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Tag Archive | "Michigan History Museum"

How the Au Sable River changed the world

Becoming an Outdoor Woman (B.O.W.) flyfishing the Ausable River in the Rain

By CASEY WARNER, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

With the opener of Michigan’s trout season right around the corner, anglers soon will be donning their waders and heading out to one of the thousands of cold, quality streams that make the state a nationally known trout-fishing destination.

Perhaps the most renowned place to cast a fly in Michigan – the Au Sable River, running 138 miles through the northern Lower Peninsula – is significant for much more than its outstanding trout fishing.

In 1959, 16 fishermen, united by their love of trout and the Au Sable River and concerned about the need for long-term conservation of Michigan’s cold-water streams, gathered at George Griffith’s home east of Grayling.

“For some time I and several others have been considering ways and means to protect and preserve trout and trout fishing, and have come up with the idea of forming an organization to be known as Trout, Unlimited,” wrote Griffith, a member of the Michigan Conservation Commission, in an invitation letter to a fellow angler in 1959.

“Such an organization could work with state and federal agencies now charged with that responsibility … it would help educate the public on the dire need of sound, practical, scientific trout management and regulations to protect the trout as well as satisfy fishermen.”

The sportsmen that responded to Griffith’s invitation to meet at his cabin on the Au Sable believed that better and more scientific habitat management would improve the environment as well as the state’s trout population and fishing.

Encouraged by the work of Trout Unlimited, groups like the Anglers of the Au Sable have undertaken habitat restoration projects on the river.

Nearly 60 years after that initial meeting, the organization those fishermen founded – Trout Unlimited – has become a national champion of fish habitat conservation.

Today, the organization has almost 300,000 members and supporters, with 30 offices nationwide, and sponsors the International Trout Congress.

The Michigan History Museum in Lansing is showcasing Trout Unlimited’s founding on the Au Sable in a special exhibition, “The River that Changed the World,” open through July 29.

“The Au Sable River has influenced – and continues to influence – people around the world,” said Mark Harvey, Michigan’s state archivist and the exhibition’s curator. “The stories in the exhibition demonstrate the innovative and unprecedented ways private citizens and state government worked together to conserve and protect the river and sustainably manage its fish populations.”

Harvey said that the idea for the exhibit stemmed from the Michigan History Center’s longstanding relationship with, and eventual donation of materials from, Art Neumann, one of the cofounders of Trout Unlimited and its executive director from 1962 to 1965.

“Instead of just focusing on the Trout Unlimited group, we took a wider view of the river that inspired these people to work for systemic change,” Harvey said.

The Wolverine fish car, a converted railroad car, carried milk cans of fingerlings (young fish) to lakes and rivers all over the state from 1914 to 1937. Photo courtesy of the Department of Conservation./

The exhibition features George Griffith’s 24-foot-long Au Sable river boat and a re-creation of Neumann’s Wanigas Rod Shop, where he made fly rods considered works of art and became known as a champion of conservation.

A “battery” of glass beakers from the Grayling fish hatchery, each of which held thousands of eggs, highlights the late 19th-century work of state conservationists and private citizens who tried to save the Arctic grayling.

An iconic cold-water fish that once dominated northern Michigan streams but was almost extinct by the beginning of the 20th century, Arctic grayling were native only to Michigan and Montana in the lower 48 states.

“When sportsmen first discovered the grayling in the Au Sable, it drew international attention,” Harvey said.

The current Michigan Arctic Grayling Initiative now aims to restore self-sustaining populations of the fish within its historical range in Michigan.

Original paneling and artifacts from the Wolverine fish car, which carried millions of fish by rail across Michigan, tell museum visitors the story of efforts to plant trout in the Au Sable.

Fred Westerman, one of the first employees of the Wolverine and former fisheries chief in the Michigan Department of Conservation, forerunner to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, once reported:

“Frequently… thirty cans of fish would be dropped off at some spooky junction – like in the jack pine at Au Sable-Oscoda with the cemetery across the tracks and the depot a mile from town – on the night run of the Detroit & Mackinac, to await the morning train going up the river branch.”

The exhibition also introduces the relationship between the Anishinabe (Odawa and Ojibwe people) and the Au Sable River and explores Grayling as a fishing and tourism hotspot since the mid-19th century. 

Current DNR Fisheries Chief Jim Dexter applauded the vision and passion of those who recognized the Au Sable’s promise as a premier fishing destination.

“As the name of the exhibit implies, the Au Sable is a world-class fishery resource attracting anglers from every corner of the earth,” Dexter said. “It’s one of the most stable groundwater-influenced watersheds in North America, and produces exceptional trout fishing.

“It wasn’t always that way, though. Without the creation of Trout Unlimited at the Au Sable River, by those who understood the potential of our cold-water resources, Michigan might not be home to one of the world’s greatest trout fisheries.”

Trout Unlimited’s work has also encouraged other groups like the Anglers of the Au Sable, who now lead the charge for preserving this unique, high-quality body of water. Dubbed the “river guardians,” the Anglers group has fought multiple environmental threats to river.

The exhibit and related events also offer opportunities for hands-on experiences.

Visitors can learn how to tie a fly and compare tied flies to real insects under a microscope or sit in a kayak and take a 360-degree virtual reality paddle down the Au Sable.

They can also explore the essence of the Au Sable without leaving mid-Michigan through a series of museum programs revolving around the exhibit.

“While the exhibit focuses on the wonderful stories, images and sounds of the river, we wanted to bring the Au Sable River to the capital region,” said Michigan History Center engagement director Tobi Voigt. “We designed a series of programs highlighting themes from the exhibit – like fly-fishing and kayaking – that can be enjoyed by a variety of age groups. We’re especially excited to showcase a fly-fishing star and host our first-ever kayak tour.”

Programs include a fly-casting workshop with noteworthy fly-tier and fly-fishermen Jeff “Bear” Andrews, a kayak tour on the Red Cedar River, and the Second Saturdays for Families series featuring hands-on activities like making a compass, a sundial or a miniature boat.

To learn more about “A River That Changed the World” and to find Michigan History Museum visitor information, go to  www.michigan.gov/museum.

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These flags flew: Revisiting Michigan’s World War I flags

Highlighting the state’s efforts to preserve historic battle flags

The 32nd Division marching in the Detroit parade upon its return from World War I. (Photo courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University).

By Eric Perkins, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

In 1919, on a beautiful day in May, soldiers of Michigan’s 32nd Infantry Division marched through the streets of Detroit celebrating their homecoming from World War I.

The division served in the fighting in France and was memorialized by the French army with the nickname, “Les Terribles,” in honor of its ferocity in combat.

“In each successive battle, its fighting was better and its morale improved,” said Major-General William G. Haan, combat commander of the 32nd Division, in a May 6, 1919 news article on the front page of the Detroit Free Press. “It actually fought in the hardest of battles 35 days and as many nights, and smashed through the enemy lines for a distance of more than 25 miles and never gave away an inch.

“It successfully defeated 33 German divisions, not a few of which were rated among the best. From the famous 28th German division, known as ‘The Kaiser’s Own’ after three days’ hard fighting it took more than 400 prisoners and drove it from the field a broken organization.”

One French newspaper praised the performance of the divisions’ soldiers. After only a brief training period they, “made a magnificent showing when under fire…neither the French, who fought beside them, nor the enemy, whom they hurled aside, will dispute their right to the title of ‘terrible.’”

Another French reporter described the dangers the Michigan troops faced in combat, saying, “One can scarcely imagine the difficulties of the fighting in this country…with deep valleys…and honeycombed with holes making admirable machine gun shelters. These machine guns literally rain bullets.”

The reporter then illustrated the horrors of the poison gas used by the Germans, writing, “One does not die from effects of this gas, but one is so suffocated or burned that it is humanly impossible to hold the line, and unfortunately the (gas) mask is not an absolute protection.”

Now back at home, the men of the 32nd proudly marched behind their flags—a pair of banners, one resembling the stars and stripes, the other bearing the national crest with an eagle holding a bundle of arrows and an olive branch.

The World War I flag of the 32nd Division. Photo from Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Each flag was emblazoned with the regiment’s number. These flags, and others, are currently on display at the Michigan History Center in Lansing, a division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“The young men of the division are coming home strong and clean, smiling and happy, ready to re-enter into competition in civil pursuits,” Haan said. “They ask for no charity. They know there is awaiting them a square deal in a fair field in God’s own country, the beauty and glory of which they have learned to appreciate.”

Although Michigan’s World War I soldiers did not carry their regimental flags into battle, as their Civil War predecessors did, their flags were important symbols representing each regiment’s shared sacrifice and heroism.

According to a post-war memo from Michigan’s adjutant general, 186,000 Michigan soldiers served in “The Great War,” with 4,552 casualties.

During the Civil War, soldiers started painting the names of important battles onto their flags. First World War flags bear the battle honors of their regiments in the form of streamers attached to the tops of the staffs.

“This is similar to today’s military flags,” said Eric Perkins, historian with the Michigan History Center. “These flags become much more than simple symbols of patriotism to soldiers. You can literally read their history on the flags.”

Before they left France, the 32nd Division soldiers attended a victory ceremony where over 200 men were presented the Croix de Guerre for bravery by their former French commander, General Mangin. Mangin also pinned medals on the division’s flags.

Afterwards, Mangin spoke to the assembled men.

“I am very happy to be among you once more, and proud that this meeting of ours is taking place on the other side of the Rhine,” he said. “The occasion of this reunion is to bestow upon you a few decorations, meager tokens of the gratitude which the French Republic, the People of France, and the soldiers feel towards you, for the brilliant conduct and splendid courage you displayed…which will place in history the glorious deeds of the 32nd Division.”

All the historic flags at the Michigan History Center in Lansing lie flat and are covered with acid–free tissue. Historian Eric Perkins examines a flag from the 119th Field Artillery Regiment.

Today, Michigan’s historic World War I flags are housed at the Michigan History Center, where staff from the Michigan History Center and the Michigan Capitol Committee cares for them.

From now until January 2018, a selection of Michigan’s World War I flags are on public display at the center.

The Michigan Battle Flag collection contains 56 flags from World War I and another 184 flags from the Civil War and Spanish-American War.

Michigan’s flag collection was started more than 150 years ago when Civil War veterans turned many of their battle flags over to the state in a July 4, 1866 ceremony the Free Press called “The Grandest Celebration Ever Witnessed in Detroit.”

The event was attended by 70,000 people, including 16,000 to 20,000 revelers the railroad estimated were strangers in town.

“Of the impressive and unwonted scene presented, when the color-bearers of the three score and ten organizations which the Peninsular State sent to the field stood before the assembled authorities of the State, supported by their comrades in arms and surrounded by the thousands of their fellow citizens, holding those torn and smoke-grimed battle flags in their hands, no true or faithful picture can be given,” the newspaper said.

“There are lights and shades, and strong and tender feelings and memories, stirred which no words can tell or pencil portray. Rough, stalwart, sturdy men were there, just from the fields and workshops where they have employed themselves in the arts of peace since, a year ago, they laid their arms down and returned to home and its endearments.”

The paper continued to describe the scene.

“There were others worn and thin and wounded, scars marked their limbs and bodies, and not a few there were whose ‘empty sleeve’ hung limp and lifeless as did once the arm that fell shattered by shell or bullet; and some of these proudly bore the tattered banners in their remaining hand.

“Here too, were grouped in a single line banners and heroes from every regiment and organizations which bore them in the field. Here under the same ‘old flag’ that waved over them in the field, the trenches and the deadly breach, what memories returned and what scenes and battles were gone through again, what campfires brightened to the vision of weary, toiling, foot-sore and hungry men.”

From April 1861 to April 1865, Michigan furnished 90,747 men to the Civil War, not counting 1,982 men commuting and 4,000 Michigan men who served in the units of other states, according to the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

According to official regimental commander’s reports, Michigan men engaged the enemy on more than 800 occasions. Of officers serving, 177 were killed, 85 died of wounds and 96 died of disease. Among the enlisted men, 2,643 were killed, 1,302 died of wounds and 10,040 died of disease.

In accepting the flags, Michigan’s Governor Henry Crapo pledged that, “They will not be forgotten and their histories left unwritten. Let us tenderly deposit them, as sacred relics, in the archives of our state, there to stand forever, her proudest possession.”

Following the dedication of the new Capitol in Lansing in 1879, the flags were placed, first in a military museum on the first floor, then, in 1909, moved to the Capitol’s rotunda.

The flags remained there until the restoration of the Capitol from 1989-1992. At that time, an alarming discovery was made—the flags were deteriorating from the effects of constant exposure to light, fluctuating temperature, humidity and gravity.

“What years of battle damage could not do to the flags was actually being accomplished by these hidden enemies,” said Matt VanAcker, director of Capitol tours for the state of Michigan and co-chairman of Save the Flags. “The flags were removed from the Capitol and placed in a specially-designed archival storage unit in the Michigan History Center.”

According to VanAcker, “One of the greatest successes of Save The Flags, our project to preserve, research and display 240 battle flags carried by Michigan soldiers in the Civil War, the Spanish American War and World War I, has been its adoption program.”

For a donation of $1,000, individuals, organizations, schools, families and communities can help with the preservation, research, and display of the flags by adopting flags in the collection. To date, almost 150 flags—mostly from the Civil War—have been adopted, providing the project with much-needed funds.

With controlled climate and lighting and special acid-free storage racks, the flags are being preserved from further deterioration.

Flags from the 32nd Division and other military units like the 339th “Polar Bears” Regiment, whose members served in northern Russia, are being exhibited, one at a time, in a special viewing window.

Revisiting the state’s military flags, and preserving them properly for tomorrow, allows Michigan residents to connect visually with the past, adding depth and color to their appreciation of wars that gripped our nation and greatly changed Michigan and the country.

The Michigan History Museum is located in the east wing of the Michigan Library and Historical Center, on the north side of Kalamazoo Street, two blocks east of M. L. King Jr. Boulevard in Lansing.

For more information, call 517-373 3559 or visit the museum webpage at michigan.gov/museum.

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Celebrate Michigan’s 180th birthday with Statehood Day 


The Michigan History Center’s Statehood Day celebration Jan. 28 will include displays on Native culture.

The Michigan History Center’s Statehood Day celebration Jan. 28 will include displays on Native culture.

At the Michigan History Center Jan. 28

Join the Michigan History Center in Lansing Saturday, Jan. 28, to celebrate 180 years of rich and diverse Michigan history. Special guests and staff will commemorate the people who created our state, including First peoples, statesmen and eager citizens. Admission to the Michigan History Museum is free for the day, courtesy of the Michigan History Foundation.

The Michigan History Center’s special celebration, starting at 10 a.m. and concluding at 3 p.m., will include opportunities to:

  • Enjoy a slice of birthday cake while listening to folk tunes performed by violinist and ethnomusicologist Laurie Sommers.
  • Try out book-making and ink penmanship with special guests from the Library of Michigan.
  • Learn about Native culture and traditions past and present with Nokomis Learning Center.
  • Practice surveying with the Michigan Society of Professional Surveyors Reenactment Group.
  • Participate in historic craft and trade demonstrations—make a corn husk doll, learn how wool becomes clothing and churn some butter.
  • View statehood documents, including Michigan’s first constitution, a letter from President Andrew Jackson and a rare manumission document.
Visitors will have a chance to investigate historic spices that would have been available to 1830s cooks as part of the Michigan History Center’s Statehood Day celebration Jan. 28.

Visitors will have a chance to investigate historic spices that would have been available to 1830s cooks as part of the Michigan History Center’s Statehood Day celebration Jan. 28.

For those who can’t make it to Lansing, some of these statehood documents are available to view online at seekingmichigan.org/discover/early-documents.

On Jan. 26, 1837, more than a year after Michigan adopted its first constitution and elected its first governor, President Andrew Jackson signed the bill making Michigan the nation’s 26th state. The delay was caused by a disagreement and subsequent “war” over the port-town Toledo. The compromise that gave Michigan the western two thirds of the Upper Peninsula shaped Michigan’s future of copper and iron riches, as well as timber and other natural resources.

The Michigan History Center encourages people across the state to celebrate the initiative of the leaders who first sought statehood, the compromise they made and all the extraordinary people who have built Michigan since then.

In recognition of this special 180th anniversary, the Michigan History Center will unveil several new digital education tools designed for schools, teachers and young learners. Statehood Day will serve as the public premiere for the new Mistories of Michigan video entitled “How Lansing Became the Capital.” Mistories of Michigan is a series of videos for school-age learners that aims to answer some of Michigan history’s most interesting questions. These videos are made possible, in part, by a grant from the Capital Region Community Foundation.

Attendees will also receive information about the new “Learn” section on SeekingMichigan.com. Still in development, this unique online portal will provide teachers and students with essential resources for studying Michigan history—classroom activity ideas, primary sources and maps, engaging videos, artifacts and more.

The Michigan History Center is located at 702 W. Kalamazoo St. in downtown Lansing. The museum and visitor parking are on the north side of Kalamazoo Street, two blocks east of M. L. King Jr. Boulevard. Weekend parking is free.

The Michigan History Center’s museum and archival programs foster curiosity, enjoyment and inspiration rooted in Michigan’s stories. The center includes the Michigan History Museum, 10 regional museums, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve, and the Archives of Michigan. Learn more at www.michigan.gov/mhc.

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