A Snowflake in August

Posted on August 23, 2010


Snowflake drifted along in my peripheral vision, mostly as something that isn’t there any more: a depot on the long-gone Pere Marquette Railroad spur, a post office that closed in 1901, a vanished one-room school, a community of Spiritualists. A ghost town. There’s a little sign on M-88 between Central Lake and Bellaire.

I’d seen it but not really seen it, if you know what I mean. Then one day it registered. It’s still there??? Everything else on my agenda suddenly moved down a rung. I turned down the road. There was the gate, broad and open and friendly, with a schedule of church services posted. I took that as an invitation to proceed.

It was a quiet summer afternoon. Cottages were scattered about the wooded site. Here and there a towel hung to dry, but there was no one around. I didn’t feel that I was intruding. It just seemed that everyone was off doing whatever, and when they came back we’d chat. I saw Pine Crest Cottage, and knew at once that it had been there for more than a century. I wanted to see the inside of that cottage.

Pretty soon a pleasant woman named Eileen Graves walked across the lawn to greet me, and gave me a brochure. She told me classes were going on just then, but that I could come back to talk to the camp president, who was descended from the founders. I was welcome to come to services. There was a member in her 90s who remembered much of the history. Maybe I would like to talk to her? Yes indeed, I would like that.

I did a little homework that night. The distinguishing feature of Spiritualism is the belief that “the existence, and the personal identity, of the individual continues after the change called death” and that “communication with the so-called dead is a fact, scientifically proven by the phenomena of Spiritualism.”

It flowered in the post-Civil War period in response to the despair of so much death–not just the horrific war itself, but the epidemics of typhoid and diphtheria and tuberculosis that swept through communities, stealing their children. Seances, readings, and visits to mediums were common. Sometimes they were deeply felt experiences, other times parlor games. Charlatans had a field day. It was all perfectly American Victorian. It’s still here???

The next day Pat Crawford, a fifth generation descendant of founders Samuel and Rebecca Lesher, took me on a tour. As we walked down to the lake and followed the trails through the woods Pat talked about the peace she feels when she’s at the camp. “I really think this is sacred ground,” she says. “We’ve tended it as a spiritual place for over a century, and the Indians tended it for a long time before that.”

The virgin forest that once covered the land has been gone for so long that a new forest has grown up.  Cottages and mobile homes and a campground nestle in the shade. There’s a nice beach on Intermediate Lake, and a dock. We went into the community hall and looked at the old photos. We went into the church. And we went inside Pine Rest Cottage, and Star Cottage, too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We did not go into the Round House where the mediums used to hold their seances, because the Round House was torn down long ago. Nowadays the community center serves the purpose. And the Spiritualists have a website.

Pat introduced me to her son David and her granddaughter Angel, sixth and seventh generation Leshers. Then she took me over to her mother’s house in Central Lake. Mom is Millie Davis, who was baptized at Snowflake in a shower of pansies back in 1920, and remembers most everything that’s happened since, which is a lot. A person could write a whole book about Snowflake, if a person didn’t have a pressing engagement with a bunch of demanding Civil War veterans.

You could say that Snowflake is a ghost town.  The Spiritualists will not be offended.  They are comfortable with the spirit world, and think of all existence as a journey from one plane to another, along a highly individualized path.  “We’re all energy,” said Pat Crawford.  “Energy never dies.  It just takes a different form.”