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Walking through history: Stories come alive

A tad askew

May 26, 2012
JACKIE?STARK , The Mining Journal

Last week, I spent some time in the Holy Cross Cemetery, covering the Marquette Regional History Center's veterans tour.

I walked with a small group of people from one gravesite to the next, learning the stories of each person who was buried next to the tombstones we stopped at.

It was very interesting, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, because cemeteries rank on the top ten list of things I hate. I think it may even be accurate to say I loathe cemeteries. They are filled with death and sadness, two things that most people don't want to encounter on a daily basis.

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And it seems like every time I'm in a cemetery I end up walking past too many tombstones marking people who were much too young when they died, particularly those of infants and children.

So if I hadn't been assigned the story for work, I never would have gone.

But then I was there, standing next to the grave of two brothers who had fought against each other during the Civil War. One had served in the Confederate Army, one in the Union. They even fought on opposite sides in certain battles during the war. For all we know, they could have been shooting directly at each other.

However, they both lived through the war and eventually made their way to Marquette, where they made their mark serving in various offices through the city. They both even President Teddy Roosevelt when he came to the area in 1913 to take on the editor of an Ishpeming editorial for libel.

Those two men had a fascinating story, and as the tour continued, each story turned out to be as fascinating as the one that came before it.

I heard the story of a woman who died in the Brooklyn shipyards from a reaction to the anesthetic used during her tonsillectomy surgery, and that of a young man who sent a letter home saying everything was fine and then died shortly thereafter of pneumonia. I saw photographs of soldiers long dead and stood solemnly with the rest of the group during the playing of TAPS.

I learned that by trying to avoid anything at all related to death, I was essentially avoiding these wonderful stories.

And as an English major, I can safely say that stories are something I love. Stories are what make us who we are, and what show us where we've been and where we're going.

I also learned that day, that history does can do that too.

To me, history had always seemed a dry subject, simply names and dates of wars and so-called great men. But there was never any richness to history, never any story. It was like listening to a lecture given by the dullest person alive.

At that tour, it looked like I wasn't the only one of my generation who felt this way about history. At 25 years old, I seemed to be the youngest one there.

I used to wonder what made people so interested in history, why they would waste their time becoming experts on the most minute details of people's lives. I think now I'm beginning to understand.

I've read a few nonfiction books and an occasional memoir here and there, but I've always been more interested in works of fiction. They seemed to me to have better stories.

But I have to say, I'm thinking about picking up a biography here and there from the library, instead of my usual novel. (Anyone with a particular favorite biography, drop me an email.)

Who knew that the stories of real people would be as rich and moving as the stories made up by real people?

I guess everyone at that tour did, everyone except me.

So, to the history center, I'll have to say thanks for putting that tour on. I hope there are more to come. I look forward to more time spent listening to the stories of the people that came before me.

Editor's Note: Jackie Stark is a Marquette resident and a staff reporter at The Mining Journal. Her column appears bi-weekly. She can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.



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