Ice Fishing at Mackinac

“A delightful drive the ice is very smooth this season, and there is just snow enough for good sleighing. The net poles for fish are so thick, that the Lake looks like a forest.” Amanda White Ferry, 1832

Ice breaks up near St. Ignace, March 21, 2022. 

This winter, the Great Lakes have been nearly devoid of ice. Although floating masses filled portions of the straits, the larger lakes have been nearly ice-free. While mild winters weren’t unheard of in centuries’ past, Mackinac Island was often ice bound for six months at a time, nearly cut off from the outside world. Strong ice was counted on by local residents to obtain a critical winter harvest. For many generations, ice fishing provided an important source of food throughout the northern Great Lakes during cold winter months.

Long before European contact, Anishinaabek families at the straits were ice fishing experts, particularly for whitefish and lake trout. The tradition continued in Métis families, a culture of mixed French and American Indian ancestry. Spending the winter of 1767 at Fort Michilimackinac, Captain Johnathan Carver joined local residents in trout fishing through the ice. He described the process in detail, noting three or four hooks affixed to strong lines often caught two trout at a time, frequently weighing up to forty pounds each. Preserving them in cold months was accomplished simply by hanging them outdoors, where they froze solid in one night.

 Although they’re smaller (weighing about four pounds) lake whitefish have long been described as notably more delicious. Generations of writers raved about their delicate flavor and seemingly endless abundance. Whitefish live at deeper depths than trout and have small mouths, so they were typically caught with gill nets sunk beneath the ice.

Amanda White Ferry, wife of missionary Rev. William Ferry, lived on Mackinac Island from 1824–1834. Her correspondence included many references about ice conditions, winter fishing, cutting ice, sleighing, and dog sledding. On January 8, 1824, she wrote, “The weather is remarkably mild so that the Lake is still open …  Recently, many who had had been entirely out of provisions, set their nets upon a small patch of ice, surrounded by water. In the night a wind arose, carried off the nets ice and all (eleven in number); they have no method of making more.”

Warm season view of gill netting on Lake Michigan. In winter, floats were replaced with wooden stakes or poles, ca. 1861. 

When good ice was present, fishing was pursued vigorously. Mrs. Ferry described the process in late February 1831, writing, “We went onto the ice and saw the manner of setting the nets for fish. Two holes, several rods distant from each other are cut in the ice. By each of them a stake is driven and a cord is strung with nets, weighted to fall, and attached to the stakes. The fish in passing with the current are caught in the nets, and whoever has tasted of Mackinac White Fish knows how delicate and delicious they are. As we glided over the ice on the bay, we could see clearly through its clearness stones on the bottom as plainly as though they lay on the surface.”

Amanda’s sister, Hannah White, spent the entire winter of 1831-32 on Mackinac Island, visiting from Massachusetts. On March 12, a letter to her parents described a morning adventure to witness a net being taken up. “As we rode along,” she wrote, “we could see through the clear ice all that lay upon the bottom of the Lake, even when the ice was two feet thick. When there is no snow, fisherman can frequently see through the ice what their nets contain.” Sometimes, net poles were so numerous it appeared as if a forest had sprung up on the icy Straits of Mackinac.

Pancake ice forms along the shore as the Straits begin to freeze. 

Such dramatic scenes have long since faded beyond the memories of Mackinac’s oldest inhabitants. If a forest appears on the lake today, it’s likely a row of Christmas trees marking the elusive “ice bridge” for snowmobiles to follow between St. Ignace and Mackinac Island. Someday, this too may become a forgotten tradition. In recent decades, unpredictable winter weather has caused warmer lakes and more thawing, promising an uncertain future for winter forests on the ice.

A picture of the Mackinac Island State Park sign, with a small building behind it, fall colors including red and orange, and Fort Mackinac behind everything.

The Seasons of Mackinac

A picture of the Mackinac Island State Park sign, with a small building behind it, fall colors including red and orange, and Fort Mackinac behind everything.

Marquette Park in fall.

Perhaps the best part of Michigan is the changing of the seasons. Fall in northern Michigan brings a peace and calm as nature starts to go to sleep. Winter brings a respite – everything gets a fresh start. After the break, spring arrives, and everything is renewed with energy. Summer is when nature truly blooms and thrives, only for the cycle to reset in the fall. It’s fair, and possibly safe, to say Michigan is one of the best states to experience the extremes of all seasons, and what better way to experience them than by exploring the Straits area? Here is your guide…

Winter:

 The best way to spend your winter visit to the Straits of Mackinac is outside! The island can be hard to get to so try exploring Mackinaw City. Michilimackinac State Park is as beautiful in the winter as it is in the summer, with amazing views of the Mackinac Bridge, Mackinac Island, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, and the Straits of Mackinac. As winter progresses and the lake freezes, moving currents can create sheets of blue ice. Visiting Michilimackinac State Park offers the best views of the blue ice when it forms.

Snow on the ground and trees covered in snow, with the Historic Mill Creek sawmill in the background.

One of the many amazing winter views available at Historic Mill Creek.

 Historic Mill Creek, just east of downtown Mackinaw City, is also a wonderful winter spot. It offers over three miles of beautiful snow-covered trails so you can get your steps in and experience the North Woods at the same time! There are occasional winter programs hosted at Mill Creek, including a Snowshoe Stroll in March. Mill Creek State Park is always open, with parking available near US 23.

 Spring and Summer:

 Lilac season is one of the most sought-after times to visit Mackinac Island. The island is abuzz, gearing up for the annual Lilac Festival. The scent of lilacs flows through the air following you on your exploration of the island. It’s a wonderful time of year to visit as the island comes alive after the sleepy winter season.

A white and purple lilac bush with green grass around it and Fort Mackinac in the distance.

Lilac time on Mackinac Island.

 Historic Mill Creek is also special in the spring. Wildflowers are abundant along the guided trail system, and the sound of singing birds can be heard throughout. The Mill Pond is also full from the spring thaw, creating a beautiful waterfall over the Mill Dam.

 Summer is prime time in the Straits area. It’s the time for family vacations, festivals and races, chances to catch warm summer breezes and a chance to extend your Straits visit with the long sunny days. If you are looking to catch a break from the busy downtown, one of the best ways to spend a summer day on the island is to explore Mackinac Island State Park. The island has wonderful nature trails, overlooks, historical sites and more to explore. It is a nature junkie’s haven. A suggested itinerary for the more experienced nature enthusiast is taking a hike on Tranquil Bluff Trail. After visiting the new Milliken Nature Center at Arch Rock, take the stairs up to the Tranquil Bluff trailhead and begin your journey along the bluff. If you are looking for a more leisurely stroll, the Arch Rock Botanical Trail would be for you. A paved path featuring signage with information the nature of the island will give you an easy, undisturbed adventure out to Arch Rock. Bonus: If you are staying over night on the island and want to catch the sunset or go stargazing, Mackinac State Historic Parks has the perfect spots. Catch the sunset on the west side of the island either on the beach just off M-185 or up the bluff at Sunset Rock. The perfect spot for stargazing is the highest point on the island – Fort Holmes. On a clear night, it will seem like you can reach out and touch the stars. Bonus two: sunrise at Arch Rock is hard to beat, and, most likely, you’ll have the place to yourself.

People sitting on a bench looking out at the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge.

Enjoying the view from Michilimackinac State Park.

 In Mackinaw City, there may be nothing quite as peaceful as sitting on a bench in Michilimackinac State Park enjoying the sunset as you look out over the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge. With the lighthouse standing guard behind you, the gentle sounds of the waves reaching the shore will bring you a sense of calm to wind down your busy day in the Straits. If you want to see what Colonial Michilimackinac is like in the summer in the evening, join us for Moonlit Michilimackinac, a free special event in August.

 Fall:

View from Fort Mackinac in the fall, featuring houses, cloud cover, and colorful leaves.

View from Fort Mackinac in the fall.

 There is no scientific data to back this up, but, if you ask seasonal and permanent residents of the Straits, most will likely tell you fall is their favorite season. Everything starts to change. The colors turn and cooler temperatures flow in. On the island, people (and horses) board the ferries for their final departure, and a sort of quiet sets in. This is the perfect time to hike on Mackinac Island. The color views from Fort Holmes and the bluffs are incredible. A fall bike ride to the interior and then down to British Landing has to be done to be truly appreciated.

A child throwing leaves in the air in fall at Historic Mill Creek.

Fall at Historic Mill Creek.

 Over in Mackinaw City, Historic Mill Creek is the place to be in fall, just like in winter and spring. As you walk along the trails you are enveloped in a sea of colors, with the ever-present creek noise in the background. Mill Creek is also a great place to take your dog (on a leash, of course). If there is ever a place to get those Pure Michigan vibes in the fall, it’s Mill Creek.

 No matter what season you decide to visit the Straits area, you will not be disappointed. There are always beautiful things to experience while exploring northern Michigan. Explore the different activities Mackinac Island State Park, Michilimackinac State Park, and Mill Creek State Park have to offer. And don’t forget to stop and appreciate all the natural beauty in the seasons of Mackinac.

A historic black and white photo showing a large white building known as the Fort Mackinac Post Hospital with three cannons in the foreground.

The Hospital Corps at Fort Mackinac

For much of the United States’ history, military medicine was the responsibility of a few surgeons. These Post Surgeons would be stationed at forts and posts nationwide. They would travel with campaigning regiments across the country, often with limited supplies and help. These men often held commissions as officers in the army or were given civilian appointments when an army surgeon wasn’t available, as was often the case in Fort Mackinac’s history. Different forts posed different challenges to surgeons depending on the climate of the fort or the condition of the fort buildings and waste systems. This situation would change dramatically during times of war, as the risk of disease and injury increased significantly with a much greater number of soldiers interacting with one another even outside the chaos of combat.

A historic black and white photo showing a large white building known as the Fort Mackinac Post Hospital with three cannons in the foreground.

Fort Mackinac’s 1860 Post Hospital prior to 1887.

 During the Civil War, army surgeons could depend on a complex web of volunteer and charity organizations supplying them with volunteer civilian doctors and nurses (both men and women) to cater to the army’s needs. Both sides would implement formal and informal groups of soldiers to assist in transferring the wounded off the front lines to field hospitals and administering early wound treatment. While many new medical “firsts” can be exhibited during the Civil War in surgery, treatment, and staffing, many of the systems about medical staff went away after the war. Following the war, the army reduced in size, and all volunteer functions disappeared. The peacetime army of the 19th century was chronically under-size, underpaid, and poorly equipped, and the Medical Department faced the brunt of this problem.

A portrait of Charles Woodruff, Fort Mackinac's Assistant Post Surgeon, in 1895. The photo is black and white, and he has a beard and large mustache, and is wearing an overcoat with a large collar.

An 1895 photo of Charles Woodruff, who was the Assistant Post Surgeon at Fort Mackinac from 1887 – 1889.

 In the late 1860s, the army turned its attention west towards the Native Americans of the western plains. For the next 25 years, the army would engage in consistent fighting with several tribes in the final of the “Indian Wars” fought by the United States government against native peoples. This combat required soldiers to be mobile and often to go on campaigns to very remote parts of the country, where supplies for the army were minimal and the hope for help from civilian volunteers extremely slim. Surgeons found themselves to be the sole caretakers for 50-100 soldiers, with the only trained help they might rely on being an enlisted Hospital Steward. Hospital Stewards were specially trained enlisted men, acting more like pharmacists caring for medicine and supplies. This problem also became clear to many commanding officers in combat.

 Surgeons typically distanced themselves from the main line of fighting for their safety in battle. In the early stages, they might be seen closer, prepared to move wounded soldiers to the rear, but once casualties began to build up, the wounded soldiers would have to rely on the help of their fellow soldiers to move them to the rear. Commanding Officers found this to be a problem: now, instead of losing one combat-capable soldier, they were losing one to three capable men who should be fighting. Even having a handful of wounded soldiers could seriously inhibit a company, which was often barely at its capacity of 54 men.

A black and white photo from 1892 showing the undress uniform of the Hospital Corps.

Model of Hospital Corps undress uniform, from The Report of the Surgeon General, 1892

 Various Surgeon Generals in the early 1880s began advocating for an established group of specially trained soldiers to attend to the soldiers in both combat and garrison situations. On August 11th, 1887, Commanding General Philip Sheridan issued General Order 56, establishing a Hospital Corps. This Hospital Corp included Surgeons, Hospital Stewards, and Privates. Privates were a new addition to the Medical Department. Privates serve directly as assistants to the Hospital Stewards and Surgeons in Garrisons and, in battle, would operate an ambulance and provide care to wounded soldiers. General Order 56 also mandated four soldiers in each company to be “company bearers.” These four men were to be trained regularly on wound treatment and litter bearing and, in an emergency, would help the Hospital Corps.

 By November 1887, three privates of the Hospital Corps were stationed at Fort Mackinac, most having transferred directly from the companies already stationed at Fort Mackinac on the recommendation of Assistant Post Surgeon Charles Woodruff. These soldiers would attend division-wide encampments and training, the Corps soon proving themselves to be a valuable and effective part of the army. At Fort Mackinac these men would work regularly in the Post Hospital with sick and injured soldiers and would assist in the training of the company bearers. The Medical Department hoped that by training regular infantry soldiers to be company bearers they could create a consistent recruitment path into the Hospital Corps. Unfortunately, the Hospital Corps was consistently under staffed due to poor pay and negative feelings many soldiers had towards hospital work.

A black and white photo with men in military uniforms posing by three large cannons at Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island.

Hospital Corps Privates posing by cannons on the upper gun platform with fellow soldiers at Fort Mackinac, late 1880s or early 1890s.

 While the Hospital Corps only came into being toward the very end of Fort Mackinac’s time as an active military post, it demonstrates another way Fort Mackinac experienced the changing times of the army. The creation of the Hospital Corps marks a leap forward in military medicine, both in the chaos of the battlefield and the comforts of an army fort. Join us this summer at Fort Mackinac for our new “Medicine at Mackinac” Program. There you can learn more about how medicine was changing and the impact on Fort Mackinac.

The Famous Mackinaw Potato

The best potatoes in the world grow at Mackinac.” – Army and Navy Chronicle, September 1835

 Most people easily recognize two kinds of potatoes. A sweet potato has orange flesh and belongs to the morning glory family. Distantly related, the common potato is large and white-fleshed, being part of the nightshade family. The latter type was domesticated by Native Americans in South America at least 7,000 years ago. Introduced to Europe by the late 16th century, it eventually became a dominant crop, especially in Ireland. Potato plants flourish in a variety of soils, providing more calories per acre than grain. Today, more than 5,000 different varieties are grown across the globe.

A black and white photo of farmland on Mackinac Island, in what is now known as Marquette Park.

Gardens below Fort Mackinac, ca.1890

 Common potatoes weren’t grown in North America until the early 18th century. Brought to New England from Ireland, this variety became known as the “Irish potato.” Potatoes were first planted at the Straits of Mackinac by the British. John Askin grew them near Fort Michilimackinac in the 1770s, keeping meticulous records. As the garrison relocated to Mackinac Island, large gardens were planted below the new fort, near the harbor. When Americans arrived in September 1796, they found a commandant’s garden “filled with vegetables” and an adjacent plot “filled with potatoes.” A government garden provided fresh produce for soldiers for more than 100 years before being transformed into Marquette Park.

 Gardeners at Mackinac discovered these hardy tubers needed little soil to thrive there. In 1820, Henry Schoolcraft noted, “Potatoes have been known to be raised in pure beds of small limestone pebbles, where the seed potatoes have been merely covered in a slight way, to shield them from the sun, until they had taken root.” By this time, several small farms dotted the island where potatoes were a staple crop.

An artist rendering of the Mackinaw Mission in the 1830s, featuring a large white building known as the Mission House surrounded by trees.

View of the Mackinaw Mission, ca. 1830

 Rev. William Ferry operated a Protestant mission on Mackinac Island from 1823–1834. The Mackinaw Mission operated a school and boarding house for Anishinaabek children. Located near the southeast shore, staff and pupils maintained a five-acre garden stocked with potatoes, peas, beans, and other vegetables. In 1826, the mission also purchased the John Dousman farm, along the western shore. There, they grew 10 acres of potatoes and other crops.

 As tourism grew, the reputation of Mackinac potatoes (usually spelled Mackinaw) spread far and wide. In 1835, visitors found a potato patch near Fort Holmes, writing, “There are about eight or ten acres on this summit cleared up, part of them being enclosed as a potato field. The best potatoes in the world grow at Mackinac, and this plat of them looked very flourishing.” They were amazed, observing plants “flourishing among pebbles where there is no more earth than in a stone wall. The Mackinackians do not regard earth as necessary in a garden, and perhaps would dispense with it even in a farm.”

A drawing of a potato plant.

The Potatoe Plant, Its Uses and Properties, 1847

 As tourists departed, some carried seed potatoes to plant at home. In 1837, Solon Robinson experimented with several northern crops in Iowa, including an early variety named Mackinaw blue. By the 1840s, some voiced the opinion that Mackinac Island potatoes rivaled those grown in Ireland. Extolling virtues of the straits, Dr. Daniel Drake wrote, “the potatoes of this region, rivalling those of the banks of the Shannon, and the white-fish and speckled trout of the surrounding waters … render all foreign delicacies almost superfluous.” On July 31, 1847, a correspondent for the Detroit Free Press boldly stated, “The fine potatoes raised on the island are irresistible –all passengers want them, and sailors will have them.” For decades, the Mackinaw potato enjoyed a celebrated status, renowned across the nation.

A historic newspaper ad for Mackinaw Potatoes in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 9, 1850

 What made Mackinaw potatoes so special? They grew large, ripened early, and were celebrated for their “mealiness.” A mealy potato is dry, fluffy, high in starch, and low in sugar. These traits make them excellent for baking, mashing, or serving deep fried. The plants themselves were also resistant to potato rot, a disease which decimated crops in Ireland, resulting in widespread famine between 1845-1852. Many Irish immigrant families settled at Mackinac during this period, some fleeing desperate conditions in their homeland.

 By the late 1840s, potato blight had also affected crops in the United States. Disease reduced production by more than one-half, while doubling the price per bushel. Blight resistant varieties, including the Mackinaw, were highly sought after. In 1852, Samuel H. Addington displayed Mackinaw White potatoes at the New York State Fair. Two years later, a report for the U.S. Patent Office noted, “Most of the fine varieties formerly cultivated … have been abandoned, and those less liable to disease substituted, such as the Boston Red, the Carter, and the Mackinaw.”

A drawing of the King of the Earlies, a potato sold for $50.00.

Best’s Potato Book, 1870

 At the same time, hundreds of new varieties were being developed. Fueled by a robust profit motive, “Potato Mania” gripped the farming community. In 1869, George Best wrote, “during the past two years the most intense excitement has prevailed in regard to the Potato, and fabulous prices have been paid for seed of new varieties, which, it was hoped, would more than take the place of old kinds.” An extreme example, King of the Earlies sold in 1868 at the price of $50.00 for a single potato. With such advancements, old varieties, including the Mackinaw, eventually fell out favor. By the 1920s, it had virtually disappeared from the market.

A picture of Mackinaw potatoes ready to be made into chips.

Mackinaw potatoes ready for chipping, Michigan State University photo

 In January 2022, researchers at Michigan State University unveiled several new potato hybrids. One of the most promising lines was named the Mackinaw (MSX540-4). A cross between “Saginaw Chipper” and “Lamoka,” it stores well, and it is highly resistant to several diseases. This attractive variety also performed highly in the Potatoes USA National Chip Processing Trials. With any luck, the new Mackinaw potato may even find its way to your next game-day celebration.

What’s in Store for ’24?

As the calendar flips to 2024, the Mackinac State Historic Parks crew is hard at work constructing new buildings, creating new exhibits, fine-tuning programs, preparing the historic sites, and finalizing special events to share the rich historic and natural treasures of Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City.

 “We are excited to welcome visitors to experience our parks and numerous attractions,” said Steve Brisson, Mackinac State Historic Parks Director. “We are hard at work and busy preparing to have everything ready for our spring openings.”

A rendering of the new Milliken Nature Center at Arch Rock.

A rendering of the new Milliken Nature Center at Arch Rock.

 The Milliken Nature Center is built to accent the natural beauty of Arch Rock – not dominate it. The exhibit inside, Arch Rock: Unsurpassed in Nature’s Beauty, will celebrate what was known as the “Jewel of the Mackinac National Park” and is still today known as a “Star Attraction of Mackinac Island State Park.” It features dozens of stunning historic images of Arch Rock as well as a timeline on how the arch was formed. In addition, the center will highlight geology on Mackinac Island as a whole, from the formation of the island itself and how stunning features such as Sugarloaf Rock and Skull Cave came to be. A highlight of the center will be an interactive 3D map of the island. Finally, modern new restrooms will also be located at the site.

A rendering of a new exhibit inside the Milliken Nature Center at Arch Rock.

A rendering of the new exhibit, “Arch Rock: Unsurpassed in Nature’s Handiwork,” at the Milliken Nature Center.

 “The Milliken Nature Center will be a welcome and fitting addition to Mackinac Island State Park,” Brisson said. “We look forward to welcoming guests this spring. We’re honored it will feature the name of Governor Milliken, who loved this island, and are appreciative of the support of Governor Whitmer, the state legislature, and Mackinac Associates to see this project come to fruition.”

The Milliken Nature Center and restrooms are slated to open May 3.

Construction in front of a historic building with a construction worker.

Progress on the Southwest Rowhouse addition in mid-December.

 Moving to Mackinaw City, construction is underway on the first new building at Colonial Michilimackinac since 2013. Located on the east end of the Southwest Rowhouse, the building will host a new exhibit, combining archaeological and archival research to help present community life at Michilimackinac in the 1700s: Slavery at the Straits. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, slavery was integral part of the community at Michilimackinac, as well as the rest of Michigan. Enslaved Black and Native American men and women worked in all levels of society, doing everything from domestic work to skilled labor. Already a hub of the Great Lakes fur trade, Michilimackinac also served as the center of the regional trade in enslaved workers as French and British colonists exploited preexisting systems of Native American enslavement to feed a growing demand for enslaved labor.

“This new exhibit explores the lives of these enslaved individuals and how their experiences fit in with the larger story of Michilimackinac, allowing us to present a more complete vision of the site in the 18th century,” Brisson said.

An overview of the archaeological dig and historic buildings in the background.

A new tour highlighting historic architecture adds to the robust schedule at Colonial Michilimackinac.

 Staying at Michilimackinac, the year 1781 will be explored, when local and global forces uprooted the entire community as soldiers and civilians relocated to Mackinac Island. After six decades as a thriving diplomatic and economic hub, Michilimackinac came to an end in 1781. A special daily program will go into detail on the end of Michilimackinac.

 Other programs throughout the day explore the rich history of the site and showcase how it was more than a military outpost. Get an up-close look at the merchandise that passed through Michilimackinac during the height of the fur trade; learn about the different architectural styles found at the fort; explore dining culture at a Merchant’s House; explore the 5,500 square feet of gardens during an engaging tour; have tea at a British Trader’s home and dive into the complexities of British society; find out what civilians and soldiers were up to; and, of course, feel the power of Michilimackinac’s weapons with musket and artillery firings.

 “The gorgeous setting and beautiful reconstruction of the 18th century fur trading village and fort overlooking the Straits of Mackinac are worth a visit for everyone that comes to Mackinaw City,” said LeeAnn Ewer, Curator of Interpretation. “Here you will be able to explore and learn about what the last year of Michilimackinac was like for the soldiers and civilians that disassembled the community and moved to Mackinac Island. Our newest tour will highlight the move to the island, as well as the historic architecture that would have housed the community daily from Michigan weather as well as the occasional war.”

A person holding tweezers looking for artifacts at the Colonial Michilimackinac archaeology dig.

Mackinac State Historic Parks archaeology program will enter its 66th year in 2024.

 The Mackinac State Historic Parks’ archaeology program will enter its 66th season in 2024. Work will continue in House E of the Southeast Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. Archaeologists will be out daily (weather permitting) during the summer months. Guests will have the opportunity to see the most recent finds at Colonial Michilimackinac with a “Recent Excavations” display inside the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center.

 Want to get closer than ever to the action at Colonial Michilimackinac? Guests have two opportunities to fire black powder weapons: an opening cannon blast, at 9:30 a.m., or they can fire the full complement of weapons at Guns Across the Straits. Reservations for either program can be made by calling (231) 436-4100. More information can be found here.

 Special events at Colonial Michilimackinac include exhilarating “Fire at Night” programs, deep dives into Michilimackinac’s maritime history, a celebration of the King’s Birth-day on June 4, a look at Askin’s Men and Women at Michilimackinac in August, a moonlit Michilimackinac evening, the ever-popular Fort Fright, and A Colonial Christmas. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

Colonial Michilimackinac opens for the 2024 season May 8.

An oil house added at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse under cloudy skies.

The Oil House added in 2023. A privy, pump, and flagpole will be added in 2024 to complete the restoration of the house to its 1910 appearance.

 Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, across the park from Colonial Michilimackinac, will see the continued restoration of the site to its 1910 appearance. This summer will see small details added to the site, including a privy, pump, and flagpole. A small sidewalk will be added to the privy and pump, and, along with the oil house that was added in 2023, new interpretive signs will be added. Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse opens for the season May 9.

 Programs at Historic Mill Creek feature daily demonstrations of a reconstructed 18th century sawmill. With the smell of fresh sawdust in the air, the awesome power of the water never fails to impress as the mill springs to life, fed by the pond and ever-flowing currents of Mill Creek. Log hewing and pitsaw demonstrations will be relocated near the millpond, providing easier access and shaded seating for visitors of all ages. At the workshop historic farming programs highlight what life was like beyond the sawmill more than 200 years ago.

A young raccoon.

Themed weeks, including a Wildlife Week, highlight the Historic Mill Creek schedule in 2024.

 During the summer months, special themed weeks will dig deeper into the story of Historic Mill Creek. From June 23-29, enjoy “Wildlife Week at Historic Mill Creek,” featuring the amazing animals of the North Woods. From July 21-27, enjoy “Hay Cutters & Summer Pasture,” as programs explore historic hay making at the Straits of Mackinac. Finally, August 18-24 will feature “Lost Rocks & Mackinac Millstones,” where guests will earn about the grist mill at Mill Creek, and how the Mill Creek millstones were hewn from “lost rocks” deposited by glaciers thousands of years ago.

 On the wild side, Historic Mill Creek’s 3.5 miles of interpreted hiking trails are always open and available to explore. During the summer months, join a trained naturalist at various times of the day for a guided walk along the trails, looking for blooming wildflowers, fruiting fungi, and singing birds among the trees, as well as for any wildlife along the banks of Mill Creek.

 “We’re excited to enter a year of transition at Historic Mill Creek,” shared Park Naturalist Kyle Bagnall. “This year, special themed weeks will highlight aspects of the site’s amazing history. Guests can join a naturalist for short, guided trail walks. We’ll bask in the summer sun as we listen for the swish of the scythe and tales of historic hay cutters. Finally, we’ll join a hunt for “lost rocks” which traveled hundreds of miles thousands of years ago before landing at Mackinac.”

 Historic Mill Creek will also host two special Snowshoe Strolls, on February 10 and March 3, both from 2:00-3:30 p.m. Bring your snowshoes and explore the snowy North Woods on this guided stroll. This two-mile guided hike will allow you to search for signs of wildlife and other wonders of the natural world. After the walk enjoy treats near a campfire. This event is admission by donation.

 Historic Mill Creek opens for the regular 2024 season May 10.

A person dressed as a historic soldiers leads a group at Fort Mackinac on the Parade Ground.

A new ‘Medicine at Mackinac’ tour will showcase Army Surgeons and military medicine in the 1880s.

 Moving back to Mackinac Island, Fort Mackinac opens for the 2024 season on May 3. Guests can discover two new programs: “Medicine at Mackinac,” where interpreters will provide the history of Army Surgeons and how the Army began changing military medicine in the 1880s. In addition, a Guard Mount Program will show guests how soldiers would conduct this complex military ceremony. Other programs at the fort include a walking tour about the changing face of Fort Mackinac, an exploration of the people who lived and worked at the fort, how the Army of the 1880s conducted itself, a look at Mackinac’s time as a national park, a program showcasing the equipment a soldier was issued, and an exploration of what happened at Fort Mackinac after the sun set. In addition, the classic rifle and cannon firing demonstrations will both feature refreshed presentations.

 “2024 will be an exciting year because we are continuing to expand the programs we offer as well as adding greater depth to our classic programs, creating a fun and educational experience for anyone coming to Mackinac Island,” explained Jack Swartzinski, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Interpretation Coordinator.

 The Tea Room at Fort Mackinac, operated by Grand Hotel, will feature new menu items for the 2024 season, and, as always, will feature one of the most stunning views in Michigan. Perhaps the way to make a Fort Mackinac visit most memorable is firing the opening cannon salute, which is available to one guest daily. More information can be found here.

Fairy Arch by Henry Chapman Ford 1874

Fairy Arch by Henry Chapman Ford (1874).

 The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, located in Marquette Park in front of Fort Mackinac, will feature Mackinac Rocks!, a juried exhibition in the second floor changing gallery. From looking in wonder at the natural curiosity that is Arch Rock to skipping rocks at Windermere Point, to maybe enjoying some ‘rock’ at a local establishment or the fact that Mackinac Island is itself a large rock, it is safe to say that Mackinac Rocks!

 An art attendant will lead guided tours of the galleries, including a look at Native American art on Mackinac, and the works of photographer William Gardiner. In addition, the attendant will lead two “Kids’ Time” crafts in the lower-level art studio. The sixth nine artists-in-residence will stay on Mackinac Island throughout the summer. Each artist will host a special, free workshop on the second Wednesday of their residency.

 Elsewhere on Mackinac Island, the Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, shares the continuing story of the Anishnaabek on Mackinac Island, with daily interpretive programs and engaging exhibits. The Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, located next door to the Biddle House, is a working blacksmith shop that dives into the 1950s and the changing culture of workers on Mackinac Island. The American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum and McGulpin House have both received new exhibits in the past two years. Admission to all of these sites is included with a Fort Mackinac or Historic Downtown Mackinac ticket.

 The Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, and The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum open for the 2024 season on May 10. The McGulpin House and American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum open June 1.

A baseball player getting ready to swing a bat wearing a blue and gray uniform.

The annual ‘Vintage Base Ball’ game is a highlight of the summer season.

 Special events at Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island include Twilight Turtle Treks on January 13, February 3 and March 2; the Fort2Fort Five Mile Challenge May 11; the annual Vintage Base Ball game July 27; special activities for July 4; special history evening programs including a guided tour of Historic Downtown Mackinac as it would have looked in the 1830s and a tour highlighting the creation of the village of Mackinac Island; special nature and birdwatching tours; night sky programs at Fort Holmes and Arch Rock; bike tours looking at Mackinac’s forgotten features and the War of 1812; and much more. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

 Every museum store will feature new items inspired by the site they represent. The Official Mackinac Island State Park Store, inside the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center, will continue to have new items inspired by the historic and natural elements of Mackinac Island.

 Most major projects were funded, in part, by Mackinac Associates. Visit mackinacparks.com for a complete listing of updates and projects at Mackinac State Historic Parks, hours of operation, daily events, special events, and more.

The reconstructed Ste. Anne's Church decorated for Christmas with garlands and lit candles.

It’s A Colonial Christmas at Colonial Michilimackinac

Historic Interpreters getting ready to celebrate Christmas at MichilimackinacThe sun sets on the Straits of Mackinac. Fires crackle in stone hearths. The smell of treats and warm beverages fill the crisp winter air. Laughter, conversation, and more can be heard emanating from inside the palisaded walls. It’s A Colonial Christmas Saturday at Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City.

 From 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (last admission at 6:00 p.m.) the holiday traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries are alive for all to explore. As visitors enter through the secondary entrance off Straits Ave under boughs and decorations, lanterns will light the path to the palisaded walls, as the historic residents of Michilimackinac invite you into their homes to celebrate.

 “A Colonial Christmas is a chance to dig deeper into the lives of the historic residents of Michilimackinac and explore even more of this history of the Straits of Mackinac,” said Mackinac State Historic Parks director Steve Brisson. “We hope our visitors find it to be an enriching and fun event that will help us all appreciate the history of holiday traditions.”

 Upon entering the South Southwest Rowhouse, travelers will be welcomed with hot chocolate and the chance to look at available wares (and purchase tickets to the event, if you don’t already have one). Upon exiting the Rowhouse, more lanterns will light the paths, while the smell of treats and the fires burning in the fireplaces indicate the buildings to enter. You are now on your own to explore at your own pace.

A cake, tea, cookies, and candles set on a decorated table.

Various treats to be found at A Colonial Christmas, including the King’s Cake, in the center.

 At the Merchant’s House you’ll find coriander cookies and seats around the fire, where you’ll learn about Réveillon, the French tradition of eating a night-time meal after Midnight Mass, including many desserts. In the Northwest Rowhouse the French celebration of New Year will also be observed, as it played a major part of the holiday festivities. Here you can sample the King’s Cake, but be on the lookout for the ‘bean’ that will make you king for the day.

 In the Barracks you’ll learn of British and German military traditions, as the soldiers may have celebrated the holidays with feasting, storytelling, and games. Enjoy a treat and learn about the tradition of the Christmas pie. British holiday traditions will continue in the British Trader’s House, as 18th century stories will be told while guests sample comfit. Ghost stories will be told in the Soldier’s House, which was a popular holiday tradition.

 Wassailing will take place in the Priest’s House, where hot wassail will be available as you make your way into Ste. Anne’s Church, which will be dressed for Christmas Mass and you’ll learn about the first Christmas at Mackinac.

The reconstructed Ste. Anne's Church decorated for Christmas with garlands and lit candles.

The Church of Ste. Anne decorated for Christmas.

 The celebration continues outside, as popcorn will be available on the porch of the Guardhouse. Over on the parade ground you’re encouraged to join a game of Trap Ball, a game played all year, but especially during the holiday season.

 Finally, down in the Treasures from the Sand exhibit, you’ll learn how the soldiers and fur traders decorated their houses for the holidays and have a chance to make your very own decoration to help decorate your own house.

Tickets available online or upon arrival. Last admission is at 6:00 p.m. Call 231-436-4100 for more information.

 Visitors are encouraged to dress warmly, as the buildings at Colonial Michilimackinac are not insulated for the cold weather. Restrooms will be available in the South Southwest Rowhouse.

 Much of Colonial Michilimackinac has been reconstructed based on archaeological excavations, including its 13 buildings and structures, many of which will be open featuring special activities during A Colonial Christmas. 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. 

The Mackinac Walrus

“The one thing on Mackinac Island that keeps stirring my mind is a skull … the uncouth skull of a great beast.”

Lee J. Smits (1931)

 The next time you’re in Ann Arbor, be sure to stop by the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History. In the Exploring Michigan gallery, look for the oddly-shaped object shown here. On the label, you may be surprised to read: “Walrus – Recent – Mackinac Island, Michigan.” This specimen is the front portion (rostrum) of a walrus skull, with its tusks missing. Sketches from a History of North American Pinnipeds (1880) and Encyclopaedia Metropolitana (1845) are shown for comparison.

 This raises several questions. When was a walrus skull discovered at Mackinac? What does “recent” mean? Did walruses once swim in Lake Huron? Read on for the amazing story of one of the most unusual objects ever unearthed at the Straits of Mackinac.

The Discovery

A portrait of Frank Kriesche taken on Mackinac Island.

Frank Kriesche on Mackinac Island, by William H. Gardiner

 Franz (Frank) Kriesche (1863-1946) is well remembered for operating an art glass store on Mackinac Island. His shop, founded in the 1890s, offered custom glass engraving for tourists and local residents. Samples of his fine craftsmanship are on display in The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum.

 On a date unremembered, Frank visited nearby Round Island, perhaps on a family picnic. Imagine his surprise when he noticed a strange lump protruding from the sand. Unearthing it did little to solve the mystery of what he discovered. At some point, the unidentified item was donated to Fort Mackinac’s first museum. Established in 1915, the exhibit was a rather haphazard collection of relics, mostly displayed in the officer’s stone quarters.

 Lee J. Smits, a columnist for the Detroit Times, visited the museum in July 1931. He wrote, “the one thing on Mackinac Island that keeps stirring my mind is a skull … the uncouth skull of a great beast. Frank Kriesche found the skull on Round Island, close by Mackinac, many years ago. For a long time it was not identified. Lately there have been learned visitors who declare it is the skull of a walrus. It is not fossil, but bone. The tusks are missing. There were no other bones around the skull where it lay on the sand beach, and no one has ever come forward with the slightest clue as how it came to be there.”

Michigan’s Marine Mammals

A portrait of Dr. Russell C. Hussey

Dr. Russell C. Hussey, University of Michigan

 Amazingly, this wasn’t the first marine mammal found in the state. In 1861, a whale vertebra, found in western Michigan, was noted by state geologist Alexander Winchell. In 1914, a walrus bone was unearthed at a gravel pit near Gaylord. And in the late 1920s, a sperm whale vertebra and five whale ribs were excavated at various locations throughout the state.

 During the summer of 1930, Dr. Russell C. Hussey, professor of historical geology at the University of Michigan, conducted fieldwork in the Upper Peninsula. About the same time, he identified Frank’s mystery object as a walrus skull. That same year, Dr. Hussey published a report of Michigan whale bones which received national attention. His theory stated that marine creatures swam inland after the last ice age, when “the Great Lakes were once a gigantic arm of the sea,” connected by ancient river channels.

The Walrus Departs

The Journal of Mammalogy, in which the Mackinac walrus was described.

The Mackinac walrus was described in the Journal of Mammalogy (May 1953)

 While it had been identified, the Mackinac walrus remained at Fort Mackinac for the next two decades, unreported in scientific literature. In May 1953, Charles Handley, curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, was the first to describe the specimen. He noted that details of its discovery had turned fuzzy over time. He wrote, “R.C. Hussey… was told that the skull had been found many years ago in a beach deposit (Algonquin or Nipissing) on Mackinac Island. The original data was lost in a fire.” While Fort Mackinac’s wooden soldier’s barracks did catch fire in 1951, very little damage occurred. Perhaps the incident served as a convenient smokescreen for years of poor record keeping.

 In 1954, Fort Mackinac’s collection was assessed by Alexis Proust, a curator from the Kalamazoo Public Museum. Proust spent a month on the island, “examining, sorting, and considering the potentialities of the museum.” Objects “not germane to the museum’s purpose” were to be returned to donors or disposed of. As Frank Kreische died in 1946, his walrus skull likely sat in a pile of unwanted and forgotten items. From there, it was recovered by a student and given to Dr. Hussey. In 1955, it was officially donated to the U-M museum by MSHP park superintendent Carl Nordberg.

Untangling the Riddle

 In 1977, Charles Harington, curator at the National Museum of Canada, focused on a special detail of the Mackinac walrus. He wrote, “A series of nearly parallel, commonly long, cut and scratch marks are seen on the smoother parts of the cranial fragment. They are most evident on the right side of the rostrum, where a crosshatched effect is produced. I think these were produced by man … they deserve closer inspection by an archaeologist.”

 Harington doubled down on his assessment in 1988, calling the skull a cultural artifact, not a natural phenomenon. He noted a similar incised pattern was evident on a walrus tusk found near Syracuse, New York. He also reported specimens from New York, Ontario, and Quebec all revealed radiocarbon dates younger than 800 B.P. (before present). As the modern Great Lakes formed about 2,000 years ago, this meant sea creatures could not have swum to Michigan, and their remains were likely transported inland by Native Americans.

 After sitting in museum displays for about 80 years, the Mackinac walrus was finally subjected to radiocarbon dating. In June 1999, an expansive report, “The Late Wisconsinan and Holocene Record of Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) from North America,” was printed in the journal Arctic. Its authors noted specimens across the U.S. and Canada likely represented long-distance acquisition of walrus ivory. They wrote, “This would also seem to be the only plausible explanation of an even more remote find: the anterior part of a walrus cranium lacking tusks that was recovered from a site on Mackinac Island, Michigan, reportedly from a beach deposit, yielded an age of 975 ± 60 B.P.”

Visit the Walrus

The walrus skull on display today at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History.

Display of ancient marine mammal bones from Michigan at the U-M museum of Natural History

 Today, the well-traveled and sometimes mysterious Mackinac walrus remains on exhibit at the U-M Natural History Museum. The ancient skull fragment is displayed with a sperm whale vertebra and the rib of a bowhead whale, also found in Michigan. At the straits, new mysteries will be revealed during the 66th season of archaeological excavations at Mackinac State Historic Parks, which begins in June 2024. For more information, visit www.mackinacparks.com/more-info/history/archaeology

The Vacationland Auto Ferry in the icy Straits of Mackinac.

Michigan State Highway Ferries 100th Anniversary

The Sainte Ignace auto ferry at a dock.

The Sainte Ignace

This summer marked the 100th anniversary of the Michigan State Highway ferry service going into operation. The service was started to get automobiles and their drivers across the Straits of Mackinac in a timely fashion. Prior to the service being instituted, the Mackinac Transportation Company and their two railroad car ferries, Chief Wawatam and Sainte Marie carried automobiles across when possible. In 1917 when the first automobiles were taken across, it cost $40 and the car had to be loaded on a railway flat car. On top of that, the automobile had to be drained of gasoline due to maritime regulations. By the early 1920’s, several drivers had complained to Governor Alex Groesbeck, who asked legislators to approve a state-run ferry.

The Ariel auto ferry

The Ariel

The Mackinaw City Auto Ferry

The Mackinaw City

 The first ship purchased by the state was the Ariel which could haul 20 automobiles. On August 6, 1923, she made her first trip and by November when the season ended she had carried around 10,000 cars. The highway department purchased two more vessels that year, the Colonel Pond and Colonel Card which became the Sainte Ignace and Mackinaw City. Along with the purchase of ships, the state bought a dock in St. Ignace and adapted part of the railroad dock in Mackinaw City to load and unload the cars. By 1925, the state had purchased shoreline property in Mackinaw City and had a 1,400-foot causeway built. The state ordered its first ferry in 1927 and it was christened, The Straits of Mackinac, which could carry 50 cars.

The City of Cheboygan Auto Ferry on the water.

The City of Cheboygan

The City of Munising auto ferry.

The City of Munising

 During the 1930’s, the highway department improved the docks on both sides of the straits by making them bigger for the increasing demand in auto traffic. Restrooms, large parking lots for waiting motorists and elevators for lifting cars to the second deck of the ferries were constructed. More ferries were added to the fleet; instead of building new ships, unused Lake Michigan railroad ferries were acquired. The first was the Ann Arbor No. 4 which became the City of Cheboygan in 1937. One year later the Pere Marquette No. 20 was purchased and became the City of Munising. Rounding out the decade was the addition of the Pere Marquette No. 17 which became the City of Petoskey in 1940.

The City of Petoskey Auto Ferry on the water.

The City of Petoskey

 Rationing of gasoline and tires during World War II saw most of the ferries sitting idle but the post-war saw an increase in crossings. Three of the ships were altered by adding seagates to the bow allowing for faster loading and unloading. In 1948, the ferry service celebrated its 25th anniversary with several events including a parade, coronation ball, swimming race to Mackinac Island and a special moonlight cruise aboard The Straits of Mackinac. One of the highlights was models of the new icebreaking ferry the state proposed to build. One year later, construction began on the 360-foot-long, diesel-powered Vacationland. The ship had pilothouses and double propellors on both ends and could carry 150 automobiles.

 The Vacationland arrived in St. Ignace January 12, 1952 and immediately began hauling cars across. Due to her size and power plant, new slips were constructed in St. Ignace and Mackinaw City along with storage tanks to supply the ship with diesel and lubricating oil. As the ship began her service, plans were underway to construction a new way to cross the straits. In 1954, funds were obtained to start construction of the Mackinac Bridge which was completed in 1957. One of the stipulations of construction was that the highway ferries would stop running the day the bridge opened. The ferries were eventually sold, the City of Cheboygan and City of Munising being used to store and ship potatoes from Washington Island, Wisconsin. The City of Petoskey was sold for scrap and The Straits of Mackinac ferried tourists to Mackinac Island. She was the last surviving ferry eventually being sunk as a dive site off Chicago in 2005.

The Vacationland Auto Ferry in the icy Straits of Mackinac.

The Vacationland

 The Vacationland was sold and renamed Jack Dalton hauling trucks between Detroit and Cleveland. The venture lasted only a few months and the state repossessed the ship after failed payments. The vessel was sold again to North-South Navigation Company in 1961 and renamed Pere Nouvel. She returned to her role as an automobile ferry crossing the St. Lawrence River between Rimouski and Baie Comeau, Quebec. In 1967, she sailed to the West Coast of Canada serving British Columbia as the Sunshine Coast Queen until 1977. After an attempt to make her an oil drilling support ship on Alaska’s North Slope, she was sold to a company in Washington for scrap. She was to be towed to China but on December 3, 1987, the tow ran into an early winter storm and the ship began to take on water. The ship sank in the Pacific Ocean about 100 miles offshore in deep water with no loss of life.

The archaeological pit filled in with a tarp and hay bales.

2023 Archaeology Field Season Wrap-Up

The archaeological pit filled in with a tarp and hay bales.

The site packed for the winter.

The 65th season of archaeological excavation at Michilimackinac wrapped up August 24 and the site is now secured for the winter. This was our 17th season of work on House E of the Southeast Rowhouse.

 The most interesting finds of the second half of the field season were remnants of the house itself. The house was burned when the community relocated to Mackinac Island in 1781. The charred wood of the house was partially preserved in the sandy soil the fort was built on.

The central cellar of House E of the Southwest Rowhouse

The central cellar.

Southeast cellar of House E of the Southeast Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Remnants of the walls and a floorboard in the southeast cellar.

 One of the defining features of this house is its two cellars. Most of the central cellar (except a portion of the northwest corner) is now five and a half feet deep. Remnants of the burned wall posts can be seen along the edges of the gray sand cellar deposit in the center of the image. The eastern half of the central cellar was also better defined. This cellar had plank walls and remnants of the walls and a floorboard were exposed this season.

A trench at the north wall of House E of the Southwest Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Humic stains from the north wall of the house (the dark soil at the top of the image. 

View along the north wall of House E of the Southeast Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac.

View of the north wall with the tree stump at the back. 

 We were able to identify humic stains from the north wall of the house (the dark soil at the top of the image). Unfortunately we also confirmed that the tree stump we have been working around is right in the center of the east end of the wall trench. In the image you can see how the stump is in line with the reconstructed house wall of another unit of the rowhouse and the dark wall trench stain at the bottom of the image. The tree was not there when the house was; it was planted around 1910 shortly after Michilimackinac became Michigan’s second state park. The roots do not seem to have grown around artifacts, rather they displaced artifacts as they grew.

 Stay tuned to the MSHP blog to see what interesting things the archaeologists might discover in the lab this winter as the season’s artifacts are cleaned and better identified.

U.S. Army Forage Cap and Dress Helmet

Inspection at Fort Mackinac with soldiers in dress uniform.

The public interacts with our interpretive staff every day, asking questions about the island, fort, and the way soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac lived when it was active between the years of 1780-1895. One of the main draws, other than the rifle and cannon demonstrations, are the tours, given by interpreters seen in two types of uniforms: the everyday “undress” uniform and the more elaborate “dress” uniform. One of the unique aspects of Fort Mackinac in the 1880s is the balance between its soldiers serving in both military and public facing capacities, which almost perfectly matches the roles of their different uniforms. A big part of how Mackinac State Historic Parks makes sure to best tell the stories of these uniforms, and the soldiers that wore them, is though our collections. Headgear, especially for the uniforms that are worn at the fort, are vital to the overall story that the park tells the public. Two specific items that embody these uniforms are the forage cap and dress helmet.

Forage Cap

 The forage cap, or the wool, leather brimmed cap with unit brass on the front, is an evolution from the forage cap from the Civil War. Mostly worn by officers until 1872, when the whole army adopted them, these vital pieces of a uniform were more commonly seen used during daily duties in and around the fort. For more formal occasions, such as when the public was let in the fort several times a week, they had a different uniform: the dress uniform. This consisted of a frock coat, white gloves, dress collar, and the dress helmet. This helmet had both Prussian and British influences, with a brass eagle plate on the front, and a spike on top.

Dress Helmet

 Both hats are unique in the way they help portray military life in the 1880s, as well as being some of the most recognizable items when the public comes to the fort. Having these items in our collections, furthermore, establishes the importance of public interaction with museums and their objects. Museum collections are often referenced for research, both public and private, and these hats hold significant value for those who want to learn more about the soldiers at Fort Mackinac. Items so easily identifiable and personal, such as these hats, aid in making that connection from the past to the present day, as these are the physical objects used daily by the people who served in the army in the 1880s.

A work party at Fort Mackinac.

 Fort Mackinac, one of our premier sites, benefits from having several items in our collections pertaining to it and the soldiers that were there. Being able to have physical representations from that era, which visitors see daily, is history translated to the present day. They allow the public to get a look at our collections every day, but in the form of a personal aspect, through our interpreters. This makes the park a living representation of its objects, with the interpreters discussing their importance every day, and sharing their legacy with a wider audience. The kepi and dress headgear are vital to the park to tell these stories, as they are an iconic part of the uniform, fort, and overall encompass a crucial period in the islands’ history.