Whimsy and serendipity in our little big city

Posted on November 29, 2011


If you are from Around Here you spend most of your time in small—very small—towns. Big cities like Detroit and Chicago are five or six hours away. What is a person to do when a person requires a citified adventure?  Well.  For that we have our little city on the Big Bay.

It is possible that Traverse City is really a miniature big city masquerading as a small town.  As Marcia Graham and I headed down there we made a list: the Dennos Museum, the City Opera House, the State Theatre, the National Writers Series, the Traverse City Film Festival, the graceful vintage houses, the creative development at Grand Traverse Commons.  Patty Sharp joined us, and the list grew.

I do not get down there enough. I had to keep stopping to take pictures of the astonishing sights. Knitwear for drinking fountains. The tea at Zakey’s. (I would have taken pictures of the seriously delicious Middle Eastern cuisine at Zakey’s but I was very busy eating every last bite of it.) Marcia and Patty kept herding me back on track.

We were, of course, up to something. We were at work on a very special exhibit that begins this Friday, December 2, at the Elk Rapids Historical Museum: Traditions from the Holidays. Marcia and I had come down to visit Congregation Beth El, the oldest synagogue in continuous use in Michigan. Patty is its historian, and had agreed to make a Hanukkah display for the exhibit. She took us on a tour of the tiny white frame synagogue surrounded—and dwarfed—by the historic County Building and the court complex that has grown up around it. She showed us old photos of the founders, including some who lived in Elk Rapids. She showed us the stained glass windows and the case of historical mementos. She showed us Glenn Wolff’s beautiful “Tree of Life” print showing the tiny synagogue that planted itself in the Big Woods. We had a fine old time.

Then we went off to Peg May’s house up in the hills above Traverse City and loaded up Marcia’s van with box after box of Nativity scenes. Some are delicate, others as whimsical as knitwear for drinking fountains, and all of them will be part of the Traditions exhibit. There’s more to the story, too, but I’ll save that for another post. I think you should plan to come see the whole thing. I don’t see how you can go wrong.

Treasures from the Holidays

Elk Rapids Historical Museum
301 Traverse Street, Elk Rapids
Dec. 2-4; Dec. 9-11; Dec. 16-18. Fri. & Sat. 11am-4pm, Sun. 1-4pm.
Dec. 21-23, 28-30 1-4pm each day
Donation: $5.00 – Children under 12 free

All proceeds benefit the Elk Rapid Area Historical Society and building preservation