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An Oldie but a Real Goodie
Douglas S. Looney
February 22, 1993
Car-free streets and a hotel of timeless elegance make this island the rarest of gems
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February 22, 1993

An Oldie But A Real Goodie

Car-free streets and a hotel of timeless elegance make this island the rarest of gems

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Of Mackinac's nearly 2,300 acres, close to 1,800 are state land and thus are safe from the condo builders, who have put up only about 40 units around the island in the past decade. Actually, the island is safe from most everything. There was a murder once, and on page 111 of the local police log is the entry: "Body of Mrs. Frances Lacey found below Stonecliffe at 7:15 p.m., Thursday, July 27, 1960. She had been strangled with her panties." Not a lot more was ever found out about the crime. In '92, 258 bikes were stolen, but 166 of them were recovered, and nobody got too wrought up. Police chief Jones says that sometimes, in the winter, the department's phone can go for days without ringing. So the officers occupy themselves with issuing speeding tickets to snowmobilers—16 last winter.

Lynne Tellefson says, "The Indians felt a mystique here. There is a spiritual appeal that captivates your heart, and then you are never happy anywhere else. But everybody here is a little warped." Terwilliger agrees, saying, "You do have to be slightly askew to choose this way of life. But at least we're not really abnormal like they are in Key West" (page 76).

Mackinac village, the only settlement on the island, does have Alford's Drug Store, the junkiest store in America. Alford's sells everything from plastic ants to refrigerator magnets that say IT'S HARD TO BE NOSTALGIC WHEN YOU CAN'T REMEMBER ANYTHING. The village also has one must-see attraction: Butterfly House, behind St. Anne's Church, a fascinating habitat for live butterflies.

But mostly Mackinac has fudge. As Cawthorne says, "The essence of the island is history, horses and fudge." The village's short main street has 11 fudge shops. What must have been going through the mind of the guy who, seeing 10 fudge stores, said to himself, "What this town needs is one more fudge store"? When the final history of Mackinac Island is written, it will be interesting to see whether the place was buried in manure or in fudge. The aromas certainly compete for dominance.

Bob Benser Jr., veep of Murdick's Fudge, says the appeal of his product is that "fudge is really decadent, and people come here to splurge." Murdick's makes about 540 pounds of fudge a day during the summer. What could be more oldtimey? Says Benser, "It's one of those things that is always near and dear to our hearts. There are hot dogs, popcorn, ice cream, apple pie—and fudge."

Perfectly in line with the old-time feeling is the way things have always been done on the island, which is to say straightforwardly. In 1870 the post surgeon at the fort, Dr. Hiram Mills, pointed out the many healthful attributes of Mackinac Island and concluded, "Bowel complaints seldom prevail here." When a city ordinance was passed in 1887 decreeing that all saloons be closed on Sundays, care was taken in its wording: "The word closed in this section shall be construed to apply to the back door as well as the front door."

The clip-clopping goes on. Carriage driver Bob Gilmore, 57, has been driving for six years. He has his own concerns: "They say if you follow something long enough, you begin to resemble what you are following." The highway that encircles the island, M-185, lays claim to being the only highway in the U.S. never to have had an automobile accident on it. Well, O.K., there are a lot of bicycle accidents, and a snowmobile once clipped a dump truck that had special permission to make a delivery on the island, but those aren't car wrecks, right? Clip-clop.

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