Sweet on Mackinac Island Visitors to Michigan's Summer Island Find History, Luxury and Plenty of Fudge

By Rodeghier, Katherine | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 16, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Sweet on Mackinac Island Visitors to Michigan's Summer Island Find History, Luxury and Plenty of Fudge


Rodeghier, Katherine, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Katherine Rodeghier Daily Herald Correspondent By Katherine Rodeghier Daily Herald Correspondent By Katherine Rodeghier Daily Herald Correspondent

"Plug your ears!" We dutifully obey and in a moment we are glad as the boom of the cannon reverberates through the crowd at Fort Mackinac.

Cannon firings on the bluff overlooking Lake Huron and antique rifle firings on the parade ground are noisy reminders that history comes to life every day at this 233-year-old fort on Mackinac Island, Mich.

Every summer day, that is. The fort, like most of the island, goes quiet the rest of the year.

During the May to October season, temperatures barely reach into the mid-70s, cooled by breezes off the Great Lakes. The island's 500 horses, the chief means of transportation since motor vehicles are banned, return from their winter quarters on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The lilacs usually don't bloom until June. Sixty-eight varieties of the flowering trees take root on the island, some nearly 300 years old brought by French settlers.

Father Jacques Marquette founded a mission for the Huron Indians on the island in 1671 and French fur traders followed. Then the British took control, building Fort Mackinac in 1780. The Americans came after the Revolutionary War, then the British took the fort again in the first land engagement in the War of 1812. It went back to the U.S. at war's end and remained an active military installation until 1895.

Now a historic site, costumed interpreters, including soldiers nattily dressed in Prussian-inspired uniforms, walk the grounds and staff the fort's 14 historic buildings. Inside the Officer's Stone Quarters, a Kids' Quarters exhibit gives little ones an interactive area for play. A hologram of a 19th-century doctor inside the Post Hospital explains his diagnosis and treatment of soldiers' ailments -- until he is upstaged by a hologram of a modern doctor who gives his assessment of these real, historic medical cases.

The fort is owned and operated by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. In 1875, Mackinac Island became America's second national park -- after Yellowstone -- but the state park has taken it over and now protects more than 80 percent of the land on the island. Just 8.2 miles in circumference, the island is a mix of woodlands, historic sites, rock formations and other natural features with a fringe of shops, restaurants and inns along Main and Market streets.

In the 19th century, Mackinac Island transitioned from a fur trading outpost to a summer resort destination. The first hotel, the Island House, opened in 1852. The Grand Hotel followed in 1887.

"Our guests were the product of the Industrial Revolution," says Robert Tagatz, the Grand's resident historian. "It was a time of unbridled capitalism."

The Victorian era spawned a new leisure class that built summer cottages and took excursions to escape the cities, which Tagatz describes as "miserable places in summer" thanks to a combination of heat, smoke and foul odors. Chicago alone had 70,000 horses stirring up dust and manure.

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