Imagine yourself without a mama on Mother’s Day. Imagine yourself without a papa on Father’s Day. Imagine yourself in an orphanage, alone. Surrounded by people who may or may not understand you. People who may or may not be gentle. People who don’t love you because you’re family.
Yesterday Barry and I happened upon the old Marquette Orphanage. We “happened” upon it because US-41 is being jack-hammered and torn apart. We’re all routed on a detour from downtown Marquette which passes the Jacobetti Veteran’s Hospital and the old orphanage.
We opted to leave the security of the car and tour the front of the old orphanage. It was a strange thing to do on Mother’s Day.
Would anyone like a little history lesson about this orphanage? Please click on this link and read a great story the Marquette Monthly magazine wrote back in 2007. It is really fascinating. (Scroll down past the First Presbyterian Church article to find the story entitled “Home away from home”.)
I did a little sleuthing via Google. Learned a lot about the orphanage that we didn’t know when we casually visited yesterday. The first thing: a lot of sources insist that the place is haunted. We didn’t meet any ghosts in broad daylight so we can’t affirm or deny.
According to this link some of the children were possibly abused. I suppose that’s how the ghost stories started. During the years some children died when living there. People have seen lights, drawings on the wall, eerie things… If you look closely at the second-t0-the-last photo, you might just agree with the ghost stories. You can almost see the spirits peering out of the old building.
You want to know my theory? There are ghosts in lots of places. One of my friends just shared about the paranormal activity in her old house. Lights turning on and off without explanation. Noises upstairs and downstairs. Hair dryers turning on and off.
It happens. Old buildings seem to be conduits to the other world. Perhaps it’s from the people dying…perhaps it’s from over-active imaginations. Whatever the reason, strange things often happen inside old buildings.
Here’s my next theory. Children were happy and treated well inside the walls of orphanages; children were also treated poorly and possibly abused. It depended upon the particular people who were overseeing the orphans and perhaps the orphans themselves.
Like life, it’s never as simple as we think it should be. If you read the history article, lots of people thoroughly enjoyed their time spent within the orphanage.
Here is an excerpt from the Marquette Monthly article. It quotes Phil Niemisto who was an orphan at the Holy Family Orphan’s Home in Marquette from 1929 to 1941:
The nuns, who acted as either mother or teacher to their young charges, kept a strict routine at the orphanage.
“Being in the orphanage was a lot like being in the army,” Niemisto said. “Our days were pretty regimented. But we didn’t know any different. Everything was well organized—there wasn’t a lot of time for anyone to get into trouble.”
Niemisto said they all slept in a big dormitory—the girls in one wing, the boys in the other. They got up early, about 6:00 a.m., made their beds and knelt and said prayers. After that, they had breakfast—it was pretty institutional food, mostly cereal and toast.
“Then we’d go to chapel for more prayers,” Niemisto said. “Classes started at 9:00 a.m. and went until 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. There was recess and a break for lunch, which usually was a hot meal. We’d do our homework, then we had playtime.”
Sometimes the children played outside until 9:00 p.m. in the summertime. The nuns would blow a horn to tell them to come in.
“We said more prayers before we went to bed—we did a lot of praying,” Niemisto said. “If you weren’t a Catholic when you went into the orphanage, you became one while you were there. We even played religion, copying the services and the masses that were held in the chapel.”
“There were swings and a teeter-totter, the regular kind of playground equipment,” Niemisto said. “Father Beyer was really good with the kids, I remember. They showed us a lot of movies. We went on outings. They would take us out to the Island for the day. In winter, we went tobogganing on the hill behind where [the Vineyard] is today. “
Other sources have different stories. The regimented format did not set well with some children. Some told horror stories. The first orphans to arrive in 1915 were Native Americans from Assinins–across the bay from our house, near Baraga.
I have heard many stories from area Native Americans about their challenging days in local orphanages. They report being beaten for speaking their native language. Some report positive experiences and memories about life in the orphanage; others still regale not-so-happy stories.
I suspect many children with two living parents also tell different stories of being raised…
As we preapred to leave the orphanage yesterday we noticed two shiny glass dolphins sitting on the front steps. Someone had left them here. As a gift for the ghost-children? As a memory from childhood?
Who knows? We left there quietly, remembering children without mothers and fathers on Mother’s Day. And thought sadly about the many children alive right now in the same situation…