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Peak Color in Michigan

Halloween in Northern Michigan: Fort Fright

The Covid lockdown of Michigan ended some time ago, but it is only now that the first "normal" autumn season has taken place.  While it is true that many of the traditions took place last year, a considerable amount of them did not, either out of deference to political authorities or lingering pandemic paranoia.

One of those events was Fort Fright, a Halloween event held at Fort Michilimackinac over the first weekend in October.  Fort Michilimackinac is located on the southern side of the Straits of Mackinac, and its reconstruction lies in the shadow of the Mackinac Bridge.  Built in 1715 by the French, it was taken over by the British in 1761 and subsequently abandoned and burned in favor of a more defensible location on Mackinac Island.

The site of the fort has since become an important archeological location and the meticulously reconstructed settlement draws thousands of visitors each year.

Fort Fright was unusual in that it took place in the evening, from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday night.  The wooden stockade was illuminated solely by lanterns and bonfires, and it was easy to imagine oneself sitting listening to ghost stories more than two centuries ago.  It even featured a haunted house, two "scary walks" using portions of the fort, and was a great experience.  The replica of St. Anne's Church (the real one having been moved to Mackinac Island) hosted a fascinating discussion of French funeral customs on the site - an important consideration both then and now.  While Catholic practice generally prevailed, the presence of Indian traditions combined with French folk believes created an environment alive with supernatural possibilities.

Fort Fright was canceled a year ago, over Covid concerns, and based on the reactions of the staff, this year's even exceeded all expectations.  Having visited the site many times over the year (our family has a membership) I've never seen it so crowded.

Indeed, it was comforting to see so many people simply enjoying a blustery, scary October evening.  Politics was far less important that spotting the Lady in White walking along the battlements, or listening to the pounding of the waves in the stiff northerly wind.

This election season is unusually acrimonious, but we should not allow it to crowd out the other pleasures of fall.


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