Past Travels: Traverse City

I don’t know about you, but I’m just about done with winter. I’m very much so ready for warm weather and sunshine. So to combat these end-of-winter blues, I thought I’d write a post that made me think of summer. To me, summer in Michigan is weekend road trips up north, swimming in the Great Lakes, going camping and, of course, going to the local historical sites of whatever town I’m visiting. So I dug into my photographs of summers past and found a (digital) album of a camping trip to Traverse City from 2010. Besides tubing down a nearby river and visiting the local wineries, I also visited the Museum of the History Center of Traverse City and the Mission Point Lighthouse on Old Mission Point.

The Museum of the History Center of Traverse City has a complicated name due to its complicated history. According to the museum’s website, the idea behind the museum dates back to 1934, when Con Foster, the Traverse City Park’s commissioner, wanted to create a large park/tourist attraction at the southern tip of the West Grand Traverse Bay. He wanted a zoo, a beach house and a museum. A year later, the Works Progress Administration built a building for the museum, named the Con Foster Museum. Foster himself began to travel around the Midwest searching for Native American and pioneer artifacts for his collection. The collection and museum continued to grow, eventually being run by a group called the Friends of the Con Foster Museum.

This is where things start to get confusing. By the end of the century, the Con Foster collection had outgrown its original building and in 2002, it moved into a grand building originally occupied by the Traverse Area District Library. The building also housed other local historical organizations and was dubbed the Grand Traverse Heritage Center. In late 2010, apparently soon after I visited the museum, the Heritage Center merged with the Traverse Area Historical Society and was renamed the History Center of Traverse City. As the museum is only part of the entire history center, it is known as the Museum of the History Center of Traverse City. That’s a long name.

The museum contains a number of exhibits on local history topics such as Native Americans, logging, railroads and the cherry industry. It includes a replica of a Victorian parlor to represent Traverse City’s heyday during the logging boom of the late 19th century. The museum also provides a gallery for temporary exhibits. Although I remember enjoying the museum, I can’t speak much about the exhibits as my visit was over two years ago. I was very amused when I went back through my photographs from my visit, as I clearly had no intention of capturing the museum as a whole but rather only took pictures of single items or displays that jumped out at me as strange, shocking, or amusing. Here’s a  few examples:

Hair wreath from the Victorian parlor. While hair wreaths were a popular and often homemade decoration meant to serve a keepsakes of friends and loved ones, today we tend to see them as rather strange.

Hair wreath from the Victorian parlor. While hair wreaths were a popular and often homemade decoration meant to serve a keepsakes of friends and loved ones, today we tend to see them as rather strange.

Rules for Teachers

Rules for teachers: This is an interesting list that not only tells us how teachers were to act in 1872 but also prominently displays the strict gender roles and conventions of the era.

I’m not a huge fan of mannequins, but I find this guy (with a limb shaker used for cherry harvesting) to be particularly creepy.

I’m not a huge fan of mannequins normally, but I find this guy (with a limb shaker used for cherry harvesting) to be particularly creepy.

DSCN4742

The final photograph shows items swallowed by one patient over several years at a local state hospital. According to the label, she would swallow them when she was upset with her surroundings because it would cause her to go to surgery and then stay in the hospital’s infirmary for a time, providing a change of pace. Besides the obvious shock value of this display, I can’t help but wonder about its origins. Why were these items saved? Why and when were they given to a museum, and why did the museum decide to display them? I’m inclined to believe this is an old display, because it feels more like an old-fashioned “cabinet of curiosities” display than a part of a modern exhibit. A more modern take might use it as an example of the the poor treatment of the mentally ill in that period and the lengths they went to just to get their doctors to DO something. However, I can’t read the entire label from my picture (and it took a bit of zooming and squinting to read any of it) so I can’t be sure of how it is currently presented. Pondering the many different ways a museum might interpret these objects does make for an interesting exercise though!

Mission Point Lighthouse

Mission Point Lighthouse

My second historical stop near Traverse City was the Mission Point Lighthouse. The simple white wooden structure was built in 1870. It is actually a twin to the Mama Juda Lighthouse in the Detroit River, built in 1866 (an earlier lighthouse had been built on the same spot in 1849). These two lighthouses are the only two of that style. Interesting side note – the Mama Juda Lighthouse sat on Mama Juda island, a small island off the northern tip of Grosse Ile. It’s not clear when the lighthouse was abandoned, but the structure was destroyed by the encroaching river by 1950 and the entire island was underwater by 1960. Today, only a few large boulders can be seen above the water.

Back to Mission Point, that lighthouse’s biggest claim to fame is its position a few hundred yards south of the 45th Parallel, halfway between the equator and the north pole. A sign indicates this location at the lighthouse, although the sign itself isn’t on the line. Nonetheless it makes a great photo op!

Would you believe I was in graduate school, not high school when this photo was taken? Because wow do I look 17.

Would you believe I was in graduate school, not high school when this photo was taken? Because wow do I look 17.

The lighthouse was deactivated in 1933 and currently houses a small museum, but it was closed when I visited so I was unable to go inside. Nonetheless, the drive up Old Mission Point is lovely and the area around the lighthouse fun to explore, so it was definitely worth the trip.

The rest of that trip wasn’t very historical, but here’s a couple more shots keep you dreaming of warmer days:

TC Collage copy

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