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.

Nat at McClean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan

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.

The cottage in Petoskey where Maggie Custer Calhoun stayed during the summer of 1877

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.

Nat with Tom Shier and Mary Jane Doer in the cottage’s upstairs bedroom

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.