Student Blog Post #7: Carol Griskavich
Hello, friendly blog-enjoyers. My name is Carol Griskavich and I am pursuing my Masters of Industrial Archaeology here at Michigan Tech. I like to say I came by this field honestly – my dad being a metallurgist and mom a librarian – but in reality it’s my provision of some answers to my childhood refrain of “What was that used for? Who worked there? Why is that there? When was that? How did it work? Who did what? Can I go see/touch/listen to/smell it?” If only young Carol knew just how much seeing, touching, listening, smelling (and even some accidental tasting) spending seven weeks in Clifton, Michigan would afford her…
Though I’m not a local, I began this term feeling confident that my year and a few odd months in the Industrial Archaeology program afforded me a healthy knowledge of the Copper Country’s mining heritage. As it turned out, I did know quite a bit, but only in a general sense. Ergo, I’ve delighted in learning about the science of mining and its archaeological footprint, as well as that of day-to-day life in a mine location. For those reading this outside of the Keweenaw, “mine location” does not mean the place that a mineshaft was sunk, but rather a mine’s townsite – usually built by the mining company – to house workers, their families and supporting services. Imagine, if you will, your neighborhood populated solely by employees of one single company and those in their immediate family who incidentally will likely become employees of that same company in the future.
“But, Carol,” those of you from Kenosha, Gary, or Dearborn might say, “I don’t have to imagine; I know what that’s like!” Let’s envision, though, that our own mono-economic areas had only the virgin forest as neighbors, and our only options for housing, food, dry goods, education, entertainment, and often religion are offered by our employer. That’s a radical alteration to what we might be used to, to wit we’d be faced with either patronizing the only game in town, or doing a great deal for ourselves. The alternative of receiving goods from the outside world would scarcely be possible, and even then limited greatly by the seasons.
A large amount of the work our field school has done in the Clifton townsite supports just that. In a large open area between two previously unaccounted for foundations, we’ve found a great variety of butchered bones. Though further testing must be done to confirm their sources, much of the bone appears to be that of cows, pigs, fowl, and some wild game. Nearly all of the pieces I’ve either unearthed or cleaned have shown clean, graduated saw marks at neat perpendicular angles. This would suggest a steady, experienced hand with a bone saw, or – based on the amount of bone, perhaps more likely – with an early band or table saw. Considering the pre-and-post-Civil War time period, we can rule out an electrified saw, and perhaps even a steam-powered model. A far more likely tool for the job could’ve been a treadle-powered band saw, as its self-contained motive power and simple design would make it perfect for a larger scale butchering operation in a remote area.
Speculation – like that of the treadle-powered band saw – is an important tool to carry in my excavation kit, though one that must be used very carefully. It can be maddeningly easy to feel my shovel blade slip through a layer of unburnt anthracite coal chunks, and declare that I’ve found a family’s coal box. Even easier yet is to find a single piece of a broken child’s trinket near the coal, and to spin a tale of a tot hiding evidence of his mischief where his mother would not find it. This is where speculation has to be reeled in; educated guesses based upon fact, practicality and research are essential to archaeology. Weaving personal experience and whimsy into evidence is helpful only on the rarest of occasions. Not that I ever hid anything in a pile of coal as a child…
This is why I’m glad we read selections from Copper Country Journal: The Diary of Schoolmaster Henry Hobart, 1863-1864. This personal account of everyday life in Civil War-era Clifton is a dear source of support (or counterpoint) to my speculation. For example, Hobart logs frequent complaints about the food available to him as a single male boarder. His most common mentions of the meat – or lack thereof – in his diet concern its seasonal shortages and expense. Once you sift through quite a bit of Henry waxing poetically over his mom’s cooking, it’s evident that at least some of the beef he eats comes as live cattle via steam ship into Eagle River: “A few cattle were brought up and are selling at twenty cents per pound killed & retailed out” (286).
Could one of these cattle Hobart refers to in May 1863 be the former owner of the bovine knuckle bone I found near the stamp mill? I don’t have an answer for that question, yet. All the data gleaned from our time at Cliff, as well as from sources like Henry Hobart, are steadily adding up to something truly wonderful. Do you think you may have a piece to contribute to this remarkable puzzle? Like, say, a family connection to Cliff? Childhood memories of hijinks at the Cliff? A deeply rooted need to know what that thing you ride your ATV by in the summer was used for? If so, I’m eagerly looking forward to talking with you about it. I hope to see you soon at one of our public open houses. Make sure to bring water, boots, and your stories. I’m the gal with the glasses and the too-loud laugh. I’ll be waiting for you!
Check out the Hobart diary at: