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