5 Things For Kids to See at Historic Fort Mackinac

Visiting historic Fort Mackinac on Michigan’s Mackinac Island is less of a lesson in history than it is an experience of it. After all, guests don’t so much learn about history by walking around quietly and reading stuff on the walls as they do step into that history for a completely interactive experience.

 No wonder kids love the fort so much!

 Of course, adults enjoy Fort Mackinac, too, whether they’re history buffs or not. Some visitors just come to see the incredible views from the bluff, go shopping in the museum store and have lunch at the Fort Mackinac Tea Room (which has an amazing kids’ menu, by the way).

 But while people of all ages have fun at Fort Mackinac, there are a handful of exhibits that are especially entertaining for kids.

Here are five places to see on a visit to Fort Mackinac with the family:

  • Kids’ Quarters – Located in the Officers’ Stone Quarters, which dates to 1780 and is the oldest surviving building in all of Michigan, the Kids’ Quarters is one of the newest exhibits at Fort Mackinac. The exhibit space features hands-on displays and interactive games that give visitors of all ages a look at what soldier and civilian life was like at Fort Mackinac. For example, there’s a dress-up area where kids can try on uniforms from all eras of the fort’s history and a music area where guests can listen to the music that was played at Fort Mackinac.
  • Post Hospital – The way people live has changed a lot over the past 200 years, and perhaps medical practices have changed as much as anything. That’s why it’s an eye-opening experience to check out the “Military Medicine at Mackinac: 1780-1895” exhibit at Fort Mackinac’s Post Hospital. You can see what it was like for soldiers and civilians at the fort to go to the doctor, and there’s a lot of interactive gadgets for kids to play with including microscopes and stethoscopes.
  • Guardhouse – While Fort Mackinac was “a desirable station” for many soldiers who lived there in the 19th century, everybody didn’t always get along with each other even during times of peace. A visit to the Guardhouse offers a glimpse into military justice at Fort Mackinac. For example, you can hear actual court martial cases and feel like you’re right in the same room as the accused. It’s pretty interesting to find out some of the things that soldiers were put on trial for in the 1800s!
  • Drill Program – Back in 2022 after a two-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Drill Program invites visitors of all ages to participate in basic soldier drills on the Parade Ground at Fort Mackinac. Can you march in a straight line? Turn about-face 180 degrees? The Drill Program is an engaging way to experience history at Fort Mackinac. And it’s especially fun for kids, who often are better at the drills than their parents!
  • Reading Room – New for 2022, the Reading Room at Fort Mackinac offers guests an immersive experience in the educational aspects of life as a soldier in the 1880s. Visitors can page through newspapers of the time or use interactive touch screens to scan through the kinds of periodicals that Fort Mackinac soldiers read. Both kids and adults can step back into history and get a sense of why the Army thought it was so important to have Reading Rooms at its forts in the late 19th century.

 There are 14 original buildings preserved at Fort Mackinac, and each of the rest of them also have something of interest for kids. There’s a movie in the North Blockhouse that puts visitors amid the confusion, fear and drama of the British capture of Fort Mackinac during the War of 1812, for example, and period settings and galleries in the Office that showcase the training and duties of Fort Mackinac’s officers.

 Both kids and kids at heart also love watching and hearing the daily cannon blasts from Fort Mackinac. In fact, kids and other visitors ages 13 and up can even sign up to fire the Fort Mackinac cannon on the morning of their visit!

 Fort Mackinac opened for the 2022 season on May 3 and will welcome guests daily through Oct. 23. Buy tickets here for your entire family to visit to Fort Mackinac this year.

Stereoview of Arch Rock

2021 Mackinac State Historic Parks Collections Acquisitions

A beer stein

A souvenir beer stein

The Grand Hotel Loving Cup

One of the more unique additions: a Grand Hotel Loving Cup

In 2021, the collections committee accessioned 247 objects into the Mackinac Island State Park Commission collection and archives. In addition to several purchases, over 115 items were donated to the collection. Although the summer collections internships were cancelled, the commission was able to hire an intern for the 2021/2022 winter. During the summer, the inventory scheduled for the Mackinaw City historic sites including Colonial Michilimackinac, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park was completed. The 2020 winter intern completed the inventory of the archival and postcard collections in the Keith R. Widder Library.

 

 

Ruby mug inscribed by Frank Kriesche

A ruby mug inscribed by Frank Kriesche. 

 

A painting of a horse and buggy by Stanley Bielecky

Painting by Stanley Bielecky

As in 2019, several objects were purchased from the collection of the late Ronald J. Rolando. Watercolors and oil paintings by Stanley Bielecky, photographic prints by William H. Gardiner and artwork of many other artists were selected. A unique Grand Hotel loving cup presented in 1894, a souvenir beer stein and a ruby glass mug inscribed by island artist Frank Kriesche were some of the three-dimensional objects chosen. Archival items included an engraving from Henri Chatelain’s early 18th century atlas showing the industry of the beaver fur trade and manufacture, four island hotel menus printed on birchbark and two late 19th century maps of Mackinac Island.

A capstan cover from the SS Chief Wawatam

Capstan cover from the SS Chief Wawatam. 

This summer, the commission received a call from a gentleman who had one of the brass capstan covers from the railroad ferry SS Chief Wawatam. The ship had two of these covers which were mounted on top of the capstans on the railcar deck. The capstan is a vertical-axled rotating machine developed for use on sailing ships to multiply the pulling force of seamen when hauling ropes, cables and hawsers. The man’s father had been given the cover back in the late 1980s when the ferry was being scrapped and told his son if he did not want it to throw it away. The son did some research and found the commission had a collection of objects from the ship. After discussion with collections staff, he offered to donate the cover to the commission’s collection. This is a unique piece with the ship’s name, company and shipyard that built the ship and manufacturer of the capstan.

 

A note from W. Stewart Woodfill to a guest from Grand Hotel

Letter on Grand Hotel stationary from W. Stewart Woodfill

Bottles from the Bailey National Park Drugstore

Pharmaceutical bottles from the Dr. John R. Bailey & Sons National Park Drugstore

The commission received several other donations including seven pieces of artwork from the Artist-In-Residence program, a letter on Grand Hotel stationary from W. Stewart Woodfill to a patron and a Westfield Company bicycle belonging to islander Ernst Puttkammer. Two pharmaceutical bottles from the Dr. John R. Bailey & Sons National Park Drugstore were donated by an island contractor and original sanctuary light fixtures were donated by Little Stone Church.

Over the years, the commission has acquired several stereoviews showing Mackinac Island buildings, geological formations, scenic views and other subjects. This year four views were purchased showing the New Mackinac Hotel, Arch Rock from below, Robinson’s Folly and Devil’s Kitchen. Stereoview cards were a popular souvenir in the late 19th century. The three-dimensional views could be purchased from many local stores and taken home to be viewed through a stereopticon. P.B. Greene, J.A. Jenney and Webster & Albee were some of the photographers who took the images and published them on Mackinac Island or in cities around the Great Lakes.

Stereoview of Arch Rock

A stereoview of Arch Rock

A stereview of the New Mackinac Hotel

A stereoview of the New Mackinac Hotel.

This is only a small sample of the type of objects Mackinac State Historic Parks collects during a given year.  We are always looking for donations and items to purchase which will help the commission to continue its mission of educating the public about the history of the region.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historic Interpreters getting ready to celebrate Christmas at Michilimackinac

Holiday Traditions of the 17th and 18th Century are Alive at Colonial Michilimackinac

Historic Interpreters getting ready to celebrate Christmas at Michilimackinac The 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, December 11, at Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City.

 From 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. (last admission at 6:30 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.

 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.

Looking outside at Colonial Michilimackinac 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. Here you’ll be able to sample tea cakes 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.

 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.

 The celebration continues outside, as a fire pit on the parade ground welcomes all to get warm and learn about the first Christmas at Mackinac recorded by the Jesuits in the late 17th century. On the other side of 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.

An interpreter hanging greenery at Michilimackinac Admission to A Colonial Christmas is $10 per adult, $6 children ages 5-12, and free for children 4 and under and Mackinac Associates members (excluding Heritage Level). Tickets are available now online at www.mackinacparks.com/a-colonial-christmas/. Tickets will also be available upon arrival. Last admission is at 6:30 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. Colonial Michilimackinac will open for the 2022 season on May 4.

Michilimackinac Archaeology 2021 Mid-Season Update

We have reached the halfway point of the 2021 archaeological field season at Michilimackinac and there is progress to report.

Door latch

  The southeast cellar seems to be showing signs of bottoming out. The soil in the southern portion is becoming very sandy with pebbles, like the glacial beach which lies under all of the fort. Some of the wood wall fragments have disappeared. Part of a door latch was found in this area. The northern part of the cellar is becoming somewhat sandier, but the wood planks continue, and it recently yielded a small, plain pewter button and a musket ball.

Pocketknife

  The east wall of the central cellar has become better defined with the burned tops of eight wood posts now exposed. The most interesting artifact of the summer (so far) came from the north edge of this cellar, an intact pocketknife. We hope that future research will help us date it or at least identify it as French or British in order to better understand the construction sequence of the cellars.

  Excavation of 1781 demolition continues further north. We expect to find remnants of the north wall of the house in this area. We have opened the first quad in what we expect to be the final row of squares for this project.

New Quad Opened Up

  The 2021 field season is sponsored by the Mackinac Associates, and we are grateful for their support. Follow MSHP’s social channels and this blog for updates on the rest of the season, or, better yet, come visit the site. We will be excavating every day, weather permitting, through August 21.

Using Cold Frames at Michilimackinac

 Gardeners, especially at the Straits of Mackinac, have always been interested in helping their plants grow despite sometimes problematic environmental conditions. Building walls or planting hedges can protect plants from the wind, which might break fragile stems and leaves, while changing the soil chemistry with manure or compost can make a poor soil rich enough to grow the sweetest melons. But what about the cold? How would gardeners in the 18th century protect tender plants from the snow and frigid temperatures so common in northern Michigan?

 Cold frames may have been the answer. Our gardeners at Colonial Michilimackinac have recently been generously gifted with a very nice cold frame. Built using 18th century specifications, it is essentially a miniature greenhouse. Pots of plants are set inside the frame, or seeds can be planted directly in the soil to get off to a good start in the small, protected environment. The wooden frame is topped with two glass “lights” or windows that can either be kept closed in cold weather to trap heat, vented to release moisture, or completely removed to allow for air flow on sunny and warm days.

 With a bit of work, a cold frame can even be used to generate heat to keep young plants warm and healthy. Historically, frames were placed over brick-lined pits full of animal manure. As the manure decomposed, it released heat, keeping the inside of the frame warm enough to support lettuces, spinach and other cold season vegetables throughout much of the winter, or at least late fall and early spring. Modern gardeners use electric heat mats to produce similar results.

 If you are interested in see our new cold frame and learning more about the gardens and the people that lived at Colonial Michilimackinac visit mackinacparks.com for tickets and more information.

SS Minneapolis Revolver

On April 4, 1894, the bulk steam freighter Minneapolis sank in the Straits of Mackinac after taking on water due to ice damage. On board the ship was a Smith and Wesson Model No. 1, Second Issue revolver manufactured in 1864. It is a bottom-break revolver that holds seven brass .22 caliber short rimfire cartridges. It was one of the first handguns produced by Smith and Wesson and one of the first to use self-contained brass cartridges. The revolver belonged to one of the 14 crewmembers aboard the ship who may have carried it for numerous reasons.

Firearms were not uncommon amongst Great Lakes sailors. Revolvers provided a form of protection against unwelcome guests aboard a ship and assisted in protection of valuable cargo. Pursers aboard passenger ships were known to carry weapons to protect items entrusted to them by their guests. Officers carried them to protect monies carried on board for payroll and other business. In an emergency, firearms could be used to keep order and act as a signaling device to attract the attention of other vessels and searchers.

The crew of the Minneapolis survived the wreck, being picked up by the San Diego, a consort barge the ship was towing along with the Red Wing. The wreck was located in 1963 and today is approximately 500 feet from the South Tower of the Mackinac Bridge. The revolver was recovered from the shipwreck prior to the 1983 creation of the Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve, which makes it illegal to remove items from shipwrecks today. Along with several other objects, the revolver was donated to the Mackinac Island State Park Commission in 2013.

Conservation work was done in the winter of 2014 by Inland Seas Institute (ISI) for inclusion of the revolver in the new Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum. The revolver was placed into electrolysis, which is the process of using electricity, an electrolyte, and anodes to remove corrosion from metal objects. After just a few hours of treatment, it was noticed that the gun still contained cartridges. Treatment of the revolver continued with the awareness that the gun could still contain black powder and lead bullets.

The revolver is composed of a silver-plated brass frame with a steel barrel, cylinder, cylinder rotating mechanisms, screws, springs and pins and brass cartridges with lead bullets which over time interact with one another causing deterioration via bi-metallic corrosion. Even though the revolver was treated, contact between these metals would continue to cause corrosion over time especially during environmental changes. During a cleaning of the exhibits in 2020, recent corrosion was noticed on the revolver. It was removed from display, examined, and photographed. ISI was contacted and a new proposal was developed to treat the corrosion and attempt to disarm the revolver by removing the cartridges and their bullets.

Electrolysis was performed again to halt the corrosion and once stabilized, the revolver was taken to a gunsmith. The cylinder was removed revealing that the gun had 6 loaded cartridges and an empty cartridge under the hammer possibly to act as a safety. Corrosion in the cylinder prevented the gun from being unloaded once the cylinder was removed, so a plan was developed to melt out the lead bullets, remove the powder, and have safe access to the cartridges for their removal. The cylinder was positioned in a way to safely do this in case the powder was still active after 60+ years underwater.

The lead bullets were melted using a propane torch, which upon contact caused three of the cartridges to go off in a controlled manner for safety. The cartridges were then removed using a specially made brass punch. The screws and pins holding the revolver together were removed so complete treatment of each piece could be performed. Upon completion of conservation the revolver parts will be coated with microcrystalline wax prior to reassembly to prevent future corrosion of the barrel, cylinder and cylinder works. The revolver will be reassembled using carbon fiber screws and Delrin (polymer) pins to minimize future bi-metallic corrosion. The cartridges, screws, and pins will be returned and the revolver will be placed back on display inside the shipwreck museum. We hope you’ll join us at Old Mackinac Point in the near future to see the Minneapolis revolver on display once again.

Biddle House Update

As you may have heard, we’re currently in the process of updating the Biddle House to include the Mackinac Island Native American Museum. This new exhibit, which tells the continuing story of the Anishnaabek on Mackinac Island and in the surrounding Straits of Mackinac region, will open in early summer 2020. To get the building ready for the new exhibit, the Biddle House itself is currently undergoing a variety of restoration work. (more…)

Chief Wawatam Archival Collection

In the fall of 1911, the railroad ferry Chief Wawatam arrived in the Straits of Mackinac to begin a career which lasted 73 years. The Mackinac Transportation Company built the ship to haul railroad cars between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. The ship could carry 18-26 cars depending upon their size and unlike previous ferries that worked the straits, the Chief Wawatam was built entirely of steel. Along with freight cars, the ship carried passenger train cars, automobiles, soldiers and passengers. At 338 feet, she was the largest railroad ferry at the straits and served the longest, until 1984. (more…)

What’s new at Fort Mackinac?

What’s new at Fort Mackinac?

It may not seem like it with so much snow on the ground, but summer is steadily approaching. With less than two months to go before Fort Mackinac opens for the 2019 season, we’re hard at work on two brand new exhibits which will greet visitors to the fort this summer. (more…)

Treasures from the Collection

Treasures from the Collection

Today we begin a new feature highlighting important objects in the museum collection of Mackinac State Historic Parks. The items presented here belonged to the O’Brien’s of Fort Mackinac. The O’Brien collection also includes John and Charlotte’s letters (the basis for our book The Caplain’s Lady), John’s sermons, and letters to John from his son, Lyster, while he served in the Civil War.  (more…)