I was probably in elementary school when I first heard people talking about how the area where we lived, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – a.k.a. Upper Michigan, the U.P., or now, “da Yoop,” – could or even should be a separate state.
This state – North Michigan or perhaps Superior – ought to be separate, the thinking went, due to the stark geographical and demographic differences between the U.P. and the Lower Peninsula – a.k.a. the L.P., “the Mitten,” or just “Michigan.” Anyhow, the only reason “we” were part of Michigan was the stupid compromise with Ohio over Toledo.
I didn’t know then, but was fascinated to learn later, that (as Wikipedia says in its article on Superior) Yoopers had agitated for the area’s statehood in the years just before I was born in the U.P.’s southermost city. This agitation in fact reached a high point just after I was born, with an unsuccessful effort to pull the U.P. and the northerly parts of Wisconsin out of their respective states and combine them into a new state, something like this, which I saw recently on the amazing Lost States blog:
I loved the idea then and I love the idea now, even as I recognize that a state of Superior would probably be unfeasible, if not terrible, as a political or economic entity. (Recent-ish news coverage of the idea says as much here in the Detroit Free Press and here in the New Republic.)
One of the reasons that Superior would not be a great state is it’s big and empty – Wyoming, but all forests; Alaska, but no tundra. Wikipedia says in its entry on the U.P. (the actual place, not the imaginary state) that “the Upper Peninsula remains a predominantly rural region. As of the 2010 census, the region had a population of 311,361,” of whom only a third live in one of the twelve towns that have populations greater than 4,000 people.
Even if Superior included both all of the current U.P. and the Wisconsin counties that (or almost) border da Yoop*, you’d only get a total population (if you believe those lying liars at the U.S. Census) of 410,340. This scattering of humans over almost 22,000 square miles would make Superior – as of the 2010 census – the state with the smallest population, well behind Wyoming’s throng of 563,626. (The numbers would rise a little, but not much, if you included the several other Wisconsin counties that the Lost States map above include within Superior.)
For comparison’s sake, Wyoming’s capital, Cheyenne, had a population of 92,000 in 2010 – a third bigger than Marquette County, the most populous county in Superior, and 425% bigger than Marquette city, which, with a population of 21,355 in 2010, is the most populous city in
the U.P. Superior. Marquette – as the putative capital of Superior – would be the fourth-smallest state capital, bigger only than teeny-tiny Montpelier (just 7,855 people lived there in 2010!), Pierre, and Augusta.
And like many a rural, underpopulated state full of white people and public lands and almost wholly dependent on tourism and natural resources (in the U.P., lumbering and mining), Superior would probably be a blood-red state. In 2012, all but two U.P.’s counties went for Romney in 2012, and all but one supported the (horrifyingly bad) Republican governor. The U.P.’s fifteen counties – grouped in Michigan’s first congressional district – have elected Republican and Tea Partier Dan Benishek to the House of Representatives in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
So yes, Superior is a terrible idea.
But still, we can have some fun with the idea, right? A few facts, ideas, and guesses about what Superior would be like:
- Capital: Marquette (see above)
- Electoral votes: 3
- Industries: lumber, mining (maybe), tourism (including lots of outdoor sports in all four seasons)
- Coastline: about 2,000 miles on three Great Lakes (more than any other state – even post-Superior Michigan, which would only have about 1,500 miles)
- Flag: a white pine tree, green against a blue background
- Metal: Iron! Copper! Iron! Copper! How about cunife, the little-known alloy of iron and copper (and that non-U.P. metal, nickel)? Nah, let’s go with iron, since there are dozens of places whose names include “iron” (e.g., Ironwood) but only a few named for copper. (Copper Harbor is pretty awesome, though.)
- Animal: moose or wolf
- Bird: Canada goose or maybe the chickadee
- Good: the pasty!
- Drink: coffee, eh, and maybe som’dat beer (the U.P. has fifteen breweries and brewpubs!)
- Mystery: the Paulding Light (which isn’t much of a mystery anymore)
- Interstate highways: one, the stretch of I-75 running from St. Ignace to the Soo
- National parks: one, Isle Royale, though the U.P. also contains other amazing spots such as
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and eight federal wilderness areas,
- the Keweenaw National Historical Park that’s partly in my hometown,
- about twenty state parks, and
- two national forests, the Hiawatha in the center and east and the Ottawa in the west, in which my family’s “hunting camp” was located and which is thus obviously the better one.
- State university: Northern Michigan University, or rather, Superior State U. (hell yes to that name, amirite?)
- Rivals: Trolls – those who live “below the bridge” in the Lower Peninsula (the bridge being the mighty Mackinac – five miles long, the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world.
- Holidays: St. Urho’s Day and the first day of deer season
- Sports teams:
- baseball: Milwaukee Brewers or Detroit Tigers, though leaning toward Detroit
- hockey: Detroit Red Wings
- basketball: Detroit Pistons
- football: Green Bay Packers
- Titletown is only about 175 miles from Marquette, versus about 400 miles to Minneapolis and 450 to Detroit, so it’s definitely not even a question don’t get me started. GO PACK GO!
* Running west to east, Ashland, Iron, Vilas, Forest, Florence, and Marinette. The latter is the most populous in the group, and would be the second-most populous county in the state, after Marquette County in