Diary of an 1880′s Fort Mackinac Boy

Flickr photo credit Steve BerenterBeginning Friday, January 14, the diary of a 10-year old boy will be tweeted every day by Mackinac State Historic Parks from the feed @BOYatFtMACKINAC. The diary was started on the same date in 1883 by Harold Dunbar Corbusier, and recounts the daily fun, chores, work, and adventures of the second of five sons of Fort Mackinac Post Surgeon Dr. William Corbusier and Fanny Dunbar Corbusier.

In the 1880′s, when Harold kept his diary of life at Fort Mackinac, the island was a Victorian traveler’s paradise. Visitors from across the Great Lakes journeyed to the island on elegant passenger steamboats, and the soldiers at the fort were the caretakers of Mackinac National Park, (now known as Mackinac Island State Park) the second national park in the United States. It was a time of exploration, elegance, and entertainment for visitors.

Harold and his family lived in quarters on the west end of the fort, today’s “Major’s Quarters.” It was here where Harold began his diary on his tenth birthday, which gives us a unique and illuminating view of children’s lives in a late nineteenth-century military post.

Harold’s two-year stay on the island ended on September 30, 1884. He and his family returned to Mackinac Island in the summer of 1892 when his father accompanied a detachment of the 18th Infantry from Detroit during a target practice encampment. Even during this time, he kept his diary close at hand, but now the entries were longer and focused on young ladies and dances rather than the amusements of a ten year old. He left the island for the last time on August 6, 1892.

One hundred years later, in August 1992, Harold’s grandson, Warren O’Brien, visited Fort Mackinac and piqued the interest of fort historians when he spoke of the diary. In response, A Boy at Fort Mackinac was published, revealing the clever insights of a child on Mackinac Island. If you’d like to read the book in its entirety, you can find it by the full title, A Boy at Fort Mackinac: The Diary of Harold Dunbar Corbusier, 1883-1884, 1892, published by The Corbusier Archives and Mackinac State Historic Parks.

Mackinac State Historic Parks, a family of living history museums and parks in northern Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac, is an agency within the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

You can also follow Mackinac State Historic Parks on Twitter at @MSHP and on Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr. Visit www.mackinacparks.com for more information.