The tiny tribe of folks living beneath a rosebush in the vivid imagination of cartoonist William Donahey also lived as a popular Chicago Tribune comic strip for over 50 years.
Today, the Teenie Weenies live on at this unique little home along the shores of Lake Superior near the intersection of highways M-77 and H-58 in the Village of Grand Marais, Michigan.
I spotted the little barrel-shaped structure as we entered town after a ride along the scenic H-58 highway and had to stop to see what it was all about.
Donahey was born in Westchester, Ohio in 1883. The shy child spent a lot of time alone, creating a fantasy world of small creatures that became the basis of his Teenie Weenie comics.
Donahey went to the Cleveland School of Art and worked for the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper as a political cartoonist.
Mary Dickerson, a popular author of children's books, also worked at the newspaper as a columnist. Dickerson introduced Donahey to some of her favorite children's literature. He soon began specializing in comics for children and the couple married.
The Chicago Tribune's editor saw Donahey's work, and offered him a job as a regular cartoonist.
Donahey's imaginative Teenie Weenie tales debuted as a black-and-white feature at the Chicago newspaper in 1912 or 1914. It became a color comic strip and went into syndication by 1923.
The comic became popular around the country, eventually including as many as 40 different 2-inch-tall characters like the General, The Lady of Fashion, and The Old Sailor living in a world of life-sized objects that seemed enormous to them.
The comic became so popular that a Chicago firm representing the Monarch food brand contracted with Donahey to create advertisements, packaging and labels for products like coffee, peanut butter, popcorn, sausage, bacon, vegetables and pickles.
One of Monarch's most popular products was its Teenie Weenie Sweet Pickles packaged and sold in little oak kegs.
Some of the ads showed the Teenie Weenies building barrels and filling them with pickles or constructing homes of the tiny pickle kegs.
An ad showing a Teenie Weenie bride-and-groom in front of their new pickle barrel home sparked the idea for a unique summer cottage.
Donahey and his wife loved to vacation in the Grand Marais area, and the Monarch food promotional team hired the Pioneer Cooperage Company of Chicago, which built Monarch's tiny wooden pickle kegs, to create a life-sized replica of the pickle barrel for the couple to use as a summer cottage.
The couple drove to Grand Marais one day in 1926 for a little vacation. William knew about the pickle barrel house awaiting them, but it was a total surprise for his wife Mary when they arrived at the house and a group of local children, dressed as Teenie Weenies, presented her with a key to her new cottage on the shore of Lake Sable.
The tiny summer home was 16 feet tall and had two stories. The first floor contained a living area, and the second floor had a small bedroom. A pantry area connected the big barrel to a smaller 8-foot-tall barrel, which housed a single-story kitchen.
The unique little house became a popular attraction, drawing as many as 200 visitors on some days. The Donaheys enjoyed their little cottage, intended as a sanctuary to inspire William and Mary's work, but the crowds it attracted made them decide to give it to a local businessman in 1937 who moved it into town where people could continue to visit it over the years as an ice cream stand, tourist information booth and gift shop.
Donahey continued to create the Teenie Weenie comics until shortly before his death in 1970.
By the 1990s, the pickle barrel house fell into disrepair and was on the verge of collapsing.
Local residents came to the rescue and, by 2003, the Grand Marais Historical Society raised enough money through grants and donations to purchase the house and contract with a local builder to repair and restore the cottage to how it appeared during the 1920s and 1930s.
More than 250 people showed up to help dedicate the refurbished Pickle Barrel House and Museum, and its inclusion on the National Register of Historical Places in July of 2005.
The house is open from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. on weekends during June and September and from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. daily in July and August. Admission is free, with donations accepted to help maintain the house and other historical society projects.
A display garden on the grounds maintained by the Historic Iris Preservation Society and featuring over 80 varieties of irises blooms in May or June of each year. There are also a few Teenie Weenie characters hidden in the garden.
Unfortunately for us, it was too early in the year to see the blooms, and the house was not open when we arrived in Grand Marais.
There is also a nice online gallery of Donahey's Teenie Weenies at the Historical Society of Wisconsin site as well as a list of Donahey works, letters and other items housed in the society's archives in Madison, Wisconsin.
© Dominique King 2014 All rights reserved