Mackinac or Mackinaw

Okay folks, it’s time for another lesson. Is it Mackinac or Mackinaw? We’re asking because we recently visited Mackinac Island, Michigan, which is right across the water from Mackinaw City, Michigan. Go ahead, we’ll give you a few seconds to think about it…Mackinac or Mackinaw…la la la…Mackinac or Mackinaw…okay, here’s the answer: it was a trick question.

When talking about pronunciation it’s “Macki-naw”. When talking about spelling, it’s both. Wait, what?! Those two words are spelled differently but sound the same? Yes, but the real question you should be asking yourself is: why are they spelled differently in the first place?

Blame it on the French and the British. They both spent some time in the area back in the 1600s and 1700s and they took the name that the Native Americans had already given the island and they made it their own. Mackinac is the French spelling of the Native American word and Mackinaw is the British spelling of the Native American word. Same word, same pronunciation, different languages, different spelling.

Regardless of how you say it or spell it, we had a great visit to Mackinac Island. Suzanne spent a summer on the island many moons ago working as a carriage driver. She hadn’t been back since, so this was definitely a walk down memory lane. Unlike her carriage driving job in Louisville, Kentucky, where she had to watch out for cars and buses and other vehicles, there were no vehicles to watch out for on Mackinac Island. That’s because vehicles have been prohibited on the island since 1898, with the exception of emergency vehicles and service vehicles (and snowmobiles in the winter). The only thing to watch out for on Mackinac Island were other carriage drivers and fudgies. “Fudgies” is the endearing term that locals use to refer to tourists, who can often be seen wandering through town enjoying a treat from one of the local fudge shops.

Okay, there are no cars, so how do people get around? They get around by foot, by bicycle and by horse. There are horse-drawn taxis, horse-drawn hotel shuttles, horse-drawn delivery wagons, horse-drawn really-whatever-you-can-think-of. And most of the businesses are centered in one small area of the island as well, which makes getting around by foot and bicycle very convenient. The island is 8 miles around, so we rented bikes and rode the loop. We started out on a tandem bike because Suzanne’s cousins Pat and Dennis have a tandem and seem to enjoy it, but we didn’t get more than two blocks before we had to turn around and trade our tandem in for individual bikes. Suzanne needed to feel the wind in her hair and wanted a view of the water, not just a view of Kevin’s backside (Sorry P&D, we’ll try again another time!).

One of the most recognizable buildings on Mackinac Island is the Grand Hotel. It was built in 1887 and we don’t have enough space in this blog to go into detail about its history or list all of the famous people who have stayed there, but we did want to share a few things with you. First of all, the hotel has become such a tourist destination that they now charge $10 per person to even step foot on the hotel grounds and look around. Fair enough, if you were paying to stay there you wouldn’t want a bunch of fudgies wandering through and gawking at you either. Second, they expect you to be properly attired. Gentlemen must be attired in a coat and tie after 6:00pm and ladies may not be attired in slacks (Translation: ladies must wear a skirt or dress). Since the standard dress code on this RV trip is flip flops and shorts, we weren’t quite prepared for the Grand Hotel so we chose to admire it from afar.  But what sticks out most in Suzanne’s mind about the Grand Hotel is that when she was working on the island her roommate, Erin, took a liking to a smooth-talking Australian guy named Darren who drove horses for the Grand Hotel. Suzanne and Erin would be out on the road driving horses for Mackinac Island Carriage Tours and see Darren out driving his team for the Grand. There were smiles, there were waves, there were “Do you think he likes me?” conversations. Fast forward to the present day: Erin and Darren have been together for ten years now. Seeing the Grand Hotel and especially seeing the Grand Hotel horses brings a smile to Suzanne’s face as she thinks back to that budding relationship and how it all turned out. Seriously, they are the cutest couple ever (well, other than us, obviously).

Not much has changed in the years since Suzanne lived on the island, except for one thing: there is now a Starbucks on Main Street.  That was definitely not there when Suzanne was driving horses. It’s a good thing, too, since it’s right next to where the carriages line up downtown near the ferry docks. Meager wages and high-priced coffee would not have been a good combination for this coffee lover.

We had a great day on the island together, we saw a few familiar faces, we visited the horse barn, we ate some good food and we enjoyed stepping back in time to a slower pace of life. When we were ready to head back to the mainland we hopped on a Shepler Ferry for the 20-minute ride across the water. The big thing on both of our minds was the fact that we had to cross the Mackinac Bridge the next day. The bridge connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and is the third longest suspension bridge in the world at 8,614 feet. We’ve heard some colorful tales from other RV’ers about the joys of crossing this bridge that has very low guardrails and is designed “to move to accommodate wind, temperature and weight”. At this point we hadn’t yet discussed who would be behind the wheel during this adventure that would test all of the knowledge and wisdom we learned from Tom Gooch during RV Basic Training and all of the skills we had developed in 2 1/2 months on the road. It’s going to be Team Vaya con Perros vs Team Mackinac Bridge. Who will emerge victorious?

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3 thoughts on “Mackinac or Mackinaw

  1. oh, man…don’t leave us hanging like that! or are you hanging from the bridge and that’s why we don’t know????

  2. That reminds me Houston and Houston. They spell the same way but are pronounced it different. Houston (TX) is pronounced as we all know: hew-stun , but Houston (the Street in New York City) is pronounced HOUSE-ton, and to blame is William Houstoun (street named after him). The spelling morphed to Houston, though the last name’s pronunciation stayed. I had to stop people in the street and asked them to pronounce it, and they all said: Housetoun….. I couldn’t believe it.

  3. What — I thought you two would be naturals on a tandem. Dennis says the bike just didn’t fit you well. Or, maybe next time you try it, Suzanne you should ride on the front!

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