Tag Archives: history

Mackinac Island, Michigan, Travel and Reading

Mackinac Island, Michigan, sits in on the Straits of Mackinac where the Great Lakes of Michigan and Huron converge. That location made it the ideal place for Native Americans and fur traders to make their summer rendezvous to trade and it was here that John Jacob Astor made his fortune in the fur industry. Missionaries, soldiers and eventually Gilded Age tourists from Detroit and Chicago pulled ashore to enjoy this remarkable island. Today, people from around the world arrive on the island and become part of that centuries long summer tradition.

History and Tradition Come Alive

I visited Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Island in summers when I was growing up so the island has a special place in my heart. I returned earlier this summer and was happy to see little has changed. I felt the same sense of anticipation as the ferry ride (about 20 minutes from either Mackinaw City or Michigan’s upper peninsula) brought the Mackinac Bridge into closer view. The island still bans cars making it very bike, buggy and pedestrian friendly.  And, the smell of the island’s trademark product, fudge, continues to greet visitors on arrival. The lovely Victorian cottages still charm and the Grand Hotel remains grander than ever.

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Mackinac Island’s historic Grand Hotel features the world’s longest porch.

While Mackinac Island offers a terrific array of places to eat, drink, pedal and kayak, it’s the history here that has always grabbed me. That’s why I always urge fellow visitors to get away from the crowds on Main Street by the ferry docks and explore the island by foot, bike or horse.  Start with the famous Fort Mackinac which offers canon blasting, rifle shooting, historic displays and a spectacular view of the island and surrounding waters. (Slightly off topic, here’s one of the crazy things I remember from visiting as a kid.  There was a grisly display in the fort back then about Dr. William Beaumont who was an army surgeon at the fort and a young voyageur who had been accidentally shot in the stomach. The stomach wound didn’t heal and Beaumont was able to view the workings of the stomach through the hole–for a very long time. The exhibit is now at the Fur Company Store and Dr.Beaumont Museum.)

1118797Somewhere in Time and Literature

For a sense of history, I also recommend reading Iola Fuller’s classic tale of Mackinac, The Loon Feather.  It’s a romantic tale of a young Native American woman and it’s ending is improbably happy, but I’m a sucker for all that. And, the book conveys quite accurately the early days of the fur trade on the island.

At The Island Bookstore on Main Street, they’re happy to share their ideas for island-related reading and much more. If they’re not too busy, it’s fun to chat with owner Mary Jane Barnwell and store manager Tamara Tomack about literature and island life. Mary Jane is among the 500 or so people who live on Mackinac Island year-round. Because the island is accessible in winter only by snowmobile or airplane, you can bet she has a few stories to tell. And she does have a several adorable books of her own for children about the island, including Grand Adventure and Goodnight Mackinac Island, a children’s vacation journal.

At The Island Bookstore, store manager Tamara Tomack (left) and owner Mary Jane Barnwell share their love of books and tips for your Mackinac Island reading list.

Here are their suggestions if you want to read up before your island visit: Once on This Island by Gloria Whelan,  Open Wound—the Tragic Obessions of Dr. William Beaumont by Jason Karlawish, and The Living Great Lakes: Searching For The Heart of the Inland Seas by Jerry Dennis. Finally, Somewhere in Time, by Richard Matheson is a must-read for Mackinac Island visitors.  It was written about the Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego, but the movie version of the story with Chrisopher Reeve and Jane Seymour was filmed on Mackinac Island, mainly at the Grand Hotel.




Who Was Abe Lincoln? Lit and History Road Trips for Families

Famed historian David McCullough gave a presentation about his new book, The Greater

Ideas to plan a reading road trip

Journey: Americans in Paris, on Tuesday night in Wayzata, Minnesota, near Minneapolis.  It’s the story of American artists, writers, physicians, politicians and others who traveled to Paris between 1830 and 1900 to further their education and to excel at their work. I highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Paris.

But one of the most interesting parts of the evening was when someone asked McCullough his opinion of Americans’ knowledge of history and the way history is taught in our schools.  That’s a particularly hot topic this week because of Sarah Palin’s rewriting of history and also because the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that American students are less proficient in their nation’s history than in any other subject.  The New York Times said that, according to results of a nationwide test released on Tuesday, most fourth graders were unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure. McCullough’s suggestion:  don’t fault the teachers.  It’s our own responsibility.  Parents,  grandparents, and others must do a better job of showing an interest in history and discussing it with children.

A great way for children to learn a little U.S. colonial history

Family road trips are one of the best ways to do that.  It’s what educators call “placed-based learning” and, it ties in nicely with the idea of inspiring children to read by making stories more vivid and bringing reading to life.  I’m not talking about hard-core history books here, but rather books that are fun to read. For example, read Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain and visit Boston.  Pair Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer with a trip to see the Mississippi River or Twain’s home in Hannibal Missouri.  Read the Little House on the Prairie series and travel to the sites where Laura Ingalls Wilder really lived.  How about Brighty of the Grand Canyon?  Remember that one? The list goes on. Not only do lit trips fuel a young reader’s imagination, they also give a sense of history and an understanding of what life was like earlier in our history.

One of the best books to inspire a reading road trip is Storybook Travels: From Eloise’s New York to Harry Potter’s London, Visits to 30 of the Best-Loved Landmarks in Children’s Literature by Susan La Tempa and Colleen Dunn Bates.  Here are a few other Web sites that offer great reading road trip ideas:

KidLit History  whose motto is “Everything I need to know about history I learned through children’s literature.”

Mommy Poppins.com

Travel Guide Through Children’s Literature

I can’t resist this one about Dr. Seuss-like places.



Greater Dayton Public Television 


Here’s a library site, and finally,

National Geographic Traveler’s Ultimate Travel Library

So, with a tiny bit of research, you could pair a book about Abe Lincoln and a trip that would show both kids and parents why Abraham Lincoln was important… or why Paul Revere made that famous ride.