Michigan history fans can enjoy a pair of highly entertaining new books that focus on fascinating aspects of our Great Lakes state.
These aren’t your usual run-of-the mill volumes of generalized or glorified history; instead they offer new and intriguing insights into uncommon past livelihoods.
“Ladies of the Lights” by Patricia Majher (University of Michigan Press, $22.95 pb, $65 hb) is a well-organized, illuminating look at Michigan women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service.
It’s broken down into a dozen short chapters plus an epilog, providing an amazing view of a long-overlooked subject. There were 52 women who served in this unusual capacity, beginning with Catherine Shook, who maintained the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse on Lake Huron from 1849.
The carefully researched volume is not likely to put you asleep; it’s filled with great photographs, lively insights and remarkable information about the strong-willed women who were vital in safely guiding ships through treacherous waters.
Majher, the editor of Michigan History Magazine, also includes a wonderful recent interview with Frances (Wuori Johnson) Marshall, the last of the female lighthouse keepers. Marshall appeared as a guest on the popular 1953 “What’s My Line?” television show and successfully stumped the panel.
Majher’s great book is ideal for average readers, historians and libraries; it provides geographical and alphabetical lists, suggested readings, an excellent bibliography and detailed footnotes.
“Sawdust and Woodchips” by Ben Mukkala (Still Waters, $15.95) is another relaxing, insightful volume by one Michigan’s best storytellers.
It deals mostly with the lumberjacks and the logging industry in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, told in Mukkala’s folksy, laid-back style.
Mukkala deftly tells tales of famous and infamous Michigan lumberjacks from a bygone era, exploring their attitudes, foibles and follies.
The are many wonderful short vignettes that explore the history, growth and disappearance of a variety of logging communities in the U.P.
Mukkala also provides a 50-page chronology of the logging industry in Michigan, beginning in 1797, peppering it with numerous insights into regional history.
The author, who retired from the U.S. Air Force as a Major in 1970, has also written other entertaining, self-published, popular paperbacks, including “Copper, Timber, Iron and Heart (Stories from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula” and “Come On Along (Tales and Trails of the North Woods”).
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed books regularly since 1987.
This review was originally published in the Lansing State Journal on December 26, 2010.