Have you ever wondered that expression came from?
From the pages of a small self-published book (c. 2005) called “Where Did That Come From” by longtime radio broadcaster Reese Rickards comes this account:
“I am delighted to report that this phrase is pure Michigander. We know exactly where it comes from, and we know all the circumstances. And our story begins on November 6, 1815 when Samuel was born in Starksbough Vermont. A gifted child, Samuel showed remarkable skills in mathematics, and by the time he turned 18 he was a noted surveyor. In 1839 he moved to Milwaukee, and shortly thereafter joined a group of men headed ‘up north’ to survey the Wisconsin Upper Peninsula line. In 1845 he was hired by the federal government to examine, mark off and delineate the mining regions of the UP. When he finished that task in 1849, Samuel signed on as a mining consultant. He became instrumental in almost every aspect of copper mining in the Keweenaw area. He would go on to run or own the Central, Phoenix, Copper Falls, Dana, Eagle Harbor, Garden City and North Cliff Mines. He was handling millions of dollars, and immense responsibility. It was his idea to dig the three-mile canal from Portage Lake to Portage Entry that allowed deep draft boats to reach the Houghton area. After the Civil War Samuel entered politics and served as the state representative from the Lake Superior region for two terms. Samuel laughed at the snow in the UP. He smiled at the insects that swarmed through the virgin forests. The Portage Mining Gazette wrote that no other man, or even company of men had done as much for the Upper. It said all people in the UP owed Samuel a huge debt. And it’s true; he was a mighty mighty man. How is it then that no one has heard of him, but every knows of him? Even people who don’t live in Michigan? Dear listener family, Sam had a potty mouth. So strong were his tirades that sailors, teamsters, lumberjacks and longshoremen blushed. His language so embarrassed the good hardworking people of the UP, who themselves would never utter an oath, that they adopted his name instead of swearing. When something went wrong they would simply mutter to no one in particular, ‘What In Th Same Hill?”
What does this have to do with Marshall, you may ask?
After his years in the Upper Peninsula, Sam and his wife—Susan A. Warren (who was a pioneer teacher who established the first school in the Keweenaw region)—retired in Marshall. They purchased a large home at 139 West Mansion Street (on the corner of Mansion and Eagle streets), just two blocks north of what is now Schuler’s Restaurant & Pub at 111 S. Eagle Street. Standing proudly next to the home is a Michigan historical marker that reads:
Samuel W. Hill, legendary figure of the northland, surveyed the Great Lakes harbors in 1840-44 and worked with Dr. Douglass Houghton on the first geological survey of the Upper Peninsula in 1845. He was later involved with the sale of land and the building of roads and canals in the area. For many years he directed some of the most successful copper mines of the Lake Superior region. Twice elected to the state legislature, Hill retired to this house in 1875. He died in 1889.
Following his death on August 28, 1889, Samuel was buried at Oakridge Cemetery in Marshall. Susan passed away on October 20, 1902 and is buried beside him there. Developed in 1839, this is one of the oldest operating cemeteries in Michigan.
Marshall also boasts a “Sam Hill Drive” located north of town off Old US-27 North. And, if that weren’t enough, the historic National House Inn has a room dedicated to the one-time resident!