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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Fall Travel by Car, Foot and Book

My corner of Leelanau Township (that is, the place I live) was settled more than 100 years ago by Bohemians, immigrants from what is now part of the Czech Republic. Gills Pier Road is only part of the larger general neighborhood known as Gills Pier, the parish of St. Wenceslaus Church, which one Bohemian neighbor told me yesterday his family used to tell their kids was the “disappearing church.” Because of the way the long road from the south dips down at one point, the church building ahead would vanish from sight as the little kids in the car watched through the windshield. As the car climbed back up the next hill, the church would pop back onto the horizon.

Northern Michigan’s Bohemian immigrants were farmers and iron workers in the old country. When they left home, knowing they would never return, they brought with them the iron crosses for their own graves in the new land. The ornate crosses and the simple lines of the small church dominate the top of their hill in old-world fashion.

It was a book with pictures of that old world that sent me up to St. Wenceslaus the other morning. Karel Plicka’s CESKOSLOVENSKO, published in Prague in 1974 brings took me back in history to a place I’ve never seen but have only visited in the novels of Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera.

Here in Northport today, fragmentary visual history appeared on the north wall of Phil Kellogg’s building, a wall covered for decades by the recently razed dining room (kitchen remains and will soon be transformed by Bruce Viger) Little Finger restaurant. Who is this fantasy woman in the ermine collar? What business was she advertising, and was there a holiday connection? Maybe a circus! The closer the camera moves in, the more intriguing the questions become.


Anonymous said...

The pictures in this post are BEAUTIFUL, like they're right out a storybook.

Thanks so much for sharing them; they were like a breath of fresh air after staring at a computer screen for hours. :)

P. J. Grath said...

Thank you for sharing your pleasure. I do hope to be posting photographs again very soon. It's frustrating to be confined to nothing but words!