Camp Grandmama and Grampy Campy (3/4YO) – Day 3 Highlights….and a stroll down memory lane…

When I was very young, one of my most vivid recollections at Christmas-time was our family’s annual visit to the magical Christmas displays at the Ford Rotunda in Detroit.

Why in the world are they wearing coats?

The Ford Rotunda was an ultra-modern (for the times) round building.  It was an artifact from the 1933 Chicago World Fair and was constructed to look like a stack of gears.

There was a geodesic dome in the center, but I don't believe that has anything to do with cars...

The entire building was filled with Christmas displays, Christmas trees, Christmas cars (this is Detroit) and SANTA.  It was the equivalent, (without having to stand outside in the cold), of looking at the Christmas windows at Macy’s (or Marshall Fields or Hudsons….sigh).

Girl in the red coat? There is no way this was me, I would have been surrounded by sisters.

There was a miniature clown circus (hand carved by a former circus clown), animated dolls representing children of all nations, storybook land with Hansel and Gretel, Humpty Dumpty and other favorite characters.   There was a doll beauty parlor and dress shop, along with a doll dressing contest (sponsored by Goodfellows* ) .

The Goodfellow dolls were exhibited at the Christmas Fantasy at the Ford Rotunda before being delivered to children. Please read below for more information on this ongoing charity...*

There was always a beautiful (and huge) nativity and an impossibly huge Christmas tree.

The ornaments were suspended with fish line from the star on the ceiling.

Different models of Fords were also part of the fantasy. Well, that makes sense in car country.

Of course, Santa was also there so that we could whisper our request into his ear.   This was the REAL Santa.  Not the one we ran into in other stores or in front of stores with a bell and a bucket.  He was complete with elves and a miniature-toy-car assembly line.

It was a little disconcerting to realize the elves were just our size.

The Real Deal.   It truly was (as they billed it) a Christmas Fantasy.

Oh, you thought perhaps I was going to show you a picture of Santa? His secret is safe with me....

Before we left this fantasy land, we received a candy cane and a Christmas book with pages to color, stories to read and games to play.  Both were treasured as special mementoes of a magical time.  Oh sure, The Ford Motor Company featured their cars in the book, but I don’t think any of us noticed or cared.   I was also unaware that Ford had commissioned Richard Scarry (yes, of Richard Scarry fame) to illustrate these books.  That might explain why these were treasured beyond the normal coloring book.

What wonderful memories.  What a wonderful place for kids.  What a magical time.

It burned down in 1962. 

It’s now the site of the Michigan Technical Education Center.

During this same time (the 50’s and early 60’s), Mom and Dad would sometimes surprise us with a trip to Bob-Lo Island.  This was no ordinary island (although, by definition an island would not be ordinary). We were going to Bob-Lo Island.

To get to the island, we would take the Bob-Lo Boat from Detroit.

In fairness, I don't remember Captain Bob-Lo. Um...he sort of scares me...

After the (average) one hour boat ride, we would land on an island filled with rides named to ensure we were appropriately in awe: The Nightmare, Falling Star, Wild Mouse, Sky Streak and Screamer. 

I wonder what music they played?

I remember the feeling of wonder as I watched people get thrown, tumbled and spun around.  My older sisters may have gone on these rides, but I was too young.  It didn’t matter.  I just loved the noise and excitement. I also liked the train, the gardens the lake with the swan boats and the more little-kid friendly rides.   Of course they had every kind of ticky tacky souvenir you could imagine.  Treasures, I thought.  And they had all the best food: Cotton Candy, Sno Kones, and Coney Island dogs.   It was the perfect getaway (for kids).

What wonderful memories.  What a wonderful place for kids.  What a magical time.

It closed in 1993.

It is now being marketed as private island resort community.

What does this have to do with Camp?

When we first starting bringing the kids to Camp, one of the best attractions for little’uns was Storybook Gardens.

Carson, Luci and Kevin in 2007.

R.J., Charlie and Ben in 2005 with Old King Cole.

It was located on ten beautiful acres and featured fairy-tale displays and live storybook characters.

R.J., Charlie and Ben with the Three Bears in 2004.

There was a beautiful pond, petting zoo and eventually a wildlife park (an effort to bring in more customers, I think).

Not sure who was petting who....But can you imagine this happening anywhere else?

It was slow paced, very engaging and we generally spent several hours just meandering through the park.

Kevin, Luci and Carson in 2007. Looking for the Fairy Godmother.

Charlie, R.J. and Ben. They never even noticed that it was crooked.

All they had to do was push the button and jump on. As often as they wanted.

It was an oasis of calm.

Humpty Dumpty never did fall. Calm. Like I said.

This year, for Camp with Sophie (3) and Cooper (4), I was most excited about our trip to Storybook Gardens.  They were at the perfect age, and Mr. H. and I just knew they would have a perfect day.  We had reviewed our nursery rhymes, talked about the things they would see and applied copious amounts of sunscreen for our day at this magical place.

What wonderful memories.  What a wonderful place for kids.  What a magical time.

It closed in May of 2011.

It is now the site of a Zorb ball.  Riders climb into a large plastic ball and roll down a hill.  I’m not kidding.

I was so very sad.  The kids were disappointed, but we did some quick shuffling and took them to Robot World (a favorite).     We all enjoyed Robot World, but I found myself in tears every time I thought about Storybook Gardens.

In an amazing and generous display of compromise, Mr. H. agreed to go with us to an amusement park that has been around since the 50’s.  Little Amerricka.  (I am presuming that someone named Merrick owned or owns this place.  Or maybe it was someone named Rick?).  We really hadn’t planned to go, but both of us felt that perhaps we could capture some of the nostalgia we were looking for.

First up was the re-conditioned Ferris Wheel.

Grampy is listening intently to the rules. Nope he won't be swinging....

It looked like the Ferris Wheels of my youth (which is to say, it looked like a Tinker Toy), but I didn’t realize how frightening it would be.   I think I might have been okay, but Sophie is just so little.  I held on to her arm for dear life.  I finally had to let go when Sophie told me I was squeezing her too hard.  By the way, both she and Cooper loved the ride.

My heart was in my mouth for most of the ride. Sophie was shrieking with glee.

There were so many rides for pre-schoolers.  Cars, Fire Engines, Boats, Airplanes, etc.

You can't have too many carousel rides....can you?

Check out the high tech safety belt. I pretty much "ran" underneath or next to them for the whole ride.

We thought this would keep them occupied for awhile, but Cooper figured out early on that he was not really steering the boat.

You should have seen Cooper's look of disgust after he figured out he wasn't really steering.

So for Cooper, we had to find some rides that were a little more …. shall we say … challenging.

Well, maybe not that challenging...

This is a little better. Don't worry, Cooper. It will be fine. <gulp>

This is Coop's face after the first ride. He went three more times.

In the meantime, Sophie was dominating all other transportation hubs.

All in all, we had a great day.

As for Storybook Gardens.  It will have to live on in pictures and memories.

On the other hand….there is going to be an auction of some of the displays….

Don't be surprised if you should find this in my front yard. A lovely addition, don't you think?

If you are interested in helping the Old Newsboys Goodfellows dress dolls for needy children this Christmas, you can contact Sari Klok-Schneider at

(My sister, Karen, brought this to our attention a couple of years ago.  Did I mention that she and sister, Cathy, are world-class seamstresses?  Did I mention that I am not?   I may have to dust off the old sewing machine and see what I can do….)

I want to hear from you!!  Tell me about your nostalgic trips!!!

Category: Camp, Memories and Traditions, New Traditions, Old Memories, What will we do today?
Tags: , , , , , , ,

(2) Comments and (1) Reply

  1. notquiteold | August 20, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Reply

    Love the old photographs.

    • Jill H | August 21, 2011 at 8:26 am | Reply

      Thanks. They are a little like me….not quite so colorful! 😉

  2. Cindy Maechtle | August 21, 2011 at 8:31 am | Reply

    No one can tell it like you do Jill. What wonderful memories!!! Both old and new!! Love the picture of Jim on the horse holding hands with Sophie and Cooper, how cute is that!!!!???

Leave a Reply