I always liked the fact that I was born in Superior, Wisconsin. It was where my dad was born, and I suppose that could have been part of its charm, but I really think it just seemed exotic or romantic to me. I know that sounds funny, but there is so much history in the area, with a bit of mystery mixed in. The mystery comes from all the shipwrecks in Lake Superior, in my mind anyway. When I think of Lake Superior, my mind always wanders to the shipwrecks that have occurred there, and the fact that Lake Superior, while beautiful, has a dark and dangerous side for any ship caught out on her in a storm…especially a November gale, and especially an early November gale, such as in 1975. When the Edmond Fitzgerald was caught out there in an early gale on November 10th, she sank with all hands lost because it. I remember my Uncle Bill telling me about that storm, years later, and the fact that he was driving around the lake at the time of the sinking. He told me that it was a horrific storm, and he was not surprised to hear of the loss of a ship.
Of course, the shipwrecks are not the only things I find to be exotic and romantic about the Lake Superior area. The fact that ships come into the Duluth-Superior Harbor from all over the world and that things that are shipped out of that harbor go all over the world, makes it feel more connected to the world somehow. My cousin, Pam’s husband, Mike Wendling, who worked for the railroad for many years, before retiring, told us that the trains would bring in coal from Gillette, Wyoming and Montana. It is strange to think that the coal we see in railroad cars here is headed for an ore boat on Lake Superior…and then places all over the world.
When I look at some of the pictures of me as a baby, I almost feel a bit like I missed out on some parts of my own babyhood. My sister, Cheryl remembers living there, playing with our cousin, Pam and the neighbor kids…including the last name of her favorites, the Lawlers. I don’t remember them. I was too young. With movies and pictures, I have been able to get a picture in my mind of what my life there must have been like. Most of it was likely spent being a third wheel to my sister and cousin, but it doesn’t look like they minded me too much. I was probably too little to be very bratty then. There were also trips to the lake with the family, which I didn’t know about really until my cousin, Pam produced a picture in her baby album during our visit. It was such a great family moment, at the lake when the smelt were running. Smelt are a type of fish who, like the salmon swim against the current to lay their eggs. People went out and gathered lots of them. It was a big deal on the lake.
I probably get most of my memories of Superior, Wisconsin from our many visits back there when we were kids. Even then, I felt like it was a special thing to be born there. Maybe it was just about not being born in Casper, Wyoming. Don’t get me wrong, I love Casper, but when you are born somewhere other than the place you grew up, it just has a different feel. I’m sure most smaller city or small town kids think that their little corner of the world it the most dull and boring place ever. It tends to make any other place take on an exotic feel. Nevertheless, I will always feel like there is something exotic and romantic about being born on the tip of Lake Superior.
Not every life is of a common type. Once in a while, circumstances come about that create a living situation or way of life that is very different, and for most of us, one that seems exotic in many ways. Such is the case my Great Great Uncle William Jonathan Davis, who married my Great Great Aunt Theresa Elizabeth Spencer on September 29, 1883 in Webster City, Iowa. Their married life was of the much more normal type. They lived several places, finally settling on a ranch near Rushville, Nebraska, where they raised their nine children. That kind of life seems very normal, and it was, but William’s childhood was far from what most of us would consider normal.
William Jonathan Davis was born on June 5, 1856 in Llanduno, Wales. His mother Catherine Aldrich Davis died when he was two weeks old. I’m sure that over the years he felt a bit of sadness over the loss of the mother he never knew, but not as much as his older brother Charles Henry, who was a year or so older than William.
When William was seven years old, his father William Jonathan Davis Sr also passed away, leaving the two boys orphaned. Thankfully they had an uncle, Walter Davis who owned a fleet of merchant ships. He took the two boys with him on a freighter and their home was the high seas for the next eleven years. Now to a couple of little boys, I’m sure the high seas felt like quite an adventure, and life on a ship probably kept their imaginations working overtime, thus alleviating at least some of the sadness over their father’s death, by keeping them very busy. My guess is that over time, they became some of the best deck hands their Uncle Walter ever had, and they loved him dearly…so much so, in fact that William named his first son, Walter, after the uncle who saved their lives, and gave them hope for the future again.
In 1874, his uncle’s ship was delivering cargo to New York City, and Charles and William decided that it was time for them to go out on their own. After saying good bye to their uncle, the boys stayed in New York City, and then in 1875 moved to Chicago, Illinois. William got a job with the North-Western Railway Company, and was later transferred to Kamrar, Iowa as the Section Boss. It was there that he would meet the love of his life, my Great Great Aunt Theresa, or Tessie as she was lovingly nicknamed. The rest, as they say is history, as they lived happily ever after. Quite a change of lifestyle for a boy raised on the high seas.
When the Texaco Refinery in Casper closed, my Uncle Larry decided to take the transfer to New Orleans rather than early retirement, which was just a little too far away at the time. I remember thinking that it was very strange to think that my aunt and uncle would be living so far away…because on my mom’s side, they all pretty much lived in Casper, or at least Wyoming. Nevertheless, they took the transfer, and off they went to New Orleans. It all seemed so exotic to me at the time. And I wasn’t sure I liked thinking of them living so far away either.
For Grandma, it did have its good side however. With her son and daughter-in-law living so far away, a trip to see them soon became part of the plan. Having since taken a trip to Louisiana, I can relate to the excitement Grandma must have felt to be taking a trip there. Yes, visiting her son and daughter-in-law was the main reason, but to get to see that area of the country…well, it was definitely a plus. Plans were made to show her the Gulf of Mexico, the Plantations, and, of course, Bourbon Street. Having been on Bourbon Street, I almost cringe at the sights my grandmother saw…I mean, I was shocked, so what did she think. The plantations were amazing, so I’m sure she loved them, and the Gulf…well, it is too amazing for words.
As I was looking at these pictures and remembering my own trip, it almost felt like walking in her shoes for a little while. I could picture what my grandmother was thinking and how she was feeling. It is such a different area of the country, and one that everyone should try to see if they can. It is like stepping back in time. It almost seems like many things don’t change there. I’m glad Grandma got the opportunity to goto the deep South, because sometimes trips like that can be a one of a kind event.