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Local history takes center stage

Conference here this weekend

Deborah Prescott | Daily Press From left, Elmer Bessonen, Charles Lindquist and Karen Lindquist are shown in front of one of many shelves loaded with historical information about the area at the Delta County Historical Society archives. Charles and Karen are both speakers at the Upper Peninsula History Conference being held Friday through Sunday in the Escanaba area. The U.P. History Conference is held at a different location each year. There will be 27 different points of interest for participants to choose from. Choices range from a walking tour of Escanaba’s Historic Lakeview Cemetery to listening about the Secrets of the House of Ludington Hotel. Bessonen and the Lindquists are board members of the Delta County Historical Society and volunteers. Charles is the president of the DCHS and Karen is an archivist. Bessonen will aid visitors with logistics during the conference.

ESCANABA — The 70th Annual Upper Peninsula History Conference will be held in Escanaba this weekend. Starting Friday, over 250 people who registered for workshops, tours and exhibits will converge on Delta County to learn about local history. The conference is moved to a different Upper Peninsula location each year, focusing on the heritage of each.

“In 1916 it was called the Pioneer Historical Society and then reorganized during the Depression and started up again in 1950,” said Delta County Historical Society President Charles Lindquist. “And they’ve been coming here every 10 years since.”

The Upper Peninsula History Conference was held in St. Ignace for 2018 and in Iron River the year before. Charles said the conference is bigger than it has ever been, has more sessions to choose from, and is better organized than before. He is speaking on two topics Saturday, ‘The Dock Behind the Lock: Escanaba’s WWII Ore Dock’ and ‘Blind Tigers and Police Raids: Prohibition in Delta County.’

“There are workshops and things to do on Saturday, and concurrent sessions that people can go to … whichever one they want. There’s always something … I’ve gone to this for 12 years,” said Delta County Historical Society Archivist Karen Lindquist. “There are classes I went to thinking I wasn’t going to like and came out thinking I was glad I went.”

Karen is also speaking at two sessions on Saturday, one about women in the U.P. called ‘We were here too: Women of the Central U.P.’ and another called ‘Secrets of the House of Ludington Hotel’. She is speaking with Kathleen Bennett, who worked as a waitress for Pat Hayes — who owned the House of Ludington. This session will be at the Highland Golf Club and is one of three keynote sessions.

There are 27 sessions for attendees to choose from. Friday, from 9 to 11:30 a.m., attendees may choose between a workshop led by Historical Society of Michigan Director of Education Robert Myers called ‘How Do I Catalog This? Registration Basics for Museums’, or a self-lead tour through the Delta County Historical Museum and Sand Point Lighthouse.

At 1 p.m. there are four concurrent sessions. One is a hands-on interactive session with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Visitor Services Specialist and Volunteer Coordinator Jennifer Wycoff speaking on ‘The Call of the Wild: Seney National Wildlife Refuge’. Tour number one is of historical Escanaba, the second tour is at the Potawatomi Heritage Center, and the third tour is a school bus trip to Fayette Historic Townsite. All tours depart from the Quality Inn and Suites at 1 p.m.

“The state has done a super restoration job without restoring too much and without damaging what’s there,” said Karen about Fayette.

Starting at 4 p.m. the Escanaba Upper Elementary will be open for a self-driven tour, and at 6 p.m. in the Escanaba Marketplace, across from the school, a picnic and entertainment will cap off the day.

Saturday check-in starts at 8 a.m. in the Joseph Heirman University Center at Bay College. The opening keynote speaker, from the Michigan Historical Museum Dennis Pace, will speak about the Marble Arms Company from 9 to 9:45 a.m. His speech is titled ‘Inventing the Outdoors: The Marble Arms Company’. After the keynote there will be three concurrent sessions with the first one starting at 10 a.m., session two starts at 11:30 a.m. and finishes at 12:30 p.m., and session three goes from 3 to 4 p.m.

Keynote speaker James Paquette, from the Marquette Regional History Center, will talk between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. regarding the worst disaster in Michigan’s mining history, ‘Miners Died and Widows Cried: Remembering the Barnes-Hecker Mine Disaster’.

“Under the current director the historical society conferences have grown,” said Charles. “They have a local history conference just for the Detroit area. Two hundred people would come, which is pretty good, now they have 750 people show up,” said Charles.

Charles also attributes the growth to the speakers who are brought on board, including the speakers this weekend in Escanaba. Bruce Lynn runs the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point and will talk about shipwrecks. Russell Magnaghi is a retired history professor from Northern Michigan University who will talk about U.P. ethnic foods. Meteorologist Karl Bohnak will talk about wild weather in the U.P. with ‘From Sunburns to Snowstorms: U.P. Weather’. Earl Meshigaud Sr. from the Potawatomi Heritage Center will take people through ‘A Cultural Journey: The Potawatomi in Michigan’. Daniel Truckey and Casandra Somes from the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center will tell how the U.P. prepared for a potential nuclear war in ‘The Russians Are Coming: Cold War in the U.P.’. These are just a few examples of the sessions included in the U.P. History Conference.

Every year attendees get a little pin recognizing the conference they went to. Charles has 10 and shows them off on his baseball cap.

“This shows how many conferences we’ve gone to since we moved back here in 2006,” said Charles.

There will be a U.P. history awards banquet Saturday night before the closing keynote.

Ending the conference will be a walking tour between 9:30 and 10:45 a.m. on Sunday in the Escanaba’s Historic Lakeview Cemetery after meeting in the cemetery chapel.

“Some neat talks, you get to meet some people, and there’s a lot of community fellowship involved,” said Charles.

“And local history society’s get a chance to get up and talk about what they’ve been doing,” said Karen. “It’s fun and relaxed, it’s just a fun time and the programs are usually very good.”

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