Quirky Michigan Attractions

Thinking of taking a road trip this weekend? Michigan has lots of great museums and attractions, but if you’re a Michigander, chances are you’ve seen them all too many times to count. These are just a few of Michigan’s more unusual attractions. Be sure to call ahead or check their website for current hours and admission fees before you go — you wouldn’t want to get there and be disappointed!

The Nun Doll Museum, Indian River, Michigan

Take a trip to the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, just a little shy of the Mackinac Bridge, and you’ll find a most unusual museum: the Nun Doll Museum at the National Shrine of the Cross, in Indian River, Michigan. The museum was started by Sally Rogalski, who, as a young girl, began collecting dolls and dressing them in the authentic dress of different orders all over the world. She communicated with nuns of different orders to get the specifications right, and many orders volunteered to make the habit and dress the doll themselves.

In time, Sally got married, and her husband joined in the project, creating displays that reflected the nuns doing their work. By 1964, the collection consisted of 230 dolls, and Sally donated it to the Shrine of the Cross, with the stipulation that no admission would ever be charged to see them.

Today the collection numbers over 500 dolls and several mannequins. Sally Rogalski, now a widow, continues to add to the collection. The Shrine of the Cross is located at 7078 M-68, just two minutes west of I-75, off Exit 310.

The Music House Museum, Acme, Michigan

This unusual museum, housed in renovated farm buildings just eight miles north of Traverse City, is devoted solely to mechanical and automated musical instruments. The instruments have been carefully restored and still play, and some will be demonstrated to you during the one-hour tour.

On such instrument is called the Amaryllis, a rare automated organ that measures 30 by 18 feet and once was used at the Victorian Palace in Ypres, Belgium. It sounds, it is said, like a complete European orchestra.

The Music House Museum also features a collection of antique music boxes, jukeboxes, nickelodeons, and player pianos. Be sure to check their website before leaving home: hours of operation differ depending on the time of year.

The American Museum of Magic, Marshall, Michigan

If you’re a fan of sleight-of-hand, you can’t do better than to visit the American Museum of Magic in Marshall. It’s filled with paraphernalia of the great magicians, from the most famous — such as Harry Houdini and The Great Blackstone — to regional heroes such as Milky the Clown. (Detroiters, you know who I’m talking about!)

The museum and its archives have thousands of handbills and window cards, hundreds of showbills, books, magazines, and photographs, as well as magic apparatus, scrapbooks, and other memorabilia. It’s simply a wonderful experience for anyone interested in magic; David Copperfield has called it “one of my favorite places on earth.”

One word of warning, however. If you’re interested in seeing the materials in the archives, you’ll need to make prior arrangements. The archives are available to serious researchers, but only by appointment.

Lakeside Cemetery, Colon, Michigan

If you’re more interested in the magicians than their performances, you can visit the final resting places of more than 20 of the world’s most famous at the Lakeside Cemetery in Colon. Colon was the summer home of Harry Blackstone, one of the greatest magicians and illusionists of the 20th century. With his friend, Percy Abbott, Blackstone formed a company that produced and sold equipment to be used in magic acts. Abbott’s Magic Manufacturing Company still exists, and today is the world’s largest producer of magic paraphernalia.

Besides The Great Blackstone, at Lakeside Cemetery you’ll find the graves of his son, grandson, and look-alike brother (very useful in a magic act); Bill Baird (“The Magnificent Fraud”); Arthur Babs (“Arturo”); Ted Coppin (who once had a vaudeville act with Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin); and “America’s Greatest Pickpocket”, Ricki Dunn.

Abbott’s Magic Company hosts an annual week-long Magic Festival, which includes a tour of the graveyard. For visitors the rest of the year, Abbott’s can provide a map of the cemetery.

The Bottle House, Kaleva, Michigan

In the 1940’s, John Maninen decided to build a house out of bottles . He used about 60,000 of them, most of them from his own company, the Northwestern Bottle Works. They were laid on their sides, with the bottoms facing out. The home was finished in 1941, but Maninen didn’t live to move in with his family. Since 1980, it has been a museum in Kaleva, a small town near Manistee, Michigan. The site is listed on both the National Register of Historic Homes and the Michigan Register of Historic Sites.

According to tour guides at the museum, the term “pop”, which Michiganders use to denote carbonated beverages, may have originated at the Northwestern Bottle Works. The early method of production was to seal the bottle with a cork, which often couldn’t hold up to the force of the carbonation. When the cork flew out, it made a “popping” noise.

Have fun exploring Michigan, and don’t forget to check ahead for current hours and prices!

Sources: Collean Burcar and Gene Taylor, Michigan Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities, and Other Offbeat Stuff; National Shrine of the Cross in the Woods website; The Music House Museum website; “Music House Museum, Traverse City, Michigan, a Showcase of Some of the Finest and Rarest Automated Musical Instruments”, City-Data website; American Museum of Magic website; “American Museum of Magic”, Wikipedia; Abbott’s Magic website; Colon, Michigan website; “Michigan Historic Homes: Kaleva Bottle House Museum”, Absolute Michigan; “Kaleva, Michigan — Bottle House”, Roadside America.

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