History’s Gem of the Month: The Story of the Grand Marais “Meteor”

June 2007

This new section, History’s Gems, replaces two sections from the original web site, including Gems from the Past, and Story Corner. It also evolves and expands to include new items. After updating the original web page each month during the first couple of years, it became more and more difficult to separate the two sections, as many of the entries could have been included in either section. Thus, in the effort to streamline the new web page, one section has emerged from the previous two. Also, as I was sorting some of my history reference materials, I realized that they have never been fully utilized. I have several books and other documents about natural history, the history of Grand Marais, surrounding communities, Michigan, and the United States. Most of these materials tell the story of what life was like in the 1890s and early 1900s.

As the web page monthly updates now continue into the future, there will be a wide array of possibilities for what will be included in the monthly History’s Gem. I may include a story written by or about Axel. An interesting recount of a Grand Marais event may be incorporated. Perhaps an intriguing tidbit about the natural world will be the selected Gem. Or I may look through the reference materials and describe a characteristic of what life was like a century ago.

June 2007

NOTE: This article, which was posted on the web site several years ago, is being reprinted due to the fact that I have decided to sell the property on which the “meteor” sits. If you are interested in looking at or purchasing this 10-acre parcel, please refer to the information at the end of the article.

The Story of the Grand Marais “Meteor”

One of the memories I have from my childhood summers in Grand Marais is traipsing through the woods over by Sable Lake to visit the “meteor.” Of course, back then most of us believed that the rock really was a meteor. It never occurred to us that a bolder that is 27’ x 12’ x 8’ in dimension (including the broken off slab) maybe would have dug at least a little crater when it hit.

One of the reasons for our belief in the “meteor,” is that in the agate book published in 1973 by the museum founder, Axel Niemi, had s story titled “Observing a Falling Meteor.” Another contributing factor to our belief was that Axel created a brochure for the town pointing out various tourist attractions. A sign post was erected downtown as well as on the road near the “meteor.” Axel’s purpose in developing tourism resources was to increase the number of campers at Woodland Park, where he worked at his “day job.” It seems that Axel negotiated with the township to receive a percentage of any revenue increase realized at the camping park as a result of his marketing activities.

The chapter in his book about the “meteor” appears near the end, and is sandwiched between two factual chapters about agate hunting in the Upper Peninsula, thus, further influencing people’s tendency to believe that the story was true. This story is reproduced below:

OBSERVING A FALLING METEOR

Approximate day of occurrence 10 January 1920, Mid-day

Since a meteor is composed mostly of iron, the only manner of occurrence as iron in the natural state, the mineral or metal tends to oxidize and disappear after a few years. Nevertheless from the description given by the observer, this meteorite could very well be still in its original area of fall.

While walking across Au Sable Lake in Alger County in the winter, Otto N. Niemi observed the object. At first a sound, such as a strong wind would make, was heard. Mr. Niemi, on the open ice, had nowhere to go for shelter. Suddenly he observed a streak in the sky just above treetop level to the south. The object was coming closer and closer, leaving a trail of smoke or vapor. The angle of travel was such as to avoid the lake and traveled to his right hitting a treetop at the south end of the lake. The meteor (while still in air, it’s a meteor, on ground it’s a meteorite) finally crashed through the tops of some birch trees and into the ground.

Since the time was already beyond half-past the day, with traps and furs in sack, Otto Niemi never did visit the area of the fall, although he insists that it was not far from the edge of the lake. A real attempt to locate this object has never been made. The high-pitched sound indicated a meteor flying and producing a rapid spinning motion. This type of meteor disintegrates after striking an object. However, the fact that a large limb was taken down from the birch tree, may indicate simply a fast moving object which produced the sound due to the friction against the atmosphere, and not due to spinning motion. If such is the case, then the meteorite may well be buried nearby.

Many of those who read Axel’s book and followed his subsequent directions to go and look at the meteorite, which had since been “discovered,” never noticed the short paragraph located near the beginning of his book:

METEOR NOT A METEOR AT ALL

The author knows of an area where a meteor had fallen years ago not so far from the rock that is now marked as a “meteor.” The large stone marked “meteor” is not a meteorite at all. Rather, it is a piece of metamorphic iron sediment (note the layers of formation).

Soon after moving to Grand Marais, a good friend of mine, Jan Carol Ogden, dragged me back to the “meteor” one day. I had not been back to the site for many years, so it was great to see this incredible rock again. She announced to me that since I was the biggest rockhound she knew, that I had to purchase and own the biggest rock in town. That I did.

I’ve since studied the “meteor,” and agree with Axel that it is a metamorphic iron sediment. I also think that it is a glacial erratic, having been moved and deposited to its current location when the glaciers retreated north almost 10,000 years ago. Given that the glaciers were many thousands of feet thick, they would not have had any trouble transporting this rock.

The story of the meteor lives on to this day. It is a difficult decision for me to “burst the bubble” when I am faced with telling museum visitors that the rock is in fact not a meteor.

“METEOR” PROPERTY IS FOR SALE

Although it is a difficult decision, I have decided to sell the 10 acres on which the “meteor” sits. The property is located on a corner lot (William Hill and Lowder Roads) with 12-month road access. The area accessing and surrounding the “meteor” has been cleared and pert tested. The property is located southwest of Grand Marais a few miles, within a quarter mile of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, between the Sable Lake Boat Ramp and Grand Sable Dunes. It is a mostly wooded parcel offering a peaceful setting. The selling price is $80,000. If you are interested, send an email to Karen@agatelady.com or give me a call at 906-494-2590.

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