Magazine article Humanities

Northwoods Legends Come to Life

Magazine article Humanities

Northwoods Legends Come to Life

Article excerpt

Storytellers will recount the lives of shanty boys and schooner captains as part of Michigan's Great Outdoors Culture Tour this summer.

The legends and lore of the state's woods-and-water culture will enliven campfires, forests, and Great Lakes shorelines in ninety-seven performances from July 1 through August 15.

Folksinger Lee Murdock says his music tells the stories of sailors, lighthouses, and heroes. "People want roots music," says Murdock. "It brings them back to a place and time. I create a visual picture of the big seas and vessels at sail racing to the shore. `The winds from out Nor'west / and blowin' all the night/ you can see them big seas rollin'/ with their bonnets all in white.'"

Europeans first searched the Great Lakes region for a passage to Asia. The waterways brought ships that wrecked and traders searching for beaver pelts. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem The Song of Hiawatha was inspired by the region's Native American culture.

Immigrants from Norway, Sweden, and France came to the Upper Peninsula and parts of lower Michigan beginning in the 1600s, drawn by copper and iron mining, lumbering, shipping, trading, and fishing.

"The diverse regional culture shouldn't be left by the wayside," says Nancy Mathews, director of community programs for the Michigan Humanities Council and founder of the Culture Tour. "We explain the why, beyond what is visible. For example, people may wonder why the trees are in neat rows, and we provide the story behind it." Mathews is referring to the red pines that were reforested in the 1930s to recover from a mid-1800s lumber frenzy that decimated the area.

The program, now in its fifth summer, was established in response to a rise in cultural tourism. It won a national heritage award for excellence from the Chief of the Forest Service and is constantly expanding. …

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