Annual “Fort Fright” Blends History and Horror in Mackinaw City

Fort FrightAn 18th century fort and fur-trading village in Mackinaw City will be transformed into a haunted hot spot October 11th and 12th for the annual Fort Fright. Guest blogger Kelsey Schnell gives an inside look at what visitors can expect from this year’s event.

As visitors venture inside the gate, British Redcoats of a different order patrol the wooden fort. A closer look reveals they’re not ordinary men, but skeleton soldiers with bony fingers curled tight around their muskets.

More campfires crackle inside the fort, but are surrounded by friendly faces. French fur traders and voyageurs are telling more tales, singing songs and playing traditional instruments of the 1700s. One campfire boasts a large, black, cast-iron pot of apple cider simmering over the flames as a colonial woman ladles it into cups for visitors warming themselves. The fire offers a respite from the mythical creatures that prefer other places, like the upper stories of the wooden buildings where they throw open shutters and cackle, howl or prowl around the palisade. “The majority of the activities at Fort Fright will be suitable for the entire family,” said Steve Brisson, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ deputy director. “But we’ll also have a number of interesting and scary activities designed to appeal to older children and adults.”

Fort Fright

A tour of the haunted rowhouse, a custom designed exhibit for this occasion, will not be easily forgotten.  New for this year, “The Demon Walk” provides an additional scary element. In other wooden buildings within the fort and fur trading village, colonial ladies serve warm autumn treats like homemade molasses cookies and toffee, and others play music on instruments from the time period. Guests can learn about death and burial in the 1700s, and the various traditions and ceremonies for the dead from over 250 years ago in the church. In addition to creatures, colonial men and women with friendly faces roam the village, following the lantern-lit paths that wind throughout the fort, a unique nighttime atmosphere available only on these two nights.

Fort Fright“The event is not just held to scare folks,” said Katie Mallory, Mackinac State Historic Parks curator of education. “There’s an eerie but real background to the event, which stems from French-Canadian tales that were passed on from person-to-person as voyageurs and other people traveled, and so there’s a strong history of oral tradition behind Fort Fright.” That oral history is shared around campfires much in the same way it was shared over two-and-a-half centuries ago.

The characters that roam Fort Fright, such as were-wolves, lutins, and Le Dame Blanche, meaning White Lady (Ghost), are drawn from a book called Were-Wolves and Will-o-the-Wisps: French Tales of Mackinac Retold by Dirk Gringhuis. The collection of short stores, published by Mackinac State Historic Parks, is based on French-Canadian folktales brought to the Mackinac Straits area by the voyageurs during the height of the French fur trade.Fort Fright

This annual event serves as a type of “kick-off” for the fall. Admission to Fort Fright is $7 for adults, $4 for children age 5-17 or $20 for a family. Children 4 and under and Mackinac Associates Friend Level and above are admitted at no charge. Tickets can be purchased prior to the event beginning October 1 at the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center in Mackinaw City or online at mackinacparks.com. For more information, call 231-436-4100.

Kelsey SchnellKelsey serves as the Public Relations and Marketing Officer for Mackinac State Historic Parks, a family of living history museums and parks in northern Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac, an agency within the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Have you been to Fort Fright in Mackinaw City? Tell us about it! 

A Grand Romantic Getaway (Part 2)

Our Pin to Win: Michigan in Love contest was launched in February when we asked fans to create a Pinterest board that represented what an ideal romantic getaway looked like to them. We received a ton of great submissions, but ultimately selected Megan Battaglia of Buffalo, New York randomly as the winner. Megan immediately began planning a romantic getaway for her and her husband to take to Mackinac Island (and beyond!), which they enjoyed last month.

Today Megan tells us about their magical voyage around the state, their favorite stops along the way and even mentions needing to make some return trips to the state in the future!

Read from her below and visit michigan.org to learn more about Michigan vacation destinations.

My husband and I have just returned from our Pure Michigan Romantic Getaway – 2 days in Mackinac Island at Grand Hotel, round trip air from American Airlines, and a Buick rental car. We did the best we could to explore as much of western and northern Michigan as we could and here is how we did:

Day 1

Our first stop in our luxurious Buick Enclave was the Pure Michigan information center in New Buffalo where we grabbed maps and guides for all the beach towns we planned to visit as we drove up the west coast of Michigan.

Next stop, Holland. Beautiful town, plenty of shops and restaurants. We decided to have lunch at the New Holland Brewing Co. and sample some of their craft beers. We then visited the Windmill Island Gardens and toured DeZwann – the only authentic working Dutch windmill in the US! Next, onto Grand Haven where we visited the lighthouse and pier and walked the 2 ½ mile boardwalk which was lined with shops, restaurants, marinas, and shady benches to sit and enjoy the view.

After driving through other beautiful beach towns like Muskegon and Ludington, we finally arrived in Mackinaw City just in time for the sunset and to see the lights on the bridge. We stayed at a beautiful little motel “American Boutique Inn” right next to a waterfront park with a view of the bridge.

Day 2

Megan's view from her room at Grand Hotel

Finally, onto Mackinac Island and Grand Hotel! The town is like a scene from a movie set. Right away you notice the pace slows, people riding bikes, horse drawn carriages clop by, fudge shops offering free samples outside (it is ALL about the fudge here so we decided it was our “duty” to taste as many as we could). After shopping in town, we took Grand Hotel’s carriage up to the hotel to check in. Our driver was a year round resident of the island and shared some fascinating stories about life on the island. As we pulled up to the hotel it was as grand and welcoming as all the pictures you see! We were greeted with smiles and given a quick orientation to all Grand Hotel has to offer. Our room was  breathtaking – blue and green with beautiful antiques and a patio looking out over the lake. We were welcomed with a basket of champagne, roses, cheese, fruit and of course, fudge!

We then decided to tour the grounds of the hotel to learn as much as we could about this amazing place. We had ice cream at the new Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor, visited the shops at the hotel, toured the flower gardens and the Esther Williams pool, walked the labyrinth, checked out the golf course, the Jockey Club and the Gate House restaurants,  stopped in at Grand Hotel Outlet Store where they sell discontinued items from the hotel (the manager of the store is a wealth of knowledge about the hotel and the island!) Finally, we settled on the porch (the longest front porch in the US and is as amazing as you would expect with magnificent views of the lake and gardens) for cocktails and then headed in for a wonderful dinner.

Day 3

The next day, we thought we would like to see more of the island and learn more of its history so the concierge at Grand Hotel set us up with our own private horse and carriage tour. Our tour guide took us along the shore up into the state park, to Arch Rock and Fort Mackinac – it was all beautiful and fascinating!

That night, as another part of our prize package, we enjoyed dinner at the Woods Restaurant which is a short horse-drawn carriage ride into the wooded interior of Mackinac Island. The restaurant is in a beautiful, warm, and cozy Tudor mansion and serving Bavarian style food. After dinner we enjoyed drinks in the Audubon Wine Room back at Grand Hotel.

I have to admit we were sad to leave the next day! We did the best we could to take advantage of all Grand Hotel has to offer but we definitely need to come back to spend some more time here! I am already perusing the fall specials!

Day 4

We were back in our beautiful Buick and onto another road trip day! We headed straight down from Mackinaw City to Route 119 and the Tunnel of Trees, a 20 mile one lane road under a canopy of trees along Lake Michigan. It was everything I dreamt it would be! Along the way we stopped at the 70 year-old Good Hart General Store with absolutely amazing homemade baked goods, deli items and famous chicken pot pies.

Megan and her husband stopping for a photo during one of their stops

From there we drove through Harbor Springs, Petoskey and Bay Harbor on our way to our final stop – Traverse City and the Leelanau Peninsula.

Day 5

Today we toured the Leelanau Peninsula by the way of scenic highway, M22. Our stops included:

  • Glen Arbor (beautiful beaches and home to the Cherry Republic Store and deli! Here it is all about the CHERRIES and we enjoyed them in every form they had!)
  • Empire (one of the best public beaches I have ever seen!)
  • Leland and Fishtown (ate at the Cove Restaurant perched right above the waterfall and looking down over the shops in Fishtown)
  • Wineries along M22 (including Chateau de Leelanau Vineyard, Black Star Farms, Good Neighbor Organic Vineyard, and Good Harbor Vineyards – there are so many more and another wine trail along the Old Mission Peninsula)
  • Suttons Bay (beautiful historic village with gorgeous views of the lake)

Day 6

For our last day, we saved the awe inspiring Sleeping Bear Dunes. This area has fascinated me since I learned a few years back that it had been voted the most beautiful place in America and it truly lives up to its name. Sleeping Bear Dunes is a 35-mile stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline with immense sand dunes sculpted by years of wind and water.

Our trip has come to an end and here are some of the things we learned:

  • Everyone we met in Michigan was kind to us
  • Everyone we met also dreamed of staying at Grand Hotel
  • Lake Michigan is a vast, pure, and beautiful lake. The colors of the lake in some spots look like the Caribbean (turquoise, teal and navy blue) Now, I understand the T-shirt slogan “Lake Michigan Unsalted” – it looks like an ocean!
  • Northern Michigan’s wines are delicious and rival those of any other state
  • The beaches of western and northern Michigan are some of the most beautiful beaches we have ever seen
  • We need MANY trips back to discover more. I don’t think we even scratched the surface of all there is to see and do.
  • I have become a “Pure Michigan Ambassador” and thanks to this wonderful prize trip, I have peaked the interest of so many people who have never thought of Michigan as a vacation spot – and many of them are already planning their trips to Michigan!

Thank you Pure Michigan, Grand Hotel, American Airlines and Buick for the trip of a lifetime – and we will be back!

Congrats again to Megan on being the winner of our Pinterest contest! We are thrilled that she and her husband enjoyed their trip to Michigan.

What would your perfect Pure Michigan trip entail? Tell us in the comments below.

A Mackinac Island Family Reunion

Sometimes life gets so busy that it’s tough to take a timeout and just enjoy your surroundings. John Truscott knows that feeling well, but was able to take a break last summer and enjoy what Pure Michigan has to offer during a Mackinac Island weekend getaway with his family. Today he shares his experience with us.

When I get to Mackinac Island these days, it’s typically for work. A conference, a meeting, or something that keeps me from truly appreciating the beauty and tranquility of this jewel. While the ferry ride is always nice, once I hit the Island, it’s time to go to work. No time to ride around the island, stop for fudge, or just relax and enjoy.

Except for last summer. My family went to Mackinac Island like we used to – as a family. It was my parents’ 50th Anniversary; and I was a tourist!  What an incredible weekend. With my brother and sister and nieces and nephew, we enjoyed the Island like it’s supposed to be enjoyed.

The weather was absolutely perfect – warm sun and cool breezes. It was heavenly. One of the evenings, we just grabbed some pizzas and hung out in the park below the fort. Lying in the grass, appreciating the family time and letting the young kids run. This incredible memory will last a lifetime.

And I was able to ride bikes with my teenage nieces around the Island. When you don’t have time for that ride, it’s easy to forget how beautiful it is. The blue water was like a mirror and warm enough to wade in. It had been a while since I had skipped rocks in the big lake. I felt like a kid again.

But we surely didn’t miss out on some adult time at the Pink Pony bar, located on the water at the Chippewa Hotel. The Caribbean has nothing on this spot.  Better yet, we didn’t have to worry about driving home. The automobile was banned on Mackinac Island in the later 1890s.

That long weekend brought out the kid in me again. We used to take our yearly family vacation to the Island, and it was always magical. Unfortunately, the work of the real world these days had dulled a little bit of the magic. Until that one summer weekend. It was like the younger days as a family, but yet more fun because we had even more family to share this incredible experience. It just might have been the best family trip ever.And on the last day – I ran to the ferry, jumped in the car, drove straight to the airport in Detroit – to jet out for another conference. But I did it with a big smile on my face and great memories to cherish.

Go to mackinacisland.org to plan your next family reunion.

John Truscott is a President and Principal of Truscott Rossman, a bipartisan public relations firm, and a huge fan of Mackinac Island.