Betty Doolittle November 2006

Lake Michigan Memoirs
Betty Doolittle

     A jolly group of sailors, we set out on an unusual cruise: from Chicago to Chicago! Helen Merrill, Betsy Fisk, Ann and Dick Clayton, Gen Roberts, Vi Gawl, Don and Velva Layton and my husband, Don, and I boarded the beautiful Nantucket Clipper at Navy Pier and prepared for our trip around Lake Michigan.
      After a night of fresh winds, we arrived in Milwaukee and berthed just across from the Summerfest, a large amphitheater that was preparing for a circus. Right at our gangway were two sleepy lions in their cages to greet us as we disembarked!
      Milwaukee is a clean and interesting city. Some of the buildings are pure white and subject to pigeon discrepancies. The town fathers imported Peregrine falcons to take care of the pigeons, and now they have falcon discrepancies.
      A highlight of our visit was the Pabst Mansion, the home of Capt. Fred Pabst, the beer baron who spared nothing to construct this enchanting residence with intricately carved woodwork, hand-painted wallpaper and priceless antiques and china. Most impressive was an enormous doll house enclosed in glass that took 15 years to build.
      Other treats were the Riverwalk and Manor Houses of B. F. Goodrich, Schlitz and Frank Lloyd Wright. Some of the breweries were open for taste testing, and some of our group couldn’t resist. The city is a far cry from the fur trading post established by Solomon Juneau in 1818.
      After returning to the ship, we had a sumptuous dinner and set sail for Sturgeon Bay, Door County, MI. On an expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage leading to the Orient, Jean Nicolet waded ashore in 1634 wearing a gaudy damask robe embroidered with birds and flowers, hoping to greet Chinese natives. Much to his surprise, they were Winnebago Indians!
      Today, Sturgeon Bay is an important shipping port linking Lake Michigan to Green Bay. Door County, named for Porte de Morte (Death’s Door, or dangerous waters) is noted for its cherry orchards and shipbuilding. It is located on the Niagara Escarpment, a limestone line of bluffs running all the way to Niagara Falls.
      We visited the Eagle Bluffs Lighthouse, built in 1868. Today it is solar powered and has three bulbs to light the lens. Each year they are replaced by the Coast Guard whether needed or not. Near the lighthouse is a lovely little cemetery that has a waiting list to get in (we can’t quite understand this).
      Further along is a sleepy town called Ephraim, which is a dry town, and every house MUST be painted white.
      The tip end of Door County is Washington Island. History says that all along the shore in the winter, ice houses ship ice to Chicago and Milwaukee for 75 cents a ton. “Fish Boils” are the native delicacy. A fire is started, topped with a kettle of boiling water containing red potatoes and onions. Add whitefish and boil 10 minutes. Pour kerosene on the fire, which will cause the kettle to boil over, leaving a succulent fish stew. This is followed by cherry pie, and hopefully not a trip to the Emergency Room.
      Back aboard, we enjoyed dinner and started our cruise to Mackinac City and Island. Such gorgeous weather we cannot describe. Our ship glided through the azure waters en route to Mackinac City, situated between Lakes Michigan and Huron. Cars have been banned since 1898, so we experienced the fun of traveling by horse and carriage through flower-filled streets lined with fudge shops, galleries and boutiques.
      Some of us visited the Butterfly House to enjoy over 500 species of the free-flying creatures. Later we boarded a ferry that took us to Mackinac Island and the Grand Hotel, which is GRAND in every way.
      People were rocking comfortably on its 700-foot porch overlooking the lake and enjoying an incredible view. We were treated to a huge buffet luncheon in the dining room under the majestic crystal chandeliers, followed by a horse and carriage trip through the forests of pine and tamarack, stopping often to refresh the horses. Ours were sturdy Percherons, and strong enough to pull 12 of us in the carriage.
      Back aboard the Nantucket Clipper, we exchanged experiences and were curious about other people’s choices at the buffet.
      On our trip to Manistee, we cruised under “Big Mac,” the long bridge connecting Mackinac City with the mainland. Trucks must go very slowly on it because of the wind.
      Passing the “Sleeping Bear Dunes,” Rachel, our guest lecturer, recounted the Indian legend of the raging fire on land that drove a mother bear and her two cubs into the water, only to be drowned. The Great Manitou covered the mother bear with sand, and formed “Sleeping Bear Dunes,” then her cubs were also covered and are the North and South Manitou Islands.
      Upon arrival in Manistee we were greeted by ladies on the dock, dressed in Victorian costumes and holding a large sign saying “Give Women the Vote.” Our ship was tied up at the foot of a grassy park, and calliope music was playing for us. Our welcome was really delightful.
      Manistee is a survivor town. In 1871, a dreadful fire burned over half of the city. Within a year the area had been restored with beautiful brick and wooden buildings designed by famous architects, and wooden Victorians called “Painted Ladies.” Nearby are vast brine deposits and Morton’s Salt Co. Everyone enjoyed the main street, which is on the National Historic Register.
      Grand Haven was our next port-of-call. Alongside the docked Nantucket Clipper were many small boats trawling for salmon. We enjoyed watching the excitement as they pulled in the feisty Cohoes.
      Grand Haven was John Jacob Aster’s principal post for fur trapping and was named “Gabagouache,” meaning “Big Mouth.” A two-mile walk along the harbor is lined with shops, restaurants and charter fishing facilities.
      We boarded a motor coach for Holland, Michigan, which features a Dutch landscape complete with the DeZwaan Windmill, which was dismantled in Holland and restored here on Windmill Island. The little town is as Dutch as can be. It even has a Delft factory and, of course, there are brilliant flowers everywhere planted among the quaint buildings.
      Our ship docked at Navy Pier in Chicago for the last day of our great trip. Chicago is a beautiful city with a vast expanse of parks and lakefront. We can thank Montgomery Ward, who invested a pile of money and effort in 1890, for preserving the shore front from developers. A stream of politicians saw the build-up of empty real estate as “progress.” Today everyone is grateful for Ward’s vision.
      We enjoyed a riverboat trip on the Chicago River, which winds through the city and passes some handsome skyscrapers. Our docent aboard was a professor of architecture at the university and explained styles and origins of city art.
      We passed a building with a dome on top, which had been Al Capone’s infamous Club. He obtained the lease by claiming it was for his father’s used furniture store.
      Again, the flowers must be mentioned. They were hanging from the balconies of the buildings, planted along the river and all in full gorgeous bloom. We all loved our short stay and heartily recommend a cruise on CruiseWest.
      The ten of us were privileged to sail on CruiseWest’s latest acquisition, the Nantucket Clipper. She is 207 feet long, draws 8 feet and takes 102 passengers. A spacious observation lounge and elegant dining room are all window-lined to view the outside world. American cuisine is prepared freshly to order and is delicious. She has many other cruises on the Eastern seaboard. For more information call 206-441-8687 for brochures on all the ships.