Looking Back: Dust, heroes and dad jokes

Carnegie Medal (1906 version) for heroic bravery, awarded to a Charlevoix man in 1923.
Carnegie Medal (1906 version) for heroic bravery, awarded to a Charlevoix man in 1923.

CHARLEVOIX — One hundred and fifty years ago, Charlevoix Sentinel editor Willard A. Smith was not averse to printing a few groaners in his paper, the equivalent to what today is called a “dad joke.”

Nov. 1, 1873: “The girl of the period is to discard corsets. As jockeys say, she’s fast but she won’t stay.” Interpret that as you will.

Even though Pine River/Charlevoix had been inhabited since the mid 1850s, it was still feeling growing pains almost two decades later as the infrastructure was slowly altered to accommodate its growing needs. All our streets and avenues were a little rough and hardly ready.

Same issue: “We notice that our faithful pathmaster (currently the Charlevoix Public Works Department) took the hint we gave him last week, and removed the stumps from Clinton Street.” It and other downtown streets remained in various degrees of stumplessness until Bridge Street received the city’s first pavement 31 years later.

Before that, it was reported that our main thoroughfare required a dampening of 300 gallons of water to keep the dust down during dry days. We even had our own horse-drawn wooden water wagon to do the job. Light winds could lift dust and grit into every building along Bridge Street, and into the houses on the side streets. During the winter, snow would accumulate in Bridge Street’s hundreds of wagon wheel ruts, then melt and freeze into hard, corrugated strips, or heavy rains would turn the roadway into a sloppy bog. Either way, our future downtown U.S. 31 could, in any season, turn into an almost impassable mess.

Also same edition: “The streets of Newman’s addition are named, respectively, Newman, Smith, May, Alice and Third.” As far as can be determined, the south side land bought by one (possibly more) of the Newman brothers, one of our earliest pioneer families, was bounded by today’s Belvedere Avenue, May Street, Alice Street, and Upright Street. As late as 1901, Belvedere was known as Newman Street, today a very narrow connector between State and Lake streets, and today’s thoroughfare between Alice and May streets called East Hurlbut was initially named Smith Street. But there are no First or Second streets to be found anywhere on any early plat maps of Charlevoix, at least those in the Historical Society’s possession. It is presumed that Third Street might refer to the midblock alleyway south of Smith Street, since Upright Street on the southern border of Newman’s Addition, on the 1901 plat map, was named just that all the way east to Alice Street. Got that? Anyone out there know anything about the ghostly First and Second streets of Charlevoix?

One hundred years ago, a Charlevoix resident received recognition from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission for heroic bravery that resulted in the saving of a life.

Charlevoix Courier, Oct. 31, 1923. “CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR McHUGH. Local Man Participates in Hero Fund Reward. Saved Clayton Dutcher From Drowning in February, 1919—Also to Receive $1000. The act in question was the rescue of Clayton Dutcher from the waters of Round Lake, effected by the quick-witted and daring feat of Harry E. McHugh of this city, who braved the dangers of rotten ice and a terrific current, barely escaping with his own life.”

A Mrs. Powers reported the “occurrence.” She “took it upon herself to see that the (Carnegie) commission was put in possession of the facts.” After four years of study and correspondence between all parties concerned, Mr. McHugh and Mrs. Powers were notified of the award.

The Courier goes on to say: “It will be recalled that the accident that called for the rescue occurred at the foot of Clinton Street, at about noon on Washington’s birthday. Mr. McHugh, on his way to dinner, had noticed the boys, Clare Usher and Clayton Dutcher, evidently playing ‘stump the leader’ on the rotten ice fringing the shore, as he passed the head of the street. He kept on and when about in front of Cartier’s (men’s clothing establishment and tailoring business) shop thought he heard a cry for help. He ran back to the corner he had just passed and saw that the boys had broken through the ice and were struggling in the water. Stripping off his coat as he ran, Mr. McHugh rushed down the hill to their aid. By the time he reached the edge of the ice, Clare Usher had scrambled to safety, but young Dutcher was still floundering in the water and nearly all in with exhaustion. McHugh ran out on the ice, striving to break it through between the drowning boy and shore to make a path for their escape, but a considerable portion of it held. All that McHugh could do was to keep himself and the lad afloat and clear from the ice until help could come and this was no small job as the current was running so strong that it carried his feet out from under him while treading water, more than once threatening to drive them both underneath the floe.

“Passersby, attracted by the cries for help, procured a rope and ran to the water’s edge. After several attempts, the boy and his rescuer managed to secure a firm grip on the rope and were dragged to safety.”

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission was established by industrialist Andrew Carnegie in 1904 after he heard of two men near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who sacrificed their own lives while helping to rescue miners trapped in a mine explosion in which 181 perished. So moved was he by the story, Carnegie determined to recognize these selfless deeds, that could sometimes result in death, by establishing a commission to administer the award, with seed money of $5 million. As of December of 2022, 10,340 medals have been awarded alongside $40.5 million distributed in the form of grants, death benefits, scholarships and other forms of aid. Only about 11 percent of those nominated receive the Carnegie award. The three-inch medal itself, originally gold, silver and bronze, is now bronze only made of 10 percent zinc and 90 percent copper. Around the rim appear these words from John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

This article originally appeared on The Petoskey News-Review: Looking Back: Dust, heroes and dad jokes