An Island Frozen in Time, and Awash in Fudge
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because if you really want to get away from Henry Ford’s damnable contraption, you have to visit his backyard.
By Sean Braswell
The OZY Top 25: Each week we share an irresistible vacation hideaway, chosen by OZY staff.
Sometimes escapism smells like horse shit. Sometimes fudge. When you get off the ferry at Mackinac Island (pronounced MACK-ih-naw), your nose will treat you to a rather odd mixture of the two. But don’t let that stop you. You’ll find plenty of other things to distract you on this majestic island near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that is both lost in time and located far enough off the beaten track that Google Maps still needs to be badgered to give you directions.
One thing you will not be distracted by: a car horn. That’s because all motorized vehicles have been banned here since 1896 — rather forward-thinking when you consider the fact that Michigan’s favorite son, Henry Ford, did not introduce the Model T until 1908. All visitors to the island, located near where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet, must therefore walk, cycle or take a horse-drawn taxi. Hence the horse shit.
The island brings together the feel of a bygone era like no other U.S. tourist destination.
But whether it’s enjoying a moonlit carriage ride, an 8-mile pedal around the island’s perimeter or just ambling on foot between the fudge shops lining Main Street, finding alternative transport was never so much fun. Sure, the island has its modern trappings, from the souvenir shops to the blueberry cheesecake-flavored fudge, but the former fur trading post — with its grand Victorian houses and inns, its lighthouses, colonial fort and pristine forests — brings together the feel of a bygone era like no other U.S. tourist destination, including costume-clad Colonial Williamsburg. “The big difference is that Mackinac Island is not a museum,” says Peter Payette, news director at Interlochen Public Radio. “It is real. The inhabitants live there and do not take off costumes and go home at night.”
Of course, you can dress up yourself, and, in some cases, you will have to. Those visiting the island’s crown jewel, the romantic 390-room Grand Hotel, with its spectacular Grand Dining Room and the world’s longest porch, must wear evening wearafter 6:30 p.m.Nonguests of the hotel can pay $10 to gain admission to the hotel and explore its grounds. If you can afford to splurge, get a room (about $300 to $800).
A swelling tide of tourists is both the island’s lifeblood and a constant source of challenges. Some occasional tensions flare between its 500-plus full-time residents, the million or so “fudgies” (local slang for tourists) that visit each summer and the thousands of temporary workers brought in to look after them. And, says Payette, Mackinac must constantly walk the line between preserving the historical character of the island and the financial incentive for building new developments to cash in on that character.
You won’t need a time machine to get to Mackinac, but Northern Michigan’s not exactly a Delta Air Lines hub. Most people park their motorized vehicles in Mackinaw City or St. Ignace and take a $25 ferry.
So, this summer, pack your bike shorts and necktie, dress or pantsuit and make your way “up north,” as they say in Michigan. Then hop a ferry and don’t stop until you smell … the freedom.