Black Lake Memories

Cheboygan Daily Tribune

CHEBOYGAN - A woman with memories that could compete with award-winning novels lives right in the heart of Cheboygan to this day.

Eighty-three-year-old Frieda Paull, a native of Rogers City who loves Cheboygan, who founded the Black Lake Shivaree and who rocketed the Black Lake Hotel and Bar into local fame, recently shared her memories of Northern Michigan's most popular wintertime event.

It was almost by accident that Paull came into ownership of the Black Lake Hotel.

"We were living in Berkeley, Mich., when some friends of ours approached us with the idea to buy the hotel. I fought it. We had moved back and forth from Rogers City to the Detroit area and I was set where I was," she said.

Negotiations ensued, and after a few years, Paull ended up as sole proprietor of the large home dating back to the 1920s that was situated at the "far end" of Black Lake.

Paull officially opened the hotel and bar for business on June 1, 1961.

"At the beginning, we would open for the month of February and close March 1. Then we would open again on June 1," she said, adding that liquor and other licenses were only available for short periods at that time.

Eventually, the hotel and restaurant was open year-round and the Friday night fish fry dinners and Saturday night prime rib became a local, as well as tourist, favorite.

"It got so busy towards the end that locals wouldn't come in during the summer weekends," said Paull, who added that she always prepared her meals, from soup to salads, from scratch. "The only thing that came out of a can was peaches and pears," she declared.

While running the business was admittedly hard work for Paull, she said that it was a "fun, fun place."

"Deer season back then was a month-long party," she said. "People just loved to come in year-round."

Yet as she remembers her days on Black Lake, a hint of sadness glimmers in her eyes.

"It really was too bad that I had to sell it. But it got to the point where people just didn't work together anymore," she said.

Paull said that in the 30 years that she owned the restaurant, she didn't have more than five cooks. "We were like a family. If something needed to be done, you did it," she said. "I had waitresses that worked for me for years and years. They'd leave, have a baby, and come back to work."

"If I needed to go to town to do my shopping, someone would always tend bar for me while I was gone, no problem."

It was people associated with that same family-like group who were the official founders of the Black Lake Shivaree in 1963.

Paull said that her friend, Betty Jane Minsky, approached her with the idea shortly after she purchased and renovated the hotel.

"Betty was pregnant and in the hospital when she called me up and said ‘we should start a winter festival,'" said Paull.

Minsky, who now lives in southern Michigan, said that Vic Leonall, then president of the Cheboygan Area Chamber of Commerce, told her that she should bring a pencil and a notebook to the hospital with her and come up with an idea for a wintertime festival.

"So, while awaiting my son Jack's arrival, I remembered the Caviares, a French word pronounced shiveree, from my childhood, when neighbors would grab metal house wares and at midnight go and bang on stuff to serenade around the house of newlyweds," said Minsky. "I changed the spelling and we called our festival the Shivaree."

She said at the time, she knew a man named Mort Neff who had a "big time outdoor TV show."

"He got excited and publicized the event for us. He sent up photographers, so did many of the papers, and they pushed it big time. We got coverage all over the Midwest. I also was friends with most of the biologists at the DNR and they pitched in to help."

"Frieda and I were friends and she was a Chamber member and we decided to hold it at her place," Minsky.

Thus, the Black Lake Shivaree was born. The event included, in addition to sturgeon fishing, outdoor queen contests with formal gowns and formal dinners for the contestants at the hotel, a giant snow stage, complete with a big block of snow that was watered down nightly for weeks to make a frozen staircase, said Minsky.

"There were many men in the area who had snagged sturgeon for many years; and they brought me loads of pictures that we used in PR and in displays around town," she said.

"This was a fantastic community event, it drew people from throughout Michigan and the Midwest."

Minsky said that the event received a lot of press because editors "couldn't believe how the community came together" and turned it into a "sophisticated," yet outdoor fishing event.

"Frieda was wonderful ... easy to work with, she grasped the need to promote and co-operated with PR ... she literally turned her resort over to us, the press, the fishermen and their friends and family," said Minsky.

The Shivaree was a successful event for many years, until Paull said she was just "too tired" to continue with the efforts, although she seems to miss the Shivaree as much as she misses running the hotel and restaurant.

She said that she quit running the popular event for many of the same reasons she sold the hotel.

"No one wanted to work anymore, every time they picked up a shovel, they wanted to be paid," she said.

"It started off real small, just a Saturday evening and a Sunday afternoon," she said. "We had maybe a dozen snowmobiles racing."

"The Inverness Dairy milk truck came out and sold coffee ... it just grew from there. Next thing we knew, we had snowmobile races, 100-foot tents, concessions, pony rides, skydivers and carnival rides on the ice," she said.

Paull said that licensing issues and sturgeon poaching ultimately led to the demise of the Shivaree as she knew it.

"With liquor license laws, and the DNR and conservation, I just gave it up," she said, adding that it's "too bad" that recent efforts to reinvent the event have failed.

"The sturgeon were a lot bigger back then. The weather was colder and we just had more people. It's too bad that it didn't continue. But I had had it," said Paull.

After retiring as president of the Shivaree, Paull kept the hotel and restaurant up and running until she sold it in 1989.

"When I sold it, I moved to Cheboygan to this house," she said. Paull still lives in the home on Western Avenue. "I took down some walls here, made it how I wanted it."

She said that after a few years of "retirement," she "got bored."

"So, I decided to help out up at the hospital," she said. "When I realized I had more food in the basement than there was in the grocery store, I knew I had to do something."

Paull still volunteers at Cheboygan Memorial Hospital at the front desk and previously in the gift shop.

She began helping out at Hospice of the Straits in the mid-1990s and is there today. "I still do lunches at Hospice when I can," she said. "Sometimes my feet just hurt, so I can't do as much as I used to."

Once a month, Paull heads to Cornerstone Christian School with other Hospice volunteers to serve students a hot lunch. On the weekends, she fills her time at Upscale Resale, a new consignment shop recently opened by a friend.

"I've always helped out anyone when I could," she said.