It wasn’t always easy finding sites that appealed to every member of the family during our Michigan trip. I searched high and low, from way up in the sky to deep undersea, for our little day trips during our week away from home. Local roads took us to three different places in three distinct directions all within close range of our temporary base in Grand Rapids. Each of the sites featured a connection to the Second World War, coincidentally enough.
Kalamazoo Air Zoo
An hour drive due south brought us to Kalamazoo and its wonderfully named Kalamazoo Air Zoo. I hoped my frequent visits to Washington DC’s Air and Space Museum wouldn’t taint my perception so I tried to keep an open mind. I needn’t worry. The Air Zoo held its own. Incredibly, a government did not operate or fund this museum. It sprang from the collection of private citizens, Sue and Pete Parish. They started small with just a few planes in the 1960’s.
It was becoming clear that Sue and Pete wanted to share their enthusiasm about World War II airplanes with people who enjoyed these historic flying machines. Then a friend made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: start a museum, and he would give them his Grumman Bearcat.
The building on the edge of Kalamazoo’s airport eventually filled with exhibits, leading to another building and then an annex (map). It took most of a day for us to tour everything in depth. This would also be a great $100 hamburger for people into such things. The Air Zoo website included fly-in directions.
An easy half-hour drive southwest of Grand Rapids brought us to the city of Holland. The name reflected the expected immigrant story.
Persuaded by religious oppression and economic depression, a group of 60 men, women, and children, led by Albertus C. VanRaalte, prepared for their 47-day trip from Rotterdam to New York. VanRaalte intended to purchase land in Wisconsin, but travel delays and an early winter caused the group to layover in Detroit. After hearing about available lands in west Michigan, VanRaalte decided to scout the territory. They reached their destination on February 9, 1847 on the banks of Black Lake — today’s Lake Macatawa.
One couldn’t blame the town for capitalizing on on its heritage by creating Windmill Island Gardens. This well-manicured park featured a 1761 windmill called De Zwaan (the Swan), moved from the Netherlands to Michigan in 1964 (map). Many Dutch windmills fell into disrepair especially during World War 2 when they often served as signal towers, drawing enemy fire. The town acquired a particularly dilapidated specimen from Vinkel in Noord Brabant and restored it to its original condition. The Netherlands would never allow such a valuable cultural icon like this to escape its territory today.
De Zwaan functioned perfectly on a wind-swept plain along the Macatawa River, on the edge of town. A local resident, Alisa Crawford, then learned how to operate the windmill. She finished her training in the Netherlands and "is the only female member of the Dutch milling guild, Ambachtelijk Korenmolenaars Gilde." She grinds white winter wheat grown in western Michigan and offers it for sale at Windmill Island.
Visitors also get an opportunity to walk to the top of the Windmill with great views in all directions.
Another day we drove to Muskegon, also nearby heading northwest this time for about forty minutes (map). Here we found the Silversides Museum. It seemed like a strange name for a submarine until I saw that it came from a certain type of fish resembling a smelt. Then it made perfect sense. The USS Silversides served with distinction during World War 2. She launched and received her commission just a few days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and served through the entire war. Her crew earned numerous distinctions,
Silversides received twelve battle stars for World War II service and was awarded one Presidential Unit Citation for cumulative action over four patrols. She is credited with sinking 23 ships, the third-most of any allied World War II submarine, behind only the USS Tang and USS Tautog.
It seemed incomprehensible for me to imagine that sixty people lived aboard this vessel. I pushed my way through its length into increasingly claustrophobic quarters, through tiny hatches between watertight compartments. Bunks stacked atop bunks in ever corner and crevice. Privacy simply did not exist aboard a Gato-Class submarine. Submariners also faced horrific survival rates throughout the war although only a single crew member died in combat on the Silversides. She earned a nickname, the Lucky Boat.
The museum included more than just the submarine. It also featured a US Coast Guard Cutter, the McLane plus an entire museum building filled with exhibits.
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr
Most people seemed confused whenever I mentioned Grand Rapids, Michigan as our vacation destination this year. They could understand a holiday at the seashore or in the mountains or going traveling abroad. A mid-sized Midwestern city specializing in consumer manufacturing seemed considerably less intuitive to them. Then I revealed the true reason, its great concentration of amazing breweries. Slowly over time I’ve added cities that beverage connoisseurs considered the best beer destinations in the United States, places like Asheville, Bend, San Diego and the Puget Sound. Grand Rapids became my latest acquisition.
I realized that only a small sliver of the Twelve Mile Circle audience shared this passion. Readers should feel free to wait a couple of days until the next article if that’s the case. I also sprinkled a few interesting nuggets completely unrelated to brewing into the kettle for those who wanted to stick around anyway.
One cannot mention Grand Rapids breweries without referencing Founders (map). I could not underestimate the positive contributions Founders brought to the city since its inception barely twenty years ago. Many credited this single brewery with sparking a broad revitalization that transcended its entire social fabric.
Thirty years ago, most people in the area of Grand Rapids, Michigan, steered clear of its desolate downtown. Back then, residents lived in the outlying residential neighborhoods, a suburban sprawl supported by endless strip malls and IHOPs… And at the center of what’s now known to many as "Beer City, USA" is Founders Brewing Company… it has almost singlehandedly established its culture.
I couldn’t vouch for what Grand Rapids used to be like, although I certainly saw that the current scene had a lot to offer beyond the large number of breweries that came to follow. We rented a house for the week in a quiet residential neighborhood constructed at the turn of the last century, east of downtown. We walked nearly everywhere, or grabbed an Uber when we felt lazy, visiting many popular sites within Grand Rapids including a number of its breweries.
Great Lakes Brewing
We stopped overnight in Cleveland, Ohio on the drive up to Michigan. That let us visit another titan of craft brewing, Great Lakes (map). It dated to 1988, practically ancient for that wave of breweries that rose to challenge the Budweisers, Millers and Coors of this world. One of my friends in the industry told me to look for the bullet hole. Bullet hole? Right. The vintage 1860’s Tiger Mahogany bar at Great Lakes supposedly had a bullet hole in it. I noticed someone marked it with an appropriate flag once I arrived in person. BANG. Funny.
Great Lakes brewed a well-regarded Vienna Lager called Eliot Ness, named for the prohibition agent who battled Chicago’s mobsters in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. He led the Untouchables, a nickname earned because they supposedly could not be bribed by gangster Al Capone. However the labeling of the beer wasn’t intended as an ironic statement about a crusader battling bootleggers.
Ness came to Cleveland after prohibition ended in 1933 and later became the city’s Safety Director where he rooted-out public corruption for several years. He often sat at the same bar that became part of Great Lake’s brewpub decades later. That’s why the brewery named a beer for him. Great Lakes claimed that the bullet hole may have come from Ness himself. Meanwhile the Cleveland Police Museum said that "Ness was known to rarely carry a weapon" It might not even be a bullet hole for all I knew. Still, it made for a good legend.
The story of Ness took a sad turn. He succeeded too young and couldn’t maintain it. He lived only 54 years, becoming a hard drinker with a string of failed jobs and marriages.
Less than an hour south of Grand Rapids, in Kalamazoo, stood an even earlier icon of craft brewing. Bell’s Brewery (map) opened all the way back in 1985. Bell’s named its flagship American IPA, Two Hearted Ale. Aficionados considered Two Hearted Ale "world class" and the second best beer in the nation according to Zymurgy, the publication of the American Homebrewers Association.
I never pondered the unusual name before. Two Hearted Ale derived from "the Two Hearted River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula." This was a short river draining into Lake Superior and known for its exceptional recreational fishing. A young Ernest Hemingway borrowed the name for a two-part short story he wrote in 1925, "Big Two-Hearted River." At least one source claimed that the name of the beer drew inspiration from Hemingway’s story.
Bell's Two Hearted Ale by William Clifford on Flickr (cc)
It’s a tale about change and acceptance, about dealing with ones own experiences and making the best of them. The fish on the bottle references a part of the story where our hero is struggling with a big fish only to have it get away. Later on he catches two medium size fish and learns to be content with just that.
I managed to structure a search query that sidestepped Bell’s and Hemingway to uncover the river’s etymology. The United States Geological Survey published "The origin of certain place names in the United States." In Volume 8, Issue 197 (1902) the USGS said, "Two Hearted river in Michigan. An erroneous translation of the Indian name Nizhodesibi ‘twin river’." Now we know.
New Holland Brewing
We also visited New Holland Brewing (map) in Holland, Michigan about a half-hour southwest of Grand Rapids. I’ll have more to say about this town in a future installment so I’ll keep it brief here. My wife considered its Dragon’s Milk bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout as one of her favorites for the last several years. Obviously she also greatly enjoyed the Reserve version aged with raspberries and lemon zest on draught at the brewpub the day we visited.
I Got the T-Shirt
Grand Rapids understood the economic value of beer tourism and offered a passport program. Anyone who visited 8 of the 23 area breweries that existed during the summer of 2016 earned a free Beer City Brewsader T-shirt. I got my passport stamped at the 8 closest breweries and earned a shirt. I did something similar during my visit to Bend, Oregon, too. These challenges meshed well with my compulsive need to count things.
Overall we visited 14 breweries during our journey:
- B.O.B’s Brewery (Grand Rapids, MI)
- Bell’s Brewery (Kalamazoo, MI)
- Brewery Vivant (Grand Rapids, MI)
- Draught Horse Brewery (Lyon Twp., MI)
- ELK Brewing (Grand Rapids, MI)
- Fat Head’s Brewery (Cleveland, OH)
- Founders Brewing (Grand Rapids, MI)
- Grand Rapids Brewing (Grand Rapids, MI)
- Great Lakes Brewing (Cleveland, OH)
- Harmony Brewing (Grand Rapids, MI)
- HopCat (Grand Rapids, MI)
- Mitten Brewing (Grand Rapids, MI)
- New Holland Brewing (Holland, MI)
- Smokehouse Brewing (Columbus, OH)
I think I should emphasize — as I have in the past — that responsible behavior underpinned this quest. While we tried a lot of breweries, we spread it over a ten-day period and stuck to samplers, those small taste-sized glasses. In total we had the equivalent of maybe one or two beers at each location, often combined with a meal. It was about the quality not the quantity.
What beer city should we visit next?
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow earned instant fame during the gangster era of the 1930’s. They and their gang were despicable people, common thugs and criminals. They also practiced extreme violence, killing numerous people including nine police officers. They robbed banks and shops through midland America, from Minnesota down to the Gulf states, with much of their activity focused in Texas and Louisiana.
Bonnie & Clyde on Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain
Bonnie and Clyde came from the Dallas, Texas area, both surviving tough childhoods in poverty. Clyde became a hardened criminal at a young age with a string of arrests and a serious prison record by the time he turned 21 years old. Bonnie didn’t become a criminal until she met Clyde, gladly tagging along on a multi-state crime spree. They quickly captured the imagination of the public in an era when women weren’t generally thought of as gangsters. Undoubtedly, the romantic angle of criminal lovebirds with rifles also piqued interest.
They mastered quirks of geography, oddly enough. Bonnie and Clyde understood the power of state borders and the limitations of law enforcement. Their crimes fell within the jurisdiction of state enforcement. They committing crimes near state borders and simply slipping across the line to neighboring states to escape. That simple trick kept them a step ahead of the law.
Bonnie & Clyde Hideout in Joplin, Missouri
via Google Street View, April 2013
The duo made a series of mistakes during a brief hideaway in Joplin, Missouri. Otherwise they may have remained unknown to the public. They needed to lay low for awhile with members of their extended gang and selected a garage apartment at 3347½ Oak Ridge Drive (map). Joplin offered quick access to Kansas and Oklahoma should the gang need to flee. They located out of site in a quiet neighborhood. Then they got drunk every night and made lots of noise into the late hours. Neighbors contacted police to report rowdy behavior, not because anyone suspected a house full of armed robbers. Police thought they were busting bootleggers when they raided the apartment on April 13, 1933. Instead they encountered a pack of killers who opened fire. Two policemen died and the gang escaped.
However they fled in a hurry, leaving most their belongings behind including identification papers and a camera with rolls of undeveloped film. Images included Bonnie and Clyde acting as a happy couple, posing with weapons, and acting lovingly tough. One iconic image showed Bonny with a cigar and a pistol in a very unladylike manner. Images hit the newswires immediately, and became front page material in newspapers around the nation. Bonnie, Clyde and the newly-dubbed Barrow Gang became instant celebrities.
They lived in the apartment for less than two weeks. However the trove of photographs created a myth that resonated with the public, catapulting the couple into instant fame for all the wrong reasons. The significance of this location justified its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. It even had its own website.
The Last Stand
Bonnie & Clyde historical marker in Louisiana by finchlake2000 on Flickr (cc)
Their fixation on geography eventually became their undoing. The state of Texas called a retired Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer, to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde in 1934. He understood the geography and also saw that the gang traveled in a predictable manner. Notably they visited family members upon occasion. Hamer assembled several Texas and Louisiana officers to negate the border issues, then on a hunch, began a stakeout along a secluded country road. He guessed correctly. Bonnie and Clyde rambled down that road in the middle of nowhere near Gibsland, Louisiana, and drove straight into an ambush (map). The officers never attempted to stop the duo, they simply opened fire with automatic rifles and finished the job with shotguns. Lawmen emptied 130 rounds into the stolen 1932 Ford V-8 automobile, riddling Bonnie and Clyde with lead and killing them on the spot.
The Bienville Parish police department erected a stone monument at the site of the ambush. Vandals shot it repeatedly, leaving it damaged and pockmarked. I supposed it seemed appropriate given what happened to Bonnie and Clyde on that same spot.
Bonnie & Clyde’s Death Car by Jay Bonvouloir on Flickr (cc)
The Twelve Mile Circle audience would be forgiven for not wanting to travel all the way to Gibsland, Louisiana, to see where Bonnie and Clyde died. One could still see where they died, their actual car, in a more accessible location. Whiskey Pete’s casino in Primm, Nevada put the car on exhibit in recent years along with the tattered shirt Clyde wore at his death (map).
I thought Bonnie and Clyde might approve. Primm sat directly beside the border, barely inside Nevada. A spectral Barrow Gang could ride again and escape into California in a pinch.