Colonial Michilimackinac Fall Garden Round-up 2022

 As the season for growing things begins to wind down, the interpretive staff at Colonial Michilimackinac are thinking back on a fabulous season of gardening. We have had good vegetables and lovely flowers that were used to decorate the dinner table. Fresh herbs like parsley and chives added flavor to fish and other foods at our daily food programs.

Garlic

 The summer of 2022 was an especially good year for root vegetables. Garlic, onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and radishes all grew great and are being used in our daily food programs. Some of them are still going strong and will be left in the ground until next spring to be dug as soon as the ground thaws. Leaving them in the soil is a very easy way of keeping them. Other methods included lifting vegetables and placing them in carefully packed layers of damp sand in a crate or a barrel and stored in a cellar to keep them until use.

Carrots peeking out

 Beans and peas, unfortunately, were largely a wash this summer. The woodland voles, ground squirrels and mice were much quicker at getting to them than the people. We did plant some late peas that are just starting to blossom, so we might still get one patch this year, but not nearly as much as we usually count on. The only beans that have done really well are our our scarlet runner beans. The scarlet runners are magnificent plants and draw in hummingbirds and loads of pollinators. They produce pods that are sometimes up to ten inches long with burgundy and black seeds inside. The seeds will be collected once they are fully mature and some will be used to plant the garden next season. What we do not use for planting, we will use for our food programs.

Pea blossom

 While the beans and peas did not do well, our squash and pumpkins made up for it by bounds. They will soon be taken off the vines and set to cure in the sun. This hardens the outer rind and helps to keep them from going to mush. They will be used for our programs and either kept whole or dried for long-term use. Residents living inside the walls of Michilimackinac would have acquired larger, field crops like pumpkins and squash from the Anishnaabe. Roasting, stewing and baking them were common ways of preparing them for the table.

Scarlet runners

 It has been a good year of planting and caring for the outdoor spaces at Colonial Michilimackinac. We still have a lot of work to do and are still planting and planning for next year. For more information, or to purchase tickets to visit, please see our website.

Spooky Specters and Lurking Lutins Await at Fort Fright October 7-8

 Be wary of were-wolves and look out for lutins as you walk the lantern-lit path along the shore of Lake Michigan to Colonial Michilimackinac for Fort Fright the evenings of October 7 and 8, 2022.

 From 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (last admission at 8:30 p.m.), eighteenth-century French-Canadian folklore comes to life. Visitors must tread lightly on the path along the shoreline, because as the sun sets on the horizon, all manner of monsters take over the fort and eagerly await your arrival inside. There are campfires glowing in the night where a voyageur tells eerie tales and warns you of the terror that might await you before you approach the guarded gates of Colonial Michilimackinac. You are now on your own to enter the wooden palisade, a frightening world of fun and phantoms wrapped into one.

 As you venture inside the gate, British Redcoats of a different order patrol the wooden fort. Look closer to see they’re not ordinary soldiers, but skeletons with bony fingers outstretched beckoning you to enter.

 More campfires crackle inside the fort, but there are friendly faces around these. French fur traders and voyageurs are telling more tales, singing songs played to traditional music of the 1700s, and visiting with guests. The fires offer a respite from the mythical creatures that prefer other places, like the upper stories of the wooden buildings where they throw open shutters and cackle, howl or prowl around the palisade.

 Other frightening features include the Demon Walk boasting vicious monsters waiting to trick you out of fortune and pull you into the underworld and the Werewolf Walk, where the most terrifying of the creatures in the fort prowl and hunt for you in the dark. A tour of the haunted rowhouse, a custom designed exhibit for this occasion, will not be easily forgotten.

 In other wooden buildings within the fort and fur trading village, colonial residents serve warm autumn treats like homemade cookies and toffee. Guests can learn about death and burial in the 1700s, and the various traditions and ceremonies for the dead from over 250 years ago in the church. In addition to creatures, colonial residents with friendly faces roam the village, following the lantern-lit paths that wind throughout the fort, a unique nighttime atmosphere available only on these two nights.

 Fort Fright isn’t meant to simply scare visitors. There’s an eerie but real background to the event, which stems from French-Canadian tales that were passed on from person-to-person as voyageurs and other people traveled. As such, there’s a strong history of oral tradition behind Fort Fright. That oral history is shared around campfires much in the same way it was shared over two-and-a-half centuries ago.

 The characters that roam Fort Fright, such as were-wolves, lutins, and Le Dame Blanche, meaning White Lady (Ghost), are drawn from a book called Were-Wolves and Will-o-the-Wisps: French Tales of Mackinac Retold by Dirk Gringhuis. The collection of short stores, published by Mackinac State Historic Parks, is based on French-Canadian folktales brought to the Mackinac Straits area by the voyageurs during the height of the French fur trade. The stories and chilling ambiance shared at Fort Fright often have modern day counterparts, but they are still new and different with many twists. By combining the nuances of the oral history and live interpretation of the terrifying characters, Mackinac State Historic Parks is able to create a fun and, at times, spooky atmosphere for all ages. It’s the stories and the individuals sharing them that make this such a chilling and memorable experience—leaving you to wonder if that noise you hear is really just the wind, or perhaps something far more frightening. Priced at $6, the book is sold during the event and can also be purchased prior to Fort Fright at the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center or by calling 231-436-4100.

 Admission to Fort Fright is $11 per adult, $7 children ages 5-12, and free for children 4 and under and Mackinac Associates members (excluding Heritage Level). Tickets are available now online, or pre-purchase your family’s tickets beginning October 1 in the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center. Visitors who purchase in advance will be able to enter through a shorter line, indicated by the “Mackinac Associates and Pre-Paid Tickets Here” sign. Last admission on both nights is at 8:30 p.m. Call 231-436-4100 for more information.

 Much of Colonial Michilimackinac has been reconstructed based on archaeological excavations, including its 13 buildings and structures, many of which will be open and featuring special activities during Fort Fright. The fort and fur trading village was founded by the French in 1715 and is depicted today as it was in the 1770s when occupied by the British.

 

 

2022 Archaeology Field Season Wrap-Up

Possible milk pan.

Potential sugar bowl.

 The second half of the 2022 Michilimackinac archaeology field season was as interesting as the first half, with several complementary finds. We found three more rim sherds in the southeast cellar which matched the large piece of bowl (more info here) found the first week of the season. From these, we can see that the vessel had a spout and may have been a milk pan used to cool milk fresh from the cow and allow the cream to separate. The southeast cellar also contained three pieces of what appears to be a sugar bowl, a large fragment of a saucer and several pieces of an unknown vessel with the handle broken off.

Large fragment of a saucer.

Unknown vessel with handle broken. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buttplate from a trade gun.

 The southeast cellar also yielded part of a buttplate from a trade gun. It does not match the buttplate finial found earlier in the season. It is thicker and engraved with a different motif.

 

 

 

 

Brass scale weight. 

 The central cellar yielded a second brass scale weight. It was in the form of a cup, from a nested set of weights. It weighed half of an apothecary dram and is stamped with what appears to be a fleur-de-lis.

 

 

 

 

Joined sleeve buttons

Earring fragment.

 Following the single sleeve button found in June, a linked pair of sleeve buttons and an earring fragment were found in August. All had green paste stones, and all were found in the 1781 demolition rubble layer.

 

 

 

Padlock

 The final unusual find of the season was a small padlock found in the southeast cellar [image 20220818_padlock]. It was only 1.75” tall. This fits in well with the image we have constructed of a wealthy household, as you do not need a lock unless you have something to protect.

 The site is now lined with plastic and packed with hay bales for the winter. Work has shifted to the lab, where the artifacts will be cleaned, sorted, counted, and identified over the coming months.

The Curious Mind of Thomas Nuttall

“To converse, as it were, with nature, to admire the wisdom and beauty of creation,

has ever been, and I hope ever will be, to me a favourite pursuit.”

     Thomas Nuttall (1821)

 On August 12, 1810, Thomas Nuttall stepped ashore on Mackinac Island, becoming the first trained botanist to explore northern Michigan. A native of Yorkshire, England, Nuttall arrived in America in 1808, intent on learning as much as possible about living things in the New World, whether they had leaves, petals, scales, fur, or feathers. Like many of his European counterparts, Nuttall was interested in Native American culture, North American geology, and the continent’s winding waterways. His wide-ranging travels led him from gardens of America’s leading scientists, through the Great Lakes, along the continent’s greatest rivers, over mountains, and all the way to California, Hawaii, and South America.

Thomas Nuttall (1786–1859)

 This extraordinary explorer kept journals of his adventures (unfortunately omitting his journey from Detroit to Green Bay), and published several books which detailed his scientific discoveries. At Detroit, he recorded the start of his journey to Mackinac, writing, “On July 29th, I left Detroit for Michilimakinak in a birch bark canoe accompanied by the surveyor of the territory.” The surveyor was Aaron Greeley, headed to measure private land claims at the straits, including those of John Campbell at Mill Creek, and Michael Dousman on Mackinac Island.

 Nuttall botanized at the Straits for several days before hitching a ride with a group of traders bound for John Jacob Astor’s ill-fated fur trading post, Astoria, located in modern-day Oregon. In his book Astoria, author Washington Irving described the enthusiastic 25-year-old botanist as he appeared in March 1811, while his group ascended the Missouri river. Depicted just seven months after leaving Mackinac Island, one can easily imagine Nuttall shared similar experiences with Aaron Greeley along the Lake Huron coastline.

 “Mr. Nuttall seems to have been exclusively devoted to his scientific pursuits. He was a zealous botanist, and all his enthusiasm was awakened at beholding a new world… Whenever the boats landed at meal times, or for any temporary purpose, he would spring on shore and set out on a hunt for new specimens. Every plant or flower of a rare or unknown species was eagerly seized as a prize. Delighted with the treasures spreading themselves out before him, he went groping and stumbling along among a wilderness of sweets, forgetful of every thing but his immediate pursuit, and had often to be sought after when the boats were about to resume their course.”

Listed as #13 in his lengthy list of “brambles,” Thomas Nuttall described the thimbleberry, growing “shrubby and unarmed… on the island of Michilimackinak, lake Huron.”

 Nuttall retreated to England to avoid the War of 1812, then returned to Philadelphia in 1815. After three years collecting more specimens and organizing his collections, he published, The Genera of North American Plants, and a Catalogue of the Species, to the Year 1817. This important two-volume work included 60 species of plants from the Great Lakes region, about a third of which were new to science. Those from the Straits of Mackinac included thimbleberry, dwarf lake iris, twinflower, beach pea, and birdseye primrose.

 In March 1823, Thomas Nuttall accepted a position as Curator of the Botanic Garden at Cambridge, Massachusetts. Over the course of his residence, he was encouraged to write about birds, which he had studied since his arrival in America. The result was A Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and Canada. Published in two volumes, The Land Birds (1832) and The Water Birds (1834) were affordable and popular, featuring simple woodcut illustrations, which the author lamented were “not sufficiently numerous, in consequence of their cost.” In 1832, Ralph Waldo Emerson recommended the work to a friend, writing, “there is a beautiful book on American birds by Mr. Nuttall that every one who lives in the country ought to read.”

Woodcut from Nuttall’s Ornithology (1834). Nuttall saw Wood Ducks near Detroit before his trip to Mackinac Island in 1810.

 The intrepid botanist endured numerous collecting trips over the next decade, often at severe cost to his personal health and safety, as he crisscrossed North America and beyond. In 1841, he sailed back to England to live on an estate, “Nutgrove,” inherited from his uncle. There, he spent the last 17 years of his life before succumbing to illness on September 10, 1859, at the age of 73.

 The complete accomplishments of Thomas Nuttall greatly eclipse his brief visit to the Straits of Mackinac in 1810. More than 200 years later, perhaps the most lasting legacy of this humble, hard-working botanist is his self-described “fervid curiosity” and intense love of nature which continues to inspire curious wanderers in the 21st century.  

Meteors at Mackinac

“To see a shooting star means all sorts of good luck.”

      The Pantagraph, July 10, 1897

The Falling Stars, November 13, 1833

Staying up late on a clear August night is an excellent way to create special summer memories at the Straits of Mackinac. With minimal light pollution and expansive vistas over two Great Lakes, the starry sky offers a spectacular show, free of charge, for all ages.

 Each August, the Earth travels through a path of dust and debris left behind by the Swift-Tuttle Comet, resulting in the Perseid Meteor Shower. Astronomers name a meteor shower after the point from which it appears to emerge in the night sky, with this shower originating near the constellation Perseus. While “shooting stars” can be seen any night of the year, this event means more meteors than normal may be seen, as tiny bits of debris enter the atmosphere and streak across the sky. This year, the Perseids will display peak activity from August 11-14.

 A great location to view the Perseid Meteor Shower is at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, just three miles west of Mackinaw City. Open to the public 24 hours a day, year-round, the site received official designation as an International Dark Sky Park in 2011. Information about programs, events and activities can be found at www.midarkskypark.org.

 Summer isn’t the only good season for stargazing at the Straits of Mackinac. Every November, the Leonid Meteor Shower occurs, offering the possibility of shooting stars at an earlier hour, during a much colder time of the year. This activity peaks about every 33 years, as the Earth passes through remnants left by the Tempel-Tuttle Comet. It’s safe to say that those who looked up night of November 13, 1833, never forgot the experience. Over the span of approximately nine hours, it was estimated that as many as 240,000 meteors fell, with those in eastern North America receiving the best views. The display was so intense that some witnesses reportedly feared Judgement Day was at hand.

 The following year, the U.S. Secretary of War submitted a circular to military posts throughout the United States, requesting reports of the “unusual Meteoric Display” on November 13, 1834, in order to see if the event had been repeated. From Fort Mackinac, Captain John Clitz submitted he had “made inquiry of the sentinels who were on post on the night of the 13th of November last, and one only, an intelligent young man, who was posted at the north angle of the fort, saw a shower of meteors in the north, between twelve and 1 o’clock, the duration of which, as near as he can recollect, was about one hour.”

“Mackinac Island” meteorite.
NASA/JPL/colorization by Stuart Atkinson

 When a meteor survives a trip through the atmosphere and strikes the ground intact, it’s then defined as a meteorite. While the vast majority of meteors burn up entirely in Earth’s atmosphere, meteorites are more common on planetary bodies with little or no atmosphere. As NASA’s Opportunity Rover explored the surface of Mars in late 2009, scientists discovered several meteorites in close succession. Composed of iron and nickel, they named each find after an island back on Earth. “Block Island” was found in July 2009 and “Shelter Island” at the end of September. “Mackinac Island,” measuring about 30 centimeters across, was discovered October 13, 2009. Perhaps someday, interplanetary tourists will visit Mackinac on Mars!

 In the meantime, you can sip a cup of cocoa and enjoy the night sky from the comfortable confines of earth. While viewing the Perseid Meteor Shower, you’re also invited to remember,

“To see a shooting star is an especially happy omen. It signifies that good things are in store for you. Fortune will soon be knocking at your door.”

Quad-City Times, August 27, 1896

10 Picture Worthy Back Drops for your Mackinac Vacation

Finding a location to take that ultimate photo to show off your Mackinac vacation can be hard. There are so many places to choose from! To help you out we compiled a list of some of our favorite spots – five on Mackinac Island and five in Mackinaw City. These locations have gorgeous views that will make great backgrounds for family photos or will be sure to spice up your Instagram feed! As a disclaimer – we tried to find a few spots that are not as well known. You won’t see Arch Rock, Fort Holmes, British Landing or Sugar Loaf here, among other favorites.

Mackinac Island Locations:

Fort Mackinac

Although we literally just said we won’t include well-known ones, we have to include Fort Mackinac, right? The view is breathtaking every time. This is an easy one.

Robinson’s Folly

Robinson’s Folly is up the hill on the East Bluff of the island. It is a short distance from Arch Rock and it hosts similar amazing views without the hectic traffic of the carriages and tourists. It is tucked away down a path off Huron Road. It is a bit of a hike, but the peace and quiet, combined with the views, are worth the trek.

Leslie Avenue/Tranquil Bluff Trail

After visiting Arch Rock take a quiet stroll down Tranquil Bluff Trail or a calming bike ride on Leslie Ave. These two paths run alongside each other for a while so you can walk or bike and not miss a thing. There are a few clear spots where you can see down the cliff and over the blue water of Lake Huron. Tranquil Bluff Trail and Leslie Avenue eventually veer in different directions. Leslie Avenue will eventually connect with British Landing and State Roads, leading to areas like the Crack-in-the-Island, while Tranquil Bluff Trail mirrors and intersects with Scott’s Cave Road, leading us to our next picture spot.

Eagle Point Cave

By far the most underrated location on this list! Eagle Point Cave is for the traveler who is ready to go on an adventure! The bike ride out to Scott’s Cave Road is long if you are coming from downtown. And once you get there, there isn’t any signage or clear markings to help you find the cave. But that’s the fun of it! It is up to you to find this mysterious hidden cave of Mackinac Island. Once you do get there, you will be met with a spectacular rock formation and some amazing views of the North Woods. When you’re done at Eagle Point Cave follow the road down to British Landing to get those amazing views of the Mackinac Bridge.

Behind the Somewhere in Time gazebo

This is an area many people might not know about. Just off Huron Road is Anne’s Tablet Trail that leads to the Somewhere in Time Gazebo. Follow the trail to the overlook that hosts amazing views of Marquette Park, the harbor, Fort Mackinac, the downtown area and the Straits. This spot is gorgeous during the day but is especially perfect at sunset!

Mackinaw City Locations:

Michilimackinac State Park

Kick off your trip to the Straits with a visit to Michigan’s second state park, Michilimackinac State Park – or “the park under the bridge”. It offers views of the whole Straits area including St. Ignace, Mackinac Island, and other islands on the Straits. You can also walk in both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron in the same day!

Cannon Platform at Colonial Michilimackinac

The fort at Colonial Michilimackinac is in the perfect position to see out over the Straits. Walk along the perimeter and look through the watchtower windows to see a view of the bridge. There are also artillery demonstrations, gardens and much more to explore all with spectacular views.

Gardens at Colonial Michilimackinac

Take a walk around the fort at Colonial Michilimackinac to explore the gardens and see what’s growing. See what our interpreters are up to and ask them about the crops. Grab an Insta worthy photo in one of the gardens – there is always something in bloom that can be your background!

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse Tower

Work your way up a flight of 51 stairs and an 11 rung ladder to see an amazing view of the Mackinaw Bridge and Straits of Mackinac. This is the place to get that perfect selfie with the bridge in the back and look over Michilimackinac State Park.

Platform at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park

As you are finishing up your trip to the Mackinac area, stop at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park to get one last glimpse of the Mackinaw Bridge and Straits area. We think it is one of the most underrated views, so make sure to check it out! While you’re there, check out the trails that offer their own amazing views!

No matter where your trip to Mackinac takes you, there are amazing things to see and experience, and perfect photo ops for everyone. From lake views to wooded hikes to the top of the lighthouse, we know you will enjoy your trip and go home with picture perfect memories.

A one-ounce brass weight found in the archaeology dig at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Mid-Season Archaeology Update

A one-ounce brass weight found in the archaeology dig at Colonial Michilimackinac.

One-ounce brass weight

A folded barrel band.

Folded barrel band in front of remnant of a cellar wall post

 The first half of the 2022 Michilimackinac archaeological field season has been very productive. The southeast cellar continues to yield interesting artifacts, including a one-ounce brass weight from a balance-type scale. It is stamped with “GR” under a crown for King George. Two possible posts from the east wall of the cellar have been exposed. A folded iron barrel band was found adjacent to one of the posts.

 Several interesting artifacts have come from the central cellar as well. These have included part of a porcelain teacup, a lead seal, a plain brass button, and a brass band with iron rivets, possibly from a storage container.

 The squares on the newly-opened north row are all in or very near the 1781 demolition rubble layer. As in other areas of this house, a variety of ceramic sherds and ornate personal adornment items have been recovered. The adornment items include a green paste sleeve button and a shoe buckle fragment. The finial from the buttplate of a French trade gun was a more unusual find. A few artifacts possibly related to Anishnaabek presence have been found as well. These include several pieces of a stone smoking pipe bowl and a fragment of carved antler.

Paste sleeve button

This sleeve button would have functioned much like a cufflink today.

Shoe buckle fragment

This buckle fragment is probably from a shoe. The long side is 1.75” long.

French trade gun finial

Finial from the buttplate of a French trade gun

The Musical Well of Mackinac Island

Cave of the Woods remains one of the lesser-known natural wonders of Mackinac Island.

 Mackinac Island attracts visitors from around the world to experience interesting history, inspiring natural beauty, and fantastic geological features. For centuries, visitors have stood in awe at famous sites such as Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf, Skull Cave and Devil’s Kitchen. Other features, such as Friendship’s Altar and Cave of the Woods, are reserved for explorers with a trail map and a little determination. Some attractions, including Fairy Arch, Scott’s Cave, and Wishing Spring were well-known to visitors a century ago, but no longer exist today. A few natural wonders never appeared in guidebooks, being mentioned briefly in historical records. One of the most intriguing is the Musical Well of Mackinac Island.

 The year 1845 began at the Straits of Mackinac with a mild winter. In early March, many eastern newspapers printed “a letter from a U.S. officer in the garrison at Mackinac.” Dated March 2nd, it announced “the straits are wholly free of ice, east of the island, so that vessels may anchor in the harbor.” Soon, captains of every brig, sloop, schooner, cutter, and steamboat on the Great Lakes made plans to set sail. Newspaper notices called for passengers and announced freight shipments of every description.

Advertisement for the new Mackinac Boarding House, printed in The Buffalo Courier, June 18, 1845

 Of particular note that spring were advertisements which featured a new “Mackinac Boarding House,” opened by Smith Herrick. In this period, Mackinac Island tourism was still in its infancy. While a small number of visitors found rooms to rent in earlier decades, formal hotels only emerged as the fur trade dwindled in the 1840s. The new establishment was located in the Mission House, a large building near the southeast corner of the island. Built in 1825 by the American Board of Foreign Missions, it operated for 12 years as a boarding school for Native American children before closing in 1837.

 During the spring of 1845, Mr. Herrick, along with his wife, Clara, transformed the structure in preparation for guests. Improvements included repairs and paint, carpeting throughout, and “new and excellent furniture – making a most extensive and comfortable house for travellers.” Guests who rented rooms during its first season offered rave reviews of their experiences. Among these testimonials was a letter written at Mission House on June 17th by a correspondent who identified himself as “J.I.M.” Printed in the Boston Statesman on July 5, 1845, he shared the following tale.

A 19th century view of the Mission House Hotel. The popular resort was owned and operated for many decades by Edward A. Franks and his family.

 “As I was speaking in the evening of my visits to the Sugar Loaf, and ‘Arch Rock,’ Mr Mack Gulpin, a French native, more than sixty years old, and a most excellent, kind hearted man – told me there was a curiosity on the Island not much known; that many years ago, in 1812 – he was gunning with a friend when they came to a hole in a rock. They threw down stones, which appeared to fall very far, and they made very sweet musical sounds as they went down. He had a string about 60 feet long, to which he attached his ramrod and let it down this Musical Well. He vibrated the rod so that it would strike the sides, and he said ‘such sweet and delightful sounds – such beautiful music as came up he never heard in his life.’ He and his companion, he said, staid there nearly all the afternoon enraptured by this music.”

 “Mack Gulpin” was surely a member of the McGulpin family. Today, visitors can tour the McGulpin House as part of Historic Downtown buildings on Mackinac Island. William McGulpin, the first known owner, bought the house in 1817 and it stands as one of the oldest remaining homes on the island. The McGulpin family also owned 2 acres of land immediately adjacent to Mission House for many years.

 After some encouragement, McGulpin agreed to guide “Jim” to search for the musical well. His account continued, “I furnished myself with twine and irons to draw music from the well. Mack Gulpin led on through the thick woods and along the winding paths, interesting me by the way with his stories of olden times… When he was tired, he would seat himself on the ground – strike fire with his flint and steel – light his pipe and take his rest…

This view of Fort Mackinac was drawn for Captain Scott in 1845 by Private William Brenschutz, a soldier stationed at the post

 When I was some ways from him, he called me to come; he had found the place. Time, leaves and dirt had choked up its original entrance, so as to divert the descent from a perpendicular, and we could not drop the iron and the line for the music. But the well is there, and is of great depth. I doubt not it descends 160 or 170 feet to the level of the water. Mack Gulpin was disappointed as well as myself at finding we could not get the music. He is sure the well can be restored to its original form and melody with a little labor. If it can be done, Captain Scott, the gallant, active and gentlemanly commander of the garrison, who beautifies, adorns and improves every thing which comes under his care will do it… After carving my name on a poplar tree near the mouth of the musical well, we turned our faces for home.”

 The Musical Well was never restored, and memory of its presence has faded away. Today, many island guests still enjoy natural music of Mackinac Island’s north woods. Listen closely, and you can hear songs of warblers in the treetops and aspen leaves fluttering in the breeze. If you stroll down Main Street, past the Mission House, you’ll find the rhythmic clomping of hooves fades to quieter sounds of waves splashing along the shore. Someday, perhaps the Musical Well will naturally reopen, enrapturing fortunate visitors, once again, with delightful sounds in the Mackinac Island forest.

Tour of the Turtle’s Back: Ancient Mackinac Island

Approaching Mackinac Island by boat offers excellent insight of ancient geological forces which shaped the landscape we enjoy today. As the last glaciers retreated about 11,000 years ago, a tremendous amount of meltwater filled ancient Lake Algonquin to a depth of about 220 feet higher than current Lake Huron. At that time, only the highest point of Mackinac Island stood above the water, being about ½ mile long and nearly ¼ mile wide. For many generations, Native Americans have referred to this high point as the Turtle’s Back, as its domed shape creates the perception of a giant turtle floating on the water.

Although exaggerated, this 1817 illustration by Francis Belton clearly illustrates the high point of ancient Mackinac Island.

 For about 3,000 years, the churning waves of Lake Algonquin eroded softer portions of limestone along the shores of this ancient island. As softer sections were removed, harder portions of recemented limestone, known as Mackinac breccia, were left behind, creating features which are still visible today. The two most prominent of these are among Mackinac’s oldest natural wonders – Skull Cave and Sugar Loaf.

 Both of these formations are examples of sea stacks which resisted the erosive power of Lake Algonquin waves. These pillars of breccia became separated from the ancient island as softer rock was gradually washed away. Both features also include caves, which were slowly excavated by the pounding surf, thousands of years ago.

This 1915 map, drawn by Morgan H. Wright, clearly outlines the features of the Turtle’s Back.

 Start your tour of the Turtle’s Back by heading north from Fort Mackinac, along Garrison Road and Rifle Range Trail. Upon your approach, high bluffs of the ancient island rise before you, with reconstructed Fort Holmes perched at the top. Skull Cave is located near the southwestern corner of the ancient island. At first, it may be difficult to imagine this formation as a sea stack, as it is smaller and more eroded than Sugar Loaf. The cave itself largely collapsed by 1850, and was subsequently filled in further. Like other formations across Mackinac Island, this cave was used as a sacred gathering place by nearby Anishinaabek residents, who interred their dead here for centuries. As a measure of respect, and to help preserve this ancient formation, access beyond the fence is not permitted.

 Published on August 19, 1842, an article in the Sandusky Clarion, of Sandusky, Ohio, included the following description of Skull Cave. “Not far from Fort Holmes is a small cave, called Skull Cave Rock, because the Indians were in the habit of interring the dead here. The passage in is necessarily on the hands and knees. The cave itself is about twelve feet square… The rock is light colored limestone, and is constantly crumbling away. The little stone that breaks off from the main rock have many holes in them, and are very easily reduced to a powder.”

This 1897 depiction of Sugar Loaf includes a ladder which once allowed park visitors to access its cave.

 As you leave the cave, continue along Garrison Road, towards the cemeteries. Here, the high bluff of the ancient island largely remains hidden by trees. Venture past the Protestant Cemetery and turn right on Fort Holmes Road, winding your way up a hill to the high promontory known as Point Lookout. From here, a grand vista opens below you, foremost being the 75-foot pyramid of Mackinac breccia known as Sugar Loaf.

 During her visit in 1852, Juliette Starr Dana climbed a ladder which once allowed tourists to enter a small cave in the side of Sugar Loaf, about 15 feet above the ground. Crouching down and examining its surface, she wrote, “It seemed water-worn & the whole rock within & without was full of strange little holes, with the insides nicely polished as by the action of water.” Today, safety concerns prohibit climbing the formation or entering the cave, but a tour around its base is well worth the journey.

 In 1945, geologist George M. Stanley noted that Sugar Loaf stands about 300 feet east of the ancient island, and the top of this formation was a small island of its own. He wrote, “It is a magnificent display of limestone breccia. One may see by close inspection, fragments of bedding limestone of various sizes from vary small fragments to blocks several feet long, tilted in random directions and all cemented into a solid mass.”

 Leaving Point Lookout, continue down the road to Fort Holmes, located at the southern exposure of ancient Mackinac Island. The renowned geologist Frank B. Taylor visited this spot in 1890 and 1891. During the period of Lake Algonquin high water, he noted that we “would stand alone in a wide expanse of water. The nearest mainland would then be about 30 miles to the south and the nearest islands about 20 miles to the north and southwest. In all other directions open water would stretch away 100 to 200 miles.”

 In more modern times, this grand view of the Straits of Mackinac has been celebrated time and again by visitors for the last several centuries. In 1836, theologian Chauncey Colton exclaimed, “I may venture to assert that there are few scenes in nature which are equal to the view from Fort Holmes… To the west, the eye follows the straits until it rests on the bluffs at the northern extremity of Lake Michigan, or is lost in its transparent waters; while all around stretches the vast expanse, with here and there an island, looking pure and peaceful as if the impress of sin had never been laid upon it.”

3 historically family-fun festivities highlight full event calendar at Mackinac State Historic Parks

A visit to one of the Mackinac State Historic Parks provides educational opportunities for the entire family. Better yet, it inserts you into history, producing experiential fun that divulges memories of the past to create lasting family memories in the present. When in season, no matter the time you explore one of the six historic sites there are ample activities to discover, from firing the iconic Fort Mackinac cannon to zip-lining 50 feet above Mill Creek. However, a full event calendar delivers additional, unique experiences to plan an adventure around. Below are three events that highlight how Mackinac State Historic Parks offers can’t-miss historical escapades, two of which occur outside the summer season — a time you may not typically consider a trip to the area.

 Vintage Base Ball on Friday, July 23rd

 No, that’s not a typo: it’s “base ball” with no spaces. Since 2003, Mackinac State Historic Parks has hosted a 19th-century style “base ball” game at the ball field behind Fort Mackinac — the oldest continually used ball field in Michigan!

 This year’s matchup pits the Mackinaw City Boys against the Fort Mackinac Never Sweats. The Never Sweats honor the legacy of the Fort Mackinac team comprising of soldiers from the mid-1880s, which used the moniker.

 The game acknowledges the style, rules, and atmosphere of the era, which features barehanded play, “gentlemen’s rules,” underhanded pitching, players fined for smoking cigars on the field, old-timey cheering and more.

Get ready to say play ball Friday, July 23rd from 6:30 to 8pm. Admission is by donation.

 Fort Fright on Friday, October 7th and Saturday, October 8th

 Come October, Colonial Michilimackinac showcases how history can be frightfully entertaining. This long-time staple event kicks off the Halloween season through Colonial Michilimackinac’s haunted transformation. It’s the biggest event hosted by Mackinac State Historic Parks and provides an opportunity for guests to experience the site at night paired with an ambience set through eerie folklore.

 Lanterns guide you through an array of storytellers, fortune tellers, and legendary creatures like werewolves and witches for a folklore lesson loaded with thrills and chills. This spooky good time also features bonfires, cookies, candy, cider and other treats found throughout the grounds. Families can experience an entire evening of entertainment backdropped by the resplendently lit Mackinac Bridge.

 Conjure the frightful fun 6:30-9:30pm on Friday, October 7th and Saturday, October 8th. Tickets become available online in September.

 A Colonial Christmas on Saturday, December 10th

Historic Interpreters getting ready to celebrate Christmas at Michilimackinac In December you can jingle all the way to Mackinaw City for A Colonial Christmas. ‘Tis the season for holiday traditions of the 17th and 18th century to come alive at Colonial Michilimackinac. Amble through lantern-lit paths to hear accounts of the first Christmas at Mackinac in 1679 and traditions of historic residents.

 You can simply have a wonderful Christmastime perusing the fort as storytellers share German, French and Native American holiday customs. The warm, welcoming Christmas spirit at the event includes craft-making, games, and holiday snacks throughout the fort.

 Have a holly jolly Christmas at Colonial Michilimackinac on Saturday, December 10th from 4-7pm. Tickets will be available online later this year.

 These are only a few of the festivities that compose an eventful calendar throughout the six sites of Mackinac State Historic Parks. With entertainment that ranges from movie nights to artist residencies to various educational demonstrations like Maritime Michilimackinac, there’s bound to be something that interests every family member. This year our full event calendar returns, and we can’t wait to provide plentiful merriment and compelling history to numerous visiting families.

 View our entire event calendar here.