Visit to the Martin Johnson House, 1 August 2001

 Charles J. Stivale

[updated 27 February 2003]

I wanted to provide a brief mention about the MJ house in Irons, that I was able to visit thanks to the call Roxy Spurgis Gable made to Suzanne Aupperlee who curates the Heritage Park where the house in located. It was moved to the site in Irons from MJ Point back in the early 80s to preserve something from the camp, the most important structure arguably. They had to do considerable restoration -- you may recall that even when we were there, leaks in the roof had damaged much of the house. Then, even before the camp was abandoned, vandals did all sorts of damage to the place. Even during the move to Irons, the stove was mangled by the movers.

In any event, there is a site there, and I told Suzanne that I would provide here information to all. The Heritage Park is connected by some arrangement to the Irons Area Tourist Association (IATA) which is a non-profit organization. Suzanne was careful not to claim that donations to the museum would be tax-deductible; she said she would check. In any case, I would recommend anyone interested in donating to the museum's upkeep and development, to send a check payable to the IATA Heritage Park Museum, mailing address: c/o Suzanne Aupperlee, 8900 W. 6 Mile, Irons, MI 49644.

Inside the structure, in the main living space, is a glass case with various objects, and different artifacts, including the original sign from the Camp Store. There is also a table on which certain documents are for sale: a history of the area, part of which relates to MJ (I will provide those pages to the list in a later post); postcards dating back to the early part of the century (e.g. a photo of the ORIGINAL Na-Tah-ka lodge/restaurant -- I bought 10!); a local area cookbook; and the green covered MJ Autobiography. I got a quite a jolt seeing that sitting there on the table... same green cover, same line drawing, same inscription at the top, Chicago Hyde Park YMCA.

Off to the right is MJ's room, containing a bed covered by an army blanket, both donated by different individuals, and also two plaques: one seems to be the plaque from the CMJ Dining Hall, the other is the plaque removed from the grave stone, kept in the house (wisely). FYI, the grave stone is still where it was, now behind a private home. Without a plaque, though, it just looks like a big boulder, with four plug holes in one side where the plaque had been. Nothing there distinguishes it as anything other than a big rock, certainly not a grave site. That was the most depressing moment for me of my whole visit, seeing the stone that way.

In the kitchen, there are all sorts of artifacts that have been donated, some retrieved from the MJ house, most not. In the kitchen cupboard, under the stairs, they have retained the original grouting of the walls to show the construction as it had been done by MJ. Upstairs, in the studio, there are several MJ paintings, but the room is very very spare, unfurnished. The wonderful roof window had to be replaced with a modern window structure, since so much of the water damage came from that skylight. Yet, the floor in the studio is the original flooring, and the light from the new skylight, although not the same as on the point, makes this a very luminous room.

There is a green CMJ jacket hanging on a hook upstairs, and there is a CMJ Canoe Paddle, inscribed with the following (though some of the lettering is missing or is obscured). [Bob Levi helped identify some of the names in brackets below]:

Chuck [Ahrens] - Counselor
xxx Lowenthal -- Dennis Rosengard
[Freddy] Ohlhauser -- Alonso Foster
(Bill) [Rabbit] [L]ittmann -- Doug Maurer
[xx]nny Aronson -- Stan Meyer
xxx Faller -- Kenny Coutts
[Alan?] Marx -- Steve Weil
Builders of the Council [Ring] Fireplace Triangle

This visit leads to all sorts of questions, but the most obvious was raised by Fred Tannenbaum in an earlier post: Suzanne Aupperlee said they would be delighted to receive any kind of memorabilia related to CMJ; they would welcome it. I worry a bit what might result from a huge influx of materials, i.e. keeping it in some orderly presentation, and large things would probably end up stored somewhere and not on display. Still, donations of money and/or camp-related materials would be welcome.

The other obvious question is: what about other materials, e.g. canoe paddles? Where did they end up? Roxy and I were unable to speak directly to the person who would know, the actual land developer and now salesperson at Irons Real Estate. Apparently, there are some photos and other materials, but we did not get a look at anything, so could not confirm what it is that might be available.

However, we did hear the same tale from several residents we spoke to: when the camps were closed, the property itself was wide open to the public, i.e. to anyone who wanted to go traipsing through the villages, cabins, buildings. We learned that this was some sort of eerie pilgrimage to a ghost town that some people made, and two residents told us of walking through the Dining Hall, which remained magnificent even emptied. No one could say for certain if anything remained on the walls, e.g. canoe paddles. However, it is pretty certain that the property owners kept and stored somewhere whatever might have been deemed valuable...

The only artifacts we saw from the camp, besides the material at the MJ House, was out on 4 Winds. We were generously offered the use of a pontoon boat by the folks who own the property where the Campfire Ring had once been located (more on that in a later post). So we visited the island, and the cabins there have been preserved by the current owner who wants everything left as it once had been. Along the side of one cabin was a sign that indicated that the YMCA Ward Hills Ski Area was xx miles in some direction. Quite a prize. The folks we met there, a young family related to the owner, indicated that he had other things he had found on the island (which also had been plundered by vandals), but was unlikely to give any of it up. To be continued, I guess.

I will have my pictures scanned by next Tues, and I hope to post them in some orderly fashion to the CMJ site that same day (yes, I do work for a living... but it is Summertime, and the living is easy! especially at the University). I will combine the 1997 pics, some of which will give a better image of different sites, with the 2001 shots.