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Mystery, Fantasy, Poetry
From: The Fox Islands: North and South
by Kathleen Craker Firestone

The following is an excerpt from Kathleen Craker Firestone's soon to be released book on the North and South Fox Islands, which lie off the northern tip of Leelanau County in Lake Michigan.

Every island seems to have its share of legends, intrigue and buried treasure. The mere sight of an island raises visions in our minds of things hidden, things unknown, things awaiting discovery. And what cannot be found or explained or discovered is often invented.

Upon studying island histories, one has to wonder if there is a single island anywhere that doesn't have a hidden treasure. North and South Fox Island are included in this list of "treasure islands".

South Fox light keeper Willis Warner, who began island service in 1876, handed down to his descendants an account of buried treasure on South Fox Island. It seems that a man who had been hired to murder someone was sailing for parts unknown with his pay-off money. His ship was wrecked off South Fox Island, where the murderer made his way to shore and hid the money somewhere on the island. The version that Joe Raphael heard as a child on the island about 1920 stated that the $35,000 was buried in large dishpans. The Leo children had heard this story, or some version of it, with the addition of the clue that the treasure was buried by a tree with a nail pounded in it. Whenever they and their island friends would be walking through the woods they would keep an eye out for the tree with the tell-tale nail. Maybe someday they would get lucky and go back to the mainland with their riches.

The North Fox treasure was reported in the Traverse City Evening Record in 1905.(1) For forty years the story had been told around mainland Northport that North Fox Island held a buried treasure. Some said it was $150,000 in Spanish gold, sealed in fruit jars and buried in an iron chest. Searchers dug holes in the sand at different points around the island but could not uncover the treasure. Others said Beaver Island's King Strang had buried the treasure, but no one seemed to know if he had dug it up again before his assassination.

The version told by the Evening Record that day in the fall of 1905, was written when two Northport residents, Joe Gagnon and Jay Spangle, followed two mysterious strangers to North Fox Island, after the strangers had arrived by train into Northport Suttons Bay Bookstore--616-271-3923and then hired a local launch to take them to the island. Gagnon and Spangle followed in their own boat and, hiding from the strangers, watched their every move. All they saw was some trees being blazed by the two strangers, who called each other "Cap" and "Mate".

Cap and Mate made a second trip to North Fox a few days later, after purchasing tools and supplies. Northport fisherman Gus Petander said the two consulted maps and charts as they were passengers on his fishing boat. After a three-day stay on the island, the two were picked up by Petander and, upon returning to Northport, made a quick departure aboard the train. In their hands they carried a large handbag and a gunnysack. An employee of Petander said the two had found the chest of gold near a tree emblazoned with the date "1870". The story was that $150,000 in gold coin had been stolen in Chicago at the time of the great fire. Two men had made off in the dark aboard a small craft heading up the waters of Lake Michigan. After burying the loot on North Fox, the two sailed for Canada, one dying there in prison and the other telling his wife of the treasure while on his death bed. Several years later, when the two mysterious strangers made their visits to North Fox Island, Northporters believed the buried treasure had been found, fueled by the reports of Gagnon and Spangle. But some believed the strangers were merely land speculators looking for resort property. If so, the treasure was still there for the finding -- if there ever really was a treasure.

So much for treasures. Gaining just as much space in the newspapers, but a lot less believable, was the 1992 report in the tabloid Weekly World News of the capture of a large sea monster between North and South Fox Islands.(2) The November 17 cover story was headlined with "U. S. Navy Captures Monster in Lake Michigan". The 140-foot monster was reportedly captured alive by Navy divers and put in an underwater cage off South Fox. The report and accompanying "photo" of the 35-ton monster brought conversation to the coffee shops and lighthearted citizen quotes in the "real" newspapers. From school superintendent William Crandell's "It's been eating salmon off my (fishing) lines for the past 20 Inland Passage of Lelandyears,"(3) to proposed North Fox developer Mark Conner's reply that it may be "a bloated environmentalist,"(4) the news story brought a little laughter into the gray-skyed days of November. Even if one believed in the sea monster, the land shown in the background of the monster photo did not resemble South Fox Island in the least!

Under the mysterious, and the serious, is the unanswered question of why a U. S. Army Chinook helicopter was making a night flight over the Fox Islands on July 9, 1983. Six men from the 101st Airborne Division died when their helicopter burst into flames as it slammed into a steep, wooded South Fox hillside, at a speed of about 115 miles per hour. Newspaper reports said that the helicopter had been practicing over-water flight navigation when the crash took place, just before midnight, near the southern tip of the island. An unconfirmed admission by a high military official, several years later, was that the airmen were practicing for the eventual U. S. invasion of the island of Grenada, which took place in October, 1983, just three months after the crash on South Fox Island.

Other lingering mysteries regard some of the previous owners and residents of the islands. While research can uncover much information, some questions remain. This author still searches for clues and answers about the following individuals and families: J. Wilder or J. Wilbur; James Douglass; John and Minerva Pappenaw; Daniel Falkerson; James C. Scott; Robert Boyd; John Fitz; John, Catherine and Edell Subnow; Rushand, Hariett, Henry and Laura Roe; the babies, Edwin and Eddie who lived with the Palmer family on South Fox in 1870; Cora McFall, who lived with one of the Roe families on South Fox in 1860; J. Haines Emery and wife Ann W. Emery; Richard and Mariett Cooper, the George and Elizabeth Roe family; the Henry and Marie Roe family; George, William, Florence and Mabel Roe; Christian and Ingra Olson and their children, Mary and John; Joseph, Mary, Henry, George and Charles Williams; Ole Goodmanson; Nelson Willard; Otto Williams; Jerry Williams; Susan Zeller; Jenny M. Horton; Frederick Monroe Burdick and Effie Leone Burdick; John Oliver Plank, Jr.; Howard J. Sweet and Beatrice Sweet; Henry Shoor; and Charles Leiter.

There will always be some mysteries left unsolved, but the question of why islands attract us needs little research. A first walk around an island usually provides all the answers needed. The beauty, solitude and events of happiness and sadness have inspired writers, painters, songwriters and poets.
Island Sestina--a poem
by Kathleen Craker Firestone
Perhaps one day a poet will write of the Lake Michigan mirages. It's very common to look from the mainland toward islands such as North and South Fox and to see them in distorted form. Often they appear to be rising out of the water on some high, undercut bank. Or they may seem to be floating in the air just above the water. This phenomena is known as "cold-air lensing". It happens when light passes through layers of different temperatures and various densities of air. The light rays bend as they shoot through these layers, distorting the island images. On rare occasions, one can see from Michigan to Wisconsin, or from Wisconsin to Michigan, with light bending over the edge of the horizon as far as seventy miles away. Distant waves can also appear as Christmas trees on the horizon, with the illusion of standing nearly vertical. The phenomena is also known as "Arctic mirage," or "The Hillingar Effect".

There is at least one Indian legend concerning the Fox Islands. In this legend, retold in John and Ann Mahan's Wild Lake Michigan,(5) Manabozho and a wolf set out in a race from the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula to Harbor Springs. In order to win the race, Manabozho threw large chunks of earth and clumps of trees into Lake Michigan to use as stepping stones. He won the race and also created the beautiful islands of North and South Fox.

Whether by legend, mystery or artistic expression, the lore and lure of the islands of Lake Michigan hover in the mist and stir our imaginations.

(1) "Hidden Wealth Wasn't Found," The Evening Record 9 Sept, 1905, p. 1, microfilm.
(2) "U. S. Navy Captures Monster In Lake Michigan," Weekly World News 17 Nov., 1992., p. 1.
(3 )Amy Hubbell, "Loch Mich. 'monster' captured!," The Leelanau Enterprise 12 Nov., 1992, p. 1.
(4) Karen Emerson, "Monster myth?" The Traverse City Record-Eagle 11 Nov., 1992, p. 1.
(5) John and Ann Mahan, Wild Lake Michigan (Stillwater, Maine: Voyageur Press, Inc., 1991), p. 58.

Links From This Article
Mystic Michigan by Mark Jager Leelanau Books
The Bird in the Waterfall by Jerry Dennis & Glenn Wolff

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