“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you're the pilot."
State 9: Michigan - July 25, 2017
Next on the agenda was to tour the state capitol, and state museum in Lansing, MI, a 90 minute drive northwest. We arrived at 12:45 pm, and decided to begin with the capitol tour. The external construction of the building was 4 stories, and much larger and higher than other capitols giving the buildings commanding and substantial presence. The facade of the building was constructed of Ohio sandstone, and was not overtly ornate. This gave the building a clean, crisp and professional appearance. We also noticed the external rotunda appeared less bulbous than others. It is possible the larger scale of the building made the appearance of the external rotunda appear disproportionate, or perhaps it was designed as such. As we approached the capitol entrance via the grand staircase, we saw a sign that said “entrance closed” at the top. We then descended the steps, and saw a sign next to the bottom of the staircase that said “entrance with an arrow pointing back to the grand staircase. Since we had just learned the staircase entrance was closed a few moments prior, this caused a brief moment of confusion, and an amusing chuckle as we tried to figure out how to enter the building. We soon after discovered, the entrance was beneath the staircase, which lead to the basement of the capitol building.
Upon entering, the first thing we noticed was there was no metal detector, and this was extremely refreshing to see. There is nothing more distasteful then being searched and scanned upon entering a capitol building of a state we are considering calling our new home. We understand the need for security, but it always gives a very bad first impression. Instead of a metal detector, and an 85-year-old unarmed security guard as in other capitols, the Michigan capitol building featured 2 very large, and very friendly armed Michigan State Troopers. We had no doubt, if on the rare occasion, something bad happened, these troopers were more than capable of responding as the situation dictated. This is the first capitol where I felt safe, but not violated. Good Job Michigan!
We walked across the hall to the tour desk, and were directed into a nearby room to wait for the next tour to start in 10 minutes. The most interesting thing we noticed in the waiting room was a pictorial description of the history of the capitol from it's origins, to it's restorations, and up until it's current time. It was very enlightening to see pictorials of the actual restorations while in progress, as this is often verbally told, but not visually shown. What impressed us the most was the tour guides explanation of how the restoration of the capitol building came to be. Originally they wanted to tear down the building, and build another in it's place. However, they did not have the money, so they instead opted for restoration. The Michigan legislative could have sold bonds, went into debt, or raised taxes to fund the construction of a new capitol, but instead opted for restoration and preservation. During the restoration of the interior of the state capitol, they did not ship in marble from Italy, exotic wood from Honduras, of fly in master painters from Florence. Instead they used white pine which was grown in Michigan. Then, they had local experts paint all of the pine wood to look like marble and mahogany as the design dictated. I honestly did not believe him, because everything looked so very real. It was absolutely stunning! He also shared the restorations were completed one section at a time, so the building could remain open. This eliminated the need to rent or construct a temporary building and displace government workers. All of the aforementioned examples greatly impressed us as it exemplifies fiscal responsibility, resourcefulness, and preservation of history. Which are extremely important characteristics we are looking for in a new home state.
Next we were lead up a flight of stairs to the interior rotunda. The first thing we noticed extremely unique to this capitol was the glass floor. There were 5-inch green glass tiles assembled in a beautiful mosaic pattern. The light from the apex of the rotunda not only illuminated the space below, but also shown through the floor and illuminated the basement.
Upon the tour guides suggestion, Lori and I actually laid flat on our backs at the center of the glass floor to get the best possible picture of the interior of the dome as it was just that exquisite.
Another unique feature of the interior rotunda was the painted portraits of the 15 most recent governors hung on the walls of each of the 4 floors encompassing the central room. It is not uncommon to have a hall of governors, but many other capitols display these painting in a long far off forgotten corner of the capitol building. This was also the first capitol we visited that did not have marble statues, and bronze busts in the interior of the rotunda. Instead Michigan has the battle flags of all of the wars that the citizens of Michigan have served displayed behind glass cases encompassing the entire first floor of the central room. This was a very poignant and somber reminder that the price of freedom we enjoy today, was paid for with the ultimate scarifies of our citizens of the past.
From there, we progressed to the House and Senate chambers which mirrored each other and was exquisite to view. Each chamber had glass ceiling tiles depicting each of the 50 states, letting in tons of natural light. Along with crystal chandeliers original to the building that are lowered via a motor when servicing is required. We were then graciously granted access to the Governor’s ceremonial office restored to 19th century splendor. As obscure as this may sound, one of the features of this room that immediately caught our attention was the original hinges on the door to the room pictured below. We have seen ornate and detailed victorian era door knobs on other capitols but never such on the hinges. There were 3 original pieces of furniture constructed in Michigan on display within the Governor’s office, and the detail, craftsmanship and the construction were a site to behold. I could go on and on about this capitol building, but the best description would be viewing the pictures below. Even better, take a flight to Lansing, MI to come see for yourself! Brian was our tour guide during our visit to the capitol, and exceeded our high expectations. It is nice to see a young man as a tour guide who is knowledgeable and passionate about his work! He made our visit to the capitol building much more enjoyable.
As we walked back to Rosie we crossed bridge, and a noticed a walk way along the canal. A map next to the canal showed we were within walking distance to the city market in operation since 1909, so we decided to do engage in some freestyle exploring. We walked down the wooden stairs from the street to the canal walk which were in poor condition. One of the boards gave way under out feet, and I twisted my ankle. The concrete supports along the staircase were chipped and crumbling as well. This was not a very good first impression. We made it down to the walkway along the canal, and were pleased to see it actually being used by people. There were joggers, bicyclists, canoeists and others just sitting on the bench taking in the day. The place was by no means packed, but it was not a hangout for riff-raff either.
We continued on along the wooden board walk until we reached the city market. On our way up the stairs to enter, we noticed a small building where you could rent canoes and bikes to enjoy along the canal, but there was no one present to rent one from. Too bad, because this would have been a fun way for us to further explore the city. We then entered the city market, which consisted of a huge fully enclosed building. We love city markets, and were very excited to see what Lansing had to offer. We entered the building, and we were the only customers there. There were only 3 vendors present: a gift shop, a restaurant, a cheese shop, and a lot of empty spaces for rent. Their City Walk and City Market clearly needs some help, but with some marketing and further development, both could become great asset to the city . However, at least Lansing made an attempt, which is more than we can say for other cities we have visited.
After leaving the City Market, we drove 4 blocks across town to the Michigan State Museum. Admission was high compared to other states museums at $6 per person with no veterans or AAA discounts. When we arrived we were sad to learn they closed in an hour, but we got ½ price admission. Yeah! We would have to run like maniacs through the museum, which is never enjoyable. Ready! On your mark! Get Set! Go! The first room we entered was a courtyard with a single tree planted on an island in the center with water following around it. However, beneath the flowing water was a gorgeous mosaic of multi colored panted tile. It was one of the best water features we have seen on the trip, and is pictured below.
We took the elevator to the top floor, and when the door opened we were present with a massive 4 story topographic depiction of the state of Michigan and its surrounding Great Lakes pictured below. What a first impression! Next we exited the elevator and crossed a 12-foot walkway to enter the museums main exhibits. We noticed the sides of the walkway had steel supports that made it look like a bridge, which is pictured below. We learned this was done intentionally by the museum to depict the Mackinac Bridge. Very clever! The bridge connects mainland Michigan to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and is the longest suspension bridge in the northern hemisphere. On a side note, locals call refer to the Mackinac Bridge as “Big Mac”, so I guess the scaled down version in the museum we walked across would be the “Small Fry”.
After crossing the “bridge” we entered the main exhibit area and immediately were presented with a facade of Michigan’s 1st Capitol Building, which is no longer exists due to a fire. Almost every states first capitol became a causality of fire way back when, but this is the first state that actually recreated what their first capitol looked like. From this point on, we began to notice a unifying theme of the states museum, which we found very impressive. Around every turn, our entire surroundings entirely changed to depict a specific time in Michigan’s history.
We were transported to a late 19th century school house, an early 20th century Michigan home, 19th century copper mine and a sawmill, 1920’s depiction of Henry Ford’s Factory, a scene of 1950’s Americana, and the southern shores of Lake Superior complete with an ice pond and lighthouse. By far, the most impressive display was the typical Michigan Main Street from the 1920’s, which even provided access to the shops on the second floor. We literally felt as if we had time traveled through 200 years of history in less than an hour! It was exhilarating but exhausting! All of the aforementioned are pictured below.
Our favorite artifact on display was a British cannon from the War of 1812. When the British lost the war, they dumped their cannons in the Detroit River so the American wouldn't claim them. In 1987 a sport diver found the cannon, and it was brought to the museum for display. The cannon did not look all that bad for spending 200 years in the Detroit River. This was one of the top three state museums we have visited on this trip. We wish we had more time to spend here exploring and learning about Michigan. We actually stayed until the very last minute before they closed, and security finally asked us to leave. This is the first time we have been thrown out of a museum on our trip. We know they just wanted to go home, and there were no hard feelings.
The trifecta of having a phenomenal tour guide, a beautiful capitol building, and a dynamic state's museum is difficult achievement. Lansing hit each and every mark surpassing our expectations. We do have one area of critique, and we would be doing a disservice if we did not mention it. We did not see the Michigan State constitution on display during our visit. Some states have it displayed in their capitol building, and other's in there state's museum. We feel it is powerful statement to publicly display the document guaranteeing the freedoms of it's residents.
We then drove 2 hours north and found a Walmart to spend the night in Mount Pleasant, MI. We are greatly enjoying our time in Michigan, and look forward to seeing what the rest of the state has to offer.