Calumet means peace pipe

Don't you love it when the sun comes out?

Let’s return to the scene of our Saturday afternoon drive.  You want to linger in Calumet a while longer, don’t you?

Time to peek in our historical books and get on board the tour bus.  (Not that there are real tour buses in Calumet.  Under 1,000 folks live here.  It’s a crumbling old town, a town of a different era.  Big red buildings deteriorate as heavy snows and endless winters continually blanket the Keweenaw Peninsula from November-April.)

I love Calumet.  This copper mining town, settled in 1864, was once called Red Jacket, after a Native American chief of the Seneca tribe.  Go figure.  The Anishinabe (Ojibway) live around here.  Maybe the Seneca chief came to work in the copper mines?

Church steeple in Calumet against those beautiful white clouds

Another itty-bitty town called Laurium sits within shouting distance.  OK, if you can shout a long way, maybe with the aid of a microphone.  Back in the 1890’s the folks of Laurium called their neighboring town “Calumet.”  Who knows?  Maybe they didn’t like the name Red Jacket.

And we all know what Calumet means, right?  It is a native American peace pipe, a pipe smoked to kindle deep connection, kinship, spirituality, ceremony and sacred blessing.

The stone of these pipes is often made of red pipestone, often from the pipestone quarries of the Dakotas.

It is interesting that there are so many red buildings in Calumet, which look especially fine when the sun decides to come out after many days of hiding.  These red buildings were often made of local Jacobsville sandstone.

Old church

When we first moved here people said in a reverential tone, “Did you know that Calumet was once considered as the capital of Michigan?”

Although we later heard this was a generational myth (please let me know if you have proof to the contrary) Calumet and its nearby sister-cities at the turn of the century featured 30,000 residents, eighty bars, fifty churches and uncounted brothels.

It was an up-and-coming metropolis.

Perhaps an older church?

Thanks to the copper mines which sprouted throughout the entire Keweenaw Peninsula.

Rich copper veins beneath the earth called entrepreneurs north into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the miners dug to extract the precious metal.  Immigrants from places like Finland and Sweden arrived to help mine the booty to create, among other things, pipes and pennies.

The Upper Peninsula’s infamous “pasties” came from these immigrants who often brought a meat-and-vegetable filled pie to work for lunch in the mines.  Everyone know what’s in a pasty?  A mixture of meat, potatoes, onions, rutabaga, and carrots wrapped in a crust made of flour and–I am sorry to add–lard.  Modern day cooks use Crisco.  (We quit eating pasties in recent times.  Sorry, even though they taste yummy–too much fat!)

Many stained glass windows

By 1913, the growing population of the Calumet area began to wane.  A Copper Country Strike of 1913-14 arrived and then–disaster struck.

On Christmas Eve, 1913, striking miners and their families met for a Christmas Eve party in Italian Hall.   Someone cried “FIRE!” (it was never determined who issued the call although some folks suggest that it was the copper bosses, but that might be another generational myth) and a stampede ensued.  There was no fire.  Seventy three victims, most of them children, were crushed or suffocated in the stampede.

It was Calumet’s darkest hour.

Young people on a rooftop on a lazy Saturday afternoon

Woody Guthrie wrote a song commemorating this tragic event:

Remember our curtained window from a couple of days ago? Here is the entire building.

Copper prices dropped during World War I.  Then followed the Great Depression.  Calumet never returned to its former glory.

Blue reflections in red building

Down the street–I don’t have any current photos–is the Calumet Theater.  In its heyday it featured such big stars as Douglas Fairbanks, Sarah Bernhardt, and John Phillip Sousa.  Today, local actors put on musicals like “The King and I” and it’s a treat to sit inside the turn-of-the-century building with its ornate curtains and woodwork and imagine…

Old railroad station building

Thank you for heading north to the Copper Country– to Calumet– with us today.

We're not in Calumet any more, Toto...we're about ten miles south looking at the Quincy copper Mine Shaft gleaming in the setting sun.

For bonus points, do you remember what Calumet means?  Do you remember the initial name of this town?  Do you remember the name of the town within shouting distance?

Do you remember what we had to eat at Carmalitas restaurant?  (Ha ha, gotcha!  I didn’t tell you.  I had chicken faijitas and Barry had a Guacamole salad.)

Journalistically and historically yours,  Kathy

P.S.  Down where we live–the L’Anse/Baraga area–is not traditionally known as “The Copper Country”.  Copper Country is generally referred to as the area north of Houghton, extending out onto the little finger of the Keweenaw Bay.

P.S.S.  Gosh, I am never going to finish adding postscripts!  Here is a cool link to some photographs of Calumet at night.  Dan Larson, a professional photographer, who lives across the bay from us took these.   WOW!

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
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34 Responses to Calumet means peace pipe

  1. Brenda Hardie says:

    Beautiful pictures today! I’ve been to Calumet and Laurium, as well as your neck of the woods 🙂 Would LOVE to come back! I love the old buildings, the vivid colors of the red brick/stone, the blue sky, the crisp white clouds…breathtaking! Yep…definitely need to make a trip back there…♥

  2. jeffstroud says:

    Wonderful! Thank you for the history lesson, and the wonderful photography! I would be all over that town taking photographs, if I lived closer.

  3. Thank you Kathy, for the beautiful blog and pictures of my birth place! Now when somebody asks me about Calumet and Laurium, I can just direct them to this blog….. I wish I was along on your visit, and next time you’re at Carmalitas, have a Thimbleberry Margarita! 🙂

  4. Oh Kathy, I would like a chicken fajita please and to go walking in Calumet with you. What a wonderful post. Peace Pipe, redstone from the Dakotas, Jacobsville sandstone and Laurium. All my answers to your questions…or the things that stay with me alongside the clouds in the windows. Gorgeous post Kathy. Thank you! Love, S

  5. Susan Derozier says:

    Beautiful AND educational. Thanks for the memories Kathy. Don’t you love that red brick? It is so wonderful to see history still ‘standing’ in these wondrous buildings. I have always cherished my copper pieces purchased on various trips there and now have passed them on to my girls. Loved this!

  6. Carol says:

    A place to satisfy the photographer’s endless appetite! Wonderful pictures and history lesson.

  7. Sybil says:

    In answer to your questions, see Suzi’s response above. 😉

    I love old buildings, and hearing about their history.

    Thanks for taking us along on this tour Kathy.

    BTW – I eat veggie Samosas … they sound a lot like your “pasties” but without the lard and meat. Though I suspect they’re spicier.

    Haven’t listened to the Guthrie song, and the answer may be in it, but WAS there a fire ? or is the tragedy compounded by the fact there wasn’t one ?

  8. Sybil says:

    Well Kathy, you sent me off on an adventure. Listened to the Guthrie song. No real fire. He sings that the doors were held shut from outside. Some claimed they opened inward and that’s why folk couldn’t get out, but that has been proven otherwise. So what trapped them all inside if the doors open outward ? And why would you flee in panic when there was no smell of smoke ? no real fire ? A mystery and an awful tragedy.

  9. bonnie says:

    Once again, beautiful pictures. I especially like the one of the old train station. When I read you blogs, I always think of my dear grandparents, and our trips to the Upper Peninsula. That was so long ago, before the bridge.

  10. susan says:

    Hi Kathy,
    I loved seeing those pictures! I’ve heard so much about the old copper mine towns in the UP from a neighbor of ours in Eagle River. He was also the one who first told me about Pasties! I’ve been meaning to experiment in the kitchen with those – finding a way to make them without so much fat, if that’s even possible without losing the “yum” appeal, 🙂 There’s a small shop in Boulder Junction that sells them but I’ve yet to try one.

    Glorious photos – and thanks for all the history!
    SuZen (so as not to confuse you?)

  11. Java bay Bob says:

    Nice town but watch out for cameras in the restroom! Lol

  12. Sean says:

    Nice. I want to draw all these buildings. Love the old stone railroad station.

  13. P.j. grath says:

    I love, love, LOVE Calumet! As I was reading the paragraphs about the buildings deteriorating, I thought, well, yes, because they are sandstone. There is a book called THE SANDSTONE ARCHITECTURE OF THE LAKE SUPERIOR REGION, and on the north side of Calumet’s historic downtown district there is a wonderful bookstore called Artis Books, which we knew from the days when it was in Alpena.

    This is a wonderful post, Kathy. Thanks for showing us Calumet on such a beautiful, sunny day.

    State capital? Someone just told me, less than an hour ago, that Houghton was once almost the capital of Michigan! This was after I’d told him that back before the Civil War, Northport was the biggest town around here, much bigger than tiny little Traverse City.

    Michigan history is fascinating!

  14. Barb says:

    “pasties” – Now you’re talking! Bring them on! (I had one when I visited Mary and felt full for 3 days.) Love the old Railway Station.

  15. holessence says:

    Well how darned cool is that?! I had a Sunday drive and history class all without leaving the comfort of my chair.

    I especially like the name of the town, “Laurium” – darned close to yours truly. And “pasties” in Las Vegas are those little things — sometimes with tassles — attached to the tips of…well, let’s just not go there 🙂

  16. Jane Davis says:

    How I love Calumet and Laurium! I stayed at the Laurium Manor Inn for the first time this summer. What a grand old house-but so sad to see the deterioration that is going on (though the owners try to keep it up it would be overwhelming (and not profitable I imagine) to “restore” it to its original grandeur). It is amazing to think that a home of that magnitude is tucked away up in that corner of heaven!! I was offered a job in Houghton a couple of years ago and my biggest regret will always be not accepting it…but at the time it wasn’t feasible to pack up and move 600 miles from home. Ah well…maybe another time. Love to read about the Keweenaw from someone who loves it as much as I do!

  17. Susan D says:

    How I love Calumet, even more after learning some of the history behind it. How interesting! The photos vividly capture the spirit there … just wonderful. Thanks for spending time researching for us, and for the usual whimisical nature of “you” mixed in with the extraordinary facts. (Thank you, too, for everything 🙂 )

  18. bearyweather says:

    Did you know that there is small town of Calumet in Minnesota, too? (calumet, mn) It is an old mining town (iron mine), too. I don’t think there is a church there as pretty as yours, though.

  19. jeff v says:

    Thanks for the trip to one of our favorite places! Our ventures north are never complete without a stop in Calumet and lunch at the Michigan House cafe. Calumet is a very interesting town. Obviously extremely prosporous in the height of the copper boom. Have yet to make it to the Theater but it’s on our list. Anyone who appreciates art will love the Ed Gray and the Vertran (sp?) galleries.

  20. Thank you also for the wonderful history behind Calumet. My son is a 4th year student at Mich Tech and we this Aug. went the back way to Calumet this summer on the snowmobile trail. Its is so neat now to know more history of that beautiful town and coming from a local. it does mean more and thank you for sharing . I took a ton of pics too and of the same things just thinking it is so beautiful here. We went to the Michigan house too for dinner and my son wouldn’t let me take pics inside…he said it wasn’t a tourist haunt, its for locals and he goes there alot ( well I will get back there without him next and take all the pics I want !) and we went back the next day and had lunch at Camelita’s. Love your blog and all the neat pics you share.

  21. Todd Hart says:

    As an added note Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the Christmas Eve Union “fire” disaster.

  22. Todd Hart says:

    As an added note, Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the Christmas Eve disaster.

  23. Love those beautiful old buildings you found.

  24. Dawn says:

    Thanks for taking me back to Calumet. I miss everything about up there.

  25. Enjoyed listening to the Woody Guthrie song – what a sad story. Scabs and thugs, oh my! (My dad is a huge Woody Guthrie fan.) I believe copper prices are up now. We’ve had a run of thieves in Connecticut breaking into basements to steal the copper pipes… Greed seems to be at the root of so many human tragedies.

    Wonderful pictures of the old buildings – you make a great tour guide. 🙂 I especially like the church steeple and the clouds.

  26. KathUsitalo says:

    Beautiful, Kathy. I love Calumet, too. Thanks for sharing!

  27. Elisa's Spot says:

    I’ll say neat, cause I am catching up. I’m at the college as my puter is YET AGAIN, in the shop. I am thinking that I must be missing the lesson on being glad there is puter left to fix!!! 😀

  28. Claire says:

    The pasty is Cornwall’s national dish. In Victorian times there were a lot of tin mines here and the miners would take a pasty down the mine for lunch, half meat and potato the other half apple. The complete meal. Very interesting post today. Thanks.

  29. Kathy says:

    I am glad you all enjoyed the tour. It was a pleasure to take you along the streets of Calumet. I hope all of you really & truly clicked on the winter night-time photos at the end of the blog. How I love Dan’s photos! P.S. Sometimes I wish I was a person who could write regional factual blogs all the time. There is such a market in cyberspace of people who just want to see pics and hear stories of places like the Copper Country. Thanks again for all who stopped by and commented.

  30. Pingback: Sentimental Journey To Calumet « Great Lakes Gazette

  31. Colleen says:

    Kathy, I think I would love Calumet too! This was much enjoyed. Dan’s pictures are fantastic.

  32. Kathy says:

    Once again, glad you enjoyed. Marquette Monthly just posted an article about the Italian Fire Hall tragedy that was heart-wrenching:

Thank you for reading. May you be blessed in your life...may you find joy in the simple things...

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