#MichiganiansYouShouldKnow: (Plus Some You Do And Don’t Know Why) by #MichaelJThorp

My husband, Dave, was a radio DJ for about two decades and held positions in several cities across the United States. One of the places he worked was in Flint, Michigan, where he met Michael J Thorp and developed a lifelong friendship. Several years ago I had the pleasure of reading The Great, Great Lakes Trivia Test: The Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of Michigan (Amazon) and really enjoyed it. After all, my parents were both Yoopers (that’s the affectionate nickname given to those living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula U.P.) and I’ve spent a lot of time in Wisconsin’s neighboring state. When Dave told me Thorp had written a new book and would I be interested in reading, I jumped at the chance. I was given a copy of Michiganians You Should Know: (Plus Some You Do and Don’t Know Why) (Amazon) in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed as my own.

From Amazon: “Michiganians have some amazing stories, and veteran broadcaster and author Michael J. Thorp is just the guy to tell them. Have you heard about the Michigan priest who worked at a prison guarding the Jessie James Gang? How about the Michigan natives who invented the electric stove and the rear-view mirror?

There are stories about:
• the brothers who first called soda, “pop”
• the man who almost drained one of Michigan’s most beautiful lakes
• the mapmaker who made up names to fill his maps of Michigan
• the Mackinac Island resident who discovered the famous Oregon Trail to the West, while heading East
• the Michigan baseball star famous for losing his job
• the Academy Award winning actress who hired a personal trainer to keep herself at the steady weight of 200 pounds.
• the voice of Shaggy

You will be astonished to learn what these Michiganians accomplished, even if you never heard of them before, and maybe even if you have!”

I myself, along with 58% of Michigan residents, prefer the term Michigander, as popularized (but not coined by) Abraham Lincoln. But I’m not the author of the book, so Michiganian it is. 🙂 This book is divided into sections of Michiganians: Musical, Military, Inventive-Scientific-Medical, Aeronautical, Political, Mapmaking, Movie Making, Namesake Michiganians, Immigrants and Miscellaneous. Obvious and overly famous Michiganians like Henry Ford or President Gerald Ford or Motown founder Barry Gordy are not mentioned, and neither are Dr. Kellogg or C.W. Post, who made Battle Creek Cereal U.S.A. So I guess I can forgive Thorp for also not including Glenn Frey of The Eagles, who was a member of the biggest rock group of the 1970s and holds the record for the biggest selling album of all time (Greatest Hits Volume 1) (Amazon), beating out Michael Jackson’s Thriller (Amazon).

Michiganians You Should Know is written in a conversational style, full of interesting tidbits of trivia that many Michigan natives might not even know. As he explains in the forward, there are many things in Michigan that have a name and the reason why is lost to history. Thorp was on a news set one day giving the evening news. “‘I’m at the anchor desk reporting that a former Detroit Mayor was going to prison after being sentenced at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice… I thought to myself, who is Frank Murphy and what did he ever do to always be associated with criminals?'” Now Thorp is trying to bring those Michigan trailblazers to the forefront once again.

For the most part, I did not know most of the Michiganians, or if I knew them, I didn’t know they were from the state until reading the book. I knew the former slave, great abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Sojourner Truth settled in Michigan, and I knew about Father Marquette the missionary because he made his way to Green Bay, too, but I didn’t know that 1930s character actress Marie Dressler, who won an Academy Award, was from the state. I found out where the term “pop” came from when referring to carbonated drinks (that soda vs. pop question permeates Wisconsin, too), and I found out the man who was most responsible for the Mighty Mack, the Mackinac Bridge connecting Upper and Lower Michigan. Did you know Gerber Foods for babies also started in Michigan? And I learned just who was Edmund Fitzgerald and why a ship was named for him, made famous by Gordon Lightfoot’s song chronicling the sinking of that ship.

Every week on one of our oldies radio stations, they still play America’s Top 40 with Casey Kasem. Man, I used to stop everything I was doing on Sunday nights when growing up in the 1970s and 80s and listen to the show. However, the show was so long that I usually didn’t listen to the whole thing. The first week I listened all the way through from 40 to 1, Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” was #1, with Hall & Oates “Kiss on My List” at #2. I had no idea that Kasem was from Michigan until I read this book. Kasem was also an actor who appeared in movies and on TV, like the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys Mysteries television show as a Columbo-like character, More famously, he did voiceover work, as Robin on some of the Super Friends seasons, and as the voice of Shaggy on Scooby Doo for about 30 years.

Even though I’m not from Michigan, I enjoyed learning more about Wisconsin’s neighboring state and the stories behind long-forgotten Michiganians (or Michiganders, if you prefer. 😉

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