Author discusses Michigan’s Thumb in virtual presentation

By: Alex Szwarc | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published July 28, 2020

 On July 15 via Zoom, Michigan author Michael Thorp presented on “Michigan’s Thumb Drive.” The presentation was based on his 2014 book of the same title.

On July 15 via Zoom, Michigan author Michael Thorp presented on “Michigan’s Thumb Drive.” The presentation was based on his 2014 book of the same title.

Photo provided by Michael Thorp

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MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Which Michigan small town is the birthplace of a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame?

The answer is Cass City, where Larry MacPhail was born in 1890. His son, Lee MacPhail, is also in the Hall of Fame, making them the only father-son duo in the hall.

That was one of the stories shared by Michael Thorp July 15 when folks took a virtual drive through Michigan’s Thumb region thanks to a presentation hosted by the Clinton-Macomb Public Library.

Thorp’s talk centered on his 2014 book, “Michigan’s Thumb Drive.”

CMPL North Branch Librarian Phil Skeltis said Thorp is an author, radio and television broadcaster, and media consultant.

“Michigan’s Thumb Drive” is a trip through the history of Michigan with Thorp sharing tales of presidents and war heroes, famous inventors and explorers, and more.

“Michigan history has fascinated me since I was a kid,” he said. “History is stories with dates. You can’t make up better stories than those things that really happened.”

Several years ago, Thorp was asked to lead a bus tour around the Thumb, talking to folks about its history.

“I started in Frankenmuth and went around M-25,” he said.

M-25 begins east of Bay City and encompasses the outer Thumb area along the Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron, ending near Port Huron.

One of the first places along M-25 northeast of Frankenmuth is Wisner Township in Tuscola County, which Thorp explained the background of.

“It’s named for Michigan Governor (Moses) Wisner who was governor at the time and they were looking for names for cities,” he said. “Wisner was a Lapeer County prosecutor before he became a congressman and governor. He quit and went off to the Civil War, but died on his way of disease.”

Another story Thorp shared was of the great Michigan fires of 1871 and 1881.

The Great Michigan Fire was a series of simultaneous forest fires. Thorp said it was possibly caused by the same winds that fanned the Great Chicago Fire.

“In the summer of 1871, it was hot and dry and not all the parts of trees that were cut down were used, so they would leave the lumber on the ground,” he said. “They would have tinder-dry lumber.”

He said that farmers would burn it, which worked for a long time.

In 1871, Thorp said, a big wind came up and blew across the entire Thumb region.

“Children in Cass City went to school one morning but had to be dismissed because the smoke was so thick, they couldn’t breathe,” he said. “There were hundreds of small fires that suddenly exploded in this huge fire.”

A decade later, the 1881 Thumb fire burned over 1 million acres, costing over 280 lives and destroying a major part of Tuscola, Huron, Sanilac, and St. Clair counties.

“What people remembered most was the howling winds,” Thorp said. “They say there were fire tornadoes and some gusts of winds recorded at 40-60 miles per hour.”

He then discussed Wheatland Cemetery, near Argyle.

“It’s in the middle of nowhere and was built after the fire of 1881,” he said. “A local farmer found six bodies in a well on this property and when fire comes, it takes oxygen, so what happened was they suffocated. He buried them on his land.”    

Thorp has authored five books including “The Legend of the Abominable Huckleberry,” and two Great Lakes trivia books.

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