Fragrant balsam forests, a virtual zoo of road-crossing wildlife, and majestic views of Lake Superior had me believing my visit to the western half of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was going to be all about the natural world. How wrong I was! My stay at Marquette, Michigan's Landmark Inn would give me a whole new perspective.
The hotel's classic architecture and beautiful proportions created a welcoming air of comfortable confidence. Its hilltop location provided stunning views of Marquette, Lake Superior and a major storm coming off the lake - I literally had a tailwind blowing me through the heavy rain and into the hotel.
The lobby of the Landmark Inn immediately set the tone for my visit. Exquisite antique furniture and period pieces created warm and intimate areas for all the guests' needs. In fact, the entire hotel is furnished with antiques indigenous to this part of Michigan. Rooms are named for well-known people who have stayed at the hotel, like Amelia Earhart and Abbot & Costello.
I stayed in the William Austin Burt Room, which immediately provided my first introduction to the amazing people who contributed in significant ways to the growth of this part of America. W. A. Burt invented the solar compass in 1836. It was discovered that magnetic compasses were thrown off by the huge amounts of iron and copper ore beneath the surface of the entire region. A compass getting directionality from the sun was much more accurate, and Burt's invention soon became the standard in surveying.
The Landmark also has a John Voelker Room. Voelker (pen name Robert Traver) was a Michigan Supreme Court Justice who wrote Anatomy of a Murder, based on a local event. When the motion picture was made in 1959, Director Otto Preminger chose the Marquette County Courthouse, just up the street, for filming the trial scenes. The film's star, Jimmy Stewart, Preminger and most all of the "Hollywood types" stayed at The Landmark.
Christine Pesola, the Landmark Inn's Proprietor, and preservationist extraordinaire, and Michelle Cook, Director of Sales, joined me in the North Star Lounge and gave me suggestions of what not to miss in Marquette. As they were gracious enough to schedule this meeting after hours, we all enjoyed single malt Scotches from the North Star's impressive list.
The Balvenie 21 PortWood, Lagavulin 16 years old and Oban 14 years old were the perfect drinks to watch the storm and discuss the Landmark's and the "UP's" history. Michelle described the self-reliance of the folks here as being about "rocks and wood," acknowledging the mining and lumber industries. Christine, with her late husband, Bruce, was responsible for the world-class, authentic restoration of the former Northland Hotel, resulting in the Landmark Inn being designated one of the Historic Hotels of America.
The Landmark Inn has always been known as the social hub of the area, and Christine and Michelle carried on the tradition by arranging for me to meet author, historian and Marquette Commissioner Fred Stonehouse for dinner at Capers, the Inn's classic cuisine restaurant. Executive Chef Ryan Potila brought a parade of samples of his extraordinary culinary creations as Fred gave a detailed commentary about the history and growth of the region.
He explained how the UP is 40 percent of the landmass of Michigan, but its population of 338,000 accounts for only three percent of the state's total population; and how Marquette became the community of choice for managers and executives of the mining, lumber and banking segments of the area (and the Landmark for their clients and guests).
Fred suggested I visit key participants in the on-going history of Marquette who are all local institutions. An easy walk from the Landmark Inn brought me to Doncker's, a family-owned fudge and confectionary shop and soda fountain, founded in 1896, where the sodas are still slid across original marble counters. Across the street is The Superior View, a photo shop owned by photographer and archivist Jack Deo.
Jack maintains an inventory of over 100,000 UP images dating to the mid-1800s, including the stereoscopic series The Gems of Lake Superior. Ted and Ron Thill, third generation of the Thill family have sold hours-old fish from Lake Superior at their Thill's Fish House for over 50 years. Lake Superior whitefish is their stock in trade.
As I left the woods, scenery and wildlife of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the human experience of the region, discovered in less than two days, left me with renewed pride in our country. The Landmark Inn's reputation as the social hub of Marquette was certainly proved true for me!