by Maria Leiby – courtesy Seeking Michigan
In 1954, five-year old Tom Friggens was awed by the dinosaurs at Domke’s Prehistoric Zoo in Ossineke, Michigan. In 1987, the adult Friggens took his sons there. (The photo below, dating from 1987, depicts the latter experience. The photo to the right depicts young Tom Friggens in 1954.)
Currently, quite a few people are reliving childhood vacationsâ€”or getting a taste of places their parents visitedâ€”at Michigan’s Roadside Attractions, a special exhibit at the Michigan Historical Museum. Featuring more than fifty attractions created to lure travelers off the road, the exhibition includes advertising, artifacts and souvenirs from destinations across the state. American Road Magazine sponsored the exhibit in cooperation with Friends of Michigan History.
It turns out that roadside attractions, derided by some as â€œtourist traps,â€ have quite a history. Michiganians began thinking about attracting auto tourists almost as soon as they began making cars. In the 1920s and 1930s, many attractions aimed to make nature more accessible to the residents of Michigan’s growing cities. Castle Rock in St. Ignace and no less than four towers in the Irish Hills offered new vistas. Special rides showed off Tahquamenon Falls, Silver Lake’s sand dunes and the Soo locks.
Car travel boomed in the post-World War II period. Paul Bunyan and other giant figures appeared along the roadways. Nature, in the form of animal attractions, remained popular at Spikehorn’s Bear Den (Harrison), Call of the Wild (Gaylord) and deer parks in Coloma, Pinconning and St. Ignace. Lund’s Scenic Garden and the Cross in the Woods presented religious experiences in vacation settings. Regional foods like cherries, pasties and cheese added memorable smells and tastes to many Michigan vacations.
There was excitement along Michigan highways, too: concrete dinosaurs at Domke’s or the Prehistoric Forest in the Irish Hills and the Haunted Fort in Mackinaw City. Suspension of the laws of nature at places like Mystery Hill (Onsted), Mystery Ridge (West Tawas) or the Mystery Spot (St. Ignace) intrigued curious travelers.
Michigan’s Roadside Attractions features these sites and more! Come see the exhibit at the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing. Admission is free.
For more on this, head over to Weird Wednesday: Domke’s Dinosaur Gardens & Michigan’s roadside architecture on Absolute Michigan and the web site for Dinosaur Gardens Prehistoric Zoo.