Regular readers at Midwest Guest know that I have a special affection for quirky roadside finds.
So, it's easy to understand when I read Jessie's review of author Jerome Pohlen's book, Oddball Michigan: A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places, I thought it would be a great guide to take with us on our travels around Michigan.
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.
Do you like animals? Pohlen suggests visiting polar bears at the Detroit Zoo's superb Arctic Ring of Life exhibit or heading up to Traverse City to stop by the grave site of champion milk cow, Colantha, or to smooch Randolph the Moose. If you want something even kitschier, stop by Cheboygan, to see the shell of a man-killing clam at Sea Shell City.
Pohlen also shares many sites where you can learn about Michigan's rich maritime history, including Detroit's Dossin Great Lakes Museum, where you'll find part of an anchor from the Edmund Fitzgerald or the Old Mission Point Lighthouse on the 45th parallel at the tip of Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula, which is also a favorite spot for us to visit.
Music looms large in Michigan history, and Pohlen suggests checking out Detroit's Motown Museum or checking out the found-object artwork of Stuart Padnos, who has a great "metal band" display at Grand Valley State University in Allendale on the west side of the state.
I've also got a special affection for bridges and unique architectural structures. Pohlen shares that enthusiasm, encouraging readers to take in the beauty of the Mackinac Bridge that connects Michigan's two peninsulas, walk across Midland's Tridge, visit the Pickle Barrel House in the Upper Peninsula's Grand Marais or see the Kaleva Bottle House in the northwest Lower Peninsula.
Pohlen also spotlights unique museums like: The Henry Ford in Dearborn, where visitors can see a vintage Wienermobile; the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids for a kaleidoscopic view of the politics, fads and fashions of the 1970s; Kalamazoo's Gilmore Car Museum and Ann Arbor's Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.
Looking for a unique way to observe the Christmas holiday? Pohlen suggests visiting the town of Christmas in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, checking out Bronner's in Frankenmuth for holiday decor, stopping by the Plymouth Historical Museum to learn more about the fabled Red Ryder BB gun so wanted by Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" movie or heading out to Blake's Tree Farm in Armada (which happens to be where we buy our Christmas tree every year!).
Places listed in Pohlen's book range from the seriously goofy sites like Da Yooper Tourist Trap in Ishpeming, to the more serious sites like a shrine and statue in the Upper Peninsula honoring Michigan's "Snowshoe Priest" Bishop Baraga, the birthplace of the Peace Corps in Ann Arbor, sculptor Ed Dwight's "Gateway to Freedom" statue honoring the state's Underground Railroad connection on the bank of the Detroit River or Detroit's infamous "Joe Louis Fist".
Exploring might make travelers hungry. Pohlen suggests visiting places like the kitschy Dogpatch restaurant in Munising, Cherry Republic in Traverse City for all things cherry, the home of Jiffy mix in Chelsea, Grindstone City in Michigan's Thumb (my tip: check out the giant ice cream cones at this town's general store) or the site of the first roadside table in Saranac. Visiting the Cherry Bowl Drive-in in Honor is also an option if you're craving some classic movie concessions fare.
Thanks to Pohlen, we added several sites to our oddball-sights-seen list as we drove through northern Michigan during our travels last week. We checked out an eight-foot-tall ice cream cone in front of a turkey dinner restaurant and the large beer bottle sitting beside the Big Buck Brewery restaurant in Gaylord, plus we stopped by to see a couple of sights near Traverse City that included a giant piece of fudge sitting atop a store in Acme and an eclectic sculpture garden created by Dewey Blocksma in Beulah.
Pohlen warns readers that some of the more off-the-wall and lesser-known sites can easily disappear, especially those on private property or in smaller towns that don't draw a lot of tourist traffic. We didn't find this to be any real problem as Pohlen's Oddball Michigan book came out earlier this year, so it's pretty up-to-date. I might suggest checking out some of the smaller attractions and roadside oddities online or by calling ahead before driving a great distance to see them for just this reason, though.
Oddball Michigan is one of a series of Oddball-themed books for various states written by Pohlen.
If I'm going to pick nits here, finding Sarah Palin referred to as "Sara" Palin in the book tripped me up for a second, although I rarely find any book without some sort of typo these days, and while I'm glad to see that the series includes volumes for states I also often visit like Ohio and Indiana, at least a few of them are more than a decade old, so I'm assuming they're in serious need of updating,
Bottom line: Oddball Michigan is a fun book to leaf through and a great guide to take with you on a Michigan road trip.
Thank you to the Chicago Review Press for providing me with a copy of this book for review purposes.
© Dominique King 2014 All rights reserved