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2014 Michigan Notable Books

20 books celebrating Michigan people, places, and events

The Library of Michigan has announced their list of Michigan Notable Books for 2014. “The Michigan Notable Books Program helps to show what is ‘great’ about the Great Lakes State,” said State Librarian Nancy Robertson. “It is amazing to see the quality of books that are written focusing on Michigan year after year,” added Robertson.

Annually, the Michigan Notable Books Program (MNB) began in 1991 as part of the Michigan Week celebration. The annual list features 20 books published in the previous calendar year that are about Michigan or the Great Lakes region, or are written by a Michigan author. Selections include nonfiction and fiction books that appeal to a variety of audiences and cover a range of topics and issues close to the hearts of Michigan residents.

For more information about the MNB program call 517 373-1300, visit www.michigan.gov/notablebooks or email rileyr1@michigan.gov.

The Polar Express Comes to Michigan


While growing up in Grand Rapids, Chris Van Allsburg remembers hearing train whistles and taking train rides with his father. These childhood sights and sounds became part of the inspiration for Van Allsburg’s well-known children’s book, The Polar Express. The story is about a young boy who takes a magical journey aboard a train to the North Pole and receives a special gift-a bell-from Santa. Only those who truly believe in Santa can hear the bell.

The book’s popularity led to a movie released in November 2004. Michigan railroad buffs recognize the sound of the movie’s train whistle, which comes from one of the nation’s few working steam locomotives.

Built in 1941, the Pere Marquette 1225 is an enormous steam locomotive, measuring one hundred feet long and sixteen feet high. Replaced in 1951 by a more efficient diesel engine, the 1225 was saved from the scrap heap and decades later, ended up in Owosso as the star of the Steam Railroading Institute (SRI). Shortly thereafter, the 1225 was restored to its former glory.

As researchers prepared the movie version of Van Allsburg popular book, they were drawn to Owosso and the 1225. Technicians recorded the sound of the whistle, the clatter of the wheels and the rumble of the four-hundred-ton locomotive rolling down the tracks. The sounds were merged with the animated Polar Express.

Photos of the Pere Marquette 1225 from Glancy Train’s Photo Gallery

Visit Owosso’s Steam Railroading Institute for rides on their North Pole Express.

PHOTO CREDIT: Pere Marquette 1225, Bannister, Michigan, May 31, 2003
Photo © Adrienne Scholl, Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation, Inc.

For more great stories on Michigan’s past, look to Michigan History magazine. For more information or a free trial issue, call (800) 366-3703 or visit http://www.michiganhistorymagazine.com/.

The Legend of the Michigan Dogman

Michigan has some strange tales, but few are stranger than that of the Dogman. Some say the story began with a 1987 radio prank by Northern Michigan radio personality Steve Cook. Following the broadcast, Cook was surprised when listeners began sharing their stories of the beast. Surprise turned to shock, however, when a cabin near Luther was attacked by some kind of canine.

One of the many encounters listed on Steve Cook’s great website took place in the summer of 1938. 17-year-old Robert Fortney was fishing on the banks of the Muskegon River near Paris, Michigan when a pack of what appeared to be large feral dogs emerged from the woods:

Fortney remained silent, but the sensitive noses of the dogs quickly picked up his scent. Since he had been small game hunting earlier in the day, Fortney had his loaded rifle nearby. As the dogs approached, they assumed the group posture of a pack on a hunt. Fortney picked up the gun and fired a shot into the air.

Sunset on Mackinac

Stephanie of Stephanie Stevens Photography recently added a few timelapses from Mackinac Island to the Absolute Michigan pool on Flickr. About her incredible timelapse of Mackinac Island harbor at sunset, she writes:

Hour & a halfish time lapse of Mackinac Island as the sun goes down, with ferries coming & going, horse carriages & bicycles on the streets, people in the park, & even some glowing Frisbees. :)

Watch it in HD and definitely check out Stephanie’s Flickr, her photography site and also a timelapse of stars at Arch Rock. More from Mackinac on Absolute Michigan.

Seeking Michigan: The Dickens of Detroit

This article originally appeared on Absolute Michigan October 11, 2011.

Seeking MichiganBy Randy Riley, Library of Michigan and courtesy Seeking Michigan and the Archives of Michigan. The goal of Seeking Michigan is simple: to connect you to the stories of this great state. Visit them regularly for a dynamic & evolving look at Michigan’s cultural heritage and read more from Seeking Michigan on Absolute Michigan!
Elmore Leonard, The Dickens of Detroit

Elmore Leonard, The Dickens of Detroit

Detroit author Elmore Leonard is celebrating his eighty-sixth birthday today (October 11, 2011). Leonard was born in New Orleans in 1925. He has made the Detroit area his home since 1934, when his family moved there. The city of Detroit often serves as the main character in his novels. As a result, fans often refer to Elmore Leonard as the ‘Dickens of Detroit.”

Leonard graduated from University of Detroit Jesuit High School in 1943. He then immediately joined the Navy, where he served with the Seabees. After his service, he enrolled at the University of Detroit and graduated in 1950 with a degree in English and Philosophy. Leonard started his writing career as a copywriter at the Campbell-Ewald Advertising Agency. Writing on the side, he was able to publish his first novel, The Bounty Hunters in 1953. In his early career, he focused on writing pulp Westerns, because that was what was selling at the time. Leonard eventually moved on to specialize in crime fiction and suspense thrillers. A large number of his books have been turned into movies or television programs.

Critics praise Leonard for his effective use of dialogue and the gritty realism in his books. His unique ear for dialogue and the ability to capture it on the page is rarely matched. Concise and plot driven, his stories are stuffed with colorful characters and tricky, often humorous plot twists. “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it,” serves as Leonard’s writing mantra. He explains his success when advising aspiring writers by stating, “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” Stephen King has called him “the great American writer.”

Among Leonard’s best known works are Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Mr. Majestyk, LaBrava, Rum Punch, Freaky Deaky and Killshot. In 2010, his short story “Fire In the Hole’ was the basis for the television series Justified. The Library of Michigan owns all of Leonard’s works in their Michigan Collection. Search ANSWER, the Library’s online catalog to locate works by Elmore Leonard.

Sources for this article include the WMRA Public Radio Blog and you can learn more about Elmore Leonard at his web site.

You can check out a video where Elmore Leonard’s shares his tips for writers, but we’ll start you off with part 1 of a 4 part feature on Elmore Leonard from Emery King’s World Class Detroiters. Here’s part 2, part 3 and part 4!

Michigan History: Jammin’ in Jackson

Also see Michigan’s Woodstock: The Goose Lake Festival on Michigan in Pictures.


Goose Lake Rock Festival by edwards_sa

The headlines of the local newspaper read, “125,000 and Still Coming.” The reporter of the story wrote, “Goose Lake Park’s rock festival is no county fair, state fair or world’s fair. It’s a young people’s fair.”

Held in August 1970, the Goose Lake festival was similar to the more famous outdoor concert near Woodstock, New York, that took place a year earlier. Some reports said 200,000 people attended the three-day outdoor concert near Jackson, Michigan. The two dozen bands that played at Goose Lake included such big names as Chicago, Jethro Tull and Bob Seger.

But Goose Lake was not without controversy. Local residents opposed the festival, fearing the commotion that would result when thousands of young people gathered near their homes.

Despite the huge crowd of people, there were no reports of physical violence. A University of Michigan doctor, one of a dozen doctors at the festival providing free medical treatment, thought the absence of violence “was a credit to a generation.”

While there was no violence at Goose Lake, the popular use of illegal drugs, especially marijuana, was a concern for authorities. To avoid sparking a “riot,” the police only arrested drug users or dealers who were outside the park. After the concert, Governor William Milliken was outraged about drug use at Goose Lake. “Rock festivals are a great idea,” the governor said, “but without the drugs.” A doctor at the concert wondered if the reports of drug abuse “may have been exaggerated.” At the festival’s four hospital tents, 400 people were treated for an assortment of illnesses and injuries. But there were only a few drug overdose patients.

When the Goose Lake festival ended, local citizens expressed their thoughts about having hosted the biggest rock festival in Michigan history. Some complained of a lack of sleep because the music was so loud. One local resident found the concert “a nerve-racking deal,” while another said he would fight future rock festivals “to the last ditch.” Others disagreed. A Goose Lake farmer said all the noise and activity did not affect his cows who he said were “contented.” A gas station attendant said the station was unusually busy during the weekend, but things went “smoothly . . . we had no problems at all.”

To learn more about Michigan’s history, visit Seeking Michigan.

Here’s a video of crowd scenes at Goose Lake and check out this overflight:

Ford’s Model T

This article was published in Michigan History Magazine in 2005 and shared by the Archives of Michigan. This Tuesday, July 30th, is the 150th birthday of Michigan’s most influential figure, Henry Ford. The photo with the article seems to have vanished, but we have replaced it with an incredible shot by Lou Peeples. Be sure to click the photo to see it bigger!

title=“I will build a motor car for the great multitude,” Henry Ford announced. “It will be so low in price,” he added, “that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one.” With these words Henry Ford introduced the world to the Model T. It was October 1908 and, when the Ford Motor Company quit making the Model T nineteen years later, it had become one of the world’s most popular cars.

The Model T (there were models A through S) carried a 4-cylinder motor, and traveled up to 45 miles per hour. It came in one color, black.

The Model T also introduced drivers to new mechanical improvements. In a Model T, the driver controlled the car with three floor pedals: a brake and a pedal for forward and one for reverse. This left the driver’s hands free to steer the car. Unlike most cars of the time, the steering wheel was on the left side of the car.

The Model T was popular because it was cheap (eventually less than $300) and easy to fix. All a driver needed were pliers and a screwdriver to keep it running. Spare parts were easily available, and the Model T never seemed to wear out.

Americans loved the Model T. A woman from Georgia wrote Henry Ford, “Your car … brought joy into our lives.” The Model T even developed international fame. As one newspaper noted, “The Ford Motor Company has beaten out both the [U.S.] flag and the Constitution in carrying civilization into the wild places of the world.”

In 1927 the Ford Motor Company stopped making Model Ts; it had produced 15,007,033 cars. In the 1970s, Germany’s Volkswagen Beetle finally surpassed the Model T in numbers made.

As the Ford Motor Company likes to say to this day, the Model T “put America on wheels.” How true.

PHOTO: Model T circa 1922 by Lou Peeples

L. Frank Baum, The Goose Man of Macatawa

L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was born on May 15, 1856. The Holland Sentinel has an excellent feature on Baum’s Michigan connection, explaining that this multi-talented man was Louis F. Baum as an actor and playwright, L.F. Baum as a newspaper editor, and (of course) L. Frank Baum as one of the most popular children’s book authors ever. In the resort community of Macatawa, however, Baum was known by another name:  “The Goose Man.”

The Wizard of Oz rolled off the presses on May 17, 1900, but Baum actually had the top selling children’s book of the year one year earlier:

In 1899, Baum published “Father Goose: His Book.” The collection of children’s poems exploded in popularity and provided Baum with wealth and prestige for the first time in his life, his great-grandson, Bob Baum, recalled.

The author used the profits from his book to rent a large, multi-story Victorian summer home nestled on the southern end of the Macatawa peninsula on Lake Michigan.

The home, which he eventually purchased, came to be known as the Sign of the Goose, an ever-present reminder of the fame that came along with “Father Goose.”

Definitely read on for more, including a little about Baum’s 1907 novel Tamawaca Folks: A Summer Comedy, lampooning the resort community. You can also read the complete text of Father Goose right here.

This summer, Oz comes to Macatawa and Holland. The area will host the International Wizard of Oz Club Convention August 17-19, 2012 (click for program). This year the convention will focus on the homes of L. Frank Baum and the lakeside retreat he loved. They will even stage Tamawaca Folks: A Summer Comedy and explore Holland’s Castle Park.

Also see the Oz Club Facebook page for all kinds of photos & history.

Walking on the Beach with Loreen Niewenhuis

“I’d rather do 20 miles on soft sand than 10 miles on the side of the road. There is something about being where water meets land. I feel very clicked-in there. I feel like I can go forever.”

~Loreen Niewenhuis

USA Today has a feature on Loreen Niewenhuis, a Battle Creek resident who has hiked a good deal of the shorelines of all the Great Lakes. As to why, she explains:

“Our older son had gone off to college. The nest was emptying. I’d gotten my” master’s of fine arts degree … “but I felt I could stack up novels and not have an agent and be in my office writing novels forever,” says Niewenhuis, 49. “So I thought, let me do something completely different and get out of my office.”

So she put on her hiking boots. She got out the office.

Boy, did she ever.

Click through to read more about her journey and what she learned along the way. You can keep up with Lorraine’s latest including a planned walk on 1000 of Michigan islands on her Facebook page and at laketrek.com.

This photo is “Footprints”, Twelvemile Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by Michigan Nut. Twelve Mile is certainly one of the state’s best beaches. See John’s photo out on black and see more in his My Favorites slideshow.

Lakes MichiganHuronSuperior & Erie? Michigan in Pictures has them and all kinds of beach photos!

The impact of record low Great Lakes levels

This post originally appeared on Michigan in Pictures.

Low water levels, West Arm Grand Traverse BayOn Michigan in Pictures I usually blog beautiful things, but today I’m featuring an ugly thing that we in Michigan should all be concerned about. Traverse City based Circle of Blue has an in-depth feature on the record-low level of Lake Michigan-Huron:

The latest numbers released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on February 5 show that both lakes Michigan and Huron — which are two connected lakes — are experiencing their lowest point since records began in 1918. Water levels were an average of 175.57 meters (576.02 feet) for the month of January, approximately 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) lower than the previous record set in 1964.

“Not only have water levels on Michigan-Huron broken records the past two months, but they have been very near record lows for the last several months before then,” said John Allis, chief of the Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology Office at the Corps, in a press release. “Lake Michigan-Huron’s water levels have also been below average for the past 14 years, which is the longest period of sustained below-average levels since 1918 for that lake.”

The low water levels, which the Corps attributes to: below-average snowfall during the winter of 2011-2012, last summer’s drought, and above-average evaporation during the summer and fall of 2012, have the potential to hurt the Great Lakes’ shipping industry.

…For the water levels on Lake Michigan-Huron to reach even near-average water levels again, the Corps said it will take many seasons with above average precipitation and below-average evaporation.

Read on at Circle of Blue for much more including the struggles that wildlife are having with the changing climate. You can also view the release from the Army Corps of Engineers and see historic Great Lakes levels back to 1918. From the Army Corps, I learned that at 1 1/2 ft below normal, ships are losing 8-10% of their carrying capacity.

Beyond harm to the multi-billion dollar shipping industry which feeds countless industrial endeavors, the low lake levels are making many of our recreational harbors inaccessible. These feed our multi-billion dollar sport fishing industry and  this has prompted Gov. Snyder to endorse a $21 million emergency dredging plan, $11 million of which would come from Michigan’s general fund. With over a half a million jobs in Michigan alone tied to the health of the Great Lakes, getting a handle on the threats that impact them are likely to be at the center of our policy and spending for a long time.

In a curious bit of synchronicity, you can see just how vital the Great Lakes are to Michigan in Michigan Sea Grant’s reports on Economic Vitality and the Great Lakes. View this photo bigger and see more in their Grand Traverse Bay Low Water slideshow.

Lots more Lake Huron and Lake Michigan on Michigan in Pictures.