This exhibition chronicles how the two small lakeshore villages of Saugatuck and Douglas reflected the contrasting worlds of fear and fun during the Cold War era of the 1950s-1970s.
Prior to World War II, the villages had a remarkably good relationship with visitors, but in the post-war years this cozy relationship was disrupted amid a rapidly changing world. New cars, superhighways, and plenty of cash drew the pre-war tourist clientele to more exotic destinations, leaving the towns ripe for invasion by wild youth in fast cars and motorcycle gangs who arrived on summer weekends by the thousands. Some were hippies, most were not. Some were locals, most were not. The streets were clogged with cars parading up and down. Ruffians zoomed through town on loud motorcycles. Bars were plentiful—from classy to trashy—and the live jazz and rock music was the best in Michigan. Add in big boats and the Oval, the marvelous “drive-in” beach, to complete a '50s scene where automobile, sand, water, and beach crowd met like nowhere else.
Looming above it all, from high atop the once-friendly old Mt. Baldhead dune, beamed a frightening message. A new Cold-War U.S. Army radar station was built to monitor approaching Russian bombers—a scary and omnipresent threat of a nuclear attack from abroad. Dauntingly, the tower and its constantly revolving radar screen looked down upon a divided nation, ushering in an unsettling era of fallout shelters, school “duck and cover” practice, and air-raid drills, as well as assassinations, student protests, and anti-war music and culture.
Troubling, unsure, but also happy, it was a time of sharp contrasts. Local authorities, although fair and adept, found the young visitors impossible to control. The music played on, and the visitors had a blast. It was indeed the hottest town in Michigan.
Welcome to Cold War|Hot Towns.
Continuing the Society's tradition of offering books created to accompany exhibits past and present, the Museum's south gallery gift shop again highlights Storm, Fire, and Ice. Shipwrecks of the Saugatuck Area. Written by Historical Society members Jack Sheridan and Kit Lane, this popular book tells the tales of local ship disasters from the 19th century to the present, including the mysterious wreck of the "Chicora." Designed by Society member Ken Carls, with 68 illustrations, this 72-page soft-cover book won a Michigan Museums Association Design Excellence Award.
The south gallery also features the Society's popular "SuperMap" -- a 6-foot high, 12-foot wide illustrated color wall map of the Saugatuck-Douglas area with an interactive computer display to provide a virtual tour through these historic villages, highlighting significant people, places and events of both past and present. Map artwork, created by Holland artist-cartographer Mark Cook based on Historical Society research, recalls the entertaining illustration/poster maps of the 1940-50 era, combining street layouts with stylized sketches and notes.
The map offers Museum visitors an engaging way to soak up the story of the Saugatuck-Douglas area. As many as 70 map-highlighted references are keyed by number to let visitors select and learn about sites of interest by calling up information, narratives and images using several video/interactive touch-screen terminals near the map. The screens also offer topical "interactive programs" such as History of Hotels/Boarding Houses; History of Boatbuilding and Boat Builders; Buildings and Architecture; Artists and Painting; Local Biographies; History of Saugatuck-Douglas Schools; 13 Tales of the Villages and A Video History of Saugatuck and Douglas.
In addition, the terminals allow public access to the Historical Society's digitized archives of historical photos, pages of The Commercial Record dating back to 1868, the Saugatuck-Douglas Building Survey and more.
Founded in 1992 by the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society, the History Museum is open daily Noon to 4pm from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, then Saturdays/Sundays through September and October. Admission and parking are free.