Northern Michigan Vacation: Summers on Sleeping Bear Bay

Northern Michigan Vacation: Summers on Sleeping Bear Bay Bonfires, island sails, raspberries for supper, skinny dips, late nights under the stars, sand everywhere and fond farewells. Northern Michigan summers,it seems, never change.

In 1924 the Drummond family of Chicago built Bluebird Cottage, the first summer residence on the Leelanau Peninsula’s Sleeping Bear Bay. For nearly 75 years the Drummonds, their friends and their relatives summered in the simple white clapboard cottage with its generous lake view. Bluebird Cottage is gone now, torn down in 1998, but memories of those first summers live on, fresh and alive as the day they were penned in the cottage diary… lifetimes ago.

In August 1926, Madge Drummond, age 38, wrote:Alone, all alone / Alone on the wide, wide beach / No uncles, no cousins, no grandma or aunts, / Round the cabin no glimpse of skirts or of pants, / In the Lizzies they’ve flown / and left us alone, / Alone, all alone, / Alone!

In July 1927- during prohibition – June Faubel, age 18, wrote:June baked a cake, and how!  Had red raspberries for supper. Giggles were not served but nevertheless everyone had them. Joe felt pretty lively after going out with Mr. Laird all day. They were in a store. Mr. L. asked for a bottle of beer and Joe was shocked to death. (He wanted to run home to his mother, but then 30 miles is quite a way to run so he stayed.) The storekeeper put a bottle of beer on the counter. Joe said, “Ah, curses, foiled again.” (He had planned to have something interesting to tell the folks at home.) The label on the bottle read “ROOT BEER.”

In August 1927, Madge Drummond wrote:Night—A terrific rainstorm—lightning and thunder and all the trimmings. Then the wind shifts to the north, blows the awnings loose from their moorings and we are only saved from being blown out of our beds by clinging to our bedfellows.

In August 1927, Ben Dyer, approx. age 38, wrote:Yesterday “Jo,” “May,” “Phil” and yours truly went fishing. Came home with plenty of beets, onions, carrots and cucumbers. Fish left in lake. Damn good country up here, as there are no churches to disturb your Sunday rest.

In August 1927, Fran Drummond, age 12, wrote:All our clocks stop and we have no idea what time it is.

In August 1927, Stanley Thompson, age 42, wrote:Some dance! Gave the natives (and others) a treat. Showed them how to square dance (?). At one time Madge had three fellows dancing with her and I three girls. Well, what can you expect when the calling was done in French that we couldn’t understand? We all did the best we could and all had a good time too. Had several drinks (pop) and went to bed at three with aching calves. The priest did not show up so no church & we can all sleep—Amen.

In August 1927, Rene Bell, age 35, wrote:
Dinner:Baked fish in a pan. Creamed potatoes full of sand, Red-hot coffee nice and sweet, Rice pudding hard to beat.

In August 1927, Madge Drummond wrote:May and Marion discover a forest fire on the fire tower trail but are unable to put it out. May again calls for help. Joe, Phil & I rush there in the Ford but have a flat tire, so I hail an Ohio car and with our axe and spade, the Ohioans put out the fire. The fire warden meanwhile has seen me running thru the woods & stopping cars. He descends the tower and hill in record time and buries the fire under a ton of sand, chopping deep at roots, etc. Gives us his heartiest thanks. Some excitement while it lasted.

In September 1927, Madge Drummond wrote:Beautifully clear and bright when we awaken. Blue jays dine on juniper berries while we have our breakfast on the porch.

In May 1928, Madge Drummond, age 40, wrote:Everything is the same—only more beautiful. Our pines and juniper are alive. The juniper is rusty but the conifers are getting new green. Only the hills of hardwood are stripped of leaves. Our winter visitor helped himself to our clock and tools. Changes? Oh yes. Mr. Day is dead … and Glen Haven, where we thought change cometh not, is remodeling its hotel, and building a garage.

In May 1930, Joe Drummond, age 18, wrote:
Dear Father:Chuck & I set out for the islands Monday afternoon. The boat packed nicely. Food for two days was stowed in the peanut-butter can Mother uses for a breadbox. We carried tin plates & coffee-pot loose. The blanket roll stowed nicely between the centerboard and side of the boat, making a soft spot for the off-duty navigator to lie down on. We carried five gallons of gas besides the tank full.

It took an hour and a half to reach the lighthouse on South Manitou. We found to our surprise that the Coast Guard had been aware of our approach for three quarters of an hour. We called Lairds from the Coast Guard lookout and told them we had arrived O.K. The lighthouse is on one point of a little cove. Behind it is a little town consisting of a post office (general store) and a dozen houses. We sailed clockwise around the island and ate supper on the point nearest to N. Manitou. After supper (beans & bacon) we set out for North Manitou. To our surprise we found that it was about five miles across. We just had time to pitch a tent before dark.

In September 1930, Joe Drummond wrote this letter from Chicago:
Dear Folks,Arrived home about 7:00 last night. No bad luck except that we were arrested for speeding in Holland, Michigan. The fine was $10.00. We tried every way we knew to get out of it. They finally took Harlow’s watch as security (we told them we had no money) and let us go. Mrs. Church thinks perhaps she can pull some wires but I doubt it.

In August 1931, Madge Drummond wrote:
Beautiful day, but we all sleep till 9 o’clock. The fishermen Sheridan & Hanson come to take up their net poles and all of us get up from the breakfast table and spend the next three hours on the beach. Frank, Nicko & I go sailing. The bottom of the lake is visible far out and we watch shadows, colors, and reflections—starting out as mere sailors, we return as poets.

In August 1931, Dr. Nicholas Dimitrius Cheronis, approx. age 40, wrote:We arrived and were welcomed and fed by the Drummonds in a grand manner. Very pleasant to be at last in a place without a radio and not infested by golfers, vacationists a la grand mode—and be very far from the noise of the town. In the afternoon we sailed the boat; that is Joe did while Bennie did his best to keep his head out of the way of the boom. We made a special survey of the bay. Evening came and after supper on the beach we sat by the fire for a long time, being sprinkled occasionally by rain. The clouds could not make up their minds whether to condense or disperse.

Joe had started earlier in the evening reading “The Night Life of the Gods.” The moral escapades of the Olympians kept him in a continuous uproar. When he finished it he rejoined the group. The hostess retired with admonitions to us to get some sleep. With the aid of the fumes of some “mastiha” [a liquor] I had brought along, we soon forgot her kind advice and we set up in a primitive Indian dance around the fire. With the hope that water might cool us, we took to the water, sans bathing suits, but with plenty of noise. When we came out we danced like satyrs around the fire and the same time emptying the bottle of its contents. Later (the next day) Mrs. Drummond casually told us that they had seen the entire show …

We settled around the fire and talked of life and its problems until 3 A.M. The conversation touched upon religious morals—women—experience and learning—of conventions and modes of living—and when we had it settled, we retired for a few hours of sleep. NOTE: Bennie insists that we talked a lot about LOVE, and so it is recorded, although Mrs. Drummond remains of the opinion that life contains a good dose of love.

In August 1931, Dr. Nicholas Cheronis wrote:
Overturning of the BoatJoe, Bennie and Dr. Cheronis went in the lake looking for trouble. In the afternoon they took the boat out to be tossed about by the waves. For over an hour they played. The waves got higher and between the 3rd and 4th fish poles three high waves in quick succession tipped the boat over. Dr. Cheronis being in the middle was caught under but with Joe’s help he got out clinging to the boat for dear life. They allowed the waves to wash them ashore. Bennie got chilled but June played the heroic part of nurse and by her proximity and tender massaging got him warmed.

In August 1931, Dr. Nicholas Cheronis wrote:Lazy, with very little desire to sleep. Beautiful mirages in the morning. South Manitou is blocky in appearance where it meets the lake. The boats appear divided in two but at times lifted in the air.

In August 1931, Dr. Nicholas Cheronis wrote:The sky gloomy, the lake gray, fog by the islands as we are leaving. Two weeks have flitted by with an unbelievable rapidity, and we are going back to the rumble of the city to our rats and rabbits, to the laboratory, and all our cares, worries. Problems are creeping back.

The damnable beasts came around the campfire after we went to bed and danced and grinned at us, “Come children, your fun is over. No more sun and sand or woods of birch and pine. No more studying on the beach or cuddling by the campfire. Awake and back to your work, to your yoke. You are the screws in the huge machine. Back to the machine, must keep on going.” 

Excerpted from Echoes from the Shore of Sleeping Bear (2003), Frank Olderr. Find the transcript of the Bluebird diaries at the Empire Area Museum Center in Empire.