What a summer it was – spending almost two months in Michigan. Though I had never been to this state before in my life, I have certainly quickly and fully fallen in love with it. The weather was magnificent, and the sites and adventures were plentiful – including the terrific lakefront bike trail pictured above. They have a relatively short “summer” season, but they certainly make the best use of the time they have allotted. But now its time to move on towards the south before the nasty winter season arrives. Thanks for a great time Michigan, and I look forward to spending more summers with you in the future.
There was certainly no shortage of interesting places to visit. Even just visiting downtown Muskegon was a treat. They’ve got a beautiful state park on the shores of Lake Michigan with plenty of beach sand to lull the afternoons away. And speaking of lakes, these Great Lakes are massive! The view from the shores is an endless view of water, with no land in sight – more akin to a coastal ocean than a lake. Muskegon is the largest populated city on the west coast of Michigan, and its downtown district is filled with wonderful architecture, an active farmers market, and a lot of history. Charles Hackley, a 19th century lumber baron and philanthropist, contributed large sums of capital to the city which funded a beautiful library (pictured left, top right), administration building, art gallery, (pictured left, top center), as well as a hospital and park. He was such an influence to the city that they even considered renaming the city after him. Instead, they have the Hackley Trail – a several block walking tour showcasing all the buildings bearing his name.
I also got to spend some time touring the wonderful city of Holland, MI. This town was originally populated in the mid 1800’s by Dutch emigrants from the Netherlands escaping poor economic conditions at the time, and who united and settled together seeking religious freedom. It is also known as the City of Churches with its 170 churches throughout the greater Holland area. Fun fact – one of the churches is responsible for the “What Would Jesus Do – WWJD” bracelet fad which they started in 1989. The town maintains much of its Dutch heritage even to this day – with its Tulip Town Festival and other Dutch-themed attractions.
One of the towns most popular Dutch-themed attraction is the de Zwaan (Dutch for The Swan, or Graceful Bird) – an authentic mid 18th century windmill. In the early 1960s, a couple Holland residents were looking to pay homage to the city’s Dutch heritage, and embarked on a project to acquire and relocate a Dutch windmill to their town. This turned out to be a difficult quest as many of the Dutch nations windmills had suffered significant damage from World War II, and thus their sale outside of the Netherland was banned by their government. However, persistence and demonstrating a commitment to retain the operational and educational status of the windmill, coupled with looking to purchase a severely damaged windmill finally resulted in the sale being approved. This was to be the last sale and exportation of a Dutch windmill ever. The windmill was disassembled and transported from the Netherlands by ship to Muskegon harbor, then by truck to Windmill Island in Holland. The windmill was reconstructed upon its new base, though several feet higher than original in order to effectively catch the winds from Lake Michigan.
The Zwaan uses stones powered by wind to grind grains from local Michigan farmers. The resulting whole wheat flour is sold at Windmill Island Gardens’ gift shop and is used by many local restaurants and shops. Also noteworthy, the windmill operator and maintainer of this windmill is Alisa Crawford. She is a history buff, and enjoys preserving the same. At the age of 15 she took on an apprenticeship at a grist mill in Flint, MI. At 19, she took over the mill becoming one of the first woman millers in the country. After college and moving around, she found herself back in Michigan as the educational director at the Holland Museum, then eventually being drawn to the Zwaan. Wanting to pursue her education towards becoming a master miller, she approached the Dutch Mill Society to enroll in their program. After being accepted, she first had to learn the Dutch language as the program and text books were completely in Dutch. She made several trips to the Netherland, studied hard, and eventually passed the final exam. With that in hand, she then pursued becoming a professional grain miller and securing her position within the prestigious guild. She was among only 35 members to have achieved that level, and was the only woman and only person outside of the Netherland to have achieved this level. Her “Gilde” membership insignia hangs proudly on the walls of the windmill. Very cool!
My last major Michigan attraction to report on is my visit to the Gerald Ford Presidential Library and Museum. I have to admit, I didn’t know very much about Gerald Ford. I knew he was appointed Vice President after the Spiro Agnew debacle, then became President with the fall of Richard Nixon. Beyond that, I was pretty clueless. I was very please to get to know Gerald Ford much better after having toured his presidential library and museum. Born Leslie Lynch King Jr in Omaha, NE to a loving mother and an abusive non-existing father, he and his mother soon left and moved to Grand Rapids, MI where his mother got divorced and was later remarried to Gerald Rudolff Ford. Though he was never formally adopted by his step-father, he would eventually assume his name thus removing all ties to his absent biological father. He grew up in a middle-class family having strong family values and work ethics. He was active in the Boy Scouts of America, and achieved its highest rank of Eagle Scout. He would later become the first and thus far only Eagle Scout to rise to the U.S. Presidency. He attended the University of Michigan where he graduated with a BA in Economics, then later attended and graduated from the Yale University Law program. During his school years, he was also very involved in football – having been captain of his high school team, and later a star player with the University of Michigan Wolverines. In fact, he was so talented, he received offers from both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers to join the NFL. They sure didn’t pay as well as they do now (see offer letter pictured right, top left). He opted to pursue his law degree in lieu of the NFL. After receiving his degree, the war came along and he joined the Navy – achieving the rank of Lt Commander. He had a distinguished military career, as had been the case throughout most of his life.
I won’t go into any further details of his rise to VP and eventual President – you can read that anywhere online. What I did find interesting was the leadership and courage President Ford would demonstrate in his short tenure in office – an office to which he was not elected to. In addition to the controversial action of pardoning Richard Nixon, he would have an abundance of both domestic and foreign policy issues to address – to which he would later be recognized as having done so with great dignity. I found the words he used at his swearing in address, and now inscribed on the back of his statue at the front of the complex, to be most telling. It reads:
“I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President with your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers. I have not campaigned for either the Presidency or the Vice Presidency. I am indebted to no man, and only to one woman – my dear wife – as I begin this very difficult job.”
Well said Mr President! In his later years, he would be recognized with a number of significant awards including the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his pardoning of President Nixon, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal. Though his time in office was short, he was instrumental in helping the country heal from all the scandals, and kept us moving throughout the turbulent 70s. The museum itself is wonderful with tons of exhibits, and a complete mock up of the oval office and cabinet rooms. Lastly, both President Ford and his wife Betty are interned on the grounds of the museum. It was a great visit!
Lots of interesting roadside sites to visit in the area as well. Some of the notables include (pictured left) a statue of Gerald Ford as a boy scout located at the Grand Rapids Scout headquarters, a statue of Buster Keaton and his camera, and a not so flattering statue of President McKinley. I also visited the gravestone of Jonathan Walker featuring his branded hand. He was an abolitionist who was caught as he tried to smuggle several slaves to freedom, and as a result was branded with SS (slave stealer) on his palm. The last picture featured on the left is that of the Snurfer Monument. A Muskegon native named Sherm Poppens built a snow toy for his daughter by fashioning two wooden skies together, then adding a string on the front in order to hold on. Thus was born the Snurfer. This would soon become mass produced and a favorite child toy in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Later, this would evolve to what we now know as the snowboard. The sculpture features the Snurfer on the top, sliding down to the modern day snowboard at the bottom. Really cool!
A few more roadside items pictured to the right include the scrap metal marching band located on the grounds of Grand Valley State University, a fountain sculpture titled “Spirit of Solidarity” which pays tribute to the 1911 furniture worker strike where 6,000 factory workers went on a four month strike which eventually led to improved wages and working conditions. Next, the local channel 13 weather ball sits high in the air, and reportedly features changing colors, and was a gimmick to forecast local weather. And lastly, the junk art featuring Gerald Ford as a football player, found on the grounds of the museum.
Wow – I feel like I’ve really rambled on for this blog posting. But I guess there was a lot to say about many of the things I enjoyed while visiting Michigan. I did so enjoy the summer there, and explored many of its treasures. Next, I’m off to Elkhart, IN – the RV Capital of the world. I’ll be like a kid in a candy store there as I spend time taking an RV factory tour, exploring the RV Hall of Fame Museum, and visiting an expansive and well known flea market just east of here in a town called Shipshewana. It’s gonna be a blast! Till later, safe travels.