Pickle Barrel Museum
Two huge barrels make up this unique and much-loved local landmark, built as a summer cottage for William and Mary Donahey, and recently stabilized and restored as a one-of-a-kind museum.
|The wee back room of the Pickle Barrel Museum.|
William Donahey created and drew the Teenie Weenie syndicated comic cartoon feature from 1914 to his death in 1970—over 55 years. Teenie Weenies were tiny cartoon characters two inches tall who lived under a rosebush. Their first illustrated adventures (not in strip form) were in the Chicago Tribune. They led to syndication (Detroit knew the Teenie Weenies) and to appearances on the labels and magazine advertisements of Monarch food products. These included peanut butter, popcorn, toffee, and vegetables, and most memorably pickles. In one ad, the Teenie Weenies set up housekeeping in a small pickle barrel.
In gratitude for the Teenie Weenies' role in promoting its Monarch-brand products, the Reid & Murdock Company of Chicago gave the Donaheys their unusual summer house in 1926. A two-story barrel incorporated the living/dining area downstairs, and upstairs a bedroom and the Donaheys' work areas. (Mary Donahey wrote children's books, too.) The kitchen occupied the smaller barrel, connected by the pantry.
The Donaheys, who loved nature, greatly enjoyed their summers on Grand Sable Lake outside Grand Marais, now part of the national lakeshore. "From the plant life, the animals, and the insects I get many ideas for my Teenie Weenies, for I spend much of my time roaming through the woods," wrote William Donahey. The Teenie Weenies' adventures often took place in natural settings. Each cartoon included something for scale, like the rosebush, a woodpecker, or a jar of Monarch pickles. From the outset, his cartoons were a peaceful, playful antidote to what he called "rough, knock-‘em-down comics," enjoyed by children, he felt, because nothing else was available. (Donahey was inspired by the earlier Brownies of Palmer Cox.) Over the years, Teenie Weenie children's books, pencil boxes, dolls, trading cards, and other related products appeared.
The "barrel house on the lake" became an attraction, creating distractions for the Donaheys. In 1936 they built another house and moved the pickle barrel house into town. It was used by shops and a tourist information center, then fell into disuse and disrepair. The Grand Marais Historical Society purchased the neglected landmark and raised money for a thorough restoration, now complete.
The first room showcases William Donahey and his artwork and creations, plus reproduction full page story ads and reproduction Teenie Weenie vegetable cans ($4), fine for pencil holders and simple gifts. They can be purchased online by searching for "pickle barrel merchandise." Search "Teenie Weenie Donahey," and you'll find some of richly illustrated web sites by fans and collectors.
The rest of the house recreates its appearance when the Donaheys lived there. The small scale and quaint details (like the inward-curving windows of the barrel shape) make it a bit like being in a children's book—cute as a button.
The garden, outdoor seating, and garden path are now in place. The restoration budget was $125,000 because of problems from rot and the unusual structural details. The historical society wants to maintain the museum without an admission fee—so donations or purchases of Teenie Weenie items are very much appreciated.
Downtown at Lake/M-77 and Randolph. Open from June through September. In July and August open daily 1-4. June & Sept open Sat & Sun 1-4. Also open by appt., often on short notice: (906) 494-2404. Voluntary donation; all funds go to the museum. Handicap access: small wheelchairs via side ramp. First floor only. Tight quarters.
Return to Grand Marais
POINTS OF INTEREST
Harbor entrance, range lights, pier & beach. Fish from the long stone pier jutting far out into Lake Superior, protecting the harbor. Or walk the long beach and enjoy the range light, & 2 museums, one in the old Coast Guard station, draw people to Coast Guard Point ... more
Pickle Barrel Museum. A summer house in two giant barrels for the creator of the long-lived Teenie Weenie cartoons. Now saved from rot and open to the public with historical displays and period rooms circa 1930. ... more
Gitche Gumee Agate & History Museum. Agates, rockhounding, geology, commercial fishing, and the self-sufficient local lifestyle after the lumber company left – Karen Bryzs's heartfelt museum tells these stories ... more
North Country Trail/Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Hike the trail connecting the lakeshore's prominent sights to experience them more fully than a drive-up-and-go-on view. Plan your hike so a shuttle bus can take you back ... more
Log Slide Overlook. Almost 300 feet above Lake Superior, there are splendid views to the Au Sable Lighthouse and the immense expanses of the Grand Sable Dunes. Exhibits show the scene when loggers rolled logs down for loading on ships ... more
Kingston Plains Burns. The best-known of the U.P.'s eerie stump fields or ghost forests created when forest fires across the cutover were so hot they burned off the soil's humus and the forest couldn't grow back. Pine resin preserved giant stumps. Some still remain ... more