visit Water Street’s Historic Homes, beginning with Elmwood, the former home of the Johnston family. Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (Bamewawagezhikaquay), daughter of Susan Johnston (Oshahguscodaywayquay), and John Johnston, grew up in this home in the early 1800s. She was an accomplished poet and writer of prose. She married Indian Agent Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. She played an essential role in his collection of indigenous stories, which Henry Longfellow relied on to write the epic poem, Hiawatha, in the style of the Finnish epic, Kalevala. Her works, many of which have been lost, were collected for the first time in The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, edited by Robert Dale Parker.
Mystery and Mayhem
Once known as the “Bucket of Blood Saloon and Ice Cream Parlor,” the Antlers Restaurant further down on Portage Avenue has a history of brothels, violence, bootlegging during Prohibition, and unexplained encounters since. Local authors, Brad Blair, Tim Ellis, and Steve LaPlaunt share investigations of paranormal activities here and in other spots downtown in Yoopnatural Haunts: Upper Peninsula Paranormal Research Society Case Files. Don’t read it alone!
These books will get you started with your Winter reading to learn more about Sault Ste. Marie and prepare you to visit the sites, while exploring the literary tradition of local authors, past and present. Most are available in local shops such as Island Books & Crafts. And don’t forget to check out LSSU’s list of banished words on New Year’s Day. What words annoyed you in 2019? Share them and your favorite books authored by locals with the hashtag #ilovethesoo on social media. And don’t forget to tag us on your post on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Guest writer Susan M. Puska contributed this blog post.
Looking to read more on local history this winter? Check out previous posts here: