Some things have changed since the Grand Hotel opened in 1887, including the addition of air conditioning and the room rates which at the time of the opening were $3-$5 a night. In 1888, a lucky guest could also see Mark Twain give one of his famous lectures for a $1 admission fee. He was paid the princely sum of $345.
Twain appeared at nearly a dozen Michigan sites in addition to the Grand Hotel, including Lansing, and Petoskey. This is from the Petoskey Reporter July 21, 1885. “An audience which packed the Grand opera house from the orchestra railing to the top row of the rear gallery greeted Mark Twain when the curtain rose last night. Every seat was sold and over a hundred chairs were brought in to try to accommodate those who wished to see America’s great humorist, and even then many were turned away. It was the largest, the most cultured, and the best audience ever seen in Petoskey, the receipts being $524.”
Bob Tagatz, the resident historian of the Grand Hotel, one of the world’s most magnificent historic hotels, will talk about Twain’s visit and other noted events at a Greater Lansing Historical Society program (7 p.m., Thursday, March 21 at the Capital Area District Library downtown branch). The program is free and open to the public.
Tagatz will start his discussion with the Victorian era when the cool summer breezes off the lake drew vacationers to Mackinac Island for a respite from the heat of the cities and to see such renowned speakers as Mark Twain. Since then the wood frame hotel, built of Michigan white pine, with the world’s longest front porch (660 feet) has grown to 385 rooms and has lodged five U.S. Presidents (Truman, Kennedy, Ford, Clinton and George H.W. Bush.)
The hotel is also distinguished for having had one family associated with the hotel since 1919 when W. Stewart Woodfill, later an owner, started as a desk clerk. Today, the hotel is operated by Dan Musser III who is president and his sister Mimi Musser Cunningham who is vice president, the son and daughter of Dan Musser and Amelia Musser who purchased the hotel from their uncle Stewart Woodfill. The current owners are former Lansing residents. Tagatz will not only provide a historical look at the Grand Hotel, but also will talk about its architectural characteristics and some of the special events which took place at the Hotel such as the filming of the 1947 movie-musical “This Time for Keeps” starring Jimmy Durante and Esther Williams and the 1980 cult classic “Somewhere in Time” starring Christopher Reeves.
Also noted biographer to the stars John McCabe did much of his writing while in residence at the Hotel. McCabe (1920-2005) was the famed chronicler of show business stars Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, George Cohen, and James Cagney. He also was a professor of writing and theatre at Lake Superior State College and the Founder of the Sons of the Desert, a world-wide Laurel and Hardy fan club. The hotel is still a great supporter of writing and each summer hosts a Poetry Festival.
The hotel, which was built by two railroad companies and a steamboat company to encourage tourism in northern Michigan, is on the State Historical Building list, the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.
When you stay at the Grand Hotel it is like stepping back in time said Valerie Marvin, president of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing.
“It is timeless,” she said.
“We’re privileged, as a state, to have such a beautiful historic icon.”