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Week of July 5, 2010

Bentley historical exhibit celebrates Michigan as vacation destination

The history of Michigan as a prime vacation spot is celebrated in the current exhibit “Seeking a Pleasant Peninsula: A Century of Travel & Vacationing in Michigan,” presented 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday through August at the Bentley Historical Library.

The photos depict pre-bridge era Mackinac ferries, Great Lakes cruise ships and turn-of-the-century travel brochures produced by private railroad companies to promote the state’s natural wonders.

“A Catch in Paradise Lake, Idlewild” is presented in a Michigan-based exhibit at the Bentley Historical Library. Photo courtesy Bentley Historical Library.

The photos also depict vacationers in the late 1800s and early part of the 20th century, and the styles of dress once deemed appropriate for the beach and campground.

Exhibit curator Matt Adair, a Fenton graduate student studying archives and records management, says he got the idea for the exhibit last winter, as he daydreamed of summer in Michigan.

“I had heard many stories in from my family about traveling north and having to wait for hours for the Mackinac ferries. Over the years, I had seen a number of early photographs with people vacationing in their ‘finest,’ so this was another area I wanted to highlight,” Adair says.

He scoured the Bentley’s collections to find a range of photos. Some from around the turn of the century show campers posed at Monument Rock, Isle Royal and at camping areas in the Les Cheneaux islands region just east of St. Ignace. Both men and women favor collars buttoned to the neck. Men are wearing hats, ties and sport coats while women wear large brim bonnets and ankle-length dresses. Similar clothing is evident in period photos of boaters and shoreline scenes.

Adair says his biggest surprise in assembling the exhibit was the change in fashions. “Many of the early photographs show people out in what appears to be their finest clothes. This could be partially because photography used to be an event itself, unlike the quick snapshots of today,” he says.

One exhibit photo from 1903, taken in the Tawas area along Lake Huron, shows a woman vacationer coming out of the water in a swim dress with short-sleeves and leggings that continue below the knee.

“I guess the other thing that stood out was just how long Upper Michigan has been advertised and thought of as a vacation spot,” Adair says. The exhibit shows a 1895 color brochure produced by the Detroit and Mackinaw Railway that reads, “Do you know that the best hunting on Earth can be found on the Detroit and Mackinaw Railway for deer, partridge, wild duck, bear and other game?”

“I think the most interesting thing was just how much the railroads actively advertised for tourists,” Adair says. “They covered so many things that we would find familiar today: hunting, fishing, boating, camping, even the local ‘tourist traps.’

“The last surprise would be cruise ships on the Great Lakes. It seems hard to imagine today when we think of the giant ships that are out on the oceans now. One photo reveals the grand interior of a Great Lakes Transit Co. Steamer, with dining salon tables elegantly set, evoking scenes from the film “The Titanic.”

In another photo a bearded camper on an 1868 U-M Scientific Expedition pours coffee as another looks on outside a hut along Chapel Beach on Lake Superior, at the Pictured Rocks area west of Munising in the Upper Peninsula. A wooden trunk lid serves as a dining table, along a shoreline lined by a stand of trees.

Colored postcards from the early 1900s depict outdoor scenes on Belle Isle in Detroit, including well-dressed people on rowboats or picnicking along the shore at the island’s Grand Canal.

More photos depict classic Michigan vacation scenes from the mid-1900s, including folks in checked flannel standing along shorelines and holding up strings of fish catches for the camera, and a hot dog roast on the Keweenaw Peninsula shore.

Some National Geographic photos from 1952-54 included in the exhibit include a 1954 deck scene on a car ferry before the completion of the Mackinac Bridge, and a color aerial view of hundreds of pine trees ringing Lake of the Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains in the western Upper Peninsula.

 

STAFF SPOTLIGHT

Sandy Richter, interior designer, Architecture, Engineering & Construction, on why she loves interior design work at the university: “I love thinking of different ways to use space.”

EVENTS

  • “The Geisha Influence on Kimono Fashion” with Liza Dalby, anthropologist and author who spent a year as a geisha in Japan and was a consultant to the film “Memoirs of a Geisha,” 5:30 p.m. July 15, U-M Museum of Art, Helmut Stern Auditorium.

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