Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel is history's front porch

Brandy Baker / The Detroit News

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island boasts what is said to be the world’s longest front porch, which has been visited by five U.S. presidents and 23 presidential hopefuls.


Grand Hotel

Dan Musser, left, owner of Grand Hotel, greets Hillary and Bill Clinton and an aide during a visit to the hotel in 1987.


Grand Hotel

Democratic party operative Billie Farnum, left, former U.S. President Harry S Truman and W. Stewart Woodfill, then-owner of the Grand Hotel, stroll down its famous porch.


Grand Hotel

Nelson A. Rockefeller and his wife, Happy, ride bicycles during a visit to the Grand Hotel.

MACKINAC ISLAND–Dan Musser may have greeted more presidents, wannabe presidents, vice presidents and first ladies on his front porch than anyone in America — certainly more than anyone in Michigan.

But then it isn’t just any old porch. This porch, said to be around 880 feet long and proclaimed to be the longest front porch in the world by “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” is that of the legendary Grand Hotel.

It is there that hotel owner Musser, 71, has greeted five presidents, 23 presidential contenders, five vice presidents and four first ladies. Not all were hotel guests, but all were visitors.

Today, he will greet Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney and keynote speaker at this weekend’s Midwest Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference.

And with her departure will come another chapter in the rich history of the hotel, which has become a political mecca in the Midwest.

As the Grand’s owner, Musser has had an extraordinary perch from which to view the the great and near-great who have crossed the porch.

“It’s been interesting to observe and to have known a great number of Michigan politicians over the years,” Musser says. “It’s certainly been an honor to welcome and to have in our midst those who sought the presidency.”

As a young hotel worker, he recalls seeing former President Harry S Truman walking the full length of the porch in 1955.

Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy dropped by in 1960 after clinching the support of Michigan’s then-governor, G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams.

Republican President Gerald R. Ford visited the hotel when he was a guest of Michigan Gov. William G. Milliken at the Governor’s Summer Residence in 1976. Ford, Musser says, spent a lot of time at the hotel, some of it on the hotel’s tennis courts.

Republican George H. W. Bush stayed at the Grand multiple times, but not during his presidency.

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and wife Hillary stayed at the Grand in July 1987 during a Democratic Governors’ Association conference hosted by Michigan Gov. James J. Blanchard.

Clinton was among eight Democratic presidential candidates at the conference, which drew a cluster of national political writers who days earlier had covered the National Governors’ Conference in Traverse City.

It was the Grand’s largest single gathering of presidential hopefuls. The Detroit News reported at the time: “The long porch of the Grand Hotel looked like a giant smorgasbord, as would-be residents dished it out to reporters who hopped from one setting to another.”

Among them were the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee, later to become vice president and the 2000 Democratic presidential nominee.

Jackson stayed in the W. Stewart Woodfill Suite, named after the crusty owner of the Grand from 1945-65. Woodfill was the uncle of Musser, who, with his wife Amelia, acquired the hotel in 1965.

Musser, now chairman of the hotel, mused that his late uncle, a curmudgeon and conservative fellow, “probably would not have approved of Mr. Jackson” — and “sure as hell” would not have wanted him to become president.

The Grand was the site of more presidential campaign theatrics in 1987. TV evangelist Pat Robertson, then a contender, was among speakers at the September Republican Leadership Conference on the island.

At the time, Robertson’s followers had temporarily seized control of the Michigan GOP. Supporters of Vice President Bush, led by John Engler, then a state senator who later became governor, rallied Michigan Republicans to assure support for Bush’s presidential nomination.

Other speakers at that Mackinac conference were Congressman Jack Kemp of New York, another presidential hopeful, and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, who in 1996 became the GOP challenger against Clinton.

Among his presidential encounters at the Grand, Musser says his most memorable was with Ford. Among first ladies, “Mrs. Clinton was probably as warm as anyone. She did her homework and was very knowledgeable about the hotel.”

Other first ladies Musser welcomed to the Grand included Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford and Laura Bush. Five former first ladies have suites named after them at the Grand — Johnson, Ford, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Rosalyn Carter.

As a young hotel worker, Musser shook hands there with ex-Vice President Alben W. Barkley. Among those who were to become vice president were Ford, Gore, Nelson A. Rockefeller and Spiro T. Agnew. Summing up his stewardship of the Grand and its rich political history, Musser says: “It has really been a treat and an honor to have been around this place so long.”

You can reach George Weeks at (517) 371-3660 or gweeks07@aol.com.

By George Weeks / The Detroit News