August 1, 2021 Post # 69

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Quote for the Day: "As a place of resort during the summer months, there can be none more desirable -- none possessing more attractive features and health-restoring influences, than this Island of Mackinaw." New York Weekly Tribune. July 9, 1853.


The Dockporter: A Mackinac Novel: by Dave McVeigh and Jim Bolone.

One of the iconic images of  Mackinac Island is of the young men who wait the arrival of tourist laden ferries and stack an unbelievable number of tourists' suitcases on their single-speed bikes. They then pedal their precarious loads through streets clogged with fudgies (tourists) and horse-drawn wagons to hotels and inns. Or as the authors write, "In India, they call them coolies. On Everest, Sherpas. On Mackinac Island they're called dockporters." The authors of this entertaining and engaging novel were both dockporters in the late 1980s and this unique novel describes life on the island as lived and seen through the eyes of these young men who turned hauling luggage into a circus act.

As a kid, Jack McQuinn spent every summer on Mackinac Island, at his grandfather's cottage. His greatest goal was to become a dockporter which he achieved in the 1980s. He revels in the job and loves the comradery and sense of humor of his fellow dockporters. He also loves the island and the Straits of Mackinac with all its charm, beauty, and singular way of life. The authors describe the place uniquely but accurately as "an area electrified with strange magic." Best of all, the book captures the "strange magic" and brings Mackinac Island, as seen by those who work there, wonderfully alive. 

Yet there is a black cloud on the horizon that threatens the island's future. It is up to Jack and his fellow porters to save the one of a kind island. In the process, Jack falls in love, losses his job, attempts to beat the dockporter record of stacking more than 21 pieces of luggage on his bike, and getting them to a hotel. He also stumbles across a passion that he just might make into a career.

The book is a delight to read. It is filled with humor, strangely wonderful characters  including a man with a shovel who cleans up horse leavings on the streets. It turns out he knows a lot more about Mackinac Island than just horse apples. Almost every page delivers a grin and many produce laugh-out-loud guffaws. The best news is this is the first in the series on the island. On behalf of this reader, more please, much, much more.

The Dockporter: A Mackinac Island Novel by Dave McVeigh and Jim Bolone. Privately Published, 2021, $12.95.

Prohibition's Proving Ground: Cops, Cars, & Rumrunners in the Toledo-Detroit-Windsor Corridor by Joseph Boggs. 

Michigan went dry on May 1, 1918, more than a full year before Prohibition became the law in the rest of the nation. Our state therefore became a testing ground for the enforcement of making, selling, and smuggling booze. The nearly complete failure by Michigan to stop all the above, as seen through this study of enforcement in the Windsor, Detroit, and Toledo triangle, did not bode well for the Volstead Act. Worst still (pun intended) it seems little was learned from Michigan's failure. This scholarly but very readable and always interesting study sheds new light on the prohibition era in southeast Michigan. 

In the first few days after Michigan went dry Detroiters swarmed Toledo and nearby Ohio towns and drank until oblivion. Incidents of drunk driving exploded in Monroe and being a pedestrian was life threatening. Within a few weeks amateur rumrunners were creating traffic jams in Monroe and on Dixie Highway which ran between Detroit and Monroe. When the state supreme court briefly ruled that police could neither search nor seize alcohol from cars it ignited a "Booze Rush."  In Monroe 390 cars an hour, sagging under their loads of alcohol, were counted passing through town.

The author credits a major contribution to the failure of Prohibition in southeast Michigan and across the country to Americas' new love affair with the automobile and the growing demand for better roads. Dixie Highway between Toledo and Detroit would often turn into a muddy morass but when it was paved it became a high-speed hooch pipeline to Detroit. While the rumrunners were driving souped-up cars the police called "Whiskey Sixes" some cops were trying to halt smugglers from horseback. A fascinating chapter chronicles Henry Ford taking the enforcement of Prohibition into his own hands. He made employees pass a sniff check on entering his factories and hired private detectives to identify stills and blind pigs near his plants.

The book is marked by solid research and very good writing, except for the over-used term automobilized including "fully automobilized holdup men, automobility enabled thugs," and even "automobilized trucks." This automobilized blogger raises a glass to this fine book.

Prohibition's Proving Grounds: Cops, Cars, & Rumrunners in the Toledo-Detroit-Windsor Corridor by Joseph Boggs. University of Toledo Press, 2020, $24.95.

Manistee County: Postcard History Series by Emma Wolf and the Musculus Family.

I haven't browsed a bookstore in Michigan without finding a title or two of the Postcard History Series on the store's local history shelves. The series all follow the same format with the pages filled with interesting and often arresting historical photos of a city or county. Accompanying each postcard photo is an explanation of the postcard's subject including the date or era of the card, and the importance and history of the subject to the community. Some of the descriptive explanations are only a few sentences others are lengthy paragraphs.

This volume of the series is no different. It includes more than 150 postcards with photos dating from 1842 to the early 20th Century of people, streets, buildings, geographical features, towns, industries, and churches of the county. All of which are followed by succinct and interesting explanations that place the subject of the postcard within the history of the county. The book is a painless and always interesting introduction to the history of Manistee County. I've often wondered about the economic viability of the series with each book in the series aimed at such a narrow market. But what do I know, new additions to the series continue to roll off the press.

Manistee County: Postcard History Series by Emma Wolf and the Musculus Family. Arcadia Publishing, 2021, $21.95.

Tales From the Jan Van: Lessons on Life & Camping by Jan Stafford Kellis.

The author's well-ordered and happy life collapsed like a house of cards when she was 45-years old. Out of the blue her beloved second husband asked for a divorce, her mother died suddenly, and her youngest daughter left home to join her sister in Alaska. 

Stunned, bewildered and hurting the author was struck by a sign in a her friend's house that read: "Enjoy yourself! It's later than you think." One of her dreams was to travel around the country with her husband after retirement. She made up her mind she wasn't going to let tragedy and loss dictate the course of her life and inspired by the sign she bought a used, self-contained camping van. Combining long, three-day weekends by working four 10-hour a days a week and her vacation time she set out to explore the Midwest from her U.P. home and travel across America as a solo female RVer.   

A by product of her RV adventures is this winning trifecta of a book. It is a detailed  travelogue of her adventures, a memoir, and a sensible how-to guide to camping and motorhoming. Most importantly it is a story of self-empowerment as she overcomes her worries about traveling alone, grows more assertive, and learns the habits, foibles, and personality of  her finicky small motorhome that has a mixed pedigree involving Mercedes, Freightliner, and Dodge. Technicians from all three companies couldn't figure out some her van's mechanical oddities. The narrative even touches on the history of camping in Michigan when the author reveals that Henry Ford and Thomas Edison used to go camping together, in a Ford of course.

As an ex-motorhome owner, I can attest to the author's fine job of sharing the joys and occasional miseries of camping, and how at times a motorhome can seem more complicated and intricately complex than the vehicle Neil Armstrong rode to the moon. But you don't have to be a camper or an RVer to enjoy this open, honest, and compelling travelogue and memoir.

Tales from the Jan Van: Lessons on Life and Camping by Jan Stafford Kellis. Myrno Moss Perspectives, 2021, $14.95.

Any of the books reviewed in this blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.


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