Local history writer Dick Fidler has a knack for finding history in odd places — a manhole cover, a 19th century photograph of a woman wearing an apron and hat of light bulbs, or a 1924 Traverse City mayor's proclamation designating July 31 to Aug. 9 as "Rat Killing Week."
History lurks just under the surface in some places, according to the back cover of "Gateways to Grand Traverse Past," his third book since 2008. If that's true, Traverse City has rich soil. Fidler has excavated a lot over the last year and a half.
"Gateways"¦" does more than uncover the region's past politics and eccentricities. It provides historical context. It captures the lives of ordinary people. It transports readers to turn-of-the-20th century Traverse City and the "staccato of horse hooves and sputter of Model Ts."
It's an interesting and fun ride. Fidler is innately curious and has a fine eye for quirky detail, a sense of humor and history, as well as a gift for pithy phrase.
He retired from teaching Traverse City junior high science and biology classes in 2003. That background helps him effortlessly explain the Park Place beacon, the city's first arc lights and Traverse City's 1898 flood after torrential rains tumbled down denuded hills and lumbered swamp land and formed a 50-foot-wide deluge that washed out bridges, trees, wooden sidewalks, even light poles.
The word "gateways" in the book's title is taken from Jack Finney's "Time and Again," a novel about time travel. In Finney's book gateways led travelers back to previous ages, often through buildings or scenes that existed unchanged from early times.
"Traverse City has many such gateways," Fidler says in his introduction. "It only takes research and imagination to stop at them and visit the past "¦ The purpose of this book is to identify the gateways that allow us to slip back into a previous time and to participate in life back then, if only as an observer."
Each of the 16 chapters in the 138-page book begins with a description of a local gateway followed by narrative.
Fidler offers an eclectic mix: a 1911 circus camped between 12th and 14th streets where Thirlby Field is today; a 1919 women workers strike at Straub Brothers and Amiotte Candy Company building that now houses North Peak Restaurant; a patch of ragweed growing close to the railroad trestle across the Boardman River at Eighth Street — the entry into a city campaign in the early 1900s to lure hay fever sufferers north by paying kids 10 cents for every 100 plants they brought in.
Fidler's book is available at Horizon Books downtown, the History Center of Traverse City on Sixth Street and Brilliant Books of Suttons Bay for $17.95.
His previous books are "Glimpses of Grand Traverse Past" and "Who We Were, What We Did."
Associate editor Loraine Anderson can be reached at 231-933-1468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.