Sweet Dreams for the Grand Lady on the Hill 10/27/2011

The Grand Hotel is an integral part of Mackinac Island, and when she closes, and her employees leave for sunnier climates, it is the final puzzle piece the island needs to officially complete the season.

Jill and I were at the Grand Monday afternoon for “the running of the chairs” – a tradition where every available employee reports to the front porch, picks up a rocking chair, or a bench, or a table and brings it into the hotel ballroom to be stored for the winter.  For the last two seasons, the hotel has offered a “Close the Grand” special, and guests have been privy to all the customs and chores that surround closing a hotel of the Grand’s caliber for the season.

Monday was a cold, gray day, and not many guests were out on the porch just minutes before the "run" began.

No one told the Grand porch geraniums Tuesday was closing day. They were still as beautiful as ever.

Jill - getting in one last "rock". The gentleman behind her in the window chose to stay inside where it was much warmer!

Inside, I asked why a chair was placed in the middle of the "runway" and was told it was there so the runners carrying furniture over their heads would veer around the chair and not hit the chandelier above.

At precisely 3 p.m., employees who could leave their positions began to go out on the porch and bring in the furniture. First the west end of the porch was cleared . . .

. . . and then the east end.

This carrying method allowed the employee to keep his hands warm in his pockets!

Along with the rocking chairs came the tables sitting beside them.

Hmmm . . . obviously a carrying technique that calls for the avoiding of the chandelier!

Once inside, the furniture was carried through the lobby and up the steps into the Grand ballroom.

In less than 30 minutes the 660 foot front porch and the Geranium Bar next to the Main Dining Room had been cleared, and every piece of furniture was neatly placed inside the ballroom.

The giant chess set, which sits on the east end of the porch and has pieces as large as the children who play with them, now sits on the ballroom stage - where nightly, during the season, big band music is played for dancing guests.

The porch is bare - west . . . .

. . . . and east - except for the giant pots of geraniums.

Knowing the geraniums would be gone after Tuesday's closing, I stopped to take a few last photographs.

A new tradition this year was offering the geraniums to the guests as they left the hotel.

Another perk guests of the Grand have during the Closing of the Grand special event is the opportunity to walk into any of the hotel’s rooms if the house staff is inside cleaning and has left the door open – which they are encouraged to do.  Jill and I decided to wander around upstairs and see if we could find any of the special suites open – like one of the five First Lady Suites.  We didn’t see any of those, but we were lucky enough to find the door to the Presidential Suite open, and Oh. My. Goodness.  I felt funny taking photos of the suite to post online (just didn’t seem right, and I know that’s weird), but I will tell you it was huge, with a large bedroom with two four-poster beds on each side of a very large living area.  The only photo I took inside was this one – one of five Presidents who have stayed at the Grand,

President John F. Kennedy

BUT – we stepped outside on the balcony of the Presidential Suite, and I had no qualms whatsoever photographing the view from up there.  The Presidential Suite is directly above the front doors, and that huge balcony above the doors is the Presidential Balcony.

Round Island Lighthouse from the balcony - pretty nifty view, huh?

Looking over the Tea Garden toward Round Island . . .

. . . and out over the Straits of Mackinac to the bridge.

The Masco Cottage is another part of the Grand Hotel I never thought I’d get to see.  It is attached by a walkway, and is actually a separate house with two stories, several bedrooms and bathrooms, a library, kitchen, sunroom . . . . well, you get my drift.  It is GRAND!  Again, we got lucky and found housekeeping busy at work and just walked in.  Again, no photos inside, but the views from THAT porch were unbelievable!

From the Masco Cottage porch, you look directly out at the Governor's Summer Residence. You can also see the tower at Mission Point.

Looking over the Jewel Golf Course you can see the Straits and Round and Bois Blanc Islands . . .

. . . and straight down Cadotte is the Round Island Passage Lighthouse. Wonder if they'd let me just spend the night on that porch . . .

At 9:30 Tuesday morning, Jill and I were back at the Grand for the official closing.  Guests gathered in the lobby and, in what has been the tradition for many years, R.D. Musser Jr. and son Dan Musser III walked down the stairs to the landing above the lobby, ringing the bell that signaled the end of the season.

Walking around to the Grand entrance on Tuesday morning, I got to watch an assembly line of gardeners unpotting a few of the thousand or so geraniums no one took home. These flowers will go into the Grand compost pile, and it will take three years before 2011's geraniums become 2014's potting soil. Full circle once more.

In the flower bed outside Margaret's Garden, workers were removing the wooden coverings (which will be stored inside) and covering the lights with protective shields.

All the tulips bulbs now rest safe in the ground, where they'll sleep the winter away, then awaken to announce spring.

In the Grand lobby, employees and guests awaited the arrival of the Mussers.

Check-out would immediately follow the Mussers' announcement, so most everyone knew this was the final "moment" in the Grand's season.

R.D. Musser, Jr. took the microphone first and thanked everyone for a wonderful season. Musser just recently announced his retirement and has turned over the responsibility of running the 1887 Mackinac Island landmark to . . . .

. . . his son, Dan Musser III. He invited guests back next year for the celebration of the Grand Hotel's 125th birthday. Wow! I can't wait to see what they have planned!

Mr. Musser graciously allowed Jill to snap this photo.

After the closing bell, the hundreds of remaining details that have to happen to allow the lady on the hill to sleep through the winter began. Friend Mary and her crew removed all the remaining geraniums from the flower boxes on the porch.

Each one of the almost 1300 geraniums was planted by hand in the spring, and now they were removed the same way.

The last guests boarded the Grand omnibuses for the trip to the ferries.

Later that afternoon, the Grand posted this photo of the carpet being covered in front of the check-in desk, . . . .

. . . and sheets covering all the Grand furniture.

The Grand Lady on the Hill is dark tonight.  During the winter, there are very few areas that are heated because 99% of the administrative offices are moved off the island and downstate.  During winter days, work is done throughout the hotel – but only the part being worked on is heated. Closing chores will continue for several days, but when the sun sets, the magnificent white building stands a lonely vigil.

She has earned her winter’s sleep.


Today Ted and I went to the ferry dock to see Jill and Frankie and Hershey off.  It’s usually Jill waving to us as we leave, but it didn’t work out that way this year – goodbyes are always sad.

On Thursday I’ll be taking Bear for a final grooming in Cheboygan and buying a few groceries to see us through until we leave on Sunday.  There’ll be a post on Friday – I’ve spent some time these last few days photographing the closing of the island, and I think you’ll enjoy seeing that – sad also – but part of the circle.

We’re barreling toward Sunday now.  Almost done packing.  See you back here on Friday.

Missing ya'll already!

Missing ya'll already - did I already say that?


36 thoughts on “Sweet Dreams for the Grand Lady on the Hill 10/27/2011

  1. Brenda, the year after 9/11 my husband and I made reservations for adjoining rooms at the Grand with my brother-in-law and his wife. We almost fainted when they gave us the presidential suite!!!! Reservations were down that weekend as people were hesitant to travel on the first anniversary of 9/11.
    It is a wonderful place to stay-so special in many ways. I will never forget spending the evening (till the wee hours) out on the covered balcony having wonderful conversation and watching a thunderstorm cross the straights. The room is filled with wonderful history. Even the bathroom! Did you see the pink bar?

      • It was in its own little room right next to the door out to the balcony. Probably didn’t open the door. Thanks for the closing pictures. I think I will try and be part of that next year.

  2. Oh, my goodness is correct. The view from the Presidential room is gorgeous and I love the picture of JFK. Oh, to be able to afford to stay in the room just one night. (sighhhhhhh)

    Oh well, it’s great to see how the do close the Grand Lady down. 30 minutes to clear the porch, great time by the employees and I loved the picture of the gentleman carrying the rocker on his head with no hands, I’d get a headache that way.

    I bet that they will have a lot of things happening for the big anniversary next year, can’t wait to read about it and maybe, just maybe I’ll have enough money to come up and see some of the happenings.

      • Memorial day is always a good time to come up and stay in the Grand because of the AAA weekend discount. Met many people that weekend this last year that said they do it every year cause it is the only time they could afford a trip like that.

  3. Thank you for this awesome tribute to the Grand’s closing. I feel so blessed to share in it with you both through the photos and the narrative. All I can say is thank you, thank you!!!!!!!!!! Blessings and joy!

  4. Those pictures on the dock an dthe ferry leaving – oh, my! The number of tears shed as people say goodbye on those docks! And some great hugs.

    Thanks for the photos of the Grand closing. I love when people together can do things that individuals can’t. Closing the Grand in style is that way. And many, many thanks to Mary and her crew for all the loveliness we all get to see, guests or not.

  5. Loved the story tonight. What a wonderful tradition to close the hotel with all the pomp and circumstance. Also loved your picture with the Chairman.

  6. Sleep well, lovely lady on the hill! What a wonderful day you have shown us! And that gorgeous picture of Round Island!! I’ve never been around on that side before – nice little bay, full of white caps!

  7. Every time I see a post about The Grand, I am SO thankful that I have been lucky enough to not only visit several times, but to actually spend one weekend there. I may never get to do so again, but at least I can say “Yes, I have stayed at The Grand”. Thanks for the closing day behind the scenes – that was quite enjoyable. Safe travels my friend.

  8. What a wonderful way to start my morning. A bittersweet story about the closing of Grand (and the Island). Your banner photo is gorgeous! I loved that it was the first thing I saw this morning!

    I’ll be thinking of you as you make your way through the cold, drafty roads of the upper lower today. You’re like a busy squirrel running around, gathering your nuts, burying your booty, preparing your nest and getting ready for winter. Then you and Ted turn into Canadian Geese that fly down south to softer, warmer weather.

  9. I’m like you Deb, I’ve also been lucky to spend a few nights at the Grand. In case it never happens again, I can say I did it…and loved every minute of it. What a special place, where they treat everyone like kings and queens. Brenda, Round Island and Bois Blanc look alot closer off of those balcanys then they do from the shore. What a “grand” view! You know…I think our love for the island began at the Grand…and hasn’t stopped yet!

    By the way, I love the geraniums, I would of taken every one they had if I could and I really like the header picture…wow! Does all the dirt in the pots come out too? I suppose it probably does.

    • Good morning Hilde-

      Yep – we take all the dirt out of every single porch flower box and every pot located around hotel grounds. It is then stored down by the greenhouse and mixed in with next year’s compost pile at the beginning of the season. It is a long process, but works very well for us!

  10. Thank you so much for a great start to my day! I love that you captured all the closing day traditions for us-another part of island daily life that we all just love learning about. That’s a beautiful photo of you with Mr Musser by the way…

    Hope Jill, Frankie and Hershey had a safe crossing-hopefully you’ll catch them coming back next spring and we’ll go full circle together.

  11. Your post brought tears to my eyes. Such a “GRAND” place. I was lucky enough to spend one night there. Nice memories. Have a safe trip home.
    God Bless.

  12. Brenda,

    After your blog for today, I sure have mixed feelings. I know from experience how wonderful it is to be going home or to the next employment somewhere, but I also know how sad it is to see the season come to an end, part from friends and have to close everything.

    It’s happened before and it will happen again. Life does move on.

    Wonderful pictures today. “The Closing of The Grand.” I think I’ll save a few if you don’t mind.

    I Almost forgot to ask: Didn’t you say you were going to leave the Island and start back to Lake Blackshear on Friday? If so, I’m glad you and Ted are taking a couple more days. No point in rushing through life. It goes too fast as it is.

    • No – we always travel the first day on a Sunday, Lowell – going and coming. Ted does that because there’s not as much traffic, and usually there are no construction slow-downs on Sundays.

  13. It is hard to believe that the season is over – it went by way too fast. With all that happened in my life this year, I didn’t really get a chance to come to the Island much at all – I am so looking forward to next year. Thank you again for showing us some of the “behind the scenes” activities. It makes me feel like I am there in spirit even if I am not able to be there in person.

    I have also stayed at the Grand for a night or two in the past and loved seeing all the traditions of the closing of the season. By the way – if you go on the Grand Hotel website and poke around under “Accommodations” you can see a few pictures of the different rooms and suites. I spent quite a bit of time doing that one day a while back.

    Hope all of your packing is going well and that you all have safe travels back to your other home.

  14. What beautiful pictures again today. It is a sad time, but then we all need a rest. Even the beautiful lady on the hill. Thank you again, for your pictures, stories, etc. this year. What a joy! Have a safe trip to Georgia.

  15. What a great “behind the scenes” view of the closing of the grand. I had no idea all that went on…with the moving of the chairs and all. How nice they try and make it a fun event and also neat they include the guests. When we have toured the grand (never stayed there), we have also peaked into some rooms if the doors were open while they were cleaning. It was nice to see all the different rooms. Can’t believe how nice the flowers still look!

  16. Once again you have taken us to something very special on the island. Without your blog my family would never have known about or gotten to see. You did an amazing job this summer just as with the years past. I’m going to miss you pictures & stories about the people we’ve gotten to know. Have a safe trip south with Ted & the furry friends. Your dogs are a favorite topic around here. :o) Last year early one morning I happen to catch on one of the cameras down town all the workers leaving the island. There were tons of them. My son got up for school in time to see them all leave. It was a really sad moment and about made me cry. We will wait for your updates through out the winter, but can’t wait for spring & more insite to our magical place. Thanks Bree for sharing your life with all of us.

  17. Your story about the Grand closing is so informational. I had no idea about the carrying of the chairs. How fun! This past summer, my husband and I were walking with our college age nieces on Mackinac by the public school and recognized a dog that looked like the famous “Sadie” owned by the Mussers. The dog was a sister (I think) to Sadie. Anyway, we started talking to the lady who was walking the dog and it turned out to be Amelia Musser. She was so pleasant and allowed our nieces to pet the dog who was a real sweetie. We really enjoyed the fact that she took the time to talk to us “common folk”. Mrs. Musser is a great example of the friendliness of the island.

  18. I am crying at Frankie and Jill leaving the Island too and I don’t even know them. But thanks to you I feel like they are my friends too :))

  19. I’ve always wondered about how they shut down the Grand and what it would be like there in the winter months. It made me misty-eyed to think of it cold and dark all winter. I have a thing for red geraniums (my grandmother always had them on her front porch), and I would have loved to have had a clump from the front porch – what a wonderful idea to let the guests take some with them. Thanks so much for the beautiful pictures and wonderful details.
    Have a safe journey down south! It was 78 in Tennessee yesterday but a chilly 53 this afternoon. Maybe Georgia will hold on to some nice weather for you .

  20. I can’t believe the summer season is over. I’ve been in denial for awhile now. I love fall…football….beautiful color all around, but it is sooo hard to give summer up.
    I took my last dip in the lake just a couple weeks ago. Now I get to say I swam in the lake till Oct!
    My flower gardens are almost all bedded down…and the prep work has been done for next years veggie garden.
    The snowblower is ready to go…and for the first time…..I wore a jacket to work today.
    Yep,,,,summer is over downstate too!

  21. Very interesting post, and nice to see my friend Senior Captain of Star Line Ferry, Larry Spencer standing behind Jill as they boarded the Joliet.

    • I’ve always wondered where/how they got that name..would you know Jeff? I only ask because I live 10 minutes away from Joliet (the town) 🙂

  22. 125 yr’s I can’t believe it. What story you’ll have to tell. Thank you for this delightful full one, I tire of seeing the lighthouses, my husband and I just love them. Yes safa travels, be blesseds

  23. This is a wonderful and informative post, Bree. Thanks so much for showing it all to us. Plus, we have the added bonus of inside information from Mary at the Grand!

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