Jekyll Island, Georgia By Ty Sawyer
"Can you hear them?" I turned to see a lady who'd come up behind me on the bike path. Everyone on Jekyll Island travels by bike. I was gazing into a meadow thick with massive live oaks whose branches arched to the ground, every inch dripping with curtains of Spanish moss. I'd just pulled over because I'd seen two white-tailed deer, but they'd disappeared into the thickets of saw palmetto that coat Jekyll.
"We call that Spanish moss 'old man's beard' here," she answered cryptically. "Each of those bundles holds a memory from the island's past. It gets trapped in the filaments, like those Indian dreamcatchers. You can hear the voices whisper when the wind blows through them."
"Indians, colonists, yours, mine, the millionaires who lived here, everyone who has ever set foot on the island -- these trees are like libraries in charge of keeping the island's archives." We both looked up at the branches. If there were memories woven into the pale, delicate filaments of these trembling epiphytes, then each tree held volumes.
"It's the island's secret history. You might not believe me, but you've got to listen. Slow down and listen." Then she smiled, mounted her bike and continued on down the path.
"And don't leave the island without watching the sun rise on Driftwood Beach," she called back. "It's unforgettable."
I watched her round the corner, hardly believing I'd just had that conversation. I'd been on Jekyll Island, just off the coast of Georgia, for less than 24 hours, and everywhere I went someone was telling me about something I shouldn't miss, some cherished corner of this tiny island.
You can feel the tug of yesterday from the moment you pass through the twin gate towers on the Downing Musgrove Causeway that leads from the mainland to Jekyll. The island exudes history and time slows to a murmur in the thick Georgia air. There are no stoplights on Jekyll. No fast-food restaurants, either; life centers around the beach and the manicured, oak-shaded grounds of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. Twenty miles of bike paths meander around the 7.5-mile-long island, connecting the past to the present.
Travelers usually prefer to revel in the past on Jekyll; it's a truly secret history, since the place was once one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. A place that did not welcome the curious eyes of the common man. Or even the uncommon man, since it has been said that during the 56 years the Club was in existence "no unwanted foot ever touched the island."
Jekyll was once the private playground of the families that controlled one-sixth of the world's wealth. The island came alive at a time when all things seemed possible; people now come for a touch of the magic of this enchanting era.
Jekyll Island and its salt marshes, palmetto-thick forests and empty beaches spilled into our nation's collective imagination about 1888, when a group of millionaires whose names have not dimmed with time -- Rockefeller, Morgan, Pulitzer, Goodyear, Vanderbilt -- decided to build a club and a few "cottages" so they could escape the hard winters and relentless business pressure of the north, so they could socialize and so they could live lives, even if in small measures, of gentlemanly ease, without scrutiny.
They came to Jekyll for "the season," January to March, from 1888 until 1942, when the threat of German U-boats off the coast during WWII brought the revels to an end. After that, most of the homes, the island and the club were abandoned; their patrons' attentions turned elsewhere. In 1947, the island was purchased by the state of Georgia from the Jekyll Island Club, and in 1954 it was opened to the public via a new drawbridge. Since then, just a few homes have even been built on land leased by the state.
The Jekyll Island Club, two cottages and some of the first apartments from the original club were renovated, converted into a hotel and reopened in 1986. The season now stretches year-round, with the visitors' population swelling in the sultry Georgia summer.
I'd come, like many others, to revel in the opulence and slow pace of another era, and I felt it from the moment I turned my car down the riverfront drive that winds past the small manses that are quaintly called Goodyear Cottage, Mistletoe Cottage, Moss Cottage and Indian Mound Cottage, which was owned by the Rockefellers. As I pulled up to the Club, with its high turret that defines the building, and passed the croquet pitch, it was like a scene from a movie where you peer into a cracked, stained old sepia photograph and the setting instantly comes alive as you are transported to another age.
I met a couple in the hotel's richly wood-paneled lounge that afternoon who remembered the island before it became a living museum. The man had grown up on Jekyll Island and told me that as a kid he had prowled through the old homes playing hide and seek with his friends. The doors were never locked, he recalled. But no one dared go inside at night, as shadows, creaking floorboards and overactive imaginations brought the past to ghostly life. Where affluence, order, unabashed grandeur and the strict rules of behavior between servants and masters once held sway, the chaos of kids and the entropy of time swept in and took over. Then somebody said, "Hey, people might like a peek into the lifestyle of the rich and famous." And the renovation of the club and cottages began. And the doors were locked again.
Now it's a quiet, beach-swept wilderness for those of us who want to bask in the same glow, walk the same paths, sleep in the same rooms, eat in the same opulence as those who once passed for American royalty. So, on my first night, I tied a double Windsor knot on my silk Armani tie, donned a freshly pressed suit, walked from my fourth-floor room down the same winding wooden staircase that once felt the custom-made shoes of a river of millionaires, to the elegant Grand Dining Room. The room has changed little since the Club's heyday. I was seated in front of the fireplace -- the same fireplace where Vanderbilt and Rockefeller may have gazed into the flames in a moment of peaceful thought. And for the unhurried course of the sumptuous meal -- from the slow bottle of California Syrah to the she-crab bisque and buttery filet mignon to the tangy perfection of the Key lime pie and a glass of port. I felt the exquisite and expansive tug of gentlemanly ease.
"I know why they came to Jekyll," whispered a bird watcher named Jim, a willowy 72-year-old from Syracuse, New York, whom I met the next morning along a path that skirted the edge of the salt marsh. "It's unpredictable, wild and serene all at once. Despite those big beaches, restored mansions with their manicured lawns and croquet and all the bike routes -- take five steps off the path and you'll run smack into raw wilderness. I've seen everything from crocs to woodpeckers livin' their lives right in front of my nose. That's why I come down here every year and have now for 20 years. And guess what I saw this morning?"
"A bald eagle. How 'bout that?"
On Jekyll, the past beats like a second heart. I found it in strange and wonderful places on this island off the coast of Georgia. It comes out of a gauzy, distant memory in the twilight of an evening, just as the lights of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel illuminate rooms that once felt the tread of the wealthiest men in the world. It escapes in faint breaths from the echoes and creaks of the wooden staircase. It comes alive in the slow clop of horses' hooves along the 10 miles of hard-sand beach. And it whispered to me as I wandered among massive live oaks that give this island an ancient weight, dripping with a thousand Spanish-moss dreamcatchers.
Ocean City, New Jersey By Ken McAlpine
I spent eight summers in ocean city, new jersey -- from glorious Memorial Day until Labor Day's poignant farewell -- and I cannot rid myself of the place. With apologies to all of the summers that have followed, those were the eight best summers of my life. Just thinking about them my chest tightens, as if for a brief moment it has forgotten the mechanics of breathing. I am ruined, and it is wonderful.
Ocean City, separated from New Jersey by Great Egg Harbor Bay, remains an old-fashioned slice of summertime Americana, a place unapologetically staid and square, where sunburned families still play Crazy Eights around the kitchen table at night and Ferris wheels still chew slowly through the salt air. During the day, eight miles of beach serve as coconut-oil-scented playground (vanity still rules over skin protection). At night, the 2.5-mile boardwalk serves as the town's epicenter.
If this wood could talk, it would sing 123 years' worth of song: Ocean City's first boardwalk was built in 1883, when Chester A. Arthur was president and our nation comprised 38 states. An uncountable human pageant has walked this beach town's spine, all the footsteps gathering their own summer memories to haunt them blissfully until the end of their time.
The magic of summer is the season's timelessness: I walked the boards when I was a lifeguard at "the Shore" in my teens and 20s. Twenty-five years later I don't even need to close my eyes and I am eating soft ice cream on the boardwalk, the sea breeze whispering off the black Atlantic, carrying omnipresent brine, the distant shrieks of giddy roller-coaster riders filling my ears, the smell of creosote -- simple tar fixture then, but now as sweet as perfume ¿ lifting from the boardwalk beneath my feet.
Memories sweet and simple as soft ice cream, and as breathtakingly unfathomable as summer love. I knew them both. I know I am not alone. You might be nodding. Or perhaps your turn awaits. The magic of summer is the season's timelessness. And Ocean City is the perfect stage.
Though the original one burned in 1927, the boardwalk's face has remained little-changed. Ocean City's boardwalk is an eyeful: a sea of beet-red families, libido-crazed teens and, on the benches facing the sea, old couples staring over the dunes to the Atlantic and the memories only they can see. But it is first and foremost a place of smells. I am certain I could still walk its length with my eyes closed and tell precisely where I am, the sweet waft of caramel (Johnson's Popcorn; 13th Street and the boardwalk), the mouthwatering amalgam of dough, sauce, garlic and cheese (Mack and Manco, Inc.; Ninth Street and the boardwalk), the ball-game scent of cotton candy (Gillian's Wonderland Pier, Sixth Street and the boardwalk). Despite the souvenir stores, the mini-golf and the amusement rides, the main purpose of a night on the boards is food, unapologetic and unabashed. But you have to find something to do between noshing, and so you might shake yourself into nausea on the Tilt-a-Whirl, or inhale the night and the distant shimmer of Atlantic City's casinos from atop the Ferris wheel. These eateries, these rides still exist, waiting for the next generation.
Memories are made, by definition, after the fact. When it's happening you're merely ingesting an etching, subconscious and simple, but in the case of summer island memories, very, very powerful. Most summer moments are inconsequential, but some are not. One evening, just away from the boardwalk, I sat on a jetty, the brine stronger among the barnacled rocks, and kissed, for the first time, the girl who is now my wife.
Though I took everything I wanted from the town, I still find myself arriving and departing from Ocean City, perhaps because it is beginnings and endings we remember best. In dreams, I drive into town at the start of summer, topping the rise of the Ninth Street Bridge, the metal grating clacking rapid-fire beneath the wheels, my heart keeping pace. I feel Labor Day's approach, sea breezes veined now with coolness, the Atlantic spread a darker blue. Again, I recognize the end with a soft but grateful sadness that, even now, makes my chest tighten.
My chest tightens because that's where my heart lies, and the heart, not the mind, is the repository of memories that matter.
Santa Catalina, California By Joan Tapper - Photos by Steve Gunther
With hardly any cars on Santa Catalina, golf carts are clearly the sightseeing mode of choice. So when one came with my room at the Inn on Mt. Ada, I climbed in, turned the key and set off. Suddenly I was on Catalina's version of a self-propelled amusement ride: a one-way road without a guardrail. Heart in my mouth, I kept groping for the pedal as the pavement dipped, curved and rose, rewarding me with a panorama of stunning blue ocean far below, before the road evened out and twisted back toward downtown.
I'd taken the ferry over for a few days' getaway in a place unlike anything else in Southern California. Here, 22 miles off the coast, it didn't matter that the hot months had ended and fall was settling in. I had come to Catalina to have an Indian summer break.
One of California's Channel Islands, Catalina has been a resort town since 1887, when a Michigan entrepreneur named George Shatto bought the 22-by-8-mile island, put up a hotel and built a wharf in Avalon. By 1891, hard times forced him to sell to the Banning family. In 1919, after World War I had put a damper on travel, the Bannings, too, sold out, this time to chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., who tirelessly promoted his new possession and is responsible for much of its character today.
After my joy ride, I thought it might be wiser to explore downtown's square mile on foot, so I parked the cart and walked toward the water. Ferries, catamarans, runabouts and glass-bottom boats bobbed in the bay as I ambled along the waterfront, past the gift shops and clothing boutiques, the verandas of restaurants and a handful of Mediterranean-style hotels. The architecture was a hodgepodge, united by the colorful ceramic tiles that covered facades, benches, fountains and gateways with colorful geometric designs, occasional pictures of birds and flowers and even historic scenes. It turns out that one of Wrigley's Catalina projects was a pottery factory, and its products (along with later additions) adorn much of Avalon.
The walkway continued after the shops petered out. I paused at the white-clapboard members-only Tuna Club, where a statue and plaque proclaim that here, in 1898, the sport of big-game fishing originated. Among the club's celebrity members was Zane Grey, who wrote Tales of Swordfish and Tuna in his pueblo-style home just up the hill.
Farther on I came to the Casino, the round, red-roof art deco creation that's probably Avalon's most famous landmark. With architects Walter Webber and Sumner A. Spaulding, Wrigley's son Philip built the Casino (which means "place of entertainment" in Italian) in early 1929 as a movie theater and ballroom to attract visitors to Catalina. I could imagine the big bands of the 1930s -- Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Harry James -- all broadcasting their swinging tunes over the radio from here. There still are big-band shows, events upstairs and films in the movie theater on the ground floor. I admired the towering panels and paintings at the entrance, where a sinuous mermaid and other denizens of the deep epitomized the exuberant artistry of a pre-Depression age.
The undersea scenes reminded me that I hadn't been in the water yet. It was getting a bit cool for a snorkel, but I'd seen a sign for something called a semi-submersible ¿ the top of the craft stays above the surface but passengers can climb down a staircase and peer out underwater windows. I got in line and stepped aboard.
Though I was only a dozen feet -- below the surface, the scene was otherworldly: Thick strands of giant kelp formed an undulating forest filled with schools of opal-eye, half-moon and solitary brilliant orange garibaldi. Occasionally a cormorant would dive down, slicing through the water more like an arrow than a bird. Meanwhile, the captain entertained us with bits of piscine trivia -- like the fact that it's the male garibaldi that establishes a nest, guards the eggs and chases away encroaching snorkelers.
Afterward I retrieved my golf cart and headed back up the hill to the Inn on Mt. Ada, once the home of Wrigley and his wife, for whom it was named. As owner of the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley brought the team to Catalina for spring training every year, and the couple would come out to watch them practice. (A longtime Cubs fan myself, I'd seen old movies of Dizzy Dean pitching on a diamond near the golf course.) When Ada tired of staying in a hotel, they built a green-roofed Georgian Colonial mansion -- after first hiring a man to camp out and find the sunniest spot in town.
The meticulously restored house has the elegance of 1921, complete with a butler's pantry freezer filled with ice cream for today's guests to snack on. I kept finding better and better spots to loll around -- first a lounge chair under the awning on the terrace, then the glassed-in sun porch, which had a telescope aimed at the harbor. Next I moved to the library to sip a glass of wine and nibble hors d'oeuvres, and I finally¿ retreated to a comfy couch in front of the fireplace in my own room. Just as Ada had planned, the sun streamed in my window the next morning.
The inn is not the only place this woman of strong personality left her mark. According to local stories, she was so disgusted by Zane Grey's habit of noisily hanging out late with his Tuna Club cronies, she arranged for the Chimes Tower to go up just outside Grey's home, where it rang out the time every 15 minutes -- beginning at 8 a.m.
It apparently had little effect on the writer, who continued to turn out best-sellers. He was best-known for his Western novels, including The Vanishing American, which became a movie that was filmed on Catalina in 1925. A small herd of bison was set loose on the grasslands, and their descendents still roam Catalina's protected interior, which is off-limits to golf carts. But plenty of the shaggy creatures were in evidence when I took the island bus along the 23 miles of undulating road to visit the little isthmus village of Two Harbors.
Two Harbors is a tiny settlement, a getaway on a getaway, with scores of boat moorings, one general store, two restaurants, one campground and one bed-and-breakfast, the Banning House Lodge, formerly the hacienda-style summer home of the Banning brothers, who had owned Catalina before Wrigley. Everyone there gathers at the congenial restaurant bar, where I raised a glass of the local specialty -- a delicious but potent combination of milk, vodka, crème de cacao, crème de banana and Kahlua -- called, appropriately enough, buffalo milk. It was a liquid dessert with a kick, just right for a toast to the mix of innocence and high spirits that makes up Catalina's quirky charms.
Mackinac Island, Michigan By David Lambert
You can't flag down one of the horse-drawn taxis here. I make the mistake of trying it our first evening on Mackinac Island, and the young carriageman looks at me as if I've just broken into an aria. I step closer and say, "Can I hire you to take us back to the hotel?"
Looking faintly embarrassed, he points toward the taxi office a couple of blocks away and says, "If you want a taxi, you're supposed to use one of the courtesy phones and call for one."
"We can't just flag you down?" my wife asks.
He shakes his head.
He shrugs. "That's not how we do it here."
On Mackinac -- as on most islands -- you'd better get used to how they do it here. And how they do it here is different from how they do it anywhere else.
But that's why we'd come. I'd promised my wife, Cindy, and our 11-year-old daughter, Faith -- at their request -- a no-rush, no-agenda vacation this summer, one spent on hikes, bikes and horses. And where better to spend that vacation than Mackinac Island, where Cindy and I honeymooned?
In a scattering of islands in Lake Huron, just northeast of the tip of Michigan's lower peninsula, Mackinac's island isolation allowed the development of a unique culture. Although the island's history is rich and complex, most visitors nowadays associate Mackinac culture with three things: the Grand Hotel, fudge and the use of horses rather than automobiles.
Personal motorized vehicles were strictly limited on the island from the time the first horseless carriage set tires there in the late 1800s. Twenty years later, they were banned entirely. The sounds of the village now are the same as they were in the 1870s -- the clop-clop of the huge Belgians and Percherons that pull the taxis, tour carriages and drays (horse-drawn freight wagons), the slap of leather reins and harnesses, the creak of carriage springs and the amiable commands of the carriagemen to their horses. You'll wake to that sound in the morning and be lulled by it as you stroll back to your room along the darkened streets after a late supper -- and you'll already be missing it as you ride the ferry back to the mainland.
One of the strongest impressions one forms on the island is that life on Mackinac is life lived outdoors. On Mackinac Island, no one is buckled in.
That evening, after our ill-fated attempt to flag down a taxi, we seek fudge to fuel our walk back to the Hotel Iroquois, a converted 104-year-old four-story mansion right on the bay. Inside Murdick's the air is heavy with the aromas of chocolate and vanilla. A young woman energetically spreads and folds a huge batch on a thick marble slab while another offers us slivers of mint-chocolate-chip fudge. I put mine on my tongue and let it melt -- we buy a half-pound.
On our way back, we detour to¿ Windermere Point, gentle night waves lapping the cobblestone shore inches from our toes as we nibble the fudge. The bay's foghorn sounds in the dark, but there's little other noise. We look across Haldimand Bay at Mackinac's iconic Round Island Light -- the 1895 lighthouse and three-story brick light-keeper's house -- on its spit of land.
Early the next morning, that iconic lighthouse disappears over my left shoulder as I ride a rented -- and well-used -- one-speed tandem bike with Faith on the rear seat and Cindy riding ahead of us. We watch the ferries arrive after their 15-minute trip from Mackinaw City (lower peninsula) or St. Ignace (upper peninsula), their immense rooster tails of spray sparkling beneath the sun.
Lake Shore Road, which rings the island, is only eight miles long, so we maintain a lazy pace, enjoying the call of ring-billed gulls and the scent of pines in the breeze, cool at this early hour. Cormorants and ospreys fly overhead. We occasionally hear the wild, startling call of a loon, a quintessentially northern sound.
Surprisingly, we pass few cottages. Eighty percent of the island is state park (designated a national park in 1875 and then turned over to Michigan in 1895). But I'll admit it: I envy those families who own the few there are. I cherish coming here every year or two and renting a room, but imagine growing up spending a few weeks on the island, each summer, returning to celebrate an old-fashioned Christmas, attending family weddings in the Little Stone Congregational Church overlooking the straits.
At British Landing we buy ice cream, then we hike the half-mile-long nature trail through sharp-scented cedars and spruce, passing wood lilies and jack-in-the-pulpit in the shaded woods and white and purple asters in the clearings. A sharp-skinned hawk flashes through the trees nearby.
Next day, midafternoon, we trudge up tree-lined Cadotte Avenue toward the Grand Hotel. Faith grabs my arm. "Look!" she whispers. "Just like Cinderella!" The immaculate lacquered carriage she's pointing at is pulled by a matched white team, prancing in unison, and is driven by a top-hatted coachman.
"This is the Grand Hotel's version of a hotel limo," I say.
Faith smiles. "I like their version better."
So do I.
The Grand, built in 1887, is impressive by any measure. For one thing, it's immense ¿ the world's largest summer hotel. For another, as a National Historic Landmark, it oozes history. Five presidents have stayed here, including Truman and Kennedy. Mark Twain entertained here. Some of the first demonstrations of Thomas Edison's strange new invention, the phonograph, were given here, and two major Hollywood productions have been filmed here.
There's also the famous porch -- at 660 feet, the world's longest -- fronted by immense white three-story columns. The porch contains a profusion of red and white geraniums, enough American flags to supply a Fourth of July parade and a seemingly endless row of rocking chairs. We claim three of them for ourselves and order ice-cold lemonade. The hillside slopes down before us to the Esther Williams pool, the lawn around it dotted this cloudless, warm August afternoon with sunbathers on chaise lounges.
Faith wants to see inside the famous hotel, known to millions who've never been to the island from the movie Somewhere in Time. We pay the fee and wander through the huge hotel. Carpets, wallpaper, window treatments and furnishings have been maintained in the style of over 100 years ago. But it isn't just the decor that recreates a bygone era -- they've kept the old customs, too: Male guests are required to wear a coat and tie for dinner, and ladies must don evening wear.
The following day, at Fort Mackinac, near the eastern end of the village, we have lunch under a yellow umbrella at the Tea Room, managed by the Grand Hotel with customary elegance. We linger over dessert, looking out across the village far below us to the harbor and, beyond that, the Round Island Light. The straits are almost too bright as we watch the ferries coming and going. The thought that soon we'll be taking one back to the mainland is almost enough to take the sweetness out of my Pecan Ball, the Grand Hotel's signature dessert.
I turn and look back over my shoulder to an American flag flying high above the historic fort. It reminds me that, at various points in the island's history, the Union Jack also flew here. The British, in fact, built this fort, in 1780. Before that, the island was a sacred site to Native Americans and also a French trading outpost.
All of those influences, somehow, are still present. You sense them in the island's historic sites and in the unspoiled natural beauty of the state park's trails and the Lake Huron shoreline.
I like that. They have kept -- and will keep -- Mackinac delightfully the same, lost in time and filled with the sound of horses' hooves.
Plan Your Trip! Long, Lazy Summer Days
Rockefeller Slept Here: The Sans Souci (French for "without care") building of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel has rooms -- once the private apartments of millionaires -- featuring fireplaces and private balconies; some even have Jacuzzis. Rates start at $129. jekyllclub.com
Salute the Sunset: Stop by the Jekyll Historic Wharf for oysters or mouthwatering Cajun shrimp from the famous and low-key Rah Bar. It's the perfect way to end a day of some fiercely competitive croquet. jekyllisland.com
Boardwalk Luxury: The Flanders Hotel has a 1920s feel and provides respite from the bustle of the boardwalk. If you hear quiet singing inside, worry not -- that's just Emily, the friendly ghost. Ask for room 512 or 514 for the fantastic views. Rates for these start at $175. theflandershotel.com
Warm Summer Nights: Ocean City kicks it up a notch during summer. Make time for the sand-sculpting contests (July 5 and August 2) and the farmer's market (every Thursday night from July to Labor Day). oceancity-nj.com
Upper Crust: Catalina's stately Inn on Mt. Ada, the former mansion of the Wrigley family, presides over Avalon's harbor from the crown of Mt. Ada. Make yourself a banana split by raiding the butler's pantry, then channel more soign¿ times in the best room of the house: the Grand Suite, which was the Wrigleys' personal living quarters. Grand rates start at $585. innonmtada.com
Shhhh! The film Show People (1928) will play, accompanied by a pipe organ, in the Casino's Avalon Theatre for Catalina Island Museum's Silent Film Benefit on June 3. catalinamuseum.org
Grand Ole Hotel: Take a horse-drawn taxi from Mackinac's ferry docks to the Grand Hotel, circa 1887, and slip into the mindset of summers long past. Try booking one of the Named Rooms, like the Lodge of Teddy Roosevelt with period-style decor. Named Rooms' rates start at $660.
Ever so Genteel: Book October 27-29 for the Grand's Somewhere in Time weekend. Nearly everyone in attendance will be costumed, so bring the proper finery. Package rates start at $939. grandhotel.com