The Rockford Files

The United States of Generica

The scents of lilacs, fudge, and horse manure mingle to form the distinctive aroma of Mackinac Island in early June.  The tourist season is not yet in full swing; it starts in earnest with the Lilac Festival, the first day of which will be our final day on the island.  A mild winter and an early spring encouraged the lilacs to bloom early; two days before the festival opens, they are already slightly past their peak.  The scent of the fudge will peak about the time the scent of the horses does, in the hottest days of July and August.

When the Grand Hotel first opened its doors on July 10, 1887, July and August were the entire season.  During the summer, life in the cities, as Bob Tagatz, the resident historian, points out, was unbearable.  It wasn’t simply the lack of air conditioning, or a dearth of lilacs and fudge shops to mask the scent of the horses, but the smoke and the heat from the foundries and factories, and, in such railroad hubs as Chicago, the stench of blood and guts from the slaughterhouses.  The railroads had helped to make city life in the summer unpleasant, but they offered relief to those who could afford it.  The Grand Hotel, constructed and owned by the railroads, quickly became the premier destination for the children of the Gilded Age.  The sons and daughters of robber barons and rising Midwestern industrialists spent not two nights,...

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