There are places in the world that speak to each of us…that strike an inner chord…whose echoes resonate…within our very souls…for once discovered…their reach knows no bounds… igniting a fierce passion…an unquenchable desire…to learn more…to fill a hole within ourselves…we never knew existed…forever altering our life’s pace…and direction…

The Keweenaw Peninsula…a rocky finger of land…jutting into the icy blue of Superior… is such a place…born of fire…sculpted by ice…with a generous pinch of magic and myth…wild and remote…with its scenic beauty…uniquely charactered people…and storied history…captured my heart many decades ago…and has never let go…

No matter the sweeping vistas from high atop our glacier worn mountains…the artist’s palette of oranges, yellow and reds of our Superior sunsets…the colorful dancing auroras…the northern lights that brighten our night skies…the heart and soul of the

Keweenaw is rooted in the red metal hidden within its rocky peaks…copper mining camps and villages…towns and cities… that sprang up out of the deep forests…and people from every corner of the globe…who overcame language and ethnic barriers…to carve a community…a civilization…out of the wilderness…a tale that is only now… beginning to be told…

For the story of the Keweenaw isn’t about dusty mining ledgers…or tallies of copper ingots mined from her depths…the true treasures of the Copper Country are her people…and their stories…

Scattered across the Keweenaw are the remnants of these people…entire villages… cut off from the rest of the world for half of each year by winter snows…when mighty Lake Superior freezes across…hotels and boarding houses…general stores and meat markets…cobblers and brewers…milliners and candy makers…secret fraternal societies and churches…bustling communities of more than a thousand people each…a robust patchwork of ethnicities and customs…that have melted into the forest…swallowed by the trees…as mines petered out… and people left for greener pastures… abandoning piles of brooding mine rock… endless rows of silent rock foundations… leaving behind their parted loved ones… toppled gravestones hidden in the brush… speaking of the people…who lived here… so long ago…

They stare out from scratched daguerreotypes and tattered photographs…in museums…as treasured family mementos…for some, we know the weathered buildings they called home…where they labored among the rocks, trees and waters of the Keweenaw… and where they eternally slumber in her bosom…while for others…even their names have been lost to time…with only fading likenesses…to remind us they existed…

They too…those faces frozen in time…once did what I love so much…scavenging the rocky coasts for banded agates and bright blue chrysocolla… picking buckets of dew-kissed blueberries and red-ripe thimbleberries…listening to the wind whisper between the tall pines and towering cliffs…falling asleep to loons yodeling across the lake…or the lone wolf baying at the moon…they discovered…long before I…the hidden waterfalls and secluded pools…breathtaking views that span the peninsula atop the ridges…standing in awe of the riot of fall colors that paint her autumn forests…they knew of the magical places…where mushrooms bleed red and lady slipper orchids secretly grow… they felt the raw power of Superior during November gales… and the gentle caress of the first warm breezes of spring…

It is this connection to the land…this peculiar ability of the Keweenaw to worm its way into one’s heart…that draws people back…for it is a bond…this love and passion for the Keweenaw… that outlasts life itself…handed down through generations…as at Central Mine…where the Methodist Church opens its 1868 wooden doors…just one Sunday each year…for a reunion to celebrate…and remember…the heritage and people…of a ghost town long abandoned…yet lovingly preserved…the bell in its castellation topped belfry…echoing along the bluff…just as it did over a century ago…

In the Keweenaw time truly has stood still…where the past is never far from the present…an ever-reminder of those who inhabited this beautiful land…taming a wilderness with sheer grit and Finnish sisu…wrestling the copper ore from rocky depths…enduring everything Mother Nature could muster… the Keweenaw is a tale of community…an enduring pride and passion…passed down through the generations…a living history set in a backdrop of incredible scenic beauty…and natural splendor…for this is the story…now being discovered… preserved…to be retold for generations to come…

DISCOVER FOR YOURSELF

Keweenaw National Historical Park preserves and tells the story of copper mining from the 1840s to the 1960s through a partnership with 21 independent organizations that operate sites connected to the industry. The park service visitor center is in Calumet. nps.gov/kewe

Photo by Scott Wendt

This article originally appeared in the 2019 spring/summer issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.

Author

Scott Wendt resides in remote Copper Harbor, at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Although not a writer or photographer by trade, his joy and passion for this rugged country is surpassed by his joy of sharing its history and natural beauty. See more of his work at northonegallery.com. 

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