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.
Articles in the Michigan Journey Series:
- County Adventures
- Rambling and Wandering
- Above and Below
- Do Overs
- Parting Shots
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr
I noticed an anomaly as I pulled together the spreadsheet of every county named for a U.S. president for the recent Last Presidential Counties article. There was a single Millard County. It represented the only county designated for a president’s first name rather than his surname as far as I could determine. It got stranger. Millard County, Utah had its seat of government in the town of Fillmore. The president honored here was Millard Fillmore, so the county picked up his first name and the town adopted his last name. That would be like establishing a Richard County with its local government in a town called Nixon (assuming anything of significance will ever be named for Nixon). If anything it seemed backwards.
However that wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen. Fillmore should have been Utah’s state capital instead of Salt Lake City and then it would have made perfect sense. The weird imbalance would never have existed. Instead, Millard County remained rather obscure with barely 12,000 residents, and offered 12MC an excellent opportunity to fill a blank spot on the Complete Index Map.
Utah Territorial Statehouse State Park by
Jimmy Emerson, DVM (cc)
Millard Fillmore wasn’t exactly the most towering icon of presidential history, in fact he’d been categorized consistently near the bottom of the pile by historians who tracked such things. He just happened to be president at a convenient time for him to benefit from some good-old-fashioned political pandering. It was an expedient choice:
Why Fillmore? Location (geographic center). Location (water, land). Location (wood, stone). After congress set the boundary and created the Territory of Utah in 1850, Brigham Young, as the newly appointed governor, chose a suitable location for a capital. This location, near the geographic center of the territory, had all the needed resources to build with, and was located on the major travel route. Brigham Young designated it Fillmore City and Millard County to honor the United States President.
Construction began on the new Capitol building and the Territorial Legislature met there in 1855 (map). Only the south wing was ever completed. The project was overtaken by financial difficulties and the Territorial Capital moved to Salt Lake City a couple of years later. The old partially-completed Capitol is Utah’s oldest intact government building and has been preserved at Territorial Statehouse State Park.
Fort Deseret, Utah by Ken Lund (cc)
Millard County retained some significance in the early history of Utah. Mormon settlers continued to move into the Pahvant Valley. This created ongoing tensions over land and resources with Native inhabitants including the Ute and Paiute, and contributed to a conflict known as the Black Hawk War.
The years 1865 to 1867 were by far the most intense of the conflict. Latter-day Saints considered themselves in a state of open warfare. They built scores of forts and deserted dozens of settlements while hundreds of Mormon militiamen chased their illusive adversaries through the wilderness with little success. Requests for federal troops went unheeded for eight years. Unable to distinguish "guilty" from "friendly" tribesmen, frustrated Mormons at times indiscriminately killed Indians, including women and children.
Local residents constructed Fort Deseret (map) as a defensive measure in 1865.
In desperation the settlers sent word to President Brigham Young who authorized them to built a fort. As teams of men were chosen to build the fort, it was decided a contest would help encourage speed in erecting the defensive structure. The winners were to be recipients of a supper and a dance, while the losers had to furnish the food and entertainment… The fort was completed in 18 days by 98 men. It was 550-feet square with bastions at the northeast and southeast corner, and portholes giving a view of each side. The fort was never used for its primary purpose, but instead housed the livestock each night.
No other Adobe fort from this era of Utah history exists today. Even this site will eventually crumble back into the valley floor as it slowly erodes away.
Topaz War Relocation Center
Millard’s obscurity pushed it towards the forefront during a later historical era, during the Second World War. This was the site of the Topaz War Relocation Center, an internment camp for Japanese Americans.
In a shameful chapter of American History, war hysteria and fear led to the relocation and internment of 120,000 people of Japanese descent from the west coast of the United States to various inland camps. Approximately ten-thousand of them, primarily from the San Francisco area, ended-up at Topaz for the duration of the war. Topaz didn’t close until late 1945. The outline of the Topaz Relocation Center remains etched on the landscape, and memories are being preserved by the Topaz Museum.
An official Presidential apology wasn’t issued until 1991.
The previous article about Spanish punctuation embedded in various place names in the United States made my mind wander to the desert southwest, which led me down a mental tangent related to cacti for some unknown reason. As I daydreamed, I considered, perhaps I should examine places named cactus. There weren’t many, and even the larger ones seemed rather obscure and perhaps even a tad unusual just as we like it here on Twelve Mile Circle.
How many towns had their own signature song? Large cities often attracted musical attention although the level of interest generally waned proportionally farther down the population tally. Yet, Waylon Jennings recorded "Cactus Texas" in 1996. Why Cactus? Maybe for the same reason the name attracted me; I thought of tumbleweeds and dust. Only an overlooked community on an arid plain could ever do justice to the Cactus name. Feel free to turn the music on in the background as I take a look around town.
The Handbook of Texas from the Texas State Historical Association included an entry on this particular Cactus (map).
It began as a company town to produce ammunition for World War II. The Cactus Ordnance Works, one of the largest plants in the county, was established there as a government project by the Chemical Construction Company in May 1942… the cactus and other prickly plants were cleared, and huge dormitories were hastily erected to house construction workers.
Cactus fared worse after the war although various companies continued to produce a range of chemicals at the old ordnance works until the early 1980’s. The population shrank to a few hundred people for a time although it rebounded to about 3,200 residents — larger than ever — by the 2010 Census.
Cactus Springs, Nevada
The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet by Chris M Morris, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Cactus Springs (map) could be considered just another isolated settlement in an otherwise empty desert except for The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet. It sprang from the creativity of a single individual, Genevieve Vaughn,
Highway 95 runs down the middle of the flat Mojave Desert valley in Nevada. Driving east from Beatty, the tiny oasis of Cactus Springs is the first inhabitable spot for sixty miles. It was at this site in 1993 that I dedicated a temple to the Goddess Sekhmet. I feel blessed to be able to give a gift to a goddess who for centuries has not had temples built in her honor.
The full account can be found at Herstory of Sekhmet Temple in Nevada.
Cactus Flat, South Dakota
Giant prairie dog, Ranch Store Gift Shop, Badlands, SD by Brian Butko, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Cactus Flat, spelled F-L-A-T according to the Geographic Names Information System, although frequently rendered in its plural form, clung to the edge of South Dakota’s Badlands. Places that survived out there often sustained themselves by finding a gimmick to attract tourists heading into the nearby park in the hallowed tradition of Wall Drug. Cactus Flat had its own scaled-down Wall Drug knock-off, The Ranch Store of the Badlands.
The feature event at The Ranch Store is the same as it was fifty years ago – a large prairie dog colony to the north of the store, where one can walk among the dogs and toss them a snack of unsalted peanuts. Standing fortress to the entire colony is, of course, the six-ton Prairie Dog.
Thus a giant prairie dog (map) came to define diminutive Cactus Flat.
Cactus Beach, South Australia
Cacti may be native to the Americas(¹) although an inconvenient geography couldn’t prevent the name from appearing in unexpected corners elsewhere. I found Cactus Beach (map) in South Australia. It was reputed to be one of the best surfing destinations available.
Cactus itself was actually called Point Sinclair and was given its current name by the first guys who drove up there, looking for surf. Well, when they first saw it, the surf was pretty poor and someone said, ‘this place is cactus!’ meaning no good and boy, how wrong they were, as Cactus is now regarded as one of the best breaks in Oz!
I’m almost afraid to mention Cactus Beach and let people know it exists. A recent news report said,
The waves at Cactus Beach were only discovered in the 1960s, but it has been a prickly issue ever since. Some locals have been trying to keep the secret to themselves. Directions are difficult to find, with signs pointing to the beach being scrubbed off and the more recently torn down.
So don’t go there to surf. Just note the succulents and move on.
(¹) Cacti are native to the Americas with the exception of a single species, Rhipsalis baccifera, more commonly called the Mistletoe Cactus. That’s your trivia for the day.