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Oddball Michigan: A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places

Oddball Michigan: A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places

by Jerome Pohlen

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There’s more to Michigan than beautiful forests, shuttered factories, and miles and miles of stunning shoreline. Armed with this offbeat travel guide, you’ll soon discover the strange underbelly of the Great Lakes State. Michigan has monuments to fluoridation, snurfing, the designer of the Jefferson nickel, and the once-famous Mr. Chicken, as well as


There’s more to Michigan than beautiful forests, shuttered factories, and miles and miles of stunning shoreline. Armed with this offbeat travel guide, you’ll soon discover the strange underbelly of the Great Lakes State. Michigan has monuments to fluoridation, snurfing, the designer of the Jefferson nickel, and the once-famous Mr. Chicken, as well as festivals honoring tulips, Christmas pickles, and a 38-acre fungus. It’s where you’ll find the World’s Largest Lugnut, the Nun Doll Museum, Joe’s Gizzard City, the Teenie-Weenie Pickle Barrel Cottage, Howdy Doody, and Thomas Edison’s last breath. The state also has its share of weird history—it’s where Harry Houdini perished on Halloween night in 1926, where skater Tanya Harding’s posse whacked Nancy Kerrigan, and where the Kellogg brothers invented popular breakfast cereals and less-popular yogurt enemas. Along with humorous histories and witty observations, Oddball Michigan provides addresses, websites, hours, fees, and driving directions for each of its 450 entries.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Such grassroots creativity deserves to be celebrated, even by an author (Jerome Pohlen) who’s from Chicago, a city which, let’s be honest, cannot hold a candle to metro Detroit’s oddball cred.” —Detroit Free Press

"[A] wonderful, ingenious book." —ExclusiveMagazine.com

“[A] good get to know us guide.” —The Motor City Blog

“In 450 funny blurbs, the author covers sights people might go out of their way for, as well as attractions one might check out while just passing through, providing location, cost, and contact information for each. Amusing, brisk, surprising, and slightly educational, this is a great resource for the discerning connoisseur of cheesy and eccentric tourist attractions of the Upper Midwest.” —Library Journal

“Pohlen found some real gems. I can envision tour planners and operators using Oddball Michigan as they plan an itinerary. Tour guides could weave facts from the book into their narration.” —Group Tour Magazine

“Taking a "normal" road trip with the kids sounds like a drag after flipping through Oddball Michigan: A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places.” —MetroParents.com

“The publicity may not be exactly what Pure Michigan promoters had in mind, but it’s a lot more fun to read.” —Detroit Free Press

“Pohlen seeks all that is weirdly wacky and wonderful in the Mitten State, often serving up the descriptions of his finds with a seriously sizeable side of snark.” —Midwest Guest

Library Journal
In the great state of Michigan, "oddball" can mean many things, but chief among these are giant statues of Paul Bunyan, giant cherry pie pans, and giant ice cream cones. To be fair, Pohlen's ninth in his "Oddball" states series also includes historical sites, natural phenomena, and landmarks related to pop culture icons, such as the hospital where Madonna was born (now an old folks' home) and a majestic Magic Johnson statue at Michigan State University, his alma mater. Organized by region, this compendium begins with the weirdness that is the Upper Peninsula and ends with the mixed legacy of Detroit, a city that brought the world Henry Ford and the Motown sound, but also has some of the worst urban blight in America (fertile ground for art installations!). In 450 funny blurbs, the author covers sights people might go out of their way for, as well as attractions one might check out while just passing through, providing location, cost, and contact information for each. VERDICT Amusing, brisk, surprising, and slightly educational, this is a great resource for the discerning connoisseur of cheesy and eccentric tourist attractions of the Upper Midwest.—Emilia Packard, Austin, TX

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Oddball Michigan

A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places

By Jerome Pohlen

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2014 Jerome Pohlen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61374-896-1



Something happens when you drive north across the Mackinac Bridge into Michigan's Upper Peninsula, or UP as it's referred to in shorthand. The trees get a little denser, the service gets a little slower, and the backwoods drawls get a little thicker. It's almost as if you've entered a different state, and certainly a different state of mind.

In fact, the UP might never have been a part of Michigan. Back when Michigan was a territory hoping to become the nation's newest state, there was a border dispute over the so-called Toledo Strip; two early maps drew the southern boundary at different parallels. (Ohio had the better argument — it had been a US state with an established border since 1803.) Between 1835 and 1837, both Ohio and Michigan sent militias to the area to assert their claims. The Toledo Gazette sniffed that the Michigan militia was "composed of the lowest and most miserable dregs of the community ... low drunken frequenters of grog shops, who had been hired at a dollar a day," and events bore that out. The so-called "Toledo War" turned into a series of shoving matches and liquor-fueled brawls, but nobody was ever killed defending Toledo. Which seems right.

Finally, President Andrew Jackson brokered a deal. In exchange for ceding its claims to the Toledo Strip, Michigan was given statehood and three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula, which was then part of the Wisconsin Territory. On January 26, 1837, Michigan became the 26th state in the union.

But not everyone was, or is, happy about the deal. In 1978 a bill was introduced to the Michigan state legislature by Rep. Dominic Jacobetti making the Upper Peninsula its own state: Superior. Perhaps because of concern that Toledo might be forced back upon Michiganders, the bill failed.


Big Skier and Bigger Hill

It's hard to miss the large fiberglass skier in a very unstylish red coat, tan ski pants, and Roy Orbison sunglasses that marks the turnoff to Big Powderhorn Mountain northwest of Bessemer. His skis are barely as long as the bunny hill he stands on — can't somebody find him a more size -appropriate slope?

As a matter of fact, there is one, just up the road from Big Powderhorn Mountain. At 170 meters tall — that's 50 meters taller than a regulation Olympic ski jump — Copper Peak holds the record for the world's largest ski flying hill. Some have nicknamed it the "Eiffel Tower of the UP," though it is only half the height of the Paris landmark.

Ski flying competitions are held at Copper Peak in the winter, but unless you're an idiot with a death wish, you should only ascend the tower during the summer. To get to the top, ride the chairlift 36 stories from the base of the landing hill to the base of the tower, then take the elevator another 18 stories to the upper platform. If you want to go even higher — and at this point, why stop? — climb the steps alongside the jump for another eight stories to the tippy, tippy, tippy top. From here, you'll be able to see the far shore of Lake Superior 85 miles away. The ground below looks just as far.

Big Powderhorn Mountain, N11375 Powderhorn Rd., Bessemer, MI 49911

Phone: (800) 501-7669 or (906) 932-4838

Hours: Always visible

Cost: Free

Website: www.bigpowderhorn.net

Directions: Where Rte. 2 meets Powderhorn Rd.

Copper Peak, Black River Rd., PO Box 159, Ironwood, MI 49938

Phone: (906) 932-3500

Hours: June-August, Wednesday-Sunday 10 AM-4:30 PM

Cost: Adults $15, Kids (14 and under) $7

Website: www.copperpeak.org

Directions: Take Powderhorn Rd. north to Black River Rd., then continue north on Black River Harbor Pkwy.; Copper Peak is hard to miss.

Bete Grise

Singing Sands Beach

Ah, to be serenaded at the beach ... or better yet, to be serenaded by the beach! If you're willing to make the trip to this secluded stretch of sand along the shore of Bete Grise Bay, the earth will sing you the lullaby of "Gitche Gumee." All you have to do is place your palm on the sand, push down, and rotate.

Now some will say this is just a natural, explainable phenomenon unique to the geologic composition of the sand in this area, but those are the same folks who would call a sunset a refraction of solar light through the earth's atmosphere. Exactly: unsentimental nerds. One thing they can't seem to explain is why, if you take home a jar of this stuff, it will no longer make the same sound.

Bete Grise Beach, Bete Grise Rd., Bete Grise, MI 49950

No phone

Hours: Daylight hours

Cost: Free

Website: www.betegrisepreserve.org/Stewards_of_Bete_Grise_Preserve/Home.html

Directions: South of Rte. 41, follow Lac La Belle Rd./Bete Gris Rd. to its southeastern terminus.

Big Bay

Anatomy of a Murder

On July 31, 1952, Lieutenant Coleman Peterson walked into the Lumberjack Tavern in Big Bay and shot the owner, Mike Chenoweth, six times. Peterson claimed Chenoweth had raped his wife after he had given her a ride to the couple's trailer park in Michigamme. Tried for murder, Peterson was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. The defense attorney at the trial, John Voelker, fictionalized the story as Anatomy of a Murder under the pen name Robert Traver.

The book soon caught the attention of director Otto Preminger, who filmed his 1959 noir classic of the same name in and around the UP. It starred Jimmy Stewart as the defense lawyer, Ben Gazzara as the murderer, Lee Remick as the murderer's wife, and George C. Scott as the assistant state's attorney general. Stop by the Ishpeming Public Library (317 N. Main St., (906) 486-4381, www.uproc.lib.mi.us/ish/) and you can pick up a list of shooting locations, from both the actual murder and the movie re-creation. The library itself doubled as the film's law library. Trial and jailhouse scenes were shot at the Marquette County Courthouse (234 W. Baraga Ave., (906) 228-9691, www.co.marquette.mi.us/courthouse_ complex.htm) in Marquette. Barney Quill, the unfortunate bartender in the film, was killed in the Thunder Bay Inn (400 Bensinger St., (906) 345-9220, http://thunderbayinn.net) in Big Bay, though the exterior shown was of the Tripoli Bar (closed) in Ishpeming. Depending how deep you want to go in your investigation, you can also visit the train depot, lunch counter, trailer park, and more from this famous case/film.

Of course, most people just go to the original Lumberjack Tavern where they've painted the movie poster's chalk outline on the floor, and where they will gladly point you to the bullet holes from Peterson's very real gun. Just don't make any passes at anyone's spouse.

202 Bensinger St., Big Bay, MI 49808

Phone: (906) 345-9912

Hours: Daily noon-2 AM

Cost: Free

Website: www.lumberjacktavern.com

Directions: Just before the Dump Rd. intersection at Bensinger St., at the bay.


International Frisbee Hall of Fame

The International Frisbee Hall of Fame is not an entirely accurate name for this establishment — it should be called the International Guts Frisbee Hall of Fame. And what is "Guts Frisbee"? Essentially dodgeball played with a Frisbee.

The game was invented by brothers Bob and John "Boots" Healy on July 4, 1958, while at a picnic in nearby Eagle Harbor. The rules are simple: two teams of five players stand 15 yards apart and one player chucks a Frisbee as hard as he or she can at the opposing team. If the throw is catchable, but not caught, the thrower's team earns a point. If it is caught (with one hand), no point is scored. The catcher then heaves it back at the original team, and play continues until one team scores 21 points. Pretty simple. And often painful.

Guts Frisbee calls itself "The Original Extreme Sport," though it has hardly caught on at national levels. If you want to honor great players, you have to come to the Colosseum in Calumet, which looks more like an old fieldhouse, not the shrine at Cooperstown.

The Colosseum, 110 Red Jacket Rd., Calumet, MI 49913

Phone: (906) 337-2507

Hours: Call ahead

Cost: Free

Website: www.usgpa.com and www.gutsfrisbee.com

Directions: Two blocks west of Rte. 41 (Calumet Ave.) on Red Jacket Rd.

Italian Hall Stampede

Like so many labor struggles in Michigan history, the 1913–14 Copper Country strike was marred by violence, but this time it was mostly children who died. The Western Federation of Miners (WFM) organized the strike, which started in July 1913 and affected most of the mines in the region. The miners were asking for better wages and improved safety measures — in 1911 alone, 63 men had been killed in mining accidents in Copper Country. The walkout tore the community apart, with some residents joining the pro-business Citizens Alliance.

Five months into the strike, union families were struggling, so in an effort to cheer up their children, a holiday celebration was organized for Christmas Eve at Calumet's Italian Hall. Estimates say 175 adults and 500 kids crammed into the second-floor auditorium. During the event, a man in a black trenchcoat with a hat pulled low over his eyes (and, some said, a Citizens Alliance lapel pin) walked in and yelled, "Fire!" The crowd rushed down a flight of stairs toward the only exit and piled up against the doors, which opened inward. The stampede killed 73, and 59 of the dead were children. There was no fire.

The instigator was never found. The tragedy ultimately broke the will of the strikers, who returned to the mines in April, having gained few concessions. Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the events titled "1913 Massacre," one of the few memorials to the dead. In 1984 the crumbling Italian Hall was razed, though some thoughtful citizens saved the building's archway. It was later rebuilt in a park at the site. You can learn more about the strike and stampede at the nearby national park museum, where some of the hall's wooden folding chairs are on display.

Italian Hall Memorial Park, 401 Seventh St., Calumet, MI 49913

No phone

Hours: Always visible

Cost: Free

Directions: One block west of Sixth St. on Elm St.

Keweenaw National Historical Park Headquarters, CCalume Unit, 98 Fifth St., Calumet, MI 49913

Phone: (906) 337-3168

Hours: June-September, Monday-Saturday 9 AM-5 PM; October-May, hours vary (call ahead)

Cost: Free

Website: www.nps.gov/kewe/

Directions: Where Red Jacket Rd. turns to become Fifth St.


Monigal Logging Miniatures

William Monigal was injured in a logging accident in 1931, but rather than begrudge his chosen profession, he decided to create a 1/12-scale model of a lumbering operation, from forest to finished two-by-fours. It took him about eight years to carve the 2,000 miniatures and tiny buildings used in the snow-covered diorama. One can assume the whole operation is faithfully portrayed, with the exception of the Paul Bunyan figure standing in the center of camp. There are also no maimed loggers, like Mr. Monigal.

The diorama is just a tiny portion of what you'll find at this sprawling museum complex. You'll feel like a rat in a maze as you wind from room to room through narrow passageways and cluttered display cases filled with old typewriters, artillery for World War I, Victorian women's hats, local artwork, unrecognizable tools and utensils, old-fashioned diving suits, and a totem of a large monkey in a bellman's hat holding a banana. Did anyone in Caspian ever throw anything out?

Nope! Outside, the larger complex covers 10 acres and has two art galleries and 26 relocated buildings — a pioneer school, a tavern, an old homestead, a sleigh shed, a sauna, and the old St. Mary's Church. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes if you plan to see it all.

Iron County Historical Museum, 100 Brady Ave., PO Box 272, Caspian, MI 49915

Phone: (906) 265-2617

Hours: May-August, Monday-Saturday 10 AM-4 PM; September, Monday-Saturday noon-4 PM; October-April, by appointment only

Cost: Adults $8, Seniors (65+) $7, Kids (5–18) $3

Website: www.ironcountyhistoricalmuseum.org

Directions: East off Rte. 424 on Spring Valley Ave., two blocks to Brady Ave., then north one block.

Crystal Falls

Humungus Fungus

It's 1,500 years old, weighs 111 tons, and covers 38 acres. And it's ALIVE!! Yet this single Armillaria bulbosa fungus is difficult to identify because most of it is below the soil's surface. Occasionally it sprouts up button mushrooms here and there to take a look around, but when these "fruiting bodies" die back, the Humungus Fungus (the local spelling) stays hidden for another season. At its current growth rate, it could expand as far as Milwaukee ... it'll just take 1.6 million years. You'd move that slowly, too, if you were born in 514 AD.

For many years biologists thought this thing was the world's largest living organism, but then a much larger fungus was discovered in Washington state. The exact location of the Michigan fungus is a tightly guarded secret, but if you find yourself in the woods south of town, surrounded by mushrooms, you just might be standing on it.

If you're interested, Crystal Falls does hold a Humungus Fungus Fest (www.humungusfungusfest.com) each August. Organizers cook a 10-foot-diameter pizza covered in mushrooms, which seems a rather cruel way to honor their most famous citizen.

Rte. 2, Crystal Falls, MI 49920

No phone

Hours: Visible in summer

Cost: Free

Website: www.crystalfalls.org/humongou.htm

Directions: "South of town near the Wisconsin border."


Udder-Flashing Cow

Flying along US Highway 41 south of Daggett you might be shocked when you spot a cow with cherry-red lipstick raising her blue dress to flash her udder at passing vehicles. Whatever you do, don't throw any beads — it just encourages that sort of unseemly behavior.

The painted fiberglass statue is just part of what's going on at Tom Wangerin Excavating. There's also a statue of a giant hotdog squirting ketchup on his head, two bright purple grain silos, and a miniature Little Cedar River Railroad that loops an artificial pond. None of it is open to the public but instead serves as a jovial advertisement for Tom's excavation business.

Tom Wangerin Excavating, N9273 US Hwy. 41, Daggett, MI 49821

Phone: (906) 753-4415

Hours: Always visible; view from road

Cost: Free

Website: www.wangerinexcavating.com

Directions: On Rte. 41 at the south end of town.


Pet Caskets

As a pet owner, it never hurts to plan ahead. Understanding that Fluffy burns up seven years of life for every one of yours, you should probably expect her to head for that big doghouse in the sky before you do. Shouldn't she go out in style?

As the Hoegh Pet Casket Company reminds us, "People bury people because they have to. People bury pets because they want to." And if you want to, Hoegh offers a modest selection of coffins for your pet burial needs — seven sizes in a variety of colors, even camo, all tastefully displayed in the company's Gladstone showroom. And out back in the model cemetery you can see how Hoegh's photo-metal headstones withstand the elements ... better than Fluffy, apparently! (The minicaskets can also be used for amputated limbs.)

If they can't sell you a coffin on compassion alone, the folks here want to remind you of two important points, one legal and one theological: "Burying pets in the backyard is against the law," and "If Christ had a dog, he would have followed Him to the cross." Think about it.

311 Delta Ave., PO Box 311, Gladstone, MI 48837

Phone: (906) 428-2151

Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30 AM-3 PM

Cost: Free

Website: www.hoeghpetcaskets.com

Directions: Railway Ave. east to Superior Ave., east to Delta Ave.

Grand Marais

Gitche Gumee Agate and History Museum

If you like rocks — I mean really like rocks — you need to make the trek to this small museum. Where a big-city natural history museum might have a larger collection with more impressive specimens, the Gitche Gumee Agate and History Museum captures the love of geology as told by three generations of rock hounds.

Axel Niemi founded the place in his home in 1954, where he would sing and tell stories about his rock finds for visitors. In 1990 Niemi sold the place to Ronald Marshall, who years earlier Niemi had taught to play cribbage. And finally, in 1998, Marshall sold it to Karen Ann Brzys. The pair had shared a bond after Brzys wrote a poem about the museum titled "Perspective."

Brzys refurbished the building and combined her many years' worth of rocks and minerals to make the impressive collection you see today. Browse the display cases, ask as many questions as you have, or better yet, bring your own rock finds and Brzys will help you identify them.


Excerpted from Oddball Michigan by Jerome Pohlen. Copyright © 2014 Jerome Pohlen. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Jerome Pohlen is an editor and travel writer whose travel writing has appeared in the Chicago Reader, Readers Digest, and TimeOut Chicago. He is the author of the Oddball series and Progressive Nation. He has been a regular contributor on travel and culture for the 848 Show on WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR affiliate. He lives in Chicago.

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