Every once in a while in my readings I stumble across a place I just have to see. That’s what happened when I was reading through a Clare County genealogy site on MIgenweb.net. There was a story by a man named Roy L. Dodge who was one of the premiere historians in the county about 50 years ago and wrote such books as Michigan Ghost Towns and Ticket to Hell: A Saga of Michigan Bad Boys, (I’m still looking to get a copy of the latter).
Anyway, Mr. Dodge has written a story about a tombstone with a mirror created by Oliver Gosine. It’s a great story and I just had to find that tombstone since no photos accompanied the story. So one fall day, I trudged out to Harrison’s Maple Grove Cemetery and wandered the rows to photograph it. It wasn’t hard since the tombstone is a tall one. Sadly, as in Mr. Dodge’s time, there’s is not much left of the mirror. Vandals broke it years ago. I was tempted to install a new one since Oliver Gosine, the man who built the tombstone and hauled it to the cemetery, installed the mirror for a reason.
So read on. And after you read Mr Dodge’s story below that can be found on Clare County Reminiscences, tell me what you think about installing a new mirror.
UNIQUE OBELISK MARKS HARRISON MAN’S GRAVE
by Roy L. Dodge
Many gravestones, especially those more than 50 years old, bear epitaphs, fancy engravings, and were made in many unusual designs. But, the seven-foot high tombstone of Oliver Gosine who made his own monument in 1925, and lived to be nearly 101 years old, is probably the only tombstone embellished with a plate glass mirror. “Who knows, but what I may want to come up and take a look at myself once in awhile?”, he said in answer to people who paused to watch him work during the two years it took to make it.
Working in his spare time he selected stones about the size of a golf ball until he gathered enough to make the tall obelisk. While the cement was still wet he fastened a seven-by-nine inch beveled mirror on the stone at eye level. When the work was completed to his satisfaction, Gosine loaded the monument on a flat wheelbarrow and wheeled it a half mile to the cemetery near the North Harrison city limits and placed it on his grave-to-be.
Gosine was one of the longest-lived of Harrison’s pioneers. Born in Montreal, of French descent, Gosine came to the Saginaw Valley when a young man to work in the lumber camps. “I took a train for a new town called Harrison where zey said I could find work. When I got off zee train, it was night.”, he said in his soft French accent. “I took only a few steps and fell head first into a pile of brush from trees cut to make a street”, he related in later years.
Gosine, spelled Gatien in French, worked in lumber camps around Harrison until 1891 when the Wilson brothers made him foreman of the ice-cutting crew on Budd Lake. He was paid the then unbelievable wage of $4.00 a day, more than four times the prevailing rate at that time.
After the logging days when most of the lumberjacks moved to the Upper Peninsula or to other states to work in the timber, Gosine stayed on in Harrison. In later years he worked as a handyman for businessmen and at one time, in the 1920’s, he had a fruit and vegetable stand near his home at the corner of present day US-27 and Main Street.
When he was in his 90’s he would point proudly at the sixty-foot high maple trees along Main Street and say “I planted those trees when they were just leetle fellows”.
In 1927, two years after he completed his tombstone, Gosine and Oliver Beemer were interviewed by a news reporter from Detroit which resulted in the only published history of the logging days when Harrison was “The Toughest Town in Michigan” according to the resulting story.
Photo copies of the full page story with photos of Gosine and Beemer, who were both the same age and in their 80’s at the time, hang in several bars and prominent places in Harrison today.
Gosine, who was a practical joker and a fixture around town until he was 100 years old, embellished the story of the rough-tough early days in Harrison for the newsmen. “One time I see zee sheriff try to arrest as man in Harrison and it took him and seven deputies to take him to jail,” Gosine told the reporter. “One time I walk down the street and in 10 minutes see twelve and one-half fights!” The reporter asked him what the half-fight was about. “Oh, it was nothing. One fellow said take a swing at me and I hit him first. That was only one-half a fight.”
Gosine always wore a long, handlebar mustache, of which he was very proud. He was small and wiry and had a great sense of humor. “When I die I want to be sure my hair and mustache are combed. Maybe I want to look at myself sometime”, he answered when people asked him why he put a mirror on his tombstone. He died in January of 1946, just short of his 101st birthday and is buried with the mirror.
Several years ago the mirror was broken, probably by vandals, but enough remains to reflect the sun shining through the overhanging branches of a huge pine tree on a bright day. The tree was only a seedling when Gosine got off the train in Harrison.