Yet Another Journal

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» Wednesday, October 26, 2011
The Big Holiday
 
Remember in a previous post I talked about wishing to go to a store called Bronners someday?

Today was that someday.

No, I won't give you a play-by-play about wandering about the world's largest Christmas store. Let's say we got there at 10:30 and finally came up for air about 3:00 (with a half-hour for lunch). I'll probably chat more about it some time in Holiday Harbour. I will give you the particulars: Bronners is located in Frankenmuth, about 71 miles north of where we are staying at the moment. The road to Frankenmuth is lined with rural landscape, except when you pass through Flint, and when you get off the freeway you are surrounded by harvested fields and other rural, small town amenities. Bronners is located on 25 Christmas Lane, which is a smile all in itself. The founder, Wally Bronner, started out as a sign maker, and eventually got into selling Christmas decorations as part of the business. The store is 5.5 acres and sells Christmas material from all over the world. Most of the stock is decorations (tree and otherwise), but they also have lights, Christmas trees, a few books and music products, an area of fall, Hallowe'en and Thanksgiving decorations (me being me, the first things I bought were fall things), and a room that tells the Bronner story with displays of Nativities from all over the world (there are also collections of what must be every single Hummel and Precious Moments figurine ever sold).

After visiting Bronners, I walked over to see the Silent Night Memorial Chapel. The original church, St. Nicholas, in which "Silent Night" was first performed, had to be demolished early in the 20th century because of dangerous structural damage. On the site, the Austrians built a chapel to memorialize the birthplace of the song. Wally Bronner obtained permission from the Austrians to build an exact copy of the chapel on the grounds of Bronners. It's a lovely, tall circular structure, with two beautiful stained glass windows, an altar and pews, some lovely artwork, and bulletin boards with the story of the song, its authors, and the chapel. Outside is a simple white Nativity scene. "Silent Night" as sung by different singers is played continuously over loudspeakers lining the walk to the chapel. Lovely.

Not a quarter mile down the road from Bronners is Michigan's Own Miltary Museum. I had offered this to James as someplace to go if he got bored with wandering around in Christmas-land, but he stuck with me (at checkout we suggested they should have another T-short besides the one that says "I got lost at Bronners": this one should read "I followed my wife all the way through Bronners"...LOL). So since we had 90 minutes until they closed, we walked through it together.

This is just a neat little place, the only one like it in any of the 50 states. It honors military from Michigan (except one guy from New York...later) with their uniforms and other memorabilia. There are a few men from the Civil War, one from the Spanish-American War, and then one whole gallery of World War I veterans, followed by World War II, etc. There was a special corner of the World War I gallery for "the Polar Bears," otherwise known as the North Russia Expeditionary Force, troops dispatched by Woodrow Wilson to Siberia to battle the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. 90 percent of the men who served were from Michigan, most of them from Detroit. This is a fascinating piece of military history about which I know little; I've just heard it mentioned briefly.

Each display case has exhibits from one man (or woman). Four cases cover the five Michigan governors who had military careers, including one gentleman who lost both his legs at age 19 in World War II. All of the World War II and later display cases are changed out regularly, because they have more memorabilia than display cases. If the curator—a man who started collecting World War II memorabilia in 1945 when he was twelve years old—has advance warning of someone who is coming to the museum whose display is not up, he can put that memorabilia on display so his or her family can see it. He had just finished a display for a World War II vet who is visiting tomorrow.

There are also cases for Medal of Honor winners and other servicemen who won awards, and a gallery in the rear for Michigan's participants in the space program, including Jim McDivitt and Roger Chaffee.

There are two cases holding German and Japanese memorabilia that soldiers brought home. The owner is very intense, and told us the showcases are deliberately disordered, with items just tossed in, because the regimes of those countries were evil at that time, and he does not want to give people the idea he is honoring the ideals of those regimes. He also has photos from concentration camps and prisoner-of-war camps and says he has to be careful which ones he puts out, so not to scare children.

Each case holds different things, depending on what the person or their family saved. The memorabilia from the Spanish-American War veteran, for example, had all his braided epaulets and his sword. Several men were survivors of the "Hanoi Hilton" and the rubber sandals and striped prison costume were part of the display...chilling when combined with a placard telling of their ordeals. One man's exhibit had the toy soldiers he used to play with as a boy. The "Polar Bear" men had fur boots and other clothing to keep out the cold. One soldier's letters home, on lined paper done in pencil, were lined up so you could read. The astronaut memorabilia included bits of space suits. If the person has passed away, there was usually a booklet from his memorial service. There were medals and service pins, a portable communion kit for a chaplain killed in battle, rifles and helmets, tin cups and canteens, small personal items, photographs of family.

The story of the man from New York: this was an African-American man who won both a Purple Heart and other medals for bravery. For one reason or the other, his family sold his medals after his death. The medals were bought by a military collector in Michigan. So since there was no display like this for servicemen in New York, the Michigan museum displays his medals.

Brrrr was it cold by now. It had been bad enough when I walked out to the Silent Night chapel—it was about 49°F with a sharp 15 mph wind; Weather Channel said the wind chill made it 39. At five when the museum closed the clouds were lower than ever and it was damp. We drove back to the Drury Inn, and confounded the critters by immediately turning around and going back out to supper at a local place called "Recipes." James had a shrimp mac and cheese while I had pad thai.

And then we were back, so Willow could prowl the living room and Schuyler could chirble at me.

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