When news of two smallpox deaths on the nearby mainland reached Mackinac Island back in 1846, it was cause for alarm. After all, even when the contagious disease caused by a virus wasn’t fatal, it could cause blindness and disfigurement.
Immediately, the post surgeon at Fort Mackinac vaccinated the entire garrison and gave instructions to the local Catholic priest to vaccinate civilians on Mackinac Island, too, according to an exhibit at Fort Mackinac.
The foresight of having a smallpox vaccine on hand and the doctor’s “diligent reaction protected the soldiers, their families and the civilians of Mackinac” by preventing an epidemic on the island, the exhibit states.
Since averting that 19th-century smallpox threat, the visitor attractions that make up Mackinac State Historic Parks have endured world wars, an economic depression, countless Great Lakes storms and outbreaks of other diseases including Spanish flu. They are surviving the COVID-19 pandemic, too.
Although the start of Mackinac State Historic Parks’ 125th anniversary season had been delayed several weeks during Michigan’s stay-at-home order, the historic attractions on Mackinac Island and in Mackinaw City are reopening this month with additional safety measures to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission.
“We’re still here like we have been for the past 125 years, and we’re excited to open up and welcome visitors for this anniversary year,” said Dominick Miller, Mackinac State Historic Parks marketing manager. “We’ve taken the necessary precautions to ensure a safe visit while providing all the fun and educational experiences that you’ve come to expect over the years.”
Mackinac State Historic Parks features attractions both on Mackinac Island and on the mainland in Mackinaw City. Each site is scheduled to open in the next few weeks.
To protect the safety of all guests and staff, visitors at each Mackinac State Historic Parks site will be required to wear a facemask when inside buildings and to maintain proper social distancing of at least six feet. Social distancing also will be encouraged at outdoor sites, although masks will not be required outside.
Additional safety precautions include increased frequency of cleaning, including bathrooms and high-touch areas. Plus, visitor capacities in parks buildings and for certain demonstrations will be limited.
For example, there will be limited capacity on the cannon platform at Fort Mackinac to watch daily cannon firings. However, the fort will provide multiple demonstrations each day to give everybody a chance to see it.
“It’s definitely going to be different than we anticipated, but it’s still our 125th anniversary and we’re still really excited to celebrate it this year,” Miller said. “There’s expected to be more in-state travel (during the pandemic) and we’re hoping that people rediscover Mackinac State Historic Parks.
“All of our sites are so much an outdoors experience, a way to get back to your roots a little bit and get away from the hustle and bustle of life. There’s so much history to take in, all in a natural setting.”
Many free anniversary events and activities are planned to thank the public for 125 years of support. Events include a War of 1812 Battlefield Bike Ride, stargazing at Fort Holmes and a vintage baseball game featuring the Fort Mackinac Never Sweats. Special movie nights with family-friendly films including “Frozen 2” and “The Incredibles” also are planned weekly starting June 20 on the grounds of both Fort Mackinac and Colonial Michilimackinac.
Check out the full schedule here to start planning your visit.