Echoes of the Past: A Sneak Peek Into the Hotel Chequamegon


The Hotel Chequamegon

I had the opportunity recently to stay at the Hotel Chequamegon (Cheh-wa-meh-gone) in the northern Wisconsin town of Ashland. I’d driven by the hotel many times on Highway 2, and always thought it looked like an interesting place to stay. I was happy to have this chance.

From the outside, the building and its white mansion-like expanse is reminiscent of the grand hotels of the past. In fact, it’s patterned after the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Lake Huron. Inside, it has a whiff of the fictional Overlook Hotel from “The Shining,” but without the requisite creepiness.

DSC04553Although it looks like it’s been on the site forever, the hotel is young. It opened in 1986 only about a half-block away from the original hotel. According to a helpful historical fact sheet provided to me by the desk clerk, the original hotel was built in 1877 by the Wisconsin Central Railroad when Ashland was a transportation hub for lumbering, quarrying, and mining.


This chair in the hotel parlor is from a castle in France, 1880-1890.

The original hotel met its demise by fire on New Year’s Day in 1958. To build the current hotel, wood salvaged from the nearby ore docks was used. Although many of the Victorian antiques look like they came from the original hotel, those were burned, except for the lobby clock, which sits in the Ashland Museum. Apparently it was a “thing” in the past to save lobby clocks from burning hotels. The antiques were either donated or gathered from far-flung places with the help of eBay.

My quiet room had tall ceilings and a view through equally tall windows, which looked out on the Lake Superior bay that gives the hotel its name. The word “Chequamegon” is an Ojibwa term that means “spit of land.” There used to be a narrow spit visible from the hotel, but it was eroded by wave action in the 1800s.

DSC04551The basement level is home to Molly Cooper’s Bar and Grill. It was closed in the morning when I was snooping around, but looked like it would be a fun place to eat, with views of the lake.

Although there are rumors the hotel is haunted, I had no notable experiences in my first-floor room, other than a bathroom door that closed unexpectedly. Alas, the floor was just crooked. No spooks.






A mural in “downtown” Ashland that honors the lighthousekeeping history of the area.


How my Blog Helped me Win a Writing Contest

Gut Instict

Northland College in northern Wisconsin holds an annual writing contest organized around a specific theme. Chosen writers have the opportunity to read their poems, essays or short stories in front of an audience. Plus, for the past couple of years, the readings are broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio.

The theme last year for the Writer’s Read Contest was “The Dark Side.” I wasn’t going to enter because I didn’t feel like I had anything that fit the theme.

That is my strategy – I rarely write anything new for contests. I like to choose from pieces I’ve already written. I guess I’m lazy that way, or efficient. Take your pick!

A nice thing about this contest is that, unlike most writing competitions, they will accept stories that have been previously published. So you can recycle works that have appeared elsewhere or won other contests.

However, a friend encouraged me last year to “add my voice into the mix,” so I entered a couple of stories even though I didn’t think they fit the theme. My stories were not chosen.

This year, after learning that the theme was “Gut Instinct,” I performed a mental inventory of all my short stories, poems, and blog entries to see if I had anything that fit. I have learned from conducting writing contests myself that the nonfiction essay category usually has the fewest entries, so I decided to concentrate on my blog posts to increase my chances of being chosen to read.

A couple of postings came to mind, but one I wrote in 2013 was especially dramatic. It was called “Are Book Signings Worth Risking Your Personal Safety?” It detailed two run-ins I had with a robber when I was in college, and it also dealt with writing, so I hoped it would be appealing to the judges and to the listening audience. How did it fit the theme? My gut told me to run the robber over. My brain told me otherwise. Which one did I listen to?

However, I needed to make the story even more dramatic, so I rewrote the blog post. I also had a writer friend (the same one who encouraged me to enter last year) look at the story and offer comments before I submitted it. She had some good ideas for rearranging the middle and for adding more details, which I heeded. In return, I offered comments on the fiction story she planned to enter.

Lo and behold, both of us were chosen to read! The event is happening later this week and our stories will be broadcast at a later date. (I will be sure to post a link here when that happens.) (Here’s the link! My story starts at the 4:10 minute mark.)

I’ve toyed with the idea of writing my blog for money. But the whole reason I started it was to write for fun, and to try and make sense out of my life — and perhaps share some wisdom. So I have refrained from blog-writing-for-profit. However, now I have discovered that blog writing can also help a person win a writing contest! How cool is that?

Fun with Apostrophes


As a writer, I care about the written word. I care about proper grammar. While I have been known to dangle a preposition at the end of my sentences, I usually try to do what’s proper, especially in my writing for hire.

I had an instance this week where I wanted to confirm the name of a bay in the Duluth-Superior Harbor. Someone who works for an agency in another state asked me to review a web site about this bay, which is the subject of a federal cleanup project because it’s contaminated. My office coworker is also helping with the project by providing engineering advice.

The title of the web page was first thing I noticed. It was called “Howards Bay,” which just screams out for a possessive apostrophe, doesn’t it? (Howard’s Bay.) Unless, of course, the bay was named after someone with the last name of Howards vs. the first name of Howard.

I’ve run across instances before where proper grammar for place names flies out the window because some mapmaker hundreds of years ago labelled places incorrectly on local maps. As such, writers like myself are required to grit our teeth and perpetuate the mistake because what’s on the map has become the actual factual name for those places. One example is the St. Marys River, which empties out of Lake Superior and into Lake Huron. It makes me cringe every time I write it, but there’s no possessive apostrophe in that name due to a mapmaker’s error.

Hoping against hope that wasn’t the case for Howards Bay, I investigated. I looked on the internet. I found that newspaper stories about the bay gave Howards an apostrophe. I found that many government documents (but not all) did not. I asked friends if they knew which form was correct, and received helpful suggestions about where else to check. I looked it up on the U.S. Board of Geographic Names website. It had “no data available” about this name.

Along the way, I discovered that that state of Wisconsin (where Howards Bay is located) has a state Geographic Names Council. Who better to ask? So I sent them an email. While I was awaiting their reply, I learned more about the organization. They seem mainly formed to approve new names for lakes and other geographic features.

They have a list of rules for new names. Among them is one that says, “newly acquired proper names for geographic features shall not be designated with ” ‘s ” or “s”, indicating possession, following the name. For example: Mott Lake, rather than Mott’s Lake or Motts Lake.”

Geez, I wish they would have had that rule in place when Howards Bay was being named!

The next day, I received the geographic names councilperson’s reply to my apostrophe question. Here’s what he said: All of our records that I have been able to find have no apostrophe for Howards Bay. I’ve attached a state sediment sampling document as evidence. I cannot give a more definite answer to the “official” name but I would say that the consistency in our records would point to this being the correct spelling.

In the meantime, with my dogged grammatical passion, I had asked the state cleanup project manager for Howards Bay the same question. He said: The apostrophe question has come up before.  I have not been able to determine which version is correct and occasionally catch myself using both. For consistency, the project team chose to perpetuate the mistake and go with the original name shown on maps, i.e. “Howards.”

Aaargh! Why are we at the grammatical mercy of ancient map makers? I say that modern writers should rise up and free themselves from this typographical tyranny! Add the apostrophe “s” and may the mapmakers be dammed!

Who’s with me?


**Update** August 9, 2017

A friend of mine asked a research librarian with the Superior Public Library the origin of the name of Howards Bay (also called Howards Pocket). She said it’s named for John D. Howard who held an interest in a sawmill on Connors Point. He died in 1891.

So there really should be an apostrophe because it is Howard’s Bay. Darn those mapmakers! And there should be an apostrophe in Connors Point, too, but I’m not even going to go there. 🙂

Crossing Death’s Door on Lake Michigan

On the Robert Noble ferry to Washington Island.

My coworkers and I crossed Death’s Door not one, but two times last week. And we lived to tell about it!

Death’s Door is a treacherous crossing of water off the tip of the Door Peninsula on Lake Michigan. Many a ship and many a life have been lost to its currents and weather. Our goal was to visit Washington Island, a six-mile-by-five-mile piece of land about a half-hour ferry ride from the mainland. We were on a field trip to check out some Sea Grant projects in the area and to interview a commercial fisherman to learn more about his trade.

While waiting for the ferry, we checked out a historical shipwreck sign our agency produced. After a gray and rainy crossing, we landed on the island and drove to our lunch destination, the KK Fiske Restaurant, where we heard you can eat fresh lawyers. No, we are not cannibals; lawyers are one of the nicknames for burbot, a cod-like fish caught in local waters.

A stuffed lawyer.

Appetites at the ready, we were disappointed to find they had no luck catching lawyers that day, so we’d have to make do with whitefish. That was pretty tasty, in any event.

We only had a couple of hours to spend on the island before we needed to head back to the mainland to interview the fisherman. Besides eating, we spent it driving to a state natural area on the end of the island, called Little Lake. There is indeed a lake there, along with a museum that features artifacts from people who used to live in the area.

Little Lake State Natural Area, Washington Island.

After a coffee stop and an unsuccessful search for the island’s lavender farm, we were back on the ferry. Once we landed, breathing a metaphorical sigh of relief that we survived the crossings, we headed toward Bailey’s Harbor.

We found Bailey’s Harbor Fish Company off the beaten path, where we interviewed Tate Stuth, one of the new generation of commercial fishermen in the area. He explained how this fourth-generation family business works, and shared some of the frustrations and unique aspects of their operation. I wrote a story based on the interview and you can read it here: I left the interview thinking that the industry is in good hands.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the trip for me was roaming around the fish yard after the interview was over. It held old net buoys and floats, rusty trucks, dry docked boats, nets drying on racks. I hope you enjoy the pictures!

Free Books!

Going Coastal

If you’re active on Goodreads, a book giveaway is currently open for “Going Coastal.” This book is a collection of short stories about Lake Superior. Authors hail from northeastern Minnesota and northern Wisconsin. (A story by yours truly is included.)

The stories were chosen by a panel of judges during a contest offered by Lake Superior Writers last year. Lake Superior Writers is a nonprofit group with over 200 members that supports the artistic development of writers and fosters a vibrant literary arts community.

“If you like lighthouses, ships, beaches, ghosts, road trips up the shore, history, storms, agates, islands, family drama, and the mystical power of water, you’ll enjoy this book,” said Marty Sozansky, board chair of Lake Superior Writers.

Like the horizon blurs between sky and water, reality and fantasy merge in these tales of human struggle on the edge of one of the world’s largest lakes. Click here to enter the giveaway and the chance to win one of two copies. The giveaway is open until June 24, 2017.

If you don’t win, you can always purchase the book for $12.95 at Fitger’s Bookstore in Duluth and online through North Star Press,, and Barnes and Noble. Sales support Lake Superior Writers.

When is a Bridge a Bong?

St. Louis River Trip 2015 001

The Bong Bridge as seen from the water.

I was giving directions to an out-of-town acquaintance the other day when I told them they’d need to drive over the Bong Bridge. They looked at me, wide-eyed, and started snickering.

Yes, it’s true. In Duluth-Superior we have a bridge by the name of Bong. The Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge, to be exact. It’s named after a World War II flying ace, but out-of-towners and the uninitiated don’t know that. The name always provokes some kind of reaction.

I was away at college when the bridge was being built and named in the early 1980s. Whenever I returned home and drove on the freeway down the hill into town, I would notice more bridge pillars in the harbor as it slowly came into being. I can’t recall if there was a lot of controversy about the name, but I assume there must have been some.

Although the name is a nice tribute to a local war hero, the people who thought up the name HAD to know it would get shortened to just “Bong Bridge” or just “Bong” in the local vernacular. After all, we have another bridge that spans the same body of water, which is named after John A. Blatnik. Everybody just calls it the “Blatnik.”

“Take the Blatnik to Superior,” we say. Now we can also say, “Take the Bong to Superior.” Most locals know that won’t get you into trouble with the law.

It’s just such a questionable name. I can’t believe it got through the transportation department’s approval process. But Richard Bong must have had a big fan club that overwhelmed common sense when it came to bridge names.

Bong Museum

A mural of Richard Bong and his wife Marge from the Bong Museum in Superior.

We even have a Bong Museum. But it doesn’t contain what you think it might. Not even one. I know. I checked.

The name does make the Bong Bridge easy to remember, I’ll say that for it. While it’s confusing having two bridges that start with a “B” in the area, differentiating between them is easy. The Blatnik is the bridge closest to Lake Superior and it’s named for a guy. Then there’s the other bridge farther inland that’s named for drug paraphernalia.

Maybe the name was a good idea, after all?