Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Collection Highlight: Little Michigan

by Jamie Kramer


The museum took in a donation of small models, built by Mike Janczewski, from the amusement park that never was: Little Michigan. The 20-million-dollar development, conceived by Jamies L. Graham, was unveiled in Detroit in September 1972. The park was to be 250 acres situated at Wilder Road and US23 in Monitor Township. The main part of the park would be in the shape of the state of Michigan with small versions of the Great Lakes surrounding it. The attractions were said to include a monorail, an observation balloon that would be lifted 250 feet into the air, small cruise boats, a hotel, amusement rides, and representation of the biggest Michigan manufacturing names at the time. However, by 1977, the project still had not gotten off the ground. The project’s projected financial burden kept rising and financing was not there. By the early 1980s it was decided that the project would not see actualization. Today, a brick American Flag stands in its place.

1:40 pm edt 

Thursday, May 30, 2024

2:29 pm edt 

Swart Jewelry: “The Tower” Jewelry Store


Swart Jewelry Timeline:

1869 – Opened (S. Linn St., West Bay City)

1891 – Built the Swart Block

1905 – Stephen Swart Died

1906 – A.T. Swart Jewelry opened by Aurthur T. Swart

1909 - Closed

Founder: Stephen Swart   “Was One of the Best Known Jewelers in the State …”  (Bay City Times, September 11, 1905, 1)

Stephen Swart was born in Lapeer County in 1845.  At the age of eight, his family moved to Goodrich, Genesee County, where he worked in his father’s general store.  He served one year in the Civil War with the Union Army under the Eighth Michigan Infantry. In 1868, Swart married Charlotte Woodruff, and they had four children.  The family moved to West Bay City in 1869 and opened Swart Jewelry on S. Linn St.  

In 1891, the city approved the construction of the Swart Block. The building was designed by P.C. Floeter, a local architect, in the Romanesque Revival style. The front was made with Michigan buffstone and adorned with a clock tower. Swart’s jewelry store and work rooms were on the first floor, and offices for rent were on the second floor.  Swart was well-known across the state for his craftsmanship.  He specialized in watch and jewelry repair, diamond settings, and optical fitting.

Swart died suddenly in September 1905 from a cerebral hemorrhage.  The downtown business closed during the hour of the funeral to honor his memory. He left one son, Arthur T. Swart, also a jeweler, who took over the business and renamed it A. T. Swart.  The jewelry store closed in 1914 and Arthur relocated to California.


Bay City Times, January 7, 1894, 2

Bay City Times, September 11, 1905, 1

Bay City Times, August 29, 1991, 8

Bay County Historical Society Research Library

2:27 pm edt 

Monday, April 22, 2024

Bay City’s Fake Zombies Scandal

This is the fascinating story of the rock and roll music scandal that put Bay City on the front page of Rolling Stone magazine on May 28, 1970.


By Daniel Ralston with Gary J. Johnson

Chris White shakes his head and laughs when I show him the first photo. At 73, the bassist and songwriter for the reunited British psych-rock band the Zombies looks like a cool grandpa in black pants, blue dress shirt, and polar fleece vest — a sharp contrast from his septuagenarian bandmates who still sport leather jackets and tight pants. He adjusts his glasses and studies the image of the impostors, four flamboyantly dressed young men taken in 1969. We are backstage at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills last October and after this brief intermission, White will join the rest of the band onstage to play the band’s cult classic 1967 album Odessey and Oracle in its entirety.

I pull up another grainy photo from 1969 on my laptop: a traditional black and white press photo for the Original “Zombies” (in conspicuous scare quotes), autographed. There are only four guys pictured despite the fact that the Zombies were a five-piece. I inform White that the two young men wearing cowboy hats are Dusty Hill and Frank Beard from the legendary Texas blues-rock band ZZ Top, although the names D. Cruz and Chris Page are scrawled over them. The real Zombies would have never worn cowboy hats. 

FakeZombiesRSstory.jpgThe Zombies quietly disbanded when Odessey and Oracle failed to make the charts. Nobody even saw fit to correct the unintentionally misspelled “Odessey” on the record’s cover, viewed in hindsight as typical psychedelic-era wordplay. Almost two years after their breakup, after little fanfare and two failed singles, the band’s U.S. label, Date Records, decided to release the track “Time of the Season” as a last-ditch effort; the song went to No. 1 in Cashbox and No. 3 on the Billboard chart and the Zombies were suddenly in demand.

The Zombies, unaware of their stateside success — this was possible in 1969 — had already moved on to new musical projects or day jobs. This vacuum meant anyone could tour the United States pretending to be the Zombies, even a four-piece blues band from Dallas. As the Beatles and Stones went from garage and blues rock beginnings to more adventurous music, the Zombies took their early, more raucous hits (“She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No”) and refined them. But replicating a refined sound was hardly the priority.

There were in fact two different bands touring the United States in 1969 calling themselves the Zombies. Both impostor groups were managed by the same Bay City company, Delta Promotions, the owners of which insisted they’d legally acquired the songs of the Zombies and other bands. It was an operation that would be impossible to attempt today, perpetrated in an era when fans didn’t have unlimited access to artists’ whereabouts, or, in some cases, even know what they looked like.

Read the rest of the story and find out how future members of ZZ Top along with a popular band from the Upper Peninsula became involved in the scheme:

1:42 pm edt 

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Great Lakes Blue Whale Sighting of 2019


by Sam Fitzpatrick

On July 21, 2019, during the Tall Ships Festival, Avram Golden, local artist, photographer, and business owner of Avram Golden of Golden Gallery, captured a once-in-a-lifetime photo of a Great Lakes Blue Whale breaching by the Liberty Bridge.

Avram.jpgAvram was standing at the northern end of Wenonah Park with his camera in hand watching the Picton Castle depart the festival. He reported that around 5 PM the Liberty Bridge had risen creating a traffic back-up. After snapping a few shots, Avram remembered hearing a crowd of onlookers raise their voices and point. In the wake of the Picton Castle, there seemed to be a disturbance just under the surface. Avram picked up his camera and pointed the lens at the ship. The disturbance was now on the starboard side. After taking several pictures, a Great Lakes Blue Whale breached the surface of the river. Gasps and shouts came from the crowds amassed on the bridge and riverfronts. The whale thundered back down into the water, splashing the crew onboard the Picton Castle.


This was a rare sighting indeed. The Great Lakes Blue Whales (Balaenoptera freshush) are a rare species of whale closely related to their saltwater cousins, the Blue Whale, or Balaenoptera musculus.  These whales rarely make an appearance above the surface, and the fact that this happened during a major event makes it all the rarer. Great Lakes Blue Whales are believed to have swum up the St. Laurence River millennia ago, possibly during the end of the last Ice Age. If true, this would place them in the Euryhaline category, or marine animals that can breathe a variety of salinities.

Sailors from Bay County—past and present—have shared stories about seeing these majestic creatures breach the surface of the water but rarely had a camera at hand. Avram’s quick snapping and timing could not have been more perfect.

The Great Lakes Blue Whales typically keep to themselves but have been known to stir up trouble with humans. One story from The Bay City Times details how the SS Fictus Navis encountered such a whale on the Saginaw Bay between Charity Island and Sand Point during the spring of 1887. Unfortunately, the whale was too close and caused the ship to nearly capsize. It was merely a close call, and the ship sailed to Bay Port for emergency repairs. 


The now-famous image has been on the covers of Rolling Stone, Time, National Geographic, and The National Enquirer. 

Alright—if you’ve made it this far and haven’t figured it out, April Fools from the BCHS! There are no whales on the Great Lakes.



“Local photographer captures once in a lifetime shot”. The Bay City Times. July 40, 2019.

“Vessel suffers damage; nearly capsized”. The Bay City Times-Press. May 35, 1887.

“Fictus Navis reaches Halifax unscathed”. The Bay City Times-Press. June 12 ½ , 1887.

“Fictus Navis whale story bogus; captain just inebriated”. The Boston Herald. October 200, 1888.

“Michigan photographer catches rare sight”. Detroit Free Press. July 36, 2019.

“Nova Scotian vessel nearly struck by Great Lakes Blue Whale”. Halifax Examiner. July 32, 2019.

“Wait—the Great Lakes have whales?!”. The New York Times. August 0, 2019.

”No, there aren’t whales in the lakes!”. The Muskegon Chronicle. September 33, 2019.

10:10 am edt 


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