Summer School

By Allan I. Ross

Lansing bureau assembles crash course in cap city culture

Mid-Michigan is home to a minor league ballpark, a zoo, a bustling art gallery scene and a more than two dozen museums, but when’s the last time you — yeah, you, buddy — actually stepped foot into one of them? Culture doesn’t appreciate itself, and there’s more than enough of it to go around. Not everyone who lives in Lansing, however, really “lives” in Lansing — as in, soak-up-every-opportunity-and-make-every-moment-count “lives” in it. Who do you think you are, the governor?

Knowing that creating a personal enrichment program is about as much fun as a trip to the dentist — but every bit as good for your health — the folks at the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Center have taken all the sting out of the ordeal by organizing a one-day, whirlwind tour of the area’s cultural centers for you. At the 19th annual Be a Tourist in Your Own Town event this Saturday, local curiosity seekers will be given access to over 70 attractions that highlight some of the area’s more enlightening aspects. For $1, participants will receive a passport that gives access to all the event’s free activities, including sailboat rides on Lake Lansing, one-hour bike rentals at Michigan State University and handcrafted soda and beer tasting at EagleMonk Brewery.

Local foodies are in for a delicacy at one of the stops on this year’s tour. The Lansing Eats exhibit, inside the Historical Society of Greater Lansing’s mini-museum in Old Town, is a 113-year retrospective of all things food-related in the Lansing area.

“You can really get a good feel of a city’s history by looking at the food the people ate and the culture surrounding eating,” Valerie Marvin, the society’s president, said. “This exhibit is a great snapshot of Lansing through many distinct periods, from pre-World War I to the present day.”

Located in the basement of the Creyts Building, 831 N. Washington Ave., the exhibit features menus from defunct restaurants, including Jim’s Tiffany Place and the Pear & Partridge Restaurant, as well as custom china from a cafeteria at Michigan State University, when it was still Michigan State College. There are also cookbooks and chafing dishes that were used by Martha Dixon, who was the general manager of WJIM-TV in the 1950s and ‘60s, and had a daily cooking show called “The Copper Kettle.”

Some of the featured memorabilia comes from restaurants that are still around, including an old menu board from Dagwood’s Bar and an ancient plastic doll that was the symbol of Weston’s Kewpee Sandwich Shoppe. Marvin held up a 90-year-old glass on loan from Emil’s Restaurant.

“It’s pretty well-known that Al Capone used to go to Emil’s for ice cream when he was in town,” she said. “Just think — this is the cup that he could have eaten out of.” A photo album, also from Emil’s, features faded, undated color photos of folks smoking at the bar and a hand-scrawled napkin pledging sobriety — including the signatures of four witnesses.

“It’s little stuff like that that makes history feel real, not just like something you read about or look at pictures of,” Marvin said. “You feel like part of the story.”

Be a Tourist in Your Own Town
Various locations around Lansing
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday
$1 per passport
(517) 487-6800