I’ve said it before: a good tour guide makes all the difference. That’s what I found in Candice of Tours Around Michigan.
Before my daughter and I headed up to the Grand Rapids/Holland area on Michigan’s western shore, I contacted Candice for advice on what she thought I should see and do. A Michigan native, she was more than happy to offer me some must-see’s and places to stop on my way into town (like Crane’s in Fennville, where we had those delectable pie flights).
Candice asked me what kinds of things I’d be interested in seeing around Grand Rapids and Holland. As you all know, my interests are quite varied. I’ll do just about anything, but what I love most about traveling is the chance to see, explore, and taste what’s unique to an area. With that broad statement, Candice came up with a plan. It started with beer.
Dragon’s Milk at The Knickerbocker
Candice had several suggestions of Grand Rapids’ breweries we might try: Founder’s Brewery, The Jolly Pumpkin, or New Holland Brewing – The Knickerbocker. Once she told me they had flights of Dragon’s Milk stouts, that clinched it. There’s nothing like that near me.
Even on a Monday afternoon during Covid, Knickerbocker’s had a nice crowd. The space is huge with seating areas spanning two floors, a large center bar, and an outdoor biergarten. We felt very safe social distancing at Knickerbocker’s. The dragon greeting us at the door even wore a mask.
We ordered our flights of Dragon’s Milk, which varies depending on what they’re currently brewing. The Dragon’s Milk White and Dragon’s Milk are standards on their menu, but we were lucky enough to be there for a pub-release reserve batches of Dragon’s Milk Scotch Barrel and Stroopwafel Dragon’s Milk. They were DIVINE! (I may return to Michigan just to have more of those!)
Not surprisingly, Candice knew Jason, the master behind the bar that day. Candice knew people all over the city as we walked around.
Somehow, our discussion turned to ghosts as we sipped our stouts. Grand Rapids has several ghosts haunting the buildings (and even a few statues) in the city center.
Grand Rapids’ Ghosts
It didn’t matter that we were walking through Grand Rapids in the middle of the day. The ghost stories we heard were chilling no matter the time of day. One of the most chilling to me was the story of a feuding husband and wife who haunt the old Michigan Bell building.
The building was originally the location of a mansion belonging to a railroad man with a wooden leg and his wife. They were known to argue so loudly that they could be heard out on the street. Nearby workers smelled a foul smell from the building. Investigators discovered the bodies of an apparent murder-suicide; some say the man had beat his wife to death with his wooden leg and then killed himself. But actually, the man ripped the light fixtures off the wall, flooding the room with natural gas. Pretty grisly, either way!
Since then, people have heard the woman screaming, begging her husband not to kill her. Others report strange lights emanating from the building. And still others have reported hearing the thumping of a wooden leg.
Even more scintillating than that gruesome murder was the story of the Pecks, a prominent pharmaceuticals family who began dying one by one. They were poisoned, by a scheming new addition to their family. The case Candice explained was fascinating. I’ve order a copy of Poisoning the Pecks to get the full story.
Street Art Around Grand Rapids
As we wandered around hearing ghost stories, Candice also showed off quite a bit of the artwork that abounds throughout the city. I don’t know how many people know that Grand Rapids was once the furniture capital of the midwest, but now it’s become more of a mecca for artists than a place for furniture companies to come for trade shows.
Grand Rapids is the home of ArtPrize: an open, independently organized international art competition which takes place for 19 days every other fall in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Unfortunately, the exhibition was cancelled for 2020, but there are still plenty of former winning entries decorating corners and tunnels all over town.
We started along the riverbank where there was as much art above ground as under.
ArtPrize is free and open to the public and now attracts over 500,000 visitors. Even better, the first ArtPrize contest in 2009 awarded the world’s largest art prize — $250,000 that year — to a participating artist based solely on votes from the public present at the event. It’s no wonder Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize draws artists from all over the world who leave their mark on the city itself.
Grand Rapids is rich in architecture, too. After walking all day, Candice took for a quick ride through Heritage Hill – an historic neighborhood on the edge of downtown Grand Rapids that is home to 1300 architecturally-original houses.
As tempting as it is to share the multitude of pictures I took here, instead I’ll share two of the most distinct (to me).
President Gerald Ford’s Boyhood Home
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Meyer May House
Frank Lloyd Wright designed this prairie style house in 1908 for founder of May’s of Michigan clothing store. In the 1980’s it was meticulously refurbished by Steelcase, who continue to maintain it today. It’s usually open for tours a few times a week, but not this year. (Another reason I need to go back!) Candice shared enough details to make me want to take a tour when it reopens. House architecture can be so interesting.
My daughter and I had such a good time with Candice roaming through Grand Rapids as she pointed out all the details visitors there shouldn’t miss. She knew the history of almost every building. She was as geeky about Grand Rapids as I can get about Cincinnati.
In my next post, I’ll write about our day with Candice and her college-aged daughter as she toured us through Holland. Only a short distance from Grand Rapids, but completely different…
Have you been to Grand Rapids?