History’s Gem of the Month: Old Postcards

January 2009

This month the Gems from the Past include three post cards. I am not sure how and why it occurred, but 100 years ago post cards were often printed showing members of local families. I have included two below of my relatives. My great-grandparents, Jonas and Anna Hill, appear in both pictures. The photo with just the two of them was taken in front of Woodland Park, around 50 feet east of the main entrance. Notice all the trees, as compared to the “Woodless Park,” as my son, Jonathan, now refers to it. My grandparents emigrated from Finland in the late 1890s. Two of their kids (Eino and Emil) were born in Finland. My grandmother Elvi and Uncle Ernie were born in the U.S. The family picture was taken before my Uncle Ernie was born. One thing interesting that I learned while examining these photos, and reading the handwritten information on the back, is that my family’s name before leaving Finland was Maki. I’m not sure why it is, but we were never told that information.

The third post card shows The Vacationland car ferry. This was one of the last two ferries that operated to shuttle vehicles between the lower and upper peninsulas. The state of Michigan began the car ferry service in 1923. It was successful enough, especially as the number of cars on the roads increased dramatically during the 1920s, that the state expended funds to upgrade the ships and improve the docks, breakwaters, and parking at both Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. Each ferry had a regular crew of 36, with up to a hundred extra employees hired during the busy summer months.

By the time the Mackinac Bridge opened for business on November 1, 1957, only two ferries remained including the Vacationland and the Petoskey. On the final day, the Vacationland sailed from St. Ignace to Mackinaw City with about a thousand invitation-only guests.

To pay for the Mackinac Bridge, bonds were sold to fund the project. The agreement that allowed the state to sell the bonds prohibited the operation of any ferries between the two peninsulas. This provision was made to assure bond buyers that the expensive bridge would have no competition. Eventually, all of the ferries were either sold or scrapped.

Today, the Mackinac Bridge carries as many people in a single month as the entire ferry fleet carried in a year. But if it were not for the hardiness of the ferry operators and crew, the Upper Peninsula would not be what it is today.

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