Sixth St., Calumet, Michigan

From Houghton-Hancock and the Quincy Mine, the town of Calumet isn’t far north on the Keweenaw Peninsula. I was half-expecting something like Houghton, mainly because I didn’t do much research beforehand. None, really. But I’ve owned a postcard depicting the Calumet Theater for a long time, and I knew I wanted to see that.

So we did. It’s a fine old building. Wish it had been open for a look-see inside.

Calumet Theater, Michigan

Copper fortunes built the Calumet. A local architect named Charles K. Shand designed it. The historical marker next to it says, in part: “One of the first municipal theaters in America, the Calumet opened on March 20, 1900, ‘the greatest social event ever known in copperdom’s metropolis.’ The theater contained a magnificent stage and elegant interior decorations, including an electrified copper chandelier.”

The theater’s web site says: “The Theatre opened… with a touring Broadway production of Reginald DeKoven’s The Highwaymen. In the ensuing years, the Theatre’s marquee read like a Who’s Who of American Theatre: Madame Helena Modjeska, Lillian Russell, John Phillip Sousa, Sarah Bernhardt, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Lon Chaney, Sr., Jason Robards, Sr., James O’Neill, William S. Hart, Frank Morgan, Wallace and Noah Beery.

“With the decline of copper mining and the local economy, and the advent of motion pictures, stage productions became less common in the late 1920s. From the depression through the late 1950s, it was almost exclusively a movie theatre…

“The auditorium was renovated for the village’s centennial in 1975, and the exterior was restored in 1988-89. The technical and code improvements and backstage reconstruction have just been completed.” These days, the theater holds 50 to 60 events a year, including plays, movies and concerts.

The theater is on Sixth St. in Calumet. The street hasn’t evolved into a day-trippers shopping district, but it does have some other interesting buildings, dating from copper times, from the looks of them.

Calumet, MichiganCalumet, Michigan Sixth StreetCalumet, Michigan Sixth Street

The buildings of Sixth St. also sport a few ghost signs.Ghost Sign, Calumet MichiganVertin’s Department Store (since 1885, headquarters for Lee overalls, union made). The store turns out to have been located in the building pictured above, between the Sixth St. streetscape and the Michigan House Cafe & Red Jacket Brewing Co. This is an example of the kind of thing I learn from a trip after I’ve gotten home. I didn’t know what I was looking at when I stood across the street from the former Vertin’s on the afternoon of July 1. Now I do.

The Vertins were Slovenian immigrants to copper country in the 1870s, and rather than mine themselves, they enterprisingly sold goods to miners and their families. Remarkably, the store endured until the 1980s. More about them is in this article in Copper Country Explorer.

This ghost sign has advertised, through many UP summers and hard winters, for a widely available product: Pillsbury Best flour.

Calumet, Michigan Ghost Sign Pillsbury

Slute’s Saloon has been a saloon, though not under that name, and as the sign says, since 1890. Curiously enough, a descendant of the Vertins is one of the partners in the business, at least according to this 2010 article. A look inside is here.

After I got home, I learned that George Gipp was from nearby Larium, Mich. — where you can find the George Gipp Recreation Area & Ice Arena — and is buried in Calumet. Dang. That would have been something to know beforehand, but you can never really prepare for going somewhere new. Still, I’d have looked for the Gipper’s grave had I known. It isn’t everyone who can inspire motivational speeches down the decades.

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