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Douglass Houghton Falls Veterans Memorial Park

Douglass Houghton Falls (SummitPost)

Halfway between Calumet and Lake Linden, just off M-26, lie the Douglass Houghton Falls. The waterfall is the tallest in Michigan at 110 feet. Once a popular hiking destination, the falls have been closed off to public access for years following several deaths due to the waterfall’s eroding structure. They will soon be reopened, albeit for a different purpose. Douglass Houghton Falls will be dedicated as a Veterans Memorial Park, the latest show of the Keweenaw’s support for its veterans.

Deciding the Fate of the Falls

The Douglass Houghton Falls have been in James Kuusisto’s family for decades. Bearing the claim of Michigan’s tallest waterfall, the site has been a popular destination for hikers and students for many years. However, following the deaths of hikers falling from the cliffs surrounding the falls, Mr. Kuusisto decided to close off the falls to the public in 1996. He refused several offers to sell, aware of the safety risks of the falls but unwilling to part with a piece of his family’s history.

In 2015, Mr. Kuusisto was approached by Michigan State Representative Scott Dianda and Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR was interested in purchasing the site as a recreational park, allowing the falls to be reopened to the public as part of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. Mr. Kuusisto was still reluctant to sell. However, when dedicating the site as a Veterans Memorial Park was suggested, he was very much on board. There were still many legal hoops to jump through, but an agreement was finally reached in the fall of 2018.

Dedication Ceremony

On September 20th, 2018, the upper loft of the Calumet Colosseum was full of friends and family of the Kuusisto family as well as local politicians, ROTC cadets, and veterans. The ceremony opened with a joint color guard of local VFM members and both Air Force and Army ROTC cadets, followed by remarks from Representative Dianda, Staci Haughey, DNR Upper Peninsula coordinator, and Mr. Kuusisto. Mr. Kuusisto expressed his gratitude to all those in attendance: “I’m overwhelmed by the response here today…I’m glad it happened.” He deflected all praise directed toward him, pointing instead to his fellow veterans and those whose memories they honor. “I’m a Vietnam Veteran myself…and I just wanted my fellow veterans to have a little more respect and recognition.” The support and positive feedback for the new Veterans Memorial Park are yet another example of the local community’s support for their veterans.

Local Support for Veterans

The Lake Linden/Hubbell VFW Post 4624 is an important part of the local community. Many locals have friends and relatives who serve or have served in past wars, and they are more than happy to give back. That willingness to give back to their veterans is demonstrated by the high participation levels at the annual Veterans Day and Saint Patrick’s Day dinners put on by the VFW post. Their support is further shown by the donations from the annual Prisoner of War Missing in Action 5k put on by Michigan Technological University’s Tech Sgt. Robert E. LaMotte Arnold Air Society squadron, the proceeds of which going entirely to VFW Post 4624. These events are just some of the ways in which the local community supports and gives back to their veterans.

Worldwide Support for Veterans

Honoring those who died in the service of their country is a global phenomenon; hundreds of war memorials have been erected around the world. Some are grand monoliths, like the number of war memorials on the National Mall; others are smaller, local, more personal, such as the Douglass Houghton Falls. Regardless of size, the memorials are meant to honor those who fought for their respective nations. They are a reminder of the sacrifices made by those defending their countries. They are also meant to help in the healing process for those left behind, veterans and their family members and friends alike.

Les Braves Omaha Beach Memorial (Kim Cruickshank)

June 6, 2019 marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day. In 1944, Allied troops landed on Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches in a joint air, land, and sea operation. The eventual goal of the invading forces was to win the war in Europe, a goal which they achieved less than a year later. The 75th anniversary saw memorial celebrations across the globe, especially in England and France, the bookends of the invasion; many war memorials and museums commemorating the events of D-Day can be found there. Perhaps one of the most prominent is the Les Braves Omaha Beach Memorial in Satin-Laurent-sur-Mer, France. The memorial sculpture consists of three groups of stainless steel upward arches: The Wings of Hope; Rise, Freedom!; and The Wings of Fraternity. The inscription on the monument from sculptor Anilore Banon reads,

“I created this sculpture to honor the courage of these men: Sons, husbands and fathers, who endangered and often sacrificed their lives in the hope of freeing the French people.”

Another prominent war memorial is located on the Okinawa Prefecture in the Ryukyu Islands of Japan. Okinawa saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the Second World War, with an estimated 200,000 casualties, both civilian and military. To commemorate the lives lost and preserve the peace which they fought for, the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum was built in 1975. The primary features of the Museum are the Peace Memorial Park and the Cornerstone of Peace. The memorial is made up of overlapping arcs of 117 granite walls bearing the names of every person who died during the Battle of Okinawa, grouped by nationality; at its center is the cornerstone.

While the Douglass Houghton Falls Veterans Memorial Park is not as grand or sweeping as some of its many companions, it is unique in its own way. The Douglass Houghton Falls park is the only war memorial focused entirely around a geographical feature. The closest any other memorial comes to the falls is the Aleutian World War II National Historic Area in Alaska, arguably not a memorial in the same sense. The natural focal point is fitting for Mr. Kuusisto’s wish that the park be a place for quiet reflection and remembrance.

Douglass Houghton Falls (Waterfalls of the Keweenaw)

The Future of the Falls

The Douglass Houghton Falls are still undergoing improvements to ensure the safety of all visitors. While the DNR has not released an official opening date, they continue to stress that the site will be dedicated to all those who have served in the military.

Primary Sources

  1. Creagh, Keith. “LTA 20160175PRD Land Acquisition WUP District, Houghton County.” State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources. 13 Aug, 2018.
  2. Houghton Douglass Falls Sold to DNR.” 21 Sep. 2018.
  3. Jaehnig, Graham. “Document signing of great importance to local vets.” 21 Sep. 2018.

Secondary Sources

  1. “2015 Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Acquisition Project Recommendations.” State of Michigan Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. 2015.
  2. Beckstead, Zachary, Twose, Gabriel, Levesque-Gottlieb, Emily, & Rizzo, Julia. “Collective Remembering Through the Materiality and Organization of War Memorials.” Journal of Material Culture, 16(2), 193-213. 2011.
  3. Doss, Erika. “War, Memory, and the Public Mediation of Affect: The National World War II Memorial and American Imperialism.” Memory Studies 1, no. 2, 227-50. May 2008.
  4. Feature Detail Report for: Houghton Falls.” 14 Apr 1980.
  5. Les Braves Omaha Beach Memorial.”
  6. War Memorials.”

For Further Reading

  • Doss, Erika. Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America. University of Chicago Press, 2012.
  • Conner, Thomas H. War and Remembrance: The Story of the American Battle Monuments Commission. University Press of Kentucky, 2018.