GWINN - Paul Erickson smiles when he shares his memories of Fourth of July celebrations in bygone days.
"The firemen would, when I was young, have a greasy pole contest," said Erickson, a lifelong Gwinn resident who's now 78. "Guys would try to climb it. The first 15 feet were covered solid with axle grease. They'd wear their oldest ragged clothes and try to get the grease off the pole first.
"The first half-dozen would be just covered in grease," he said. "Then they'd cover themselves with sand to try to get a grip. It was for a $10 bill at the top. You were fortunate to get $10 back then, in the 1940s. It was a lot of money."
F. Dupras The Palace Horseshoeing Shop was one of the businesses that put together a float for the Marquette Fourth of July parade as show in this photo from around 1900. (Marquette County History Museum photo)
Some members of the “Barbershop Crew” at the Forsyth Township Senior Center discuss Fourth of July memories. Standing is Dan Benstrom. Sitting from the left: Paul Smale, David Wills and Paul Erickson. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
The Gwinn Fourth of July celebration was a big deal to everyone in the community and plans included all sorts of fun activities for all ages.
"I remember they'd try to recruit guys for the tug of war," he said. "They would put a rope across the (Escanaba) river and see who could pull who into the water. It was real competitive.
"There were lots of games for the kids to play, too. It was great fun."
Erickson shared his memories during a recent gathering of a group dubbed The Barbershop Crew.
"We used to meet at the barbershop but the barber retired last fall," Erickson said. "And he disappeared on us. So we decided to come over here."
Here being the Gwinn Clubhouse, which also houses the Forsyth Township Senior Center of which most of the "crew" qualifies to participate in. The crew gathers twice a week for coffee, Trenary Toast, doughnuts and conversation. Lots of conversation that makes them roar with laughter.
It's a group with solid camaraderie. And most share memories of the community that go way back.
"When I think back to Fourth of July in the past, I think of the Gwinn City Band," said David Wills, now 74. "My dad directed it for years. Our city band would go to Trenary and march in their parade, around the block a couple of times, then come back here and march, then play in the park. Then they'd come back at night for another concert."
Erickson added: "They played great march music."
"John Philip Sousa, for sure," Wills said.
"That was a tradition in Gwinn for many years," Erickson said.
"I do remember one year playing in the band on the Fourth and there were snow flurries," Wills said. "And I remember the uniforms. They were red and white."
Barbershop crew member Dan Benstrom, now 82, grew up in Bruce Crossing but has lived in the Gwinn area for years. He remembers the Fourth in his youth being a shared holiday, one year in Bruce Crossin, the next in Ewen.
"When I was 10 years old, I won 50 cents in the sack race. They had airplane rides they were doing that Fourth. I bummed another 50 cents from my dad and then my cousin, my friend and I, all three of us, went for a ride in a biplane they had, built in 1929. They strapped us all in together and away we flew.
"Another Fourth of July, in 1940, I had an Uncle Sam suit and a brand new bike," he said. "I rode it in the parade in my Uncle Sam suit and a hat made out of an oatmeal box.
"The Fourth was a BIG celebration back then," he said. "They still put on a good one but it's just not as big as it was back then."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.