Grand Rapids, Michigan has a whale.
How did this whale get to Michigan?
Where is the whale now?
The Grand Rapids Public Museum had its old building on Jefferson Street in Grand Rapids, Michigan for many years. An entire whale skeleton hung from the ceiling. Eventually parts of the old museum were incorporated into Van Andel Museum Center on Pearl Street. When that happened, the tail bones of the whale ended up in one of the buildings of Grand Rapids Community College. The rest of the whale was rehung from the ceiling of the new museum.
The building's design on the east, or river side employs natural light as a major architectural element, while on the west side the exhibit galleries are windowless, to protect Museum collections and exhibitions from the long-term degradation of sunlight. The large windows on the east frame the historic Grand River and bring bright natural light into the Galleria and cafe during the day. At night, the windows provide an intriguing view into the glowing interior of the Van Andel Museum Center, with the distinctively lit whale skeleton and carousel readily seen from adjacent bridges as well as other vantage points on the east bank of the river. (http://www.grmuseum.org/about_us/van_andel_museum_center)
Thus, I have just shown you documentation that there is, indeed, a whale skeleton hanging from a ceiling in a museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
How long has the whale been there?
Terri Finch Hamilton, a reporter and feature writer for The Grand Rapids Press wrote in April 2008 about Mary Esther Lee, the 68-year-old new museum director. Hamilton writes,
The old City Hall clock chimes, its gong reverberating around the massive whale's bones, and Mary Esther Lee smiles. She's standing next to the venerable clock in the Public Museum in downtown Grand Rapids, near the hissing vintage steam engine and the 75-foot finback whale skeleton, fixtures of the place she calls "the wows." In that article Mary recalled that when
she was 12, her dad brought her to the Grand Rapids Public Museum. She gazed up at the whale skeleton and marveled. (http://blog.mlive.com/grpress/2008/04/public_museum_director_mary_es.html)
Thus, I have established by anecdote that a reputable person remembers seeing the whale hanging from the ceiling of the old museum 56 years ago, which would have been 1952.
What is a finback whale?
Finback (or Fin) whales are the second-largest whale species in the world - the only whale larger than a finback whale is a blue whale! Blue whales may reach lengths of up to 100 feet, but fin whales are also pretty big - they may grow to up to 70 feet, or about the size of 13 adults laid head to feet! Fin whales are also the world's fastest whale, traveling at speeds up to 35 mph! (http://www.blueoceansociety.org/bp.htm)
How long have whales been important to Grand Rapids, Michigan?
In 1907, whale leather was used for furniture, according to
The Grand Rapids (Michigan) Furniture Record Co., under the auspices of the Michigan Furniture Manufacturers Association, began publication of THE GRAND RAPIDS FURNITURE RECORD in June 1900. (http://www.grpl.org/collections/grhsty_spcoll/furniture/furniture_record_u-z.html)
Albert Baxter wrote a book, History of the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan, published in 1891 by Munsell and Company. In that book, Baxter mentions the use of tallow (candles) and whale oil as the principal sources of light before gasoline and kerosne (p. 215). A couple of notable early residents of the area had ties to whaling. Henry Fralick who lived 1812 to 1885, had an adventurous early life. In 1832 he worked as ship's crewman and helped bring in a 96-foot sperm whale that had to be towed 80 miles before it gave up the fight. Fralick recalled that the animal sunk to a mile and a half under water when it died and that was the length of rope needed to retrieve it. (p. 680). In 1880 Fralick started The Grand Rapids Electric Light and Power Company and was also active in banking. Another man, Rufus Claghorn Hatheway came to Grand Rapids in about 1848 and became an oak stave maker. Hatheway was a son of a whaler.(p. 648) (http://books.google.com/books?id=l2SbZhZfYfEC&pg=PA680&lpg=PA680&dq=whale+grand+rapids+history&source=web&ots=oEvAJu6iRd&sig=cb-94WSYujV-jNdWbG818ahdIsU&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result)
Thus, I have shown that whaling industry was important to Grand Rapids, Michigan in the early 1800's and into the early 1900's.
Yes, but were there whales in Michigan?
A document online entitled Michigan's Fossil Whales tells the history of whale bone finds in Michigan.
The discovery of fossil whale bones in Michigan has been a source of some embarrassment for the conventional geologic story of the history of the Great Lakes region, and the notion that the area has remained above sea level for 290 million years since the end of the Pennsylvanian period, as whale fossils are obviously evidence that the land was submerged beneath the sea. The fossil whale discoveries include remains from a finback whale (Balaenoptera), a sperm whale (Physeter), and a right whale (Balaena). Geologist Alexander Winchell mentioned the discovery of a fossil caudal vertebra from a large whale in a report of the Geologic Survey of Michigan in 1861. The fossil was from Western Michigan. Unfortunately, it has been lost. (http://www.sentex.net/~tcc/michwls.html)
This document shows a map of Michigan sites where whale bones have been found. A sperm whale, for example, was found in Mesick in a river bed. Walrus has also also been found in Michigan.
Carbon 14 dating of samples taken from the Michigan whale bones by Harington produced enigmatic results; the age reported for the sperm whale was less than 190 years; the results for the finback whale were 790 - 650 years old, and the right whale was dated as being between 810 and 690 years old. (Holman, 1995, p. 207) Perhaps these results reflect some kind of recent contamination. (http://www.sentex.net/~tcc/michwls.html)
How did whales get to Michigan? A lock built to allow watercraft passage between the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway and East Coast was built in 1797 by the Northwest Fur Company, but was only 38 feet long but was destroyed in the War of 1812. Large commercial locks were built by The Fairbanks Scale Company in 1853. (http://www.saultstemarie.com/soo-locks-46/#mainPhotoGroup) The first lock would have been too short to allow a 76-foot-long whale passage. The second lock was built too late to accommodate our whale.
The article "Michigan's Fossil Whales" also discussed various theories of how the whales got to Michigan. Native Americans may have carried parts of whale from one place to another. This would have explained why many of the bones are found far inland. Some whales may have arrived via the Mississippi River or the Saint Lawrence Seaway, became stuck in the big lakes and starved. The area may have been completely under water for a long time, and this seems most plausible. Swimming up the Saint Lawrence would have required a huge jump up over Niagara Falls. Another possibility is that land rift was more recent than previously supposed and the animals that freely roamed the watery area were suddenly trapped. (http://www.sentex.net/~tcc/michwls.html)
The American Association of Petroleum Geologists published an article, Geophysical Studies of Basement Geology of Southern Penninsula of Michigan written by William J. Hinze and Richard L. Ke in which they acknowledge that at one point part of Michigan was 15,000 feet below sea level. This was a long time ago and none of our whales would have been around then, but they could have been trapped when rising land masses of the mid-Michigan rift zone separated bodies of water.
A basement configuration map prepared from magnetic depth estimates and basement drill tests confirms that the basement surface under the Southern Peninsula has the form of an oval depression reaching a maximum depth of more than 15,000 ft (4.5 km) below sea level on the western shore of Saginaw Bay. (http://search.datapages.com/data/doi/10.1306/83D92005-16C7-11D7-8645000102C1865D)
Petoskey stones themselves are evidence of the ancient oceans in the area.
Petoskey stones are found in the Gravel Point Formation of the Traverse Group. They are fragments of a coral reef that was originally deposited during the Devonian period, about 350 million years ago. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petoskey_stone)