A Custer in Petoskey
On Saturday May 7, I had the pleasure of traveling to Petoskey, Michigan, where I spoke at an event sponsored by McLean and Eakin, a terrific independent bookstore owned by Matt and Jess Norcross.
Petoskey is a truly gorgeous town full of Victorian-era cottages overlooking Little Traverse Bay, about an hour-and-a-half drive north from Traverse City. Being an Ernest Hemingway fan, I was excited about this event since many of Hemingway’s Nick Adam stories are set in this vicinity of Michigan. In fact, Hemingway spent a fall in Petoskey soon after his return from World War I. (For an excellent account of Hemingway’s time in this region, see Michael Federspiel’s Picturing Hemingway’s Michigan.)
What I didn’t know was that Petoskey also has a Custer connection. Thanks to the research of local historian Mary Jane Doer (author of Bay View: An American Idea) it’s come to light that Custer’s sister Maggie Custer Calhoun stayed in a small cottage in Petoskey during the summer of 1877, just a year after losing her husband and two brothers at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Mary Jane and the cottage’s owner Tom Shier gave me a tour of the little summerhouse, which remains pretty much the way it would have been during the nineteenth century. Walking up the creaking staircase to the second-floor bedroom, it was intriguing as well as heartbreaking to think that Maggie climbed these same stairs as she struggled to come to terms with her devastating loss.
Tomorrow I head to my old hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for an event at the Carnegie Library; then it’s on to events in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.