Michigans Thumb, in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, is a region and a peninsula so named because the Lower Peninsula is shaped like a mitten. ThumbWind focus’s many of its stories on Michigan’s Thumb region.
The lumbering era in Michigan’s Upper Thumb from 1860-1880 resulted in booming towns all along the shoreline. Sebewaing was no exception. While it did not benefit from proximity of being on Lake Huron like Sand Beach, (later named Harbor Beach), or having a deep river outflow like Caseville, it’s historical spot as a rich hunting area by native Americans and natural outflow to Saginaw Bay by the Sebewaing River predestined it as a natural gathering spot.
While researching another topic. I ran across these rare pictures taken in the Sebewaing river area in the late 1800’s. I was surprised such large ships could enter as the early plat maps show only a narrow river entrance into the town. It turns out that Sebewaing was a bit of a shipbuilding and repair site. It’s yet another bit of history to savor. If only for a moment.
Schooner Viola in Sebewaing harbor. Source: Ralph K. Roberts
Schooner G.R. DURKEE, 1887, attributed to being taken in Sebewaing. (Doubtful) Dowling Collection, University of Detroit – Mercy
Steambarge J.C. Liken 1873, taken in Sebewaing. Source: Ralph K. Roberts
Online reports from WNEM and other news outlets have reported that recent tests of Caseville, Michigan’s water supply showed excessive levels of Trihalomethine. Trihalomethanes are formed as a by-product when chlorine is used to disinfect drinking water. Trihalomethanes forced the first water safety regulations to be issued after passage of the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.
Chemical Byproduct in Water System Seen in 2016 Testing
Caseville said they are seeing 2017 average test results at of Trihalomethine at 88 parts per billion. Caseville’s 2016 Water Report showed measurements of Trihalomethine ranging from 40 to 100 parts per billion. Four tests were conducted in 2016 with an overall average at 74 parts per billion. The safety standard is 80 parts per billion.
We spoke with Troy Hartz, Superintendent of the Caseville Water Plant. Caseville’s water supply comes from Saginaw Bay. He noted that the measurements in August have the highest level of Trihalomethine due to the warmer water from the lake. Hartz noted that the Michigan DEQ informed him that there are other Michigan water systems who draw surface water from lakes who are also experiencing the high Trihalomthine measurements during August testing.
Steps Being Taken
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has been brought in to the Caseville Water Plant to determine the best way to address the problem and comply with the water safety standard. Hartz indicated that adjustments may be made of the amount of chlorine applied at Caseville’s pumping station to address the concern.
Caseville has not asked residents to seek other water sources but has asked residents with health concerns to consult with their doctor.
Long-term exposure to high levels of Trihalomethanes can lead to kidney or liver damage and an increased risk for cancer.
We were at the market in Caseville Michigan in March and someone brought up the topic of when the Hummingbirds and Orioles will show up. I’ll admit that in Michigan’s Upper Thumb there is a big nectar feeder culture. We look forward to seeing these migratory visitors show up each spring as a sign of warmer days ahead.
The robins make their way here about mid-March to feast on insects and worms emerging from the frozen earth. The next anticipated migratory birds to swoop in on the scene is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Baltimore Oriole. After spending, the winter in Mexico, Cuba and Central America these migratory birds make their way to the Great Lakes by mid-April.
With a little persistence, you can attract hummingbirds and Orioles to your cottage within a few weeks and enjoy this colorful resident for the entire summer season.
For Orioles Set up Colorful Feeders Early
Orange is the New Black – Orioles are attracted to bright vibrant orange. We found that having an orange or bright red feeder draws the birds in for the feast. Set fresh sliced orange halves in a shallow bit of water to discourage ants. Replace the oranges daily. If you see mold, clean out the feeder. Mold can be harmful to the birds.
Set Up Feeders Early in the Season – We think Orioles have a great memory and hummingbirds are demanding. One early spring we noted that the hummingbirds were buzzing us until the feeder was placed. Placing your feeders out early will catch the early arrivals and may turn those passing through to seasonal residents.
Keep Oriole Feeders Out in the Open – We have seen the most active oriole feeder posted in the middle of the yard. Orioles will fly in, take a sip or two of the sweet nectar then fly off to a nearby perch to finish up, preen and do it again.
If You See an Oriole Nest, Switch to Bugs
Mealworms – If you are lucky enough to see one of the small sack like nests in your yard change up the diet to mealworms. In the spring, the birds crave the sweet from fruit nectar after their long migratory flight north. Once breeding and nesting season starts they will begin to seek out insects. Mealworms are a great high-protein food that will build them up for their fall flight south.
Leave Oriole Nests in Place – The bird won’t reuse the nest but the will be reused the material. Orioles will set their nests out on slender green twigs to discourage predators. We found nests in small trees about six feet off the ground. Experts suggest offering lengths of twine or horsehair. Sadly we have seen small spreads of plastic wrap incorporated in a nest.
Create a Bird Spa
Water – Orioles are attracted to shallow moving water. Pick a shallow basin and add a small pump or bubbler to keep the water moving. Change the bath when you see crud or droppings
Place Oriole Feeders Away from You – Orioles are typically shy. They do not like a lot of traffic from humans or animals. Try to locate your feeder in an open area where it can be seen from the air and treetops. Placement in a high branch or on top of a pole is ideal. We have placed one feeder on a tree outside our kitchen window with great success.
Multiple Hummingbird Feeders – If your successful drawing in the small birds, consider placing several nectar feeds in close proximity.
Hummingbird Food Tips
Offer Clear Sugar Solution – We use the same recipe for both orioles and hummingbirds. Add one cup Big Chief granulated sugar to four cups of boiling water. Stir the sugar water and let cool. Refrigerate unused portion. Never use food coloring. For Orioles, some experts recommend diluting the sugar water to eight parts water to 1 part sugar.
Grape Jelly is OK – A favorite alternative to sugar solution is a small amount of grape jelly. A couple of tablespoons in a secure dish is like ringing the dinner bell. You may see some aggressive behavior by the Orioles as they vie for feeding rights. Hummingbirds will also visit a jelly station. Experts suggest mixing a ¼ cup of water into the jelly.
Clean Feeder Means Healthy Birds – If you see black mold form in and around your feeder take it in and wash it out. This advice is especially true for hummingbird feeders. The sweet nectar will draw in ants and other critters.
Orioles Will Chase Away Hummingbirds – Orioles are territorial and will go to any bright colored feeder that offers nectar. The best solution is to over several hummingbird feeders minus any perch to avoid the problem. Hummingbirds also have issues with Woodpeckers but they infrequently feed thus tend to be not a huge problem. Hummingbirds can coexist with other birds if enough feeders are around.
The long winter has taken its toll. Despite the grudging use of the treadmill and stationary bike, I’ve noticed a few extra pounds have gathered. Oh, and the doc wants me to consider cholesterol lowering meds. Ugh! Time to consider alternatives. Admittedly I’m a meat and potatoes guy. I like red meat and genuinely like to include it in my everyday diet. However, after a bit of research, I found I can have a healthy alternative without feeling I’m missing out of the high protein I seem to crave.
The Love of The Bean
According to the Michigan Bean Commission, the Thumb region is a top producer of dry beans in the world. The rich farmland of the area is surrounded on three sides by the moderating effects of Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay making for ideal growing conditions. The typical white or black bean has high protein, complex carbs and fiber. Beans contain a powerhouse of nutrients including antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals, such as copper, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium and zinc. They are a perfect base for a meatless cholesterol free yet satisfying recipe.
By trial and error, we have a mostly Michigan Chili Recipe. We strove for Michigan grown ingredients and sought out our local brands to round things out. We think we have a tasty healthy and economic award-winning chili recipe here. We welcome your suggestions and send us your Michigan ingredient recipe and we will gladly post it.
All Michigan Bean n’ Veggie Chili
This simple chili recipe contains many Michigan ingredients and works great on the stove or in a crockpot.
1 (15-ounce) can Dark Red Kidney Beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup Morning Star Farms GRILLERS® CRUMBLES™
1/4 Cup Olive Oil (Not extra virgin)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup corn
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 pinch of Pioneer Sugar (cuts the acidity)
1 (14-1/2-ounce) can whole tomatoes, do not drain
Preparation – Heat and lightly saute the crumbles, garlic, and onion in a large saucepan with olive oil. When heated through and the onions are slightly soft, add beans, tomatoes, chili powder, sugar, and cumin. Mix well, mashing tomatoes. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, if desired.
Serve with sharp shredded Pinconning Cheese on top for garnish. Goes great with Jiffy Mix cornbread.
The reaction to our review of Thumb Pointed Fingers last month was overwhelming. There still is intense interest about this true Michigan murder mystery. I was surprised on the number of people who mentioned that their grandfather or uncle was involved as a juror or in law enforcement. The tragic murders of four family members of the Sparling family near Tyre in the early 1900’s still resonates in the thumb today.
I reached out to the author Jacki Howard to see what she has done since the book was published 10 years ago. She is still involved with the book but life has moved on. Like so many in the Thumb region, we are distant cousins. While we have never personally met, we found common ground with our interest in the “Dying Sparlings” Here is our exchange.
The Sparling murders happened over 100 years ago, what got you interested in this topic to write the book?
Jacki: “I never intended to write a book – just wanted to get answers which led to myriads of papers and the best way to compile seemed to put them into book form. I do not consider myself an author – I just told a story with what information I could gather. I am happy to say that many people now know what the Thumb of Michigan is all about.”
How much has the book sold since publishing in 2008?
Jacki: “So far I’ve sold a bit over 3,000 copies (into the 5th printing) and have been amazed that it still draws interest. It has been a wild and wonderful ride – one I never dreamed of.”
One element in the book was the doctor’s assertion that the victims had syphilis. At the time, this disease was untreatable. What outstanding questions do you have that are still unanswered?
Jacki: “My great-grandpa (Big Pete) said, “None of them had syphilis”. I read that symptoms for this disease also mimicked other diseases so perhaps it was true that none had ‘bad blood’. It was your great-grandfather (George) who told me in a dream, “don’t go there” and that was before I really got started! So, I never knew what he meant. I just wish I had the final proof of who, how, and especially why. I’ve had people contact me that was kin to some of the attorneys, jurors, neighbors etc.”
Has it changed your life? Are you looking a writing a sequel to Thumb Pointed Fingers?
Jacki: “I would follow through with a smaller version if I ever found proof positive. Since the book first came out, I have done several presentations and have been honored to conduct book studies. Otherwise, life has returned to normal.”
You painted a picture of what life was like in the few years before the auto took off. The constant chores, dealing with horses, time of travel, the garden, putting up canned goods, etc. What inspired you with those vivid descriptions? Where did you get your insight to life in the early 1900’s?
Jacki: “As far as trying to relay information regarding those days, I used articles from the Bad Axe paper from the early 1900s and my Uncle Carl gave me priceless info on farming as well. I have a few memories of being at my grandma Sparling’s farm so those were ingrained in me. Who knows? My grandma Sparling’s diary from 1915 gave me a huge insight into farm life at that time. She never knew that her day-to-day ‘blogs’ would be used in 2008.
Things I used from these newspapers were not only world events, but state and local as well. Newspapers also carried what might now be called gossip columns although they really weren’t gossip – just news from the different small communities – mostly in Huron County. There were also ads that helped me get in (and stay in) the period. Every time I went to the basement (where I worked) I re-read several pages from the previous writing to get me back to the past.”
What is one amazing thing that you did not reveal in the book?
Jackie: “I was told by your great-aunt that your paternal grandmother was a nurse and was told by a doctor that they had Peter’s brain for study. When I tried to follow up, it went cold – fast.”
Your book is not sold online but is still in print. Where can I get another copy?
Jackie: “I am the sole distributor, although Ace Hardware in Bad Axe and the Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse Gift Shop carry copies. At one time Main Street Mercantile in Bad Axe also had them, maybe they still do. The book’s website; www.dyingsparlings.com has the ability to order directly from me. “
I do have one follow up question. Do you have any plans to visit the Upper Thumb in 2018?
Jackie: “As of now, I have no plans to come ‘home’ in 2018 but that could always change. We just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary and our way to celebrate will be a trip to Alaska in August. We have not been big travelers so this is huge. But I never say never, so a trip to the Upper Thumb could happen and I’ll let you know if it comes to be. Thank you again for the support. It means more than you might know.
About Jacki Howard, Author of Thumb Pointed Fingers
I was born in Detroit, Michigan to Verl and Aimee Sparling. Throughout my youth, I lived in Detroit, Ferndale, and Owosso. As a child, summer vacations were always spent in the “Thumb” and to this day I feel emotionally drawn to the area. I still have family in Michigan and it will always be home to me.
For as long as I can remember, my relatives told stories about the “Dying Sparlings.” This unsolved mystery has puzzled me since childhood and I’ve always wanted answers. I never even considered writing a book, but the opportunity to combine my love of family history and historical research appealed to me.
This is my first book. I also enjoy reading, volunteer work, playing the piano, and especially being a proud wife, mother, and grandmother. I currently reside in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with my husband, Bob.