History’s Gem of the Month – Axel Remembered
I was looking through my archive for something to post in the History's Gem of the Month and I came across this article in the Grand Marais Gazette. It was written by Bruce Erickson and published on June 17, 2004. The article remembers the founder of the museum, Axel Niemi.
Axel Remembered by Bruce Erickson
I was sad to see the notice of Axel Niemi's passing. Axel was truly a Grand Marais legend. If you were asked to describe Axel in a few words you would not be wrong if you used the following: historian, musician, story teller, entertainer, character, teacher, geologist, author, rock hound. My first recollection of Axel was his work as a commercial fisherman. I worked on my grandfather Joe Desjardin's fish boat and we fished near the Niemi's on Lake Superior. Axel fished with his dad on the Shark and I remember waving to him many times as our boats passed each other going to and from the fishing banks. The Niemi area was located north of the log slide and we fished west of Au Sable light. In those days fishing spots were staked out like farms and it was nice that the large fish operators like Smith Brothers, Sellmans, and Endress left these areas to the smaller fishing families. Axel fished with his dad into the fifties when the lamprey and the nylon net put an end to commercial fishing in Grand Marais.
Axel obtained the property next to the Niemi house and started a museum and rock shop. He had a self obtained knowledge of geology and started a huge rock collection. He also gathered old Grand Marais memorabilia over the years. I remember him visiting my grandfather Neal Desjardin to exchange information about the history of Grand Marais. I am happy that Karen Brzys has kept Axel's spirit alive in Axel's former establishment.
Axel became the Woodland Park manager and was well known for his wit and warmness as he dealt with the campers. I am sure that many veteran campers can tell stories about their dealings with Axel. After his park chores were finished he would open his store and museum. We would bring our children and along with our camping friends would gather for an evening with Axel. Axel would first give everyone a tour of the museum and then some lessons on agates and rocks. The young ones were enthralled especially when he would show them the fossilized dinosaur dung. Then the highlight of the visit would come when he would do his entertaining. Who can forget his jokes, songs, musical expertise on playing the blueberry picker, his fiddle, the kindling wood xylophone, etc. He had a puppet that he carved out of pine and he could make it dance as he sang along. I wish someone could have video taped his performances. Later in the evening he might visit one of the campsites or one of the bars and would delight us with his humorous adult versions of his Finnish jokes and songs.
The lat time I saw and talked to Axel was after he had moved to the Copper Country. I was sitting at the bandstand admiring our beautiful bay when Axel strolled up and sat down to talk. We exchanged pleasantries and talked a little about the past. Axel seemed sad as he looked across the bay where the Shark used to tie up. I could sense that he was saying his last goodbye to his beloved Grand Marais.
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E21739 Brazel Street
Grand Marais, Michigan 49839