The local premiere of the documentary Winona: A Copper Mining Ghost Town will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18, in 1100 Jamrich Hall. Filmmaker and retired Northern Michigan University professor Michael Loukinen explored this once-booming Upper Peninsula mining company town whose population has dwindled to about 13 current residents. He will participate in a post-screening commentary and reception. The event is part of the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center's film series. Admission is free for NMU students and a suggested donation $10 for the general public.
“To my knowledge, this may be the first film of its kind: a scholarly documentary about the history and social memory of a copper mining community on the verge of becoming a ghost town,” Loukinen said. “There have been tourist-oriented, ‘history-light’ promotional books and video productions advertising gunfights, lumberjack days, pioneer days and such in western ghost towns, but there has been no serious documentary that examines the inner life of people actually experiencing the transition from a ‘historic copper mining town site’ to a ghost town with virtually no residents.”
The film is a presentation of folk and academic history mixed with personal stories and supported by historical photos. It opens with a brief history of the “ancient miners,” then covers copper mining in the northwestern Upper Peninsula and its dependence on distant markets that produces a boom and brutal bust economy. The oral history and folklore of the town is presented through the voices of elders who shared their experiences living in a once-thriving community.
During filming, Loukinen was struck by how Winona’s buildings and landscape have been altered by encroaching nature and the ravages of time after the mines closed.
“I saw weeds and trees flourishing where hundreds of men mined and stamped copper ore,” Loukinen said. “Bear scat was covering the threshold of the gigantic stamp mill, while sugar plum trees sprout through the floors of what were, in the 1890s, world-class industrial buildings. Animal tracks have stitched a wandering trail where a railroad once existed. When you walk down the main street and see the trees and brush covering once huge mining buildings, you sense nature’s awesome power and feel that the forest might even suck you into its darkness.”
DVDs will be available for purchase after the screening.