Storm on Lake Michigan

I travelled through the night again and arrived at Chicago Greyhound terminal at six in the morning. It may be one of the biggest bus stations in America but there its resemblance to O’Hare airport ends. I found it easy to navigate and full of normal looking people; and by normal looking I mean fully clothed and fully conscious. Then I slept through the Indiana part of the route around the bottom of Lake Michigan to Benton Harbour where I was met by a direct descendent of the Boleyn family.

As we British children all learned at school, Ann the unfortunate second wife of Henry VIII, gave birth to Elizabeth the “Virgin Queen”, thereby effectively ending that particular branch of social climbing. However, West Michigan resident Vikki can trace her line back through another member of the family who was more fortunately overlooked by the headsman’s axe. It seems that while she was working on her own genealogy, my friend Chris was going in the opposite direction looking for descendants the 19th Century owners of the Shell Grotto in Margate.

Thus I came to arrive in this small town on the shores of the Great Lakes bearing his gifts from a small town on the shores of the English Channel. Vikki met me at the bus stop and, after a very welcome home-cooked breakfast, we went to explore the lakeshore. A sudden storm descended and I was surprised at how fast the sky greyed and the winds picked up. We grabbed a quick photo of Boris in front of the scenic lighthouse (without his wig which might have blown away). This turned out to be an appropriate introduction to Michigan because it actually lays claim to 247 lighthouses. Not bad for a state that lies nearly a thousand miles from the ocean.

As the weekend fishermen collected up their catch and the small boats all made for the shore we headed to the Krasl Art Centre where I was delighted to take in an exhibition called “Views of the Inland, from Chicago to Detroit”. If I looked up the names of these artists now they probably wouldn’t mean much to me but the early 20th century images of both industrial and rural landscape accorded so perfectly with the history and geography of the Great Lakes basin that it could have been put on especially for me.

That may all sound pretty cultured but we also took in some delicious touristy nautical kitsch in the gift shops of St Joseph’s. I couldn’t help noticing the acute resemblance of the vacationing families sheltering here to the holidaymakers that we see every year in the East Kent town of Broadstairs back home. “How can we keep the kids entertained until it stops raining (without being too badly ripped off)?” was the sentiment most obviously being broadcast. But I suspect that the china seagulls, plastic pirate ships and shell-encrusted barometers on sale probably all come from the same source whichever side of the Atlantic you are on.

Vikki and her husband kindly supplied me with tea and a rest at their home before taking me to the bus stop for my onward trip. This involved a late evening interchange at Kalamazoo which, I can assure you, did not turn out to be nearly as much fun as it sounds.

Categories: North America


  • Chris says:

    I’m glad the visit to Vikki went so well, I’ve spoken to her and she said she enjoyed meeting you. Did you know that her ancestry actually goes back to the Norman Conquest?

  • nicolaainsworth says:

    Yes, we talked a bit about the Kent connection but I’m leaving the genealogy of the Shell grotto and all the details for you. Back in America, I was delighted when Vikki told me that she has visited some of the Mennonite villages in nearby Indiana. It would be fantastic to have a guide to this isolated and traditionalist society some day. So much to see, so little time.

  • Sandy says:

    “So much to see, so little time” is absolutely correct. Even though you spend most of your time traveling, you have probably seen only 1 % of what this great earth has to offer.

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