US41 runs north through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula over Dynamite Hill. It’s the only route for the delivery of goods, or people, to the population centers of Houghton, Hancock and Calumet. The village of L’anse sits at the bottom of the hill on Keweenaw Bay, for centuries the Chippewa fished for whitefish in the bay. They still do.
On the morning of August 9, 2012, Sherman Edward Zantop decided to camp out on top of Dynamite hill and effectively block traffic from using the highway.
Sheriff Edgar Butzlaff stood on the highway and looked up the hill. “Sherman, you’re blocking traffic. Get out of the way or I’m gonna come up and arrest you.”
“You stay where you are, Butzlaff. In this container next to me I got a trillion splitting atoms in rapid decay. If I let them out they’ll start a chain reaction in the atmosphere that’ll blow up everything, the whole universe, not just the hill.”
Sheriff Butzlaff stood there with his hands on his hips, his thumbs hooked in his pants. “Now goddammit, Sherman, don’t give me that shit. That box ain’t nothing but a cardboard box painted black. There ain’t nothing in it gonna blow up the world.”
The angular old man with the agitated eyes lifted the box up. “Well, then you just come up the hill and arrest me. I’ll open the box and let these feisty little atoms out, and in less than a second they’ll create a black hole and it’ll all be over: one Small Bang for Earth, another Big Bang for the universe.”
The sheriff nudged deputy Ringold next to him. “You got our snipers in place?”
Ringold had a reputation for being mean, but not smart. He squinted and nodded with a thin smile. “We can pick him off before he can open his fly. Just give me the word and he’ll get his Big Bang.”
The sheriff put his hand up. “Hold on a minute, Ringold, I only wanted to know if everyone’s in place. We’re not shooting anybody. I’ll get Sherman off Dynamite Hill. And nobody’s getting hurt.”
“He’s stubborn Sheriff–he ain’t gonna come down on his own.”
The Sheriff hollered up at Sherman. “I got your sister on the way over here. You wouldn’t blow her up would ya?”
“It won’t matter who you got coming over. I’m not coming down until they cure world hunger. Until everybody gets fed I’m staying up here on this hill. And if anybody tries to come up here I’ll open the box.”
“This ain’t Miss America Pageant, Sherman. Now get down here. Where’d you learn to build an atomic bomb, anyway?”
“I met a scientist on Facebroke.”
“You mean Facebook?”
“No, Facebroke, it’s a website for broken people.”
“What’s this guy’s name? I wanna talk to him.”
Ringold had Sherman in the crosshairs of the scope on his rifle. “Let me just shoot the motherfucker, Sheriff. He’s blocking traffic standing up there. We’ll have a line of trucks all the way back to Ishpeming if we don’t get him off the hill,”
The Sheriff ignored his deputy. “I don’t think Leo would want you blowin’ up the universe with his bomb, would he, Sherman?”
“Leo don’t care. He wanted me to ask for the end to all war. But I told him that was impossible. We’re never gonna stop fighting with one another.”
The Sheriff was starting to get twitchy. “What if I get the mayor to promise everyone in L’anse will get fed. Will you come down? You’re blocking traffic on U.S. 41–people got to get to work, kids gotta go to school. You’re interfering with Interstate commerce. I could call the ICC on you, the federal government. The FBI and the CIA will come down here and arrest you.”
“Not as long as I got the black box they won’t.”
A skinny woman with round glasses and red hair walked up beside the Sheriff. “He’s crazy you know.”
“No shit, Rhonda. I’ve known that forever. He was crazy in kindergarten. You’re his sister, talk some sense into him.”
“He won’t listen to me. He won’t listen to anybody.”
“Why’s he so hung up on curing world hunger? Is he hungry?”
“No, he’s just crazy, Sheriff. He likes to feed things–cats, dogs, birds, fish, you name it—he feeds it. He says Jesus did it. If it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough him.”
“Jesus jumping Jehoshaphat, Rhonda?”
“Do you know what’s in the box?”
“Atoms,” Rhonda said, and burst out laughing.
“It ain’t funny, Rhonda. He’s got traffic backed up for miles. And I don’t think he’s got anything in the box. But I can’t take the chance.”
Mayor Stigleman arrived, wearing a suit and tie. “Can’t you get one crazy old man off a hill, Sheriff?”
Sheriff Butzlaff put his hand on his gun, flustered. “He says he’s got some atomic explosive in the box and he’ll blow up the world if we try.”
“And you believe him?”
“Why don’t you go get him, Stigleman?” The mayor didn’t budge. He straightened his tie and put his hands in his pockets.
Rhonda nudged the Sheriff. “Who’s that kid talking to Sherman?”
“I don’t know. He must have got off the school bus that’s stuck in traffic up there.”
A small boy had walked over and was talking to Sherman as everyone stood and watched.
Sherman nodded, put the box down, took the boy’s hand and came down the hill.
The bomb squad would later defuse the empty box. They laughed about the atomic box all afternoon. Sherman was taken to jail, put in solitary, and an appointment made for him with Woody Allen’s psychiatrist.
The Sheriff interviewed the boy. “What did you say to him?”
“I told him I was hungry, and asked him if he’d take me to Burger King.”
“And what’d he say?”
“He said, yeah, let’s go. It’s almost time for lunch.”