Mystery of old photo unraveled

The mystery has been solved – and it didn’t take long. It all began back in mid-July when an old photograph of two hunters was dropped off at the newspaper office by Jon Swanson, a summertime resident of the area.

What created the mystery is nothing was known about the hunters, nor when and where the photo was take and by whom.

Well, it wasn’t long after the July 19 edition of The Mining Journal landed at a Munising residence that the mystery quickly dissipated, as well as some fond memories being brought back to a longtime resident of the Alger County community.

It seems Norma Harger was reading my column when she looked at the old photo and exclaimed: “That’s my husband!”

Lo and behold, one of the hunters in the photo was indeed the late Elsworth “El” Harger, a well-known figure around the Munising area who passed away in 2005 at the age of 80.

Not only did Norma recognize her husband, she dug through old scrap books and located a newspaper clipping of the article that the old photo accompanied.

She said she was surprised to see that the photo was from 1954, which was four years before she and her husband moved to the Upper Peninsula from downstate.

The article appeared on the Journal’s April 2, 1954, outdoor page and was written by Ken Lowe, longtime outdoor editor of the paper.

Swanson and Lowe had married cousins, and some old photo album’s of Lowe’s had ended up in Swanson’s hands – which is where he found the mystery photo.

When the photo and article appeared in the paper, El Harger was working at the Department of Conservation’s Houghton Lake Research Station downstate. Serving an internship there was Al Erickson, a Michigan State University student from Iron River.

One of the dogs in the old photo was Blue, Erickson’s blue tick hound that he used for hunting bobcats. Norma Harger said the other hound was named Preacher and belonged to Wade Miller, a friend of theirs from Houghton Lake.

It appears Erickson and Harger decided to take a hunting trip to the U.P. with the dogs, and Lowe got the opportunity to accompany them.

After a copy of the article was found and a copy made, the whole mystery was unraveled – with some help from Norma.

Interestingly enough, some observations Swanson and I made from looking at the old photo came pretty close to reality.

By the looks of the lack of heavy clothing and the sawed-off shotguns, Harger and Erickson appeared to be hunting late in the season in a thick swamp.

Norma confirmed this, informing me they went into a big swamp northeast of Shingleton in late March. I guessed the guns were 12-gauges, but they turned out to be 16-gauge shotguns, a popular gauge at the time.

No one can tell the tale of the hunt better than Lowe did, so I’ll borrow a few passages from his story.

“The dogs had been cold-tracking all morning, and by noon we were a discouraged threesome with little hope of bringing back a bobcat before sundown.

“Kicking off our snowshoes, we perched on some blown down timber and munched our cold sandwiches in silence. There was this consolation: It was a beautiful day in the woods. The sun had been shining steadily all morning and it was so warm that I had to shed my light jacket shortly after we started.”

That is classic Ken Lowe – letting you know the hunt wasn’t going too well, but the beauty of the U.P. woods more than made up for it.

The story carries the reader through the thick swamp with the hunting party for the rest of the day, including when it got exciting.

“Erickson came upon something that looked interesting. We called the dogs in and brought them over to the tracks.

“Preacher took one whiff and then pronounced his approval in no uncertain terms. Kicking up clouds of snow, he headed into the blue spruce swamp, Blue following enthusiastically. In a few minutes Preacher was in full cry, breaking the silence of the swamp with his bugling sermon.”

I can almost feel the thrill of the hunt, which we learned went on for sometime before …

“The dogs were still baying lustily when I heard a shot ring out. I cut over to my right and after about 10 minutes broke through to where Erickson and Harger were standing with the dogs. There on the ground lay the cat – a 28-pound male. Dropped from 30 yards.”

This all happened 59 years ago, which obviously was a much different era in the northwoods, but looking over the old photo taken by Lowe – as well as a few others that accompanied his article – offered a connection to sportsmen of the past that is still linked.

I have the pleasure of hunting and fishing in some of the same locations Lowe did with one of his sons, and El Harger has family members who still call Alger County home.

And, as Lowe said, there’s always one consolation of living in the U.P. regardless of how the hunt is going: “It was a beautiful day in the woods.”

Editor’s note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270.