USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘michigan’
Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

National Cherry Festival- Traverse City

I collected this piece of folklore from my brother, who went to school in Michigan. Traverse City has a Cherry Festival every summer, and this is his experience of it:

Skye: “Along the northern shores of Lake Michigan sits Traverse City.  The city is along Grand Traverse Bay and sits at the lower end of a fertile peninsula.  For decades, the area has been the self-designated Cherry Capitol of the world because of its good farmland.”

Me: How long has the festival been around?

Skye: I’m pretty sure it started at the turn of the century. The farmers would have an annual “blessing of the blossoms” in the spring–much like a blessing of the fleet in fishing communities. There is also a Cherry Blossom Queen, and a parade. The single day observance grew to be several days long.  And now, the contemporary festival is 8 days long.”

Me: What does the festival consist of?

Skye:”There is a professional mascot named Super Cherry.  Merchants set up stands and sell everything imaginable that is Cherry related.  Main stage entertainers come from all over the world.  There are baking and craft contests. Local restaurants and hotels are full and menus feature Cherry sauce, Cherry pie, Cherry mustard, Cherry wine, Cherry syrup, Cherry horseradish and Cherry ice cream.”

Analysis: Other communities in the US have food related festivals and observances– for instance Gilroy Garlic Days in California and the world famous Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Food festivals such as these are a reminder of how America became such a prosperous country, abounding with fertile soil. Many people nowadays do not farm as their main way of making money. But Americans who have multiple generations from the U.S. likely have ancestors who farmed. Celebrating the cherry is celebrating hard work, abundance, our history as an agricultural society, and our ability to innovate with simple foods.

For the official website, see here: http://www.cherryfestival.org/

Myths
Narrative

Sleeping Bear Dunes

I collected this piece from my roommate who grew up in Michigan. She told me this story while we were in our apartment. She said she knows it because it’s something everyone from her area of Michigan knows about. Every year she would vacation to the dunes with her family and her parents would tell her the story and park rangers would tell the story as well.

“There’s this folklore in Michigan that most Michiganders, that’s what we’re called, know. Especially those from Northern Michigan because it has to do with the sleeping bear dunes, that’s what they’re called, up by Traverse City, it’s like, Northern…if you hold your hand out it’s the pinky part of it, it’s right on the coast of Lake Michigan. Anyway, there’s these really large sand dunes there and you can climb them and everything. And there’s a story and a bunch of children’s books written that it had to do with…these bears, these giant bears, back…it was probably Native Americans who came up with the story, because that whole area is very Native American-esque. These bears lived in the upper pensinsula so you’d have to cross Lake Michigan to get there and there was this giant wildfire that sparked, I’m sure there were stories of how the wildfire sparked but I don’t really remember that. And…this fire started and there was this momma bear and she had two babies and they were like, black bears, I don’t know, and they were running away from it, running away from it, and they hit the shore, Lake Michigan, so they jump into the water and they just kept swimming, and somehow the momma… I guess the babies couldn’t swim very well and so they didn’t really make it all the way across…. It’s kind of sad. And then the momma bear did though, so she got all the way to the other side, to the main part of Michigan, where the sand dunes are. And she was hoping that maybe they would catch up behind her, they were just a little slow…so she laid down on the shore and waited for them. She just laid there waiting for them to catch and she never moved, so I guess she died, technically, laying there, and the sand covered her and it just kept building up and building up and that’s what created the dunes and there are these two islands right off the coast of the sand dunes, I forgot what they’re called, maybe they’re big bear and little bear, I don’t know, and it’s the legend that those are the two baby bears who didn’t quite make it…It’s actually really sad.”

It seems that this folklore has gone through a few different evolutions. Based on the informant’s memory of the legend, it likely came from the Native Americans in the area, but then became part of the lake folklore, for park rangers to tell vacationing Michiganders. Now there are lots of children’s books written about it, but my informant felt that the children’s books were created after the legend was passed between different people, and not the other way around.

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