September 6, 2010
History Preserved in Beautifully-Written First Book of Series on Whitefish Township
Jan Huttenstine has captured the history of Whitefish Point, its Native American residents, early fishermen and lighthouse keepers, cranberry farmers and its maritime history in a way stylistically reminiscent of the great history books written in the mid-twentieth century with a lyrical and poetic prose matched by few historians today. Whether readers are residents of Whitefish Township or have never visited it, they will find themselves wholly engrossed in its history, written as if the author knew intimately ever person mentioned, and they will come to feel as if they have also walked the beaches, worked on the fishing boats, and harvested the cranberry crops of this area rich in history.
In the film “Camelot,” King Arthur states, “Sometimes the only vacation spot is the past.” What a vacation it is to read this history of Whitefish Township. It is a trip into the past, a time when life was harder, yet simpler, and a harsh climate and remote location built sustaining relationships. I cannot imagine any author could have more completely re-imagined this world and brought history to life for the present reader so perfectly. I find the stories in “Remotely Yours” comforting, awe-inspiring, and satisfying as I became engrossed in the simple lives of hardworking people and then the dedication by later generations to preserve that way of life and its history.
Huttenstine was fortunate in the wonderful sources she found. Little history of Whitefish Township has been written, and Huttenstine had a large task before her to discover information and piece it together—much of that information, such as a cabin logbook, was nearly lost, and much of it only preserved on aged paper in research libraries and in oral interviews that she magnificently assembled to complete a thorough picture of days gone by. Huttenstine ended up actually finding so much unexpected material she decided she would have to write three books. If this first volume of “Remotely Yours” is any indication of what is to come, readers will be eagerly demanding, “When is the next book coming out?” as soon as they finish reading the first.
The story begins where it should—at the beginning with the history of the Native Americans in the area. A great deal of information is provided about the coming of the white man, the natives ceding their land rights through treaties to the U.S. Government, the failure of the United States to live up to its side of the treaties, and the recent triumph of the Bay Mills Indian Community to win back those treaty rights.
The early history of Whitefish Township is told largely through letters and oral histories of residents who knew the early settlers—mainly their children, grandchildren, or nephews. The history of the lighthouses, cranberry farms and first fisheries are all explored, and most memorably, these early settlers are brought to life. Anna Powell is one such settler whom the reader is unlikely to forget as she traveled in the 1870s more than fifty miles by foot to Whitefish Point in winter to visit her two daughters when she was well into her fifties. Other memorable stories take place as recently as the drastic storm that destroyed the “Edmund Fitzgerald” in 1975, and of fishermen trapped on Lake Superior during that storm—just one of many dramatic rescues detailed in the book.
Nature is almost a character in these pages. Huttenstine writes with a clear love for her subject, the beauty, the peace, the wild storms and breaking waves of Lake Superior, the isolation, the blizzards—all combine to make a clear picture of life day-to-day and season-to-season in Whitefish Township. The importance of the area’s natural beauty, climate, and geography are clearly outlined from the early nineteenth century to the present day when the Tahquamenon Falls and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum invite visitors to experience the Whitefish Point area for themselves.
In the book’s preface, Huttenstine informs us that the second volume of “Remotely Yours” will focus on the Tahquamenon Falls area and the sawmill town of Emerson, which was situated on Lake Superior just south of the Tahquamenon River. The history of Paradise and, to its north, the unique milltown of Shelldrake at the mouth of the Shelldrake River will be subjects of the third book.
Readers impatient for the future volumes perhaps will content themselves in the meantime with visiting Whitefish Point if they do not live there, and if they are already residents, they will now appreciate its intricate, rich, and inspiring history all the more. Huttenstine has recreated the past and brought it into the future so it will be enjoyed and hopefully never forgotten. “Remotely Yours” is a delightful historical reading excursion like few others.
For more information about “Remotely Yours” visit www.EastWestPressLLC.com.
— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., and author of the award-winning “Narrow Lives”
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