Friday, July 19, 2019

Friday, 7/19

I get to be a dork all next week.

Okay; right now, I know a bunch of you are yelling out “is there a week when you're NOT a dork”? And you'd probably be right. But next week I carry my dork-dom to the ultimate extreme with my annual Art on the Rocks week habit of looking at license plates.

Yes, I need help. What's your point?

For those of you who haven't been reading these forever, let me explain about the ultimate in dork-dom. For over 20 years now, during the week preceding Art on the Rocks, I carry a notepad and pen around with me, and I write down every single state for which I see a license plate. I don't know how this started or why I keep doing it, but I do. It's not like the world would stop revolving on its axis if I didn't count the plates, but you wouldn't want me to risk it, would you?

That's okay. And you're welcome.

I have been able to notice a few trends after all these years. Each year you can usually tell in which states Marquette has gotten favorable publicity or a nice newspaper write-up, because you suddenly see multiple plates from a state that in the past has only shown up once or twice. And you can also tell the relative state of the US economy by how many different plates you see. Back in 2008, when the Great Recession was hitting, I only saw plates from 17 different states last week. Last year, with the US economy doing very well, I saw 42 different states (plus a few Canadian provinces). I'm assuming there's a correlation there, and although the economy is starting to show signs of slowing down I'm guessing I'll see 40 or so again this year.

If not; well, let's hope it was just coincidence and not correlation, right?

So if you see me about next week with my head swiveling around every time a car passes by, don't worry. I haven't come down with anything aside from a severe case of dork-dom. I'll just be looking at every single license plate I see, and checking to make sure it's on the list I'll be carrying with me every single place I go.

Well...SOMEONE has to do it, right?


Have yourself a great weekend. Enjoy Hiawatha if you're headed there!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Thursday, 7/18

So now we know. It's actually the second time that's the charm.

The sun kept shining and rains held off long enough last night for us to get in the “...And Put Up A Parking Lot” tour for the Marquette Regional History Center. And despite the fact that it was postponed a week, there were other activities going on, and the forecast did call for rain later in the evening, a couple of people showed up. And by a couple I mean this many--

I don't have an exact count; if I had to guess I'd say that 80 or so people showed up. Considering it was a rescheduled event on a night when there were a TON of things going on in Marquette, I'm happy with that number.  And it's funny, too. As with most tours we picked up a few stragglers along the way. But that's okay. It's happened on almost every downtown tour I've given, and on almost every downtown tour the people who do join ask at the end if they can make a donation to the History Center.

So it's a win-win.

Now that this one's in the books I get to move on to the next two. A this upcoming Tuesday (the 23rd) Jack & I are doing a reprise of “What's Up, Dock” at the Lake Superior Theater. That one requires little if no extra work on my part. Then August 21st I'm doing a South Marquette tour for the History Center for the first time in almost a decade. That one will actually require some work, staring with me finding my notes from 2010 (wherever they may be) and moving on from there. Then finally, I also get to make a presentation during a Brewing History fundraiser at the History Center September 4th. They 're having serious speakers talk about beer and Prohibition and then a dork telling stories about bars and drunk people.

You can imagine which part I'll be doing.

But that's over the next month and a half. For now, I'm just going to bask in the knowledge that I can relax for a day or so and not obsessively check the weather forecast. Well, I'll actually keep obsessively checking the weather forecast, but that'll be more for beach days and less for wondering if a thunderstorm will rain out a tour.

And it'll be a nice change, too.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Wednesday, 6/17

I’m not sure about this one, but I just read a statistic that blew my mind—

Only one out of every three Americans would want to travel into space, even if the trip were free.


Excuse my shouting there, but consider that I grew up wanting to be an astronaut, and that I've been re-reading some of my favorite space books this summer, including “How To Build Your Own Spaceship” and “Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Story of a Space Shuttle Astronaut” (a very hilarious book by former shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane, by the way). I’ve dreamed of going into space my entire life, and I would jump at the chance to spend even just a few minutes on the edge of that blackness. Yet only third of the people in this country would do the same.

Once again, I guess, I’m an oddball among my own people.

I don’t know why two thirds of all Americans would pass up a chance to do what less than 300 people in the entire history of humankind have done. I don’t know if it’s fear of the unknown or a lack of adventure or what, but a majority of people say they’d be content never to try something that, according to every book I’ve ever read by people who’ve been there, has called a life-changing experience

One of the great stories in that “Riding Rockets” book concerns what Mullane did his first night up in orbit—he was so excited by the fact that he was up in space that he couldn’t sleep, so while his crewmates rested, he floated to the shuttle’s flight deck and spend the night just watching the planet pass before his eyes every 90 minutes, thunderstruck by what he was doing and what he was experiencing. That’s exactly the kind of thing I would do if I were ever lucky enough spend a night in space, and that’s why, I guess, it blows my mind that most people would never want to even consider trying it.

It’s funny; Loraine and I have heard from a lot of people about how they could never travel to Europe like we do, and we always have the same answer—why not? It’s not hard; in fact, after you’ve done it once, it seems to keep drawing you back again and again (we’re the perfect examples). Sure, traveling to Europe—or to space—gets you out of your comfort zone, but isn’t worth it to see how other people live? Isn’t it worth it to see how you react and adapt to differing situations? Isn’t it worth it to see a different part of the world—or to see the whole world unroll before you in a mere 90 minutes?

I guess that’s why the statistic blew my mind a little. I would jump at the chance for a life-altering experience like heading into space. I was just shocked that more people wouldn’t feel the same, especially this week, as we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of the greatest technological achievement in the history of our species. You know...the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon.


Before I go I just wanted to mention that the rescheduled “..And Put Up A Parking Lot” tour I'm doing for the Marquette Regional History Center is coming up tonight at 630. And unlike last week, tonight we've been promised no rain. We'll see how that turns out, but if it actually turns out to be true I hope we see you there!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tuesday, 7/16

I have never, ever been accused of being a pessimist. I always look at the good side of things, and I’m always marveling at the potential of what’s to come. Yet I was struck with a thought this morning—

If you consider summer to be the months of June, July, and August, then today marks the halfway point of the season.


So, for the moment, at least, feel free to call me “Mr. Pessimist”.

The sad thing about that observation is that it really doesn’t SEEM like summer’s been with us long enough to be half over. Most of June was so cold and so wet, and so many of us spent the month complaining about it, that it really doesn’t seem like we’ve used up half of our allotment of summer. It just seems like May lasted so long that, well, summer just started. Not that it’s halfway over.

That's just not right.

But numbers don't lie. There are three months (June, July, and August) to “summer”. Today is the mid-point of the mid month. It's like we're at that moment when you're on a teeter-totter and it's perfectly balanced between you and the person on the other side. That's where we are today. Tomorrow, you start heading toward the ground, or up in the air, depending upon your point of view.

And if that's a mangled metaphor, I don't know what is.

But since I don’t seem to have the capability to be a pessimist for long, let me share a neat local weather forecast that I picked up a couple of years ago. According to records from this century—the past 18 years--Marquette has gotten an average of four 90+ degree days a year. That means that, since we’ve only had one so far, the second half of summer promises at least three more (quite possibly, even, later this week).

So while summer may really BE half over, it seems like the best of it may yet be coming. And if that’s not cause for a return to optimism, I don’t know WHAT is!

Enjoy your “mid-point of summer” day, and get ready to enjoy the rest of the season.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Monday, 7/15

MONDAY, 7/15:

It's such a no-brainer that I can't believe anyone hasn't thought of it yet.

Miss me? We had a great three-day weekend with Loraine's nephews Nathan and Jeremy. The weather was great, we were able to show them in what a cool place we live, and we did everything you're supposed to do when visiting the city, everything from eating pastys to Jeremy jumping off of Black Rocks.

And that's what made me wonder why no one else (at least that I know of) has come up with an idea that seems so obvious that it should be as plain as the nose on your face. When Jeremy decided that he wanted to jump off of Black Rocks, his brother Nathan wasn't quite sure. He said that he would do it if he could get a t-shirt that said something along the lines of “I survived Black Rocks”. So we looked through a ton of stores in Marquette for a shirt along those lines, but you know what?

We could not find one anywhere.

In fact, we couldn't find a lot to do with Black Rocks at all. There were a few stickers, a few paintings, and that's about it. No T-shirts; nothing at all that would allow someone to show off the fact that they jumped off the Rocks into the 45 degree water.

Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Because of that (or at least playing a part in his decision) Nathan didn't jump, while Jeremy made the leap twice. However, aside from the video I took of him he has nothing to show that he did it. I mean, just think of the money that someone could make if there was a little stand or something in the Black Rocks parking lot selling shirts bragging about the jump. Even someone who didn't jump, but watched, would be likely to buy a shirt or three, of for no other reason than to document what they were just watching.

See? No-brainer business idea, right? That's why I can't believe that no one has come up with the idea yet. Unless, of course, I'm blatantly missing something. But I don't think I am. So if you have a few extra bucks sitting around and are looking for a can't fail business idea, there you go.

You're welcome. And you can send my royalty check to the station.


One other thing I want to mention about the weekend—we were in the Marquette Food Co-op Saturday buying some amazing brats (made with blueberries and the Vierling's Blueberry Wheat beer) for dinner. Jeremy and Nathan had noticed people saying “hey” to me all weekend, which is something I don't even pay attention to any more. Anyway, we were in the checkout line at the Co-op when the guy checking us out said something to me that even I had never heard before.

What did he say? Well, it wasn't “You're that guy on the radio”, or “I see you on TV”, or any of the other things I hear when people figure out who I am. So what just did the checkout guy at the Co-op say?

“Hey, you're the dude with the 'Star Wars” bag”, after he saw that I handed him the bag with Luke, Han, Leia, Darth, and the rest of the gang that Loraine gave me for Christmas a few years ago. Apparently the shopping bag I use at the Co-op has become quite the object of conversation among the people who work there.

Who knew?

So now I can be referred to any number of ways—Radio Jim, TV Jim, History Jim, and now, apparently, “The Dude with the 'Star Wars' bag” Jim.

(, dude with the “Star Wars” bag

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Thursday, 7/11

Maybe the second time will be the charm.

About 20 minutes before the start of our "...And Put Up A Parking Lot" tour last night the skies opened up and gave anyone who wanted it a free (and rather heavy) shower, complete with thunder, lightning, and (I think) a plague of locusts.  We had so been hoping we'd be able to do it; the day was nice and sunny and hot, and the rain that was supposed to presage the real storm never showed up.  Not only that, but the percentage of a chance of precipitation kept going down, as well.

Unfortunately, our luck started to run out about 4, when the system moved through.  You could tell because the wind shifted and the temperature dropped 20 degrees; however, there wasn't any rain.  It wasn't until I left work and went down to the History Center that the first drop appeared, and by the time I completed the three block journey rain was everywhere.

We had set ourselves a time limit of 6 pm to call it off, and the rain started at 5:59.  Talk about cutting it close...sigh.  It's funny; there were people already gathering to take the walk, and a reporter from TV-6 (hi, Alyssa!) had her equipment all set up for an interview.  Everything was set to go, except for Mother Nature, continuing her streak of letting us down in 2019.

Oh well...what are you gonna do, right?  We'll try it again next Wednesday...same history time, same history channel.  After all, it can't rain two Wednesday evenings in a row, can it?

Can it????


There won't be one of these tomorrow, as I'm taking the day off. Loraine's nephews Nathan and Jeremy are coming up to visit, and we'll spend Friday and Saturday spending time with them and showing off this amazing place where we live. So have yourself a great weekend. See you again Monday!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Wednesday, 7/10

Should we stay or should we go?

As I write this I have no idea what the weather will be like tonight at 630, the scheduled start time for my “...And Put Up A Parking Lot” tour for the Marquette Regional History Center. The forecast had been trending for the better, the chances of rain falling slightly, and the timing pushing later and later into the evening.  But this morning's update erased some of those gains, so as of right now, I have no idea what'll happen, even though as i type this we have clear blue skies outside (for the first time in five days, I might add).

Maybe, just maybe, we'll get lucky tonight. Keep your fingers crossed.

Now, as I joked yesterday, I get to re-purpose the article I wrote for the Mining Journal about a parking lot we won't be visiting tonight. Enjoy your history lesson (including a picture that didn't make the print edition) and come back tomorrow to see if we were actually able to do it, or if we're now targeting next Wednesday, or sometime in September, or next year (all options we're considering).

Wish us luck.



Schools, churches, bars, stores, hospitals, and even an entire city street. When you're looking at parking lots in downtown Marquette, you're looking at more than a place to store your car while you work or shop.

You're also looking at a piece of the city's history.

To quote a great Canadian philosopher, “They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot”. Because Marquette grew up in an era before cars, room had to be made to park them once they came on the scene. Many times that room came from demolishing old or unwanted buildings. And while not all of the buildings torn down in the past 100 years to make room for parking lots could be called “paradise” by any stretch of the imagination, a surprising number of downtown's current parking lots were once home to pieces of iconic Marquette sandstone architecture and fondly remembered city business.

One such example would be the parking lot that sits on the west side of the 300 block of south Front Street in Marquette, the lot next to the VAST Insurance building.

Once a hub of downtown Marquette, the 300 south block of Front Street had been anchored by Peter White's First National Bank of Marquette on one end, and what was at the time Marquette's “main” street, Superior Street (now known as Baraga Avenue) on the other. Close proximity to both the railroad lines and the harbor led to it becoming a vital area of downtown commerce and public gathering areas. In fact, the block was home to a veritable “Murderer's Row” of legendary Marquette bars and restaurants from the first sixty years of the 20th century. While The Central, The Jet Grille, The Dinner Bell, and The Deluxe were just a few of the eating and drinking establishments that called the west side of the block home, there was one that outlasted them all.

That was the Bon Ton.

Interior of the Bon Ton, 1949.  Picture courtesy of the Marquette Regional History center
The Bon Ton originally opened in 1901 as The Candy Kitchen; Greek immigrant James Lafkas sold house-made confections from the shop. He renamed it in 1916, and in 1920 it was purchased by Peter Bouth, who added homemade ice cream to the menu. Five years later he started serving lunch, and by the 1930s the restaurant added a full kitchen, serving meals all day long and at its peak employing 21 people.

In 1953 George Papadakis, who had worked at the Bon Ton since 1938, bought the restaurant, which had just been remodeled with new booths, a shiny chrome interior, and a new bar. However, ice cream was still one of the best sellers of the establishment. A popular choice of customers from that era was the Tin Roof Sundae. One woman who worked there remembers the combination of vanilla ice cream, peanuts, hot fudge, and whipping cream, calling it “everyone's favorite”. The malted milks are also fondly recalled; even almost six decades later, another fan says they were “So thick! They filled that glass to the brim and gave you the extra in that ice cold metal container they had made it in with their green Hamilton Beach mixer”.

The Bon Ton closed in 1967; a year later, the building (along with others on that side of the street) was torn down and paved over into the current parking lot. However, one part of the Bon Ton still exists in Marquette. Before the building was demolished Papadakis's sons James and Peter salvaged some of the equipment and furniture, along with the restaurant's liquor license, for a new pub they were opening on Third Street. While the ownership of that establishment has changed hands several times, the original bar from the Bon Bon Restaurant is still in use today at Stucko's Pub.

The “...And Put Up A Parking Lot” walking tour, which will have stories on over 20 downtown parking lots, will be led by historical storyteller Jim Koski. The tour will cover a twelve-square block region of downtown Marquette and will require participants to walk up and down some hills. It begins Wednesday, July 10th at 6:30 at the Marquette Regional History Center. There's a suggested $5 donation. For more information call the History Center at 226-3571, or visit their website at