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Fun For Free--McCourtie Park in Somerset, Michigan
One of the many Bridges at McCourtie Park
Bridges & Streams
Hidden Lake Gardens was my grandson's favorite park until the day I took him to McCourtie Park. He still loves to go see the "flowers", as he calls it but the "bridges" are even better. He doesn't know anything about the park's history or the rumors of it being haunted, all he knows is that it is fun! With 17 bridges a playground, a clear running stream to splash in, and 42 acres to run around on, it is heaven to 2 and 3 year olds. It's a lot of fun and relaxation for adults too. Let's not forget everyone in between.
BridgesClick thumbnail to view full-size
History or Hearsay
There are many rumors about McCourtie Park. I heard many as I was growing up but of course it is difficult to find proof of such stories. it is very likely that a lot of these stories are true.
One story which appears to be true, was that the owner, William H. L. McCourtie had many parties and played poker with some bigwigs from Detroit, such as Henry Ford. The underground apartments that he had had built, with a rathskeller (underground bar), or since it was in the 1920s, maybe it would have been called a speakeasy, still stand today.
It was believed that to help hide the "speakeasy" from the police the chimneys were made to look like dead trees. So that from the road they would blend in with the rest of nature, appearing to be nothing more than dead trees standing on a hill. It is expressed as blending in with the rest of nature, in the literature found at the site.
Another such story of this hideaway is that there were tunnels in them that have now been sealed off with cement. Some people say that these tunnels were used for "rum running." Others say it was there for hiding slaves. I don't believe the tunnels were there before Mr. McCourtie bought the land, but I suppose they could have been.
Parties and Tragedies
Rumors of drownings and other sorts of accidental deaths have been circling around this property for years. Locals tell of sightings of ghostly visitors. One tells of his mother seeing a little girl at the park alone. Since this child was unattended she went to aid the girl in finding her parents. But the girl ran, and disappeared into the woods.
There are rumors of a "Lady in Blue" who haunts the land. I have not seen any ghosts of any sort when I have been there, but I have only been there in the daylight. I have to admit to having an odd sensation when alone by one of the far bridges. I found an area that looks like a foundation where a building may have stood at one time. By this structure is a bridgethat goes off into the weeds on the other side. It is not tended as most of the other bridges, where you can cross and have mowed lawn on either side. I felt as though I was not alone, but nothing sinister.
I have a friend who took pictures at the park one evening with a few of her friends who were "Letter Boxing", a form of geo-caching for "scrappers." These women were only interested in finding the stamp placed there by a fellow scrapbooker. While they were hunting their cache my friend was taking photos. Of these photos she found many odd images. According to a paranormal group she contacted there were many spirit orbs, spirit energy, and even ectoplasm.
The Lady in Blue?Click thumbnail to view full-size
About the Man and His Land
William H. L. McCourtie made his fortune from his Portland Cement business allowing him to fulfill his dream. He bought a large amount of land, (42 acres), in his hometown of Somerset, Michigan. There he began creating his estate. An estate that he would share with his community. He wanted the people of the community to gather there and enjoy each others company. His generosity did not stop there, though. It is told that he offered white paint to those in the community to improve the surroundings. Those in need of a job could gain employment from Mr. McCourtie as well.
His land "Aiden or Laiden Lair" was a beautiful portion of land that included a couple of ponds, hills, many mature trees, and a stream running through. Mr. McCourtie added to the beauty by hiring a couple of artists, who specialized in an art that is even rare today, called, el Trabajo rustico. Keeping the natural look of trees but still man made, These artist created seventeen bridges crossing over the stream in several places.
Relaxing on the Bridges
These bridges are made from concrete but look as though they are wood. Each bridge is unique just as each tree has its own shape and character. At least two of the bridges have seating, one resembling a swinging bridge.
As I sit on the bridges relaxing I wonder about the time when this place was so alive with Mr. McCourtie and all of his friends and relations. I can see the women in their loose fitting dresses showing off their legs and displaying peep toe pumps and heels through their handkerchief skirts. Short bobs with makeup and jewelry. The men dressed in suits or tuxes wooing the women in the moonlight from the bridges.
It is a pretty picture and yet here in 2010 in the light of day it is gorgeous too. My grand kids sit beside me and enjoy it as well, at least for a short time before they are off to the next bridge or hill.
Faux bois as it is called in French, means false wood. Ferrocement faux bois is created from concrete, mortar, and cement paste that is applied to steel frames, Iron rebar, and such. Then it is shaped, texturized, and tinted to look like wood, stone or other items in nature.
El trabajo rústic as it is called in Mexico means, the rustic work. Dionicio Rodriguez, was a Mexican artist who relocated to Texas.
The art style was popularized in the 1920s and 1930s, by Dioncio Rodriguez and two other artists, George Cardosa and Ralph Carona.
Mr. McCourtie hired two el Trabajo rustico artists, George Cardosa and Ralph Carona and brought them to MIchigan to create the seveteen bridges and the two chimneys on his estate in Somerset.
The McCourtie estate has passed through a few different owners and one such owner kept buffalo on the property roaming the 42 acres. Which did a lot of damage to many of the bridges. Fortunately, the property landed in the hands of the Somerset Township Parks and Recreation Department in 1987. This wonderful estate is now free for visitors to wander and enjoy.
The bridges have been commissioned for repairs by Melinda LoPresto and her daughter, Megan, self taught artist in the craft of el Trabajo rustico.
Wedding Photos at the StationsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Outdoor Stations of the Cross
Dionicio Rodriquez and Ralph Corona were also commissioned to work for St. Joseph's Shrine in Brooklyn, Michigan. Here they created the fifteen stations of the "sorrowful way" that Jesus walked to Calvary. The stations wind down the hill and along the water's edge of Iron Lake and back up the hill.
If you are near Brooklyn stop by and see the stations.
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