Howard Solomon was a three-dimensional-word genius, weaving language and sculpture and play to justify his junk collecting.
Part of an occasional series exploring North America’s national, provincial and state parks.
The first time I drove to La Mauricie National Park, I was all alone and I thought I knew what sort of adventure I was setting myself up for.
I wanted to write about the free-for-2017 Discovery Pass, and La Mauricie was the national park near me that was open in winter, so I dropped my family in Otterburn Park for winter camping with their Beaver and Cub troupes and headed (later than I meant), north toward the park.
After several hilarious-in-retrospect adventures with an ancient GPS, I found myself alone with Joe the Truck on mountain roads that were sheer ice with packed snow over them. Plows had spent the winter clearing the road and building great snowbanks on either side, meaning there was almost no way I’d find myself ditched if I slid too exuberantly. It was like bowling with the kiddie bumpers up.
We had so much fun on the road, up and down, side to side, around curves and past a covered bridge, that I was barely disappointed when the GPS lead me directly to the wrong entrance to the park — an entrance that was closed for the winter. Hey, y’all, sometimes it’s just about the drive.
Nope. There’s more road and forest out there, but Joe the Truck and I weren’t allowed to check it out.You can click through here to find out what happened when I went back the next weekend with most of my family to try my hand at winter camping.
I give La Mauricie National Park three (completely arbitrary, out of five) stroller wheels. The trails were great and we loved the way station where we could start a fire and share our marshmallows with other travellers. More than half the park was closed for winter, and trail maps weren’t super easy to follow. We hope to bring it up to four or more stroller wheels when we go back during the summer.
This story was first published in the Montreal Gazette and is republished here by permission.
The best tales are the stories within stories.
One starts: “I’m trying to get to Heywood and quite frankly I have no idea where I am.”
The other, more ominously: “You don’t want my love. You don’t love me.”
He was almost in the middle of the road. A tall man on the far edge of middle age, he was leaning on a thick cane and squinting through the freezing rain. He had dark skin and was hatless, but had a scarf wrapped loosely around his neck and shoulders. He held one hand up and I ground the truck to a halt. It was a late January afternoon and there were few other fool drivers in this slushy mess with its hidden slippery patches.
“I’m trying to get to Heywood and quite frankly I have no idea where I am,” he said into my open window last week. A delicious whiff of smoke blew in.
I twisted my head around. “Damn. I’m new to the area, so — it’s that way, I think?”
“Yeah, it’s over there. I think I have to get to those buildings. But there’s a fence in the way. The guy just left me here.”
I didn’t ask about the guy. Cabbie? Uber? Bus driver? “Are you trying to get to the hospital that’s around here? I had to go there once and I got so lost. It’s a bitch to find.”
“Nope. Kildare and …”
Kildare? I grabbed my phone and thumbed to Google Maps. I was still stopped in the middle of the road, which isn’t the sort of place I generally like to be, so I said, “You want to get in?”
His eyebrows raised, like that wasn’t the response he was expecting. I shoved the evidence of my recent bargain-retailer shopping spree in the back and he folded himself into the passenger seat, shoulders filling most of the space, head nearly touching the roof of the little truck. He gave me an address on Côte-St-Luc Rd.
“That’s in the opposite direction! No way you could have walked all that way in this,” I said, and we were off into the murk of worsening weather.
Almost exactly 32 years ago, on January 16, 1985, the sky was clear and there was nine centimetres of snow on the ground. It was far colder than the day I stopped on a Montreal street in the rain, minus-21 Celsius, and the drama that was playing out on a road not far from here was ever so much darker.
Pastor Raymond Steele had determined that his secretary — the young woman who was helping him locate his wife and son — was a witch. Moustachioed, with straight brown hair and thick eyebrows accenting a pale face, he looked her in the eye and said, “You don’t want my love. You don’t love me.”
Linda Quinn’s five-hour nightmare started then.
Steele, ordained by the Universal Life Church of Enlightened Reason sect, set out to ritually rid her of Satan. Forensics and the testimony of a former friend, who was there throughout the ordeal, paint a bloody, horrific picture.
Steele hung her with chains from a pipe in his basement. He let his dogs bite her 50 times. He stabbed her over and over. For five hours. When she died of blood loss, he poured boiling water over her corpse and packed her into a three-foot-long steamer trunk — she was five-foot-five — in the garage attached to his home.
When her sister came looking for her, he held her captive, rambling, all night, till she was able to escape to call police from a neighbour’s home.
My guest had the sort of English Montreal accent one hears from Lachine natives or Wagar High School graduates. Self-assured, comfortable, delivered with the entertaining sort of conviction that listeners will believe every story. Of course.
We want to believe.
He was a filmmaker, he told me, though he started out videotaping brises — “of Sephardic Jews,” he specified twice for some reason — and now he had a meeting with someone to secure funding for something new. “And if that doesn’t work out, I have another guy near here who’s my No. 2 choice. And if that doesn’t work out —” he rattled off the name of a guy who owns a string of successful car dealerships.
A who’s-who of Montreal names poured out of him then. People he’d worked with. His mother worked with. They owned clubs or they were musicians, but the only name I recognized for sure was Biddle.
“You’re pretty Montreal deep,” I said, so he’d know I was listening.
“I think you’ve gone too far.”
“No, it should be just up there.”
“I think you’re going the wrong way. Cavendish is back there.”
“Yeah, where I picked you up … you want Cavendish?” I eased into the left lane. “You’re lucky you found someone who likes to drive. And who likes an adventure.”
I spun a slippery U-turn as he said in his big voice, “You want adventure? You’re gonna have to stick with me. I have adventures for you.” Now that he’d tossed his cigarette, I could make out the barest remnants of wine with lunch. “Have you heard of Raymond Steele? Back in 1985 in Huntingdon. How about the Universal Life Church of Enlightened Reason?”
During the trial, it was revealed that Linda Quinn, who was engaged to a Huntingdon man, was eight weeks pregnant. It was also discovered that Steele had called police just before he started exorcising the devil from her. He told the dispatcher that he was a clairvoyant, and that five hours hence the Sûreté du Québec would torture a young woman to death.
The trial took less than two weeks. The evidence was damning, especially in the face of the friend’s testimony. Steele fired his lawyers and represented himself. He admitted to the killing.
When the sentence came down — life in prison — the Montreal Gazette reported that the courtroom cheered: “Bravo! Bravo!”
His phone rang. “Hey. I’m almost there. Yeah. I got turned around, but then I was picked up by this gorgeous lady.” I had overshot the building and had to spin another U-turn. The rain was harder, tinnier as the sun went down, taking the temperature with it. Then I pulled into the wrong apartment complex and turned tightly in the courtyard. He was gleeful.
“Oh man,” he half-shouted into the phone. “She’s gorgeous and she’s a wild one. She’s got one of those big cars with four-wheel-drive and she’s driving over sidewalks and everything.” I rolled my eyes and bumped over the edge of the curb.
My new friend told me he’d been a real-estate agent. He pointed out houses along the way that he’d sold. So when he said a girl had been killed in the basement of his house in Huntingdon, I wondered whether he meant it was his home, or a home he’d sold, or just a story to make the hairs on one’s forearm lift. Steele’s house was damaged by suspected arson while the trial was going on, and the Gazette reported that it was owned by Steele “and another man.”
“The Universal Life Church of Enlightened Reason. You have to look up all the words or you won’t find it.” He was halfway out of my truck, one hand on his cane, the other on my door frame. “Being involved in that is a black mark on my name.
“The only one.”
Raymond Steele successfully appealed his conviction, but pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. He was granted day parole in February 2016, and full parole Oct. 26, 2016.
Sometimes the tide comes in a little faster than you’d anticipated. Laugh, and let it happen.
So much love from my family to yours.
Pennsylvania loves its war heroes. Oliver Hazard Perry, Alexander Kelly, Nicolas Biddle, dozens of others.
But only one of them had his bones boiled for transport: Mad Anthony Wayne.
He wasn’t mad, though, at least not in the Ophelia sense of the word. He just liked things a certain way and had fits of temper when he was defied.
Mad Anthony, who started out as a tanner and land surveyor, was only moderately successful as a commander during the American Revolution. He even called for his own court martial, to clear his name after an especially poor showing at the battle of Brandywine in 1777. Once the war was over, he was set to killing Indians and then signing peace treaties with them. He excelled at this, proving that the word “hero” can be gravely misused. Yet he’ll be remembered for his nickname and for his death more than for his exploits in the theatre of war.
Gout killed him, eventually and painfully, and he was interred in a brass-tacked box in the shadow of the blockhouse at Fort Presque Isle, near what is now Erie.
His family plot was 650 kilometres away in Radnor, Pa. The family wanted him home, but not, you know, right away. It took them 12 years to come get him.
When the box was opened, much to everyone’s surprise it was discovered Mad Anthony hadn’t had the good sense to decompose, and his son couldn’t fit a whole body and coffin on his little sulkie. So they cut Mad Anthony up and put the pieces in a big old kettle to boil his flesh off. The bones were packed for transport. The flesh was put back in the box in the ground.
It is said that the son dropped bones (accidentally, one assumes) along the route and that Mad Anthony haunts the road to Radnor, looking for the lost parts of himself.
As though the story weren’t creepy enough, the good folks of Erie have rebuilt the blockhouse (it burned to the ground several years after Mad Anthony’s death) and, as part of their educational display, have posed at the top of the winding, narrow staircase a sickly looking mannequin in a white wig with a jaunty hat nearly falling off the narrow cot. Visitors are welcome to read several informative posters if they can take their eyes off the mannequin.
Although our preschooler was comfortable enough to dance at his bedside, our 20-year-old opted to take the stairs back down and wait for us on the ground floor.
I’m seeing love stories everywhere.
Like these two kids. We find them here on the Century Walk as they are making each other’s acquaintance. They are about eight years old and they are in the same Grade 3 class.
It’s funny that they haven’t met yet, since their roots in this town go so deep. Billy’s family established a hardware store in the 1800s, and Jane’s family founded Naperville itself.
Billy will be a high-school basketball star and she’ll be his sweetheart. He’ll become a civil engineer; she’ll found a kindergarten program.
What we are witnessing might be the first time they are having a conversation, but they have decades of conversation ahead of them. They will marry in 15 years, in 1941, and be together for 60 years, till Billy’s death in 2001. Jane, who spent the first eight years of her life without him, will spend the last ten of her life also without him.
They are remembered through local scholarships, and this park bench where maybe, one day, two children will start a conversation that will last a lifetime.
I spent weeks leading up to this trip telling people excitedly that I was headed to Wisconsin and their response was nearly unanimous: “ … ?”
That’s probably the reaction Solomon Juneau got when he told his fellow Montrealers he was headed to Wisconsin and you know what he did while he was here? Founded a whole damn city, that’s what.
Old Solomo wasn’t the first Quebec fur trader to come to Wisconsin, but he made the deepest imprint. He took over a small trading post by the lake from Jacques Vieaux in the 1830s and transformed it from a pit stop along the Michigan-Mississippi route into what we now call Milwaukee.
History calls him founder, entrepreneur, postmaster, first mayor, and relates that he was widely respected. But the best thing history remembers is his intense love for his young bride, the Métis daughter of Vieaux, Josette.
Josette was the granddaughter of Menomonee Indian Chief Ah-ke-ne-po-way (Standing Earth). She bore 17 children, 13 of whom survived, and was clearly her husband’s partner in all endeavours. A 1916 biography of Solomon, written by their granddaughter Isabella Fox, at first appears to downplay her strengths: “Although young in years at the time of her marriage, she was adept in the art of housekeeping.”
Then the truth comes out: She was also a midwife, nurse, and alongside Solomon a great philanthropist. Her work with the poor would be noted even by Pope Leo XII. She was fluent in French, of course, but also spoke many aboriginal languages, and so served alongside her husband as translator and collaborator.
Together they gave away land and help build churches and entertained the most influential of Wisconsin’s elite. They straddled a world of luxury and simplicity and eventually, together, nearly emptied their coffers with their goodwill.
Josette had had enough of city life anyway, and so they retired to Theresa, a town north of Milwaukee that Solomon had founded and named for his mother, Thérese. They lived only a few quiet years before Josette grew gravely ill and died in 1855. Solomon succumbed to his broken heart soon after.
The Theresa Historical Society says “700 Indians including Chiefs Oshkosh, Corrow, Larriet, and Keshena marched with his funeral bier to the burial grounds at the Keshena reservation.”
Their bodies were eventually moved to Milwaukee, but the location of their final resting place matters less than that they are together still.
Charles Milwaukee Sivyer, an otherwise upstanding Wisconsin businessman, said of Josette a decade after her death, “Had she the education of a white woman, she would have shone as brightly as any of her white sisters. Why all these orators don’t give that good woman more praise, I don’t know.
“Why, the last words of Solomon Juneau were, ‘Dear wife, I come to you’.”
(Posted with extra love on the occasion of the marriage of another power couple, Erin Stropes and Jordan Knoll. Live happily ever after)