Considered as one of the top states in the United States of America, Michigan is much more than just another fancy American state and is certainly not limited to the popularity of Detroit – even though the city has been named as the best in travel for 2018.
Comprised of two peninsulas, Michigan offers a perfect combination of history, nature, artistry, beaches, waterfalls, and almost everything else that you can think of. The state is not only diverse and picturesque but is also known to inspire a great sense of admiration for itself among its residents.
Deriving its name from the word ‘mishigamaa’ implying “large lake”, the lower peninsula of Michigan funnily looks like a mitten which is why the state is often known as ‘The Mitten State”.
Let us explore some of the hidden gems that are tucked away in different parts of this American wonderland.
1. Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Detroit
Established and in business since 1934, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, located in Detroit, is reportedly the world’s oldest operating jazz club. Originally a sandwich restaurant in 1933, founded by Chris and Fannie Baker, the simple lunchtime eatery transformed slowly when their son began booking jazz pianists to play here.
Almost every artist of national importance is known to have played at Baker’s including but not limited to Art Tatum Jr., Dave Brubeck, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan.
With a seven-foot-tall Steinway piano and a trademark piano-themed bar with mock keys around the edges, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge is a must-visit place in the state.
Pair your perfect jazz evening with a glass of fine scotch and the show-stopping catfish delicacy, and embrace the experience of sharing the roof with some of the world’s best-known pianists.
2. Grande Ballroom, Detroit
Established as a jazz dancehall in the 1920s, Grande Ballroom was designed in the Art Deco style with a floor on springs that gave an illusion as if you were floating while dancing in the ballroom.
A jazz dancehall – turned – dance club – turned – skating rink – turned – rock and counter culture center in the 1960s, the Grande Ballroom has seen some legendary rock bands perform under its roof – think Pink Floyd, the Who, and the Velvet Underground!
The building has been inactive as of 1972 since the ballroom shut down for business. Since then, the structure has dilapidated, windows shattered, fixtures stolen and plasters fallen off from the ceiling.
Before you visit, know that it isn’t easy to get inside as most of the building is boarded up and is in plain view, so sneaking in may be a bit tricky. But, if you do happen to get inside, the sense of nostalgia and an eerie vibe of the history that the place has seen will certainly overwhelm you.
3. Turnip Rock, Port Austin
Standing majestically just off the Michigan shore, Turnip Rock is a small yet peculiar rock formation in Lake Huron which derives its name from its distinct similarity to a turnip. The geological formation has reportedly taken place due to thousands of years of erosion caused by the waves which led the structure’s top to remain a large cross-section while the bottom grew narrower.
In 2013, this unique structure was one of the finalists in “Seven Wonders of Michigan” contest.
Although the surrounding land is privately owned, and hence, visitors not allowed, you could still take a boat trip around the rock or take kayak trips from Port Austin, the common base for such trips to Turnip Rock.
4. Ann Arbor’s Fairy Doors, Ann Arbor
While Jonathan and Kathleen Wright were renovating their century-old home in 1993, their young daughters stumbled upon an enchanting discovery – teeny-tiny six-inch doors scattered around the baseboards, the fireplace and the kitchens! When opened, there were miniature railings leading to other tiny doors and windows where lights would miraculously turn on and off. What could these be?
By 2005, the fairy doors started popping up everywhere within Ann Arbor – the first public fairy door being the one outside Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea that appeared in April 2005. There have been many since then, however, every time a store or a place with a fairy door shuts down, the doors disappear too – magic!
While these mysterious fairy doors continue to appear in the city, seven out of the original ten public Fairy Doors of Ann Arbor still exist.
5. Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum, Farmington Hills
Quiet a tongue-twister, isn’t it? Jokes aside, this one is not for the faint-hearted and especially not for people who have the slightest problem of pediophobia!
Tuckey away secretly between two shopping malls at the corner of Orchard Lake Road and 14 Mile Road, Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum is an eerie collection of all-things-strange spread over a 5,500-square foot gallery that is decorated in horror-vacui style.
Once your vision adjusts to the blinding light and the visual cacophonies, you will be ready to explore Marvin Yagoda’s secret world.
Yagoda, who passed away on January 8, 2017, had been collecting these masterpieces for over 50 years. An accredited expert in mechanical and electrical gaming apparatus, Yagoda managed to gather old arcade games, vintage fans, mechanical games, a vast collection of coin-operated animatronic dummies and various such oddities.
Amongst the strangest collectibles in the museum are one of the Electric Chairs of Sing Sing Prison in which over 30 people died and Dr. Ralph Bingenpurge, an automaton food inspector which is designed to incessantly vomit into a pile of old bottles!
6. Hell, Hell
How about you could send everyone you didn’t like (or like) to Hell? Like, literally? Well, it’s time you gave it a real thought.
Located near Ann Arbor, Hell is a small town in the southeastern part of Michigan which has been officially known by the name since 1841. There are quite a few legends behind the etymology, however, two of them have gained popularity.
The first one revolves around a pair of Germans who visited this town and called it “so schön hell!”, meaning “so beautifully bright” in English. The second story revolves around town founder George Reeves, who when asked for his opinion on naming the town, apparently responded, “I don’t know, you can name it Hell for all I care.”
Irrespective of the town’s history, the citizens of Hell embrace their little town. You could visit the town in winter to see ‘Hell Freeze Over’, or be appointed as the “Mayor of Hell” for a day for $100 – you will be bestowed with the key to Hell and a dishonorable arraignment at the end of the day.
7. St. Agnes Church and School, Detroit
Built between 1922 and 1924, St. Agnes Church and School, now ruins of a thriving past, was one of the initial landmarks in Detroit. What was once a huge compound with its own Catholic church, parish house, convent, and a girl’s high school now stands deliriously abandoned awaiting its final fate.
A gothic-inspired structure, St. Agnes had over 180 students, 22 nuns, and three priests by their 50th anniversary. However, destiny took an unfortunate turn when, in 1967, a police raid on an illegitimate bar near the compound aggravated one of the worst civil conflicts in American history that involved most of the buildings in the area being burnt down. Even though the Church was relatively unaffected by the riots, the community surrounding St. Agnes gradually moved away, and it has never been the same again.
The building was put up for sale but the group that purchased the compound never took possession, because of which, St. Agnes fell into ruins and met its inexorable destiny.
8. Dymaxion House, Dearborn
Planned and developed by inventor and architect Buckminster Fuller, the Dymaxion House was inspired by his vision of affordable, self-sufficient, and sturdy housing which could be effortlessly constructed and shipped.
Constructed in 1946 as a part of his “Dymaxion” inventions, Fuller built the house mainly out of utilized material (such as aluminum) from World War II and assured that it could withstand a Kansas hurricane!
Despite its promising future, the model never received due attention and in 1991, this last-standing “Dymaxion” prototype was donated to Henry Ford Museum. It underwent a major eight-year restoration before going on display in 2001 and another preservation project was initiated in 2013 to maintain Fuller’s prodigy of a transformed future.
9. American Museum of Magic, Marshall
Due to all the directness and pragmatism of the modern world, not many of us believe in magic anymore. But, if there is one place where all that lost faith can be restored, it is inside the American Museum of Magic!
Acclaimed as the largest of its kind in the United States of America to be open to the public, American Museum of Magic stores around half a million pieces of collectibles including some of the most famous and obscure illusions and memorabilia donated by the world’s greatest magicians.
Among the museum’s vast collections are over 5,000 handbills, 24,000 magazines, 10,000 books, 46,000 letters, photographs, and mails, and 2,000 handbills, heralds, and window cards.
More notable structures in the museum include the famous Milk Can – one of Harry Houdini’s escape apparatus, an extensive collection by Harry Blackstone, Sr., artifacts by Clare Cummings of the “Milky The Twin Pines magic Clown” fame, and files on Donna Delberts – the only lady fire-eater in the World, who, by the way, was an AWOL American GI and a man!
What is even more awe-inspiring is that the museum, which is spread over three floors, was almost single-handedly assembled by the late couple, Robert and Elaine Lund.
10. Hamtramck Disneyland, Hamtramck
Named by the locals of the city, Hamtramck Disneyland is a crazy two-story compilation of old, new, bought and hand-crafted items put together by Dmytro Szylak, a retired assembly line worker from General Assembly. Started in 1992 and completed in 1999, the assemblage stands on a 30-foot backyard that towers over two adjacent garages owned by Szylak.
Collectibles in Szylak’s collection include several pictures of Elvis, a model of Mickey Mouse on a plane, many symbolisms of American patriotism including American flags, year-round Christmas lights, reindeer, remodeled lawn ornaments, and oddly placed dolls.
Until his death in May 2015, Szylak is known to have conducted personal tours of the museum for all his visitors. Though the site was bought by Hatch Art in 2016, a non-profit, this peculiar structure, filled with unique artifacts, has been struggling to thrive ever since.
11. Detroit Children’s Zoo
Don’t take your children to this zoo despite its name unless you want their tender hearts to be crushed!
Once a bustling tourist site for visitors, especially kids, Detroit Children’s Zoo, formerly known as Belle Isle Zoo at the time of its establishment in 1895, stands quietly and depressingly among the many ruins of Detroit, Michigan.
During its thriving tenure, the Zoo was home to several expected and unexpected inhabitants including elephants, bears, tigers, snakes, monkeys, and the noteworthy herd of fallow deer which were natives of Belle Isle.
In 2002, the then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick ordered a permanent shutdown of the zoo when the public attraction had a delayed opening due to lack of attendance. Despite a successful local campaign in 2004 to reopen the zoo and approved funds to renovate the area, Mayor Kilpatrick used the money to construct an all-new Detroit Zoo on the other end of the island.
The remnants of the structure are now visited mostly by the last standing members of the retreating fallow deer herd and photographers or urban explorers.
12. Earl Young Gnome Houses, Charlevoix
Fancy living in one of the hobbit houses from ‘The Lord of the Rings’? Of course, you do. Everybody does. But, for the residents of Park Avenue in the city of Charlevoix, Michigan, the whole fantasy is real – thanks to the late Earl Young, an American architect and designer, who along with his wife Irene Harsha, constructed the first mushroom house in 1918, and then went on to designing around 30 others of the same kind which can be spotted throughout the streets of the town.
Mushroom-like cedar shake roof, stone walls, boulder fitted windows, chimneys with frosted stone caps, and massive stones adorning the doorways are some of the typical attributes of these unique structures which are also often known as ‘hobbit houses’ or ‘elf cottages’.
Young, who reportedly had no formal training in architectural planning and design, claimed that he always designed the roofs before constructing the house and then just shoved it under. Go figure!
13. The Bottle House, Kaleva
With as little as approximately 500 residents, the non-existential town of Kaleva houses one of the most eccentric residential homes ever built in world history – the Bottle House. Also known as the Kaleva Bottle House Museum, this strange piece of art was constructed out of over 60,000 glass bottles by one John J. Makinen, Sr., a Finnish native who moved to the state in 1903.
A great example of recycling waste products, Makinen was inspired by the huge number of used soda bottles at his soda bottling factory, Northwestern Bottling Works. Instead of disposing of the used bottles, he used them to design his dream home, which, aside from the glass bottles, also used a bit of brick and wood. Alas, he died before moving in with his family!
A huge “Happy Home” sign shining out of brown bottles which are further bordered by green bottles welcome you as you enter this modern-day museum which has been bought and transformed by the Kaleva Historical society.
14. Paulding Light, Bruce Crossing
Exploring abandoned ruins or strange restaurants are quite commonly a part of discovering the hidden treasures of a place but what if you could spot a strange, inexplicable light?
Named after the township of Paulding in Ontonagon County in Michigan, United States, Paulding Lights have been explained as strange, color-changing, circular spheres of dancing lights which can be spotted almost every evening by the dead-end barricade once you turn left on Robbins Pond Road.
No logical justifications have been made yet about the occurrence of these unusual lights, but, legends claim that they are the ghost of a railway brakeman.
The occurrences have been shot by Michigan Magazine and the locations have been thoroughly examined by experts from Ripley’s Believe It or Not. In fact, the show once announced over $100,000 as prize money for anyone with a rational elucidation behind these lights.
You may have missed the jackpot but why miss a chance to experience the eeriness?
15. Southwestern High School, Detroit
Solely aimed at adrenalin junkies and those with a death wish, this abandoned school building in the southwestern part of Detroit once housed 1,600 high school students. Closed in 2012, the school started its operations in 1916, and was equipped with modern facilities such as a swimming pool, an auditorium, a gymnasium, and an extensive track.
Despite its fame and grandeur, the school ranked low as compared to others in and around the neighborhood in terms of performance, and hence, the school district announced its closure.
An unambiguous skeleton of its distinguished former self, the school was considered too expensive to be maintained or destroyed.
Manny Crisostomo, a Guam-born journalist from Detroit Free Press, won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography after spending over 40 weeks capturing the school and its students.
As of August 2017, the US Border Police uses the school ground for firearm training and there is no way to tell when they practice. Thus, even though sneaking inside may be easy, getting caught may have severe consequences, and most of all, it could be life-threatening.
16. Pontiac Silverdome, Pontiac
Any elderly NFL followers in the family? Perhaps you could ask them about this abandoned structure which was once the largest NFL stadium with a seating capacity of 82,000 spectators.
The former home of Detroit Lions, Silverdome was established in 1975 with a distinctive structure – a dome-shaped fiberglass roof that was held up by air pressure. During 31 years of its operation, the Silverdome has been home to several soccer, basketball, and football games, along with concerts, ultimate Frisbee competitions, and a mass addressed by Pope John Paul II!
A ghostly structure now, the stadium was sold to a group of buyers in 2009, who clearly had no intentions of utilizing the space ever. As for the illustrious Silverdome, the structure collapsed in 2014 and the shattered pieces are scattered all around the stadium.
Trespassing isn’t advisable since the structure is undergoing demolition work, but, you could ask the guards nicely and get a chance to experience this massive structure before it’s forever lost in history.
17. Bath School Massacre Memorial, Bath Township
Absolutely not commended for your usual, happy day exploring a new city, the emotionally disturbing and heart-wrenching Bath School Massacre Memorial stands peacefully by the end of a road in the township.
By the looks of it from a distance, it may seem like a usual park and memorial which can be easily overlooked, but, nothing about this place can be overlooked or even forgotten once you have stepped inside.
What lays beneath this quiet and well-maintained park and memorial is American History’s largest mass murder that took place in Bath School in 1927, when Andrew Kehoe, a farmer and the school board treasurer, in a gruesome mental state, decided to undertake a suicidal mission by first murdering his wife, then blowing up his house, and gradually blowing up the school.
Though it is recorded that the impact of the explosion could be much worse as 500 lbs. of explosives that didn’t go off were discovered around the school property, the bombing claimed 58 innocent lives, of which 38 were children.
A visit to this place may be worrisome for those even with the strongest will-power, but, a place like this can’t be missed, especially once you have heard of it.
18. Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, Midland
Just the mere mention of Santa brings a grin across the face, doesn’t it?
Now, imagine an intensive three-day course on ‘How to Be the Perfect Santa?’ in a school that has a specific curriculum designed around how to responsibly occupy the esteemed ‘Big Red Chair’!
Established in 1934 by American actor, teacher, and most prominently, a famous former Santa Claus, Charles W. Howard, the school is the oldest operating institution of its kind across the globe.
The idea behind the school was inspired because of Howard’s discontent observing other Santas who just didn’t justify the role. And, thus, he decided to dedicate his life to teaching prospective enthusiasts everything there is to know about being Mr. Claus – the perfect attire and makeup, the history, the sign language, the do’s and don’ts, and detailed study of reindeer habits illustrated with live reindeer.
Referred to as ‘The Harvard of Santa Schools’ by CBS, the interiors and the exterior of the school have been designed keeping in mind requirements of the course.
Unfortunately, the course only runs once-a-year in October, and requires you to write an essay with the ultimate reason why you want to attend the program and what makes you apt for the role, but, admissions are open throughout the year, and it could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience if you get in.
19. Vanity Ballroom, Detroit
What does Detroit have against ballrooms, seriously?
As if the fallen Grande Ballroom from the 1920s wasn’t enough, another of its kind from the same era stands (barely!) on the streets of the city in a dilapidated and forgotten state. Vanity Ballroom, a Mayan-themed structure designed by Charles N. Agree, was one of the most prominent music venues until the 1940s.
Once boasting tile works that evoked a sense of pre-Colombian fantasy, critical engravings, stylized archways, a 5,000 square-foot dancing floor, and a revolving chandelier, the Ballroom has embraced the presence of eminent personalities such as Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, and Red Nichols.
A venue for rock concerts by eminent bands such as Mc5 and The Stooges, and a part of Eminem’s 2002 movie, 8 Mile, the structure remains closed and ruined despite its entry in the National Register of Historic Places.
20. House of David Museum, Saint Joseph
Established in the late 1,800s, the House of David was a religious commune formed with focused values – celibacy, hirsute yet clean and tidy appearance, and a self-sufficient way of life.
The contemporary society came into prominence due to their ability to develop an astounding set of services that included generating their own electricity, building cold storages and cannery, but most significantly, the House of David were known for their minor-league baseball team!
A one-of-a-kind cult (a good one), the community first started playing in 1914, and soon traveled around competing with other teams and playing friendly matches. Even though a lot of the players were recognized by major leagues and offered positions, the cult’s rule of living a hirsute life restricted them from moving up the ladder.
Though the reputation and bond tarnished following a sensational rape scandal, the heritage and the history of the teams are still reminisced at the museum.
21. The Hippie Tree, Traverse City
Lost in the woods outside the Old State Hospital grounds, the Hippie Tree is now basically the skeletons of what used to be a massive tree under which a lot many patients of the former hospital often meditated and painted the outcomes of their consequent illumination. Now, it’s just a piece of insane artistry, often regarded as a ‘nexus to hell’.
Rumors surrounding the tree claim that the structure is possessed by the disturbed, wicked souls of patients who spent time here. Stories report several paranormal activities around the tree.
It is claimed that if you walk around the tree in a certain way, you may end up opening the pathway to hell that otherwise rests upon the tangled roots!
22. Mbad Museum and Dabl’s African Bead Gallery, Detroit
The fourth of its kind to exist in the United States of America and the largest in Detroit, Mbad Museum and Dabl’s African Bead Gallery remains secretly tucked away in a century-old house owned by Olayame Dabl.
Home to a varied diversity of ceremonial beads and related objects as well as several art pieces, the Museum’s exteriors are as striking as its interiors, if not more. The historic rowhouse hides under bright, tribal African motifs and patterns which are further embellished with uncountable glistening glass fragments.
Inside, the collections include significant literature on history and culture of Africa as well as artworks and carvings of various native Afro-American artists.
23. Prehistoric Forest Amusement Park, Onsted
Once considered an absolute tourist attraction, the Prehistoric Forest Amusement Park was established in 1963 as a dinosaur-themed roadside attraction which lured visitors from all around the world.
Once inside the Park, visitors could experience a ‘Jurassic Park’ like ambiance with larger-than-life fiberglass dinosaurs, a rattling Safari train, a man-made active volcano, and the highly distinguished 400-foot Jungle Rapids Water Ride.
At the time, lavish waterfalls, cavemen, and interactive fossil digging pits coexisted around fifteen molded dinos, the Park fell victim to traffic and urbanization and met its unfortunate fate in 2002.
Vandalism persisted, statues disappeared, and other structures eroded with time. What is left are the leftovers of the park’s elated past.
Now a private property, permission must be obtained from the landowner for a visit to the park.
24. Holy Rosary Catholic Church, Cedar
A ‘tragedy’ no one living in Isadora likes to be reminded of (literally), Holy Rosary Catholic Church is the burial ground of a secret scandal, which, when discovered, shook the beliefs of many followers of the church. An event that inspired novelists and moviemakers of the past, the earliest Rosary Church was established in August 1883.
After several years of operation, when Father Edward Podlaszewski proposed renovation in 1917, rumors about a murdered nun, Sister Janina, being buried in the basement started making rounds.
The skeletons of Sister Janina, who was reportedly buried with her unborn child allegedly fathered by Father Bieniawski, was found by Father Podlaszewski, who then ordered a secret burial of the carcasses under the foot of a large cross in the church’s graveyard.
Even though this wasn’t the only secret kept by the Father, the body was discovered by the local police after his teenage housekeeper turned illicit bearer of the Father’s child told her father about the mishap.
While some believe that Sister Janina’s remains were buried at the Felician Motherhouse in Detroit, many doubt that it may still be buried under the large cross.