History & Libraries

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.

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.

Seeking Michigan: Battle for Wexford County!

Seeking MichiganBy Brenda Irish, courtesy Archives 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 see more stories from Seeking Michigan at Absolute Michigan.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the September/October 2006 issue of Michigan History Magazine.

Mitchell Street in Cadillac, circa 1915

Mitchell Street in Cadillac, circa 1915

The fight for the Wexford County seat is a story of bribery, corruption, intimidation, inebriated county officials and the organization of illegal townships to boost votes.

The Election

Cadillac’s decade-long struggle for the county seat came to a head on April 4, 1882, when ballots were cast throughout the county to determine whether the coveted prize should be moved from Manton to Cadillac. Twelve months earlier, residents of Cadillac and Manton had united to remove the county seat from Sherman to Manton. Now Cadillac was determined to secure the prize for itself.

Feeling duped by Cadillac, Manton residents were furious. A couple of townships destroyed their ballots, refusing to make a return. But when the “official” count of the April 4 vote was totaled, the results were overwhelming: 1,363 “yes” voters favored moving the county seat to Cadillac, while 309 voted “no.”

Battle of Manton, Part I

Main Street in Manton, circa 1915

Main Street in Manton, circa 1915

In the early dawn following the election, a train left Cadillac with the sheriff and twenty “specially deputized” men and headed to Manton to collect the county property. Legend has it that the train backed quietly into a sleeping Manton, coming to a halt in front of the courthouse. Within a half hour, most of the county records and much of the furniture was aboard the train. As the Cadillac faction attempted to remove the first of three safes from the courthouse, however, Manton residents awoke.

There are two different versions of what happened next. Cadillac’s version tells of a mob of over two hundred Manton men who drove off the small band of deputies.

Manton’s version claims the city was deserted and only a handful of men were in town. Although outnumbered, these “brave few” quickly gathered at the courthouse and confronted the heavily armed “Cadillackers.” The safe was overturned, Cadillac men produced firearms and a drunken county clerk urged the murder of the Mantonites. Nonetheless, the Mantonites managed to force the attackers “back to Cadillac in fear.”

Battle of Manton, Part II

The Cadillac faction returned home where they were greeted by an ever-increasing jovial crowd. When the crowd learned that three county safes of records remained in Manton, a second invasion of Manton was planned. Cadillac beefed up its force to include not only the sheriff and his deputies, but also city officials, many of Cadillac’s finer citizens and several hundred mill hands. Provisions consisted of a barrel of whiskey and fifty repeating rifles donated from a local hardware store. Some Cadillac citizens bought clubs, poles, brooms and crowbars.

Again, there are two versions of the second assault on Manton. Cadillac’s version is that they numbered three hundred men and were cautioned by the sheriff to avoid violence or damage to property. When they arrived in Manton, they found a waiting angry mob made up of every able-bodied citizen of Manton and most of the farmers from miles around. Cadillac claims Manton attempted to hang the county clerk and that Manton women rallied to grease the rails with lard and butter to make the tracks too slippery for the train to move.

Manton’s story claims “an unopposed invasion by a drunken mob of five hundred to six hundred men, led by a drunken sheriff and clerk.” The sheriff ordered that the courthouse be demolished and turned his men loose onto Manton streets “like a pack of crazed hounds.”

A New County Seat

While we may never know the full extent of what took place during the “Battle of Manton” on April 5, 1882, we do know it was a highly charged confrontation. Weapons were carried and injuries did occur. There were no deaths. Fortunately, the only gunshots fired that day were those in celebration on the victorious return trip to Cadillac with the county safes – and Wexford’s new county seat.

Editor’s Note #2: Regular Absolute Michigan contributor Joel Dinda pointed out a discussion of the Battle of Wexford on Flickr that he was a part of that’s pretty entertaining.

Seeking Michigan: From Signage to Santa

Seeking MichiganBy Mary Zimmeth, Archives 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 see more stories from Seeking Michigan at Absolute Michigan.

25 Christmas Lane on a winter’s eve, circa 2010 (Photo courtesy of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland)

My favorite holiday movie is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). Clark Griswold, (Chevy Chase), our hero, has a plan for the traditional Griswold family Christmas that includes fifty thousand twinkling outdoor lights on the roof. When Clark drags his entire family out to see his masterpiece, the lights don’t work. The frustrating, yet entertaining, effort to fix the problem resonates with me (This includes Clark on the roof checking each individual bulb.). My favorite part comes when Clark prevails, the family is impressed, and he thanks his father for teaching him about exterior illumination.

Beginnings

Wallace Bronner (1927-2008) knew that exterior illumination is essential for the holidays. We are all familiar with his enormous enterprise: Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, located on 25 Christmas Lane in Frankenmuth. Initially, this behemoth of holiday cheer started as a signage business. During the early forties, Wally worked as a sign painter and a clerk at the Hubinger Grocery Store, which was owned by his maternal relatives. Part of his job included designing window displays. In 1945, as Frankenmuth celebrated its centennial year, Bronner Display and Sign Advertising was in demand for painting signs and decorating store windows and parade floats. That year Wallace Bronner met Irene Ruth Pretzer, the woman he would marry on June 23, 1951 at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Hemlock, Michigan.

Signs designed by Wally Bronner for the city of Clare, 1951 (Photo courtesy of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland.).

Irene was instrumental in helping Wally land a monthly window display contract with the Jennison Hardware Company of Bay City (c. 1947) (Irene had attended Bay City Junior College and boarded at the home of G.W. Cooke, president of the hardware company.). Bronner’s work for the hardware company resulted in a referral to the town of Clare, Michigan (1951). This first municipal holiday commission was to design decorative lamppost panels. After that job, Wally hired his friend Fred Bernthal to look for new clients in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Ontario.

Bronner also entered into contracts with General Plastics Corporation (Marion, Indiana) and Mold-Craft Corporation (Port Washington, Wisconsin). These companies provided street trims and ornaments, latex Santas, reindeers and nativity scenes. In 1952, Bronner staged two shows exhibiting outdoor Christmas decorations, one in the Frankenmuth Township Hall, the other at the St. Lorenz School gymnasium. Both were successful. However, both venues were temporary. Bronner decided to rent a more permanent building, a vacated one-room schoolhouse (formerly Frankenmuth School District Number 1). Thus, year round exhibit of Christmas decorations became possible! “At first the people of the community thought the idea to be rather unusual, but accepted it fully when Frankenmuth became known as the Christmas Town.” (Bronner’s 2005 Corporate History, page 35.)

“Thinking Big”

Wally Bronner with employees. (Photo taken in the 1960s. Photo is courtesy Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland)

Herman Bronner (Wally’s father) was a building contractor and stone mason. He convinced his son to “think big” by changing the plans for the first Bronner-owned building from two, L-shaped, rectangular buildings to one large, square building. The Bronner’s store at 121 East Tuscola (a lot adjoining Aunt Hattie’s grocery store) opened in 1954. It was divided into two sections, one space for the sign painting business, the other for Christmas decorations.

Wally was grateful for his dad’s vision and business acumen. The municipal clientele grew to include shopping centers and commercial interiors. As buyers selected decorations for their stores and churches, their wives requested home decorations. From 1954 to 1963, Bronner exhibited at the Saginaw County Fair, which, at the time, boasted numbers of three hundred thousand people. By 1960, the company was officially incorporated, and home decorations were added to the product line. In 1964, the first billboard advertising Bronners appeared on I-75, ten miles south of Exit 136 (Frankenmuth). Many travelling up North are familiar with that sign. Subsequent ones (more than sixty located in seven states) continue to extol the importance of holiday cheer and illumination.

Source material

Picturesque Story of Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, as related by Wally Bronner. Published by Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, 2005.

The History of Bronner’s Christmas Decorations by Doris A Paul. Published by the Frankenmuth Historical Museum, 1981.

Brad Redford, a native of Frankenmuth visited Bronner’s last year and has a pretty funny video in his show Redford’s Rundown. However, we’re going to have to go with this awesome music video of Wally Bronner (Christmas Always) by Michigan rockers The Hard Lessons. A little tip: click that link and subscribe to their email list to download their entire new album Arms Forest AND stay tuned at the end of the video for the B-side of this song, O Holy Night!

The Rouse Simmons and the Great Lakes Christmas Tree Ships

Through Pasty Central’s This Day in History for November 21st, we’re reminded that of the story of the Rouse Simmons. This was originally published on Michigan in Pictures.

elsie-schuenemann-christmas-tree-shipHere is a portrait of Elsie Schuenemann at the wheel of the Christmas Ship, near the Clark Street Bridge on the Chicago River in the Loop community area of Chicago, Illinois. The boat carried Christmas trees to Chicago from Michigan. Her father, Captain H. Schuenemann, died when the Rouse Simmons, a ship carrying Christmas trees, sank in 1912.

The trees behind her likely came from the woods of Escanaba. Though the story of Barbara Schuenemann and her three daughters carrying on the tradition of the Christmas Tree Ships has perhaps been a little over-romanticized, there can be little doubt that the Schuenemann family and the many others who participated in the difficult trade of hauling Christmas trees south as the storms of winter closed in were heroes cut from a cloth that isn’t found too often today.

If you’d like to read more about all the Christmas tree ships (there were many more than just the famous Rouse Simmons) I recommend Christmas Tree Ships from Fred Neuschel. He has also written a book called Lives and Legends of the Christmas Tree Ships (available from UM Press). The National Archive also has The Christmas Tree Ship: Captain Herman E. Schuenemann and the Schooner Rouse Simmons that details the Schuenemann’s story.

You can also see Rich Evenhouse’s great video of diving the Rouse Simmons – click for more of his dive videos.