Bear Lake, Michigan Ghost Pictures

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There were ghosts out there, but mostly the people in 1870-1912 saw them. A transcendentalist commune was hiding at a far end of Bear Lake. While you-all admit that Russell Smith is your founder, you do not seem to have any idea that at his side every minute was Mrs. Russell Smith and at least one child. The first 3 families to come were the Smiths, a doctor named Anderson and his wife, and another couple, each with a Harvard grad amongst them and at least 1 or 2 infants. The story of how they made it out there, so far from everyone, without such things as spending money and store-bought clothes, is partially told by my grandfather's cousin, Eva Ferrier, in the December 1952 Michigan history under ''a Pioneer reunion'' or ''a Pioneer reunion picnic''.
She had the ability I do and ancestors too, to write as fast as she heard, and wrote the words speakers gave at a 1912 reunion. Mrs. Smith told how they first arrived, all with government claims of 160 acres each, from traveling from Concord to New Haven, then taking a boat across the Great Lakes to their area, 15 miles north of Manistee. They were met by a man with ox and wagon, and followed yellow or red ''x''s made on trees to their claims. It was an all day trip and once they split the party in half to round a swamp to see which side the x's were continuing from; once they all had to get off at a long steep hill up, and the men pushed the cart, and were there braced to hold it in place each time a push ended and the wagon began to slide back down.Mrs. Smith said she thought then it would be the last time she climbed that hill; ''lord knows how often I went up and down it in the next 60 years. '' she was funny but told of severe trials.
They filled the first night's pillowcases with pine...She added to the picnic,''well, it smelled antiseptic'', defensively, as everyone laughed at the hard, poking pillows that must have made. There was a popular plant they decorated their homes with, only to find it was a favorite spot for bedbugs who loved to curl up in the crooks, and nannies the wood's natural twists made--they all spent an entire summer airing their homes of those, for they crawled up every crack, lined every windowsill, Marched across the beds. Eva names many of the families of 1870-1888 and none are on other Bear Lake web sites but Russell Smith. It is not even said that his wife founded the place as much as he had! The first time any went to town, a year after arriving in 1856, the x's were faded and had to be seen over their shoulders to back-track out. It was an all-night camping trip up high where they saw lights from parts of Manistee ''the mill town'' ''red as if on fire. ''
Manistee was the only town in the area and where they had to go to take trains places in emergencies, greet new members, even buy a stove although after that first year they made all their things. One man made bullets by getting Chinese tea in mail then using lead lining cans; my grandfather's grandfather also melted his lead in a mold. Mrs. Smith said the fish followed them up the embankment begging them to eat them and nightly my ancestor and his 17-year-old son-in-law went deer-hunting at 4 am ''and if they did not come back with a deer by 4 pm , they came back with two,'' Eva said.
When Mr. And Mrs. Smith went to town to get white flour after a year of cornbread, the ox dropped dead on the way home. The commune was stuck there after that. The only horses belonged to two schoolteachers who lived too far to walk to school so had a horse and buggy. There was sometimes an ox but every one needed it and no one dared ask for the 3 days it would take to go to Manistee and back with it--watermelon patches had to be brought in. Grandpa was sugaring. There were quite a few houses, for right after my ancestor helped them all build log homes 3 brothers moved in who owned a sawmill in Manistee and were just starting up. Within a year, everyone had frame homes. I have the only picture I think of the ''ghost town'' hiding in your woods--a painting Eva made while she was called ''the grandma Moses of Michigan'' in the 1950's by Detroit newspapers at least. They commune built 2 schools, one called the Voss school, where ''we did not attend''.
Everyone wanted great white pine but only one doctor from back east got just what he wanted-a large yard of pine. My ancestors got 2 or 3 pines and a large crop of sugar maples which they put up yearly, enough to last 'til the next sugaring time. At first, all the crops died of one way and another, including army ants cutting the peas right off as if spitefully. A Bear Lake website says older homes found way in the woods suggest people who got claims, tried to farm for a year, and quit and went on when it proved non-farmable land. Not so--the people lived there at least 60 years and no one was hungry--as youths, Eva says her cousin, and his gang of little boy friends knocked way more squirrels, Partridge, and pigeon out of trees than their moms could make into pot pies, and many were just left on the ground after a boy showed his prowess.
Whenever one old man wanted fish he paid a gang of boys to bring a large bag into which the fish were scooped. They had 3 types of fishing, one kind from a homemade dugout on a little bayou, one on Bear Lake, and one from shore on a creek they gave a name to. There was no fly-fishing (although one little boy raised There is son would grow up to become famous for ''re-inventing the fly-rod'', that is, modifying the bamboo fly-rod so that a lighter-weight, shorter rod could take a much stronger fight with a fish--a rod we still use, as far as weight, length, the binding together of 5 strips of bamboo to make a reinforced rod. And this son's own rods are collector's items. There may have been no fishing poles at all, for Eva talks of the gentleman bringing flashlights and a big bag, not rods at all. Definitely, the colonists had no qualms about eating the fawns that poked their heads over their vegetable garden fences curiously. A normal meal was pigeon pot pie with some bear or coon grease added, they thought for protein.
It sounds like they were eating passenger pigeons and the now -extinct Michigan grayling, which many called trout, not knowing there was another species in the Americas. Eva's cousin saw the men throw the grayling in heaps against a wall , take the best home, and leave the rest for a train; if one did not come, it went to scavengers and to rot. Some of the names include the lemley brothers, captain ben young and 13 members of his family. One set of brothers who played with Eva as a kid grew up to have the only horses on the commune.
Apparently the newest members did not know about the free world, for in this speech of founder Smiths, who says she jumped off the cart ahead of everyone to be the first white person to put a foot in Bear Lake, she says that some of them ''had to come from other places first.'' to the apparent shocked response of the audience of younger commune members, she says,''oh, yes, we were not all born here. Some of us actually lived in other cities, in other parts of the world, places you could not imagine.'' I thought, what kind of naive group of citizens of a Michigan town is being fed this ? And why was my grandfather's aunt allowed to marry at 16, and why was a Great Lakes ship captain (my ancestor) living with a group of Harvard-educated young men? Eva claimed,''almost everyone at Bear Lake was a Harvard grad. We children were well-looked after. '' ah, yes--my grandfather's grandfather ferried them to their new wilderness home from New Haven.
They must have been very excited and it rubbed off on him. He went home to Windsor, Ontario, Canada, , got a claim, got his family---transcendentalism was being e xtolled by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Louisa may Alcott's father, and many others who traveled the U.S. And Canadian Midwest. No taxes, no money, children were the bosses of their own lives, no licenses and public births and cemeteries. To the people of Manistee they were there but a year; to themselves, they were there over 60 years. They must have been seen as ghosts when one was seen picking berries and then vanishing; ghosts in homespun clothing dancing in the woods. Maybe voices were once heard as a boy got a buck and his dad, in other brush, responded. But you did have ghosts, surely you must have seen something, heard something, with over 60 people out there living behind your trees, somehow using a corner of your lake without your ever knowing. Proof can be found in ''mich.History'', Dec. 1952 issue, in a 1952-53 Detroit newspaper article (free press or news archives) , and in an upcoming book, with a title to be something like ''the history of Paul h. Young'', which has Eva's painting of the 1870s-1880's Bear Lake in it, showing much evidence that these houses lasted over a year.
There are 2 old men in photo attached, who grew up on the commune, one escaped, of will and Herman young; will vanished with the rest of the tribe after living there from a teen in 1870 to at least 1912; the women in the photo are thought to be daughters, a reunion of 2 brothers and their families. Only three of over 60 children raised there ever left-Eva and 2 male cousins--Eva to attend art school in Detroit, Herman as his new bride did not like it there, Charles to go to Hillman college. When you see the photo of or the real painting, you'll see part of Eva's well-lived in Bear Lake houses you may have found out there yourselves in your woods and thought had been abandoned after only a year--not 60 or more, as is the real case. - Ghost picture submitted by Deanne

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