The Grand Lady on the Hill Says Goodnight 10/27/09

The Grand Hotel will close its doors for another season on Tuesday.  Check-out time is 10 a.m. on October 27. 

bobFor the first time in the hotel’s 123 year history, a closing “special” was offered this season.  Guests could spend Monday night and be part of the ritual of closing down the hotel, eat a buffet in the dining room in casual clothes (a no-n0 on any other night of the season), and check out the decor in some of the  385 rooms and suites (each one is decorated differently).  Bob Tagatz, the Concierge and Historian for the Grand, gave a “closing” presentation to several hundred guests on Monday afternoon.  I asked Bob if I could attend, and he graciously said yes.

Bob spoke for an hour, and I don’t remember him even stopping once to breathe.  He knows the Grand Hotel, her history, and her personality like very few others do.  He knows her charm and her secrets, and he loves sharing it all with guests.  I tried to write down what he was saying, but was so fascinated I finally gave up and just listened.

Bob told us when the Grand decided to offer the closing night special, management thought they would have 100-200 takers.  But 500 guests made reservations, and most of them arrived this afternoon on the 3 o’clock ferry.  A stream of taxis and Grand buses were coming up the hill to the Grand as I was walking to town. 

I will try my best to paraphrase Bob’s talk, and Bob, please forgive me if I get parts wrong – as I said, it was just too interesting to take notes. 

The Grand is not a hotel or a restaurant- it is a theatrical package.  When you arrive, you enter a world of drama and excitement and dazzle.  In 1904, there were 1200 woodframe hotels in the United States.  Today there are only 12, and there is only one solely owned by one family, and that is the Grand on Mackinac Island.  Built in 1887  by 600 laborers in 93 days, the Grand has been owned by the Musser family since 1933. 

Over 600 mployees (approximately one for every two guests) begin arriving in April from 23 different countries to be trained and to open the hotel.  Tomorrow, except for a few who have already gone, those employees will leave the island going back to their homes around the world, or they will travel to other resort areas in the U.S. to work during the winter. 

The first sign the season is coming to a close is the first morning the horses are seen being led down the hill in threes and fours to the ferry docks.  The second sign is the “turning of the ground” in front of the hotel, to ready the soil for the planting of the 24,000 tulip and 16,000 daffodil bulbs that will brighten the Grand in the spring.  Tomorrow, following tradition, the Grand’s golf carts will be loaded on flatbeds and pulled by dray to the ferry docks, where they will be taken to the mainland for the winter.

As we walked through the hotel today going to the Theatre to hear Bob, we witnessed another tradition – the running of the rockers.  Every available hotel employee, at a set time, goes outside on the porch and picks up a rocker or a table or a chair and brings it into the hotel and places it in the ballroom for storage.

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As Bob was talking, housekeeping was inspecting each room, each hallway, each conference room – everything – for signs of wear and tear.  Lists are made, and during the winter, whatever needs painting, or restitching, or replacing is taken care of.  The upkeep on the Grand is unbelievable, but the Musser family is committed to keeping her in Grand Lady style.

The hotel, except for a few essential offices, is completely closed and unheated for the winter.  To keep the entire building heated would be an astronomical expense.  If a room or any area requires maintenance of any kind over the winter, partitions are built and that part is heated.  Other than that, the hotel is cold (below O degrees) and dark (no electricity).  The miles and miles of sprinkler system pipes and plumbing pipes are drained, blown out, and treated with antifreeze.  The wine cellar is climate controlled all winter, with an alarm system if the room gets too cold.

Even without electricity and heat, there are people in the Grand every day and every night to ensure there are no problems.   Twenty-four hour a day security is maintained throughout the winter.  I shudder to think about being in the hotel in the dark in the middle of winter, with only a flashlight for illumination. 

After listening to Bob, we walked back through the hotel for the last time this year.  The doors to the ballroom were now closed, and the furniture in front of the entrance to the room had been covered with white linens, as had much of the other furniture.  Tomorrow after the last guest leaves, the remaining pieces will be covered.

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Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. the Musser family will gather in the lobby of the Grand and ring the bell signaling the end of the season, as has been their tradition for many years.  The guests will check out at 10, the employees will finish the last minute closing details and turn in their uniforms, and there will be a grand exodus from the island.

But the Grand lady on the hill will remain.  She will rest, for she has worked hard this season.  She opened her doors earlier than ever this year – April 30.  She slept 132,918 guests in her beautiful rooms.  She cooked, among other things, 5,088 pounds of prime rib, 12,720 pounds of ham, 93,255 pounds of potatoes, 28,681 pounds of strawberries, and 5,529 pounds of pecans.  She planted 2,614 geraniums in the 260 planting boxes that line her great porch, after filling those planters with seven tons of potting soil.  And she planted one ton of bulbs this fall. 

She will sleep as the gales of November howl, and as the snows of winter fall.  And she will dream of spring, when once again the Grand lady on the hill will open her arms, her heart, and her doors to her guests. 

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37 thoughts on “The Grand Lady on the Hill Says Goodnight 10/27/09

  1. Well, you brought tears to my eyes!. A sad day. Closing up is always sad and if the weather is not co-operative, it feels “more sad” l think.

    Lovely pics as usual. It looks very lonely now. If only walls could speak, what stories they could tell us!

    Thanks for a lovely season of history, pictures and just plain fun. I’ve enjoyed your blog so much and can’t wait to learn about GA. I have never been there, and probably never will. I stary almost every day with coffee and your blog. Keep up the good work!!

    Judy/Ann Arbor

    • Thanks, Judy, for being such a loyal reader. It was very sad to walk through the hotel last night, and the weather only added to it. Can’t wait to see her “open arms” in he spring, flanked by all those tulips!

  2. Well, you have outdone yourself this time! When I suggested an entry on closing a cottage for the winter, I wasn’t thinking of the scale of THIS ‘cottage’!! What a wonderful picture of it all, and then the porch, empty, in the cold rain. A wonderful post!

  3. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story Brenda. It indeed brought a tear to my eye and a little bit of saddness in my heart.

  4. Thank you for sharing the closing of the Grand. The pictures enhance the words you have written. While reading and looking at the pictures I had the same feeling I have every year when we close our cottage. Sad but knowing it will be there next spring. The same is true of the Grand. Thanks again for sharing so much of the island with us.

  5. Oh I’m so glad you were able to hear Bob’s talk. He is an amazing historian on the Grand.
    I also was brought to tears. Wonderful story. I have never heard everything involved with the closing.
    I have heard from a construction worker that lives on the island about the work that is done on the Grand over winter. They portion off hallways with thick plastic drapes and use generators for heat and light to do maintenance, like painting. I also heard that a lot of the geranium furniture gets repainted every year. I don’t know if that is true.
    Thank you again Bree. Sleep well beautiful Grand!

    • Hi Connie!

      I didn’t put it in the story, but as Bob was talking, housekeeping was inspecting each room, each hallway, each conference room – everything – for signs of wear and tear. Lists are made, and during the winter whatever needs painting, or restitching, or replacing is taken care of. The upkeep on the Grand is unbelievable, but the family is committed to keeping her in Grand Lady style. Hmmm – maybe I’ll go back and add that to the story. Thanks!

  6. Thank You my friend. On a tiney scale we did a lot of the same at our little Cobble Beach this past weekend. My grandparents always covered all the furniture in their 17 room home on Lake Michigan in Charlevoix so that is what I do. I even have their origional lovley white linned table cloths that they used since the turn of the 20 century

  7. That is really neat! Would’ve been AWESOME for my husband and I to be there on the 26th seeing it was our 24th wedding anniversary….that would have been such a cool thing for us to do….wishing you all luck, what a beautiful place! I’ve stayed there once in High School and it was such an honor and treat!! I hope to get my husband there someday…..thanks for sharing. 🙂
    Until next season…..

  8. Gosh Bree, you’ve got your readers in tears- AGAIN! First the exodus of those beautiful, big horses, & now saying ‘goodnite/sleep tight’ for the season to the Grand Lady…more kleenex please!

    I echo your other readers, have SO enjoyed my coffee each A.M. while spending a few moments with you thru your blog. Will miss your Mac. stories, but am looking forward (as your other reader said) to hearing all about GA- never been & probably never will get there…but I’ll be well informed via YOU & your blog!!

    Safe travels to you & Ted, & your adorable Bear & Maddie (are they packed yet?? smiles)…and thank you SO much for sharing the wonderful stories & pix from the island!
    Now where’s that pack of kleenex..sniff, sniff…

    Jane

  9. I just love reading your blog! I so wish you were staying for the winter so I could learn all the inside things about island living in the winter. I was wondering — how do residents prepare for food supply in the winter? Is there a boat that delivers food for residence to the island throughout the year or do they always have to go to the mainland to shop? Is there anyone that lives on the island that has NEVER been to the mainland? LOL I am trying to think of all my questions before you leave us for the winter! Are there ANY horses left on the island for the winter? Are there any Dr.s on the island over the winter? LOL sorry for all the last minute questions!
    Looking forward to your reply.
    Love Shannon

  10. Hi, I lived on the island one winter, many years ago when I was pregnant with my son. So, I can tell you what it was like then. We were able to buy some foods at the Doud’s Mercantile store on the corner by Marquette Park. There were only a few places open in winter, such as the drug store, grocery store, and the Mustang bar, the bank, and the school. I worked at the public school. There are still some draught horses on the island in the winter, which pull wagons or sleighs to deliver the goods that arrive by boat (until the last boat stops, and then it’s by airplane.) We also waited until the ice bridge formed and could go to the mainland by snowmobile over the frozen lake waters. As for doctors, I know when I was pregnant, there was a doctor available periodically, who would come to the clinic perhaps once a week or so. I will always remember that winter on the island. My boyfriend worked at the Grand Hotel in winter, so I was able to see it all shut down. Thanks for the great memories you brought back with your blog. I miss the island.

  11. I subscribe to your feed through Facebook and absolutely enjoy every entry. My husband and I love the Grand. We have spend many romantic moments there and always look forward to our next visit. What a sad day to see the Grand become so empty and cold. Heartbreaking, really. However, the spring will return and what a glorious day it will be! Can’t wait to rest my eyes upon the spring splendor! Until then, take care and stay warm – we’ll dream of the next opening day.

  12. Pingback: Too Good Not to Share « Great Lakes Gazette

  13. It looks like another “tradition” has been born on the island – “the closing.” I would be willing to bet you that the lovely lady never sleeps. On your magic island, she may seem cold and dark, but I would suspect it is only in the dead of winter that she really comes alive!

  14. Brenda, You have been a blessing. I have so enjoyed hearing all your stories. You are a great writer & am looking forward to hearing about Georgia when you get back. Of course, I do live in Sylvester so not far from Lake Blackshear.
    It has been like going on a vacation all these months with you. it would such a Blessing to live in a place like Mackinac Island but sad when all has to close & people leave. I pray for you all to have a safe trip home. Looking forward to more stories.

  15. Oh- So sad but so beautifully written. What a georgeous place, The Grand. You caputared it beautifully as usual. Thanks for all of the memories Bree.

  16. Bree,
    The Musseres are wonderful. They were at the hotel when I was there in September. My son is a hotel aficionado and he spent a good half hour talking with Mr. Musser. I thought it was so nice of him to be so kind and share his time with a total stranger. They do a wonderful job as guardians of the Grand Lady.

  17. I am sobbing!!!! Thank you for your Island passion. . . .another great story! See you in the spring, Grand Lady of the Island!

  18. Many years ago, I stayed on the island until late November after having worked all summer at the Tastee Freez, then Murdick’s, then a gift shop and let me tell you, there is no quiet like the quiet you experience after nearly everything has closed down! Kind of cool and fun if you’re there with friends, but kind of creepy at times. I definitely couldn’t be a year round resident, but I still love it…it IS my happy place!

  19. Is there any type of opening ceremony in the Spring.
    I had not considered the use of electric golf carts for transportation, but they would make a practical alternative to walking, biking, or calling a hack.
    Are golf carts permitted for use by anyone who desires to use one?
    I don’t remember you ever mentioning their use though my brain “ain’t what it use to be”

    • Hi Steve,

      The golf carts can only be used on the golf course – not on the street. The only motorized carts permitted on the streets are those for handicapped people who live on the island who would have no other method of transportation. Permits for those have to be approved by the city council, and a doctor’s letter stating the person’s condition is considered very seriously before a permit is granted. There are very few of them on the island.

  20. Since the first of the horses gathered to take their ride to the mainland there has been an unspoken expectancy that the island was undergoing a slow metamorphosis. Thank heavens it is a normal for the season to wind to a close but when you see the leaves falling and the Grand Closing it is hard to remember that the dormancy is just a temporary condition. The tears start to seep from the corners of dry eyes as you look at the empty corridors of the Grand and the haunting porch without people or rockers or geraniums.

    If you had not made this place such a living breathing entity for us we would not have been mourning her winter hibernation. THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!!!
    Have a safe trip home and hug Ted and the pups. I can’t wait till you start your Ga. Blog. Is there any way for me to change my avatar and e-mail address?

    xxoo

  21. Mackinac Island is our “FAVORITIST” (made that word up LOL) place in the whole world. Except for a few years, we’ve been there every year since 1969. Our daughter was married on the Island and our son will be going there on his honeymoon next September. They grew up going to the Island and consider it a major part of their lives. I don’t like to think about “the closing” but you made it sound like just another island tradition and not really a sad time. We all need to rest and renew and I like to believe that’s just what the “Grand Lady” is doing. May she rest well and revel in the grandeur of a Mackinac Winter. We will all welcome her awakening in the Spring. Thanks for sharing.

  22. I am surprised the Grand does not take advantage of Halloween with dressed up guests for a ball! It could be like GreenField Village down here. The old fashioned street is lined with hundreds of lit pumpkins to lite the path to each spooky location. It would be so much fun if the owners of all the islands cottages were home handing out candy and each store owner could hand out goodies as well.
    We took our baby cousin to Greenfield village a couple of years ago. The theme was Spooky Hollow. They had a huge horse running around with a headless horseman. All the baby wanted to know is “where he head’?

  23. just catching up on the last week of your blog, Bree; have been gone here and there so have not been reading each day. my loss…..you are such a great writer/photographer, and I have to add my appreciation of the interpretations you give to living/loving on Mackinac. my husband and I lived through two winters/summers on Mackinac several years ago, so remember most of what you see/write, and will add something to what you just described about “closing the Grand”. One winter (only) they decided to keep the new portion of the Grand open thru the winter. 3 girlfriends and I took advantage, and it was one of my BEST experiences on the island. We got to take a tour w/Bob thru the closed and FREEZING Grand, seeing “behind the scenes” with his expert/loving narration. I wish they would consider doing this again, but know it was not worth it for them to offer it again. I will also be looking forward to your Georgia blog!! Safe travels and enjoy your return home.

  24. I worked on the Island during the mid 1970’s and have always enjoyed the shear beauty of the place even if just walking past it. I was there during the filming of “Some Where in Time” and was shown in a quick scene in the Grand Dining Room. In recent years I have been fortunate enough to stay a few nights each Summer and relax. It is great for people watching too…..

  25. Well this was ABSOLUTELY beautiful!!! My husband and I are so in love with the island and the Grand- we finally had an opportunity to come visit in the fall, it is so beautiful!! I’d been anxious to see some photos and descriptions of the Grand’s closing weekend. I was thrilled to find some, but it makes me a bit sad at the same time! The photos together with the writing at the end. I know the new season will come, it’s just so sad to think of it all being so quiet and empty for the next 6 months! Thank you so much for this entry!! I wish we would have known about this special! We definitely would have been there!

  26. Enjoyed seeing the pictures of “closing down” at the end of the season. When I was on the bell staff, we had to place all the white rocking chairs UNDER the front porch which during the 50’s, was a cold, unused and dark space with a dirt floor. No furniture could be stashed until the last guest had checked out.

    Then we got our $100 bonus check, hightailed it to the Arnold dock in time for the 4:00 sailing,headed to the “mainland”, and then on to law school ( a week or so late).

  27. Thanks so much for your lovely description! My sister worked for the Grand Hotel this year (lifeguard), and it was the first time I have ever stayed at the Grand Hotel–I loved it! I wanted to come to the closing, but was unable to make it; so thank you again for your great reminiscence!

    • Thank you, Kellie. What a nice comment. Since we live right up the hill from the Grand during the summer (at Surrey Ridge condos) and had a Grand membership last summer, we spent a lot of time in your beautiful hotel. We love it!

  28. My husband and I were on the island, for the first time, in August and stayed at the Grand. Knowing that it receives such love and attention before heading into the off season is heartwarming.

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