Faces, Places, and Days Gone By Mikel B. Classen

Review by Brad Gischia 

Mikel Classen has spent most of his life traveling the Upper Peninsula and writing about the varied and colorful history of this remote place.

In those travels he’s encountered any number of historians and those people have shared their collections and stories with him.  Faces, Places, and Days Gone By: A Pictorial History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Volume 1, a showing from Classen’s own archival collection.

Spanning the years from the very birth of photographic technology, Classen has collected pictures that are everything from postcards to stereoscopes to press photographs.  He’s divided the book into sections based on content, and each section touches on things important to Upper Peninsula life, whether it be mining, shipping, timber, or winter sports.

The book is an easy read, either taken in large chunks or a single page at a time, and each photo is enlarged so that you can really see the detail.  Each has a caption that tells the story of the photo, sometimes where it was discovered, and often with some insight into the area where it was taken and the importance of the content.

There are many great pictures to enjoy.  One is a cabinet photo from Sault Ste. Marie of the “World War I Marching Band”.  Classen dates it to the 40’s.  It depicts a band wearing WWI era uniforms, complete with doughboy helmets, standing on some sort of trailer.  The men look like they might be in their sixties, playing trumpets and drums and holding rifles at attention.  This was taken when my grandparents were alive, and this was the generation before them.  Photos like these really bring the closeness of history to me, a reminder that WWI was really not that long ago.

Two photos that really struck me are titled  “Wash Day- Ishpeming” and “On the Haystack – Menominee”.  Wash Day depicts just that, two women bent over a wash tub with a board, scrubbing clothes, while On the Haystack show three people perched on a haystack near a barn.  The thing that sticks out with both of these is that the people are mugging for the camera, smiling.  It’s something you don’t see in a lot of old photos, people who might not be having a great time, but the photographic technology being enough of a special event that people were able to look past what they were doing and enjoy the moment.

Classen gives little tastes of history with the photos as well.  One photo shows a shipment of copper at the Houghton docks ready to be loaded.  “The amount of copper that came from the Keweenaw region is staggering.  It is estimated at 12 billion pounds!” (Classen, p. 64).  I knew that copper was a big export but I had no idea how great the amounts were.

Faces, Places, and Days Gone by is a great book for anyone with a love of history or the Upper Peninsula, doubly good if you’re both, and even life-long residents of the U.P. will learn something about their home from reading it.

Faces, Places, and Days Gone By by Mikel B. Classen
Modern History Press
Ann Arbor, Michigan


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