Mackinac Island’s Famous Grand Hotel and Love Story

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The 1887 Victorian hotel was the setting for the movie ‘Somewhere in Time.’
The 1887 Victorian hotel was the setting for the movie ‘Somewhere in Time.’

Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel Takes Guests back to ‘Somewhere in Time’

By Jackie Sheckler Finch
GoNOMAD Senior Writer

Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve, in the movie poster for Somewhere in Time.
Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve, in the movie poster for Somewhere in Time on the wall at the Grand Hotel.

On a whim, a young playwright from Chicago decides to take a trip and stay at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan.

Although he is a success in his profession, Richard Collier feels lonely and unhappy. He has never found his special love.

Wandering around the historic hotel to pass the time, the writer steps into the Grand Hotel Hall of History. There he encounters the photo of an actress who appeared at the hotel in 1912.

Drawn to the picture, the young man feels driven to will himself back in time to meet the beautiful actress, his destiny Elise McKenna. Somehow or other, he succeeds.

Movie from 1980

Of course, this is all a Hollywood movie. And it was released way back in 1980, for goodness sake. But, if you visit the Grand Hotel on a special October weekend, you would never know the story wasn’t true or that the tale was filmed decades ago.

Ladies in long dresses and frilly hats will be enjoying tea in the hotel lobby, walking the beautiful grounds with dainty parasols to protect them from the sun or watching the sunset from the world’s longest front porch.

Guests dress in period costumes at the Grand Hotel.
Guests dress in period costumes at the Grand Hotel.

Men in Suits

Men in turn-of-the-century suits and gentlemanly hats will be sipping fine wine, discussing the merits of strong steeds pulling the passing carriages or taking a turn on one of the island’s many bicycles.

‘Somewhere in Time’

It will truly be like turning back the clock to “Somewhere in Time,” the 40-year-old movie that critics bashed but moviegoers loved.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said. Bob Tagatz, a historian at the Grand Hotel.

“I’ve been here for decades and there has not been a single day that someone has not asked me about the movie. The number of people who follow the movie is amazing.”

longest porch in the world
The Grand Hotel has the longest porch in the world.

Starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve, the classic movie featured the Grand Hotel as its backdrop. In fact, some folks swear the 1887 Victorian hotel is actually the scene-stealer.

Perched high over the Straits of Mackinac, the hotel seems to have gotten even more beautiful with the passing years.

Car-Free Mackinac Island

Coachmen atop glossy maroon carriages wait at the hotel entrance, the drivers resplendent in red jackets and black top hats. Except for a few emergency vehicles, the Michigan island is car-free.

no cars on Mackinac
No cars are allowed on Mackinac Island.

When the first “horseless carriage,” arrived from the mainland in 1898, the contraption so traumatized the local horses, legend says, that island officials banned the newfangled machines. And they’re still banned.

A snazzy convertible is shown in the movie but even Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour were required to travel the half-mile between town and the Grand Hotel by carriage, on horseback or bicycle, or on foot.

Only One Guy with a Car

So were all the U.S. Presidents who have visited Mackinac Island for over a century. And so must all the guests.  The only recent exception was Vice President Mike Pence who brought a motorcade over in 2019 and was roundly booed by the locals.

Special weekend Oct. 29-31, 2021

Grand Hotel on Macinac
The Grand Hotel is a landmark on Mackinac Island.
A night watchman is clad in a uniform from the past.
A night watchman is clad in a uniform from the past.

The annual “Somewhere in Time” weekends officially started in 1991, but movie fans were staging their own impromptu tributes even before that.

“People dress in period clothing and we have special events throughout the ‘Somewhere in Time’ weekend,” Tagatz said. “We always show the original uncut version of the film.”

Set for Friday, Oct. 29-31, 2021 the weekend also features a welcome reception, grand cocktail reception, five-course dinners, luncheon buffet, full breakfasts, and discounts on ferry boat tickets.

movie poster
A movie poster for Somewhere in Time.

R.D. Musser, the owner of the Grand Hotel, allowed the facility to be used by Universal Studios for free to film the movie.

All filming took place in the height of the season, with the hotel fully booked. The film company worked around the dining of paying guests, filming the dining room during the night.

Filmed on the Island

Every setting required by the “Somewhere in Time” script was found on Mackinac Island. The movie was filmed entirely on the island, except for a few brief scenes shot in Chicago.

The movie was Christopher Reeve’s first one after his “Superman” hit. And most fans know of the tragedy that hit the popular actor.

On May 27, 1995, Christopher’s horse suddenly stopped short of a jump during a horsemanship competition in Culpepper, Va.

Christopher’s hands became caught in the bridle and he was thrown headlong to the ground.

He barely survived the broken neck that severed his spinal cord and left him completely paralyzed from the first vertebra down. He died of sepsis on Oct. 11, 2004, at age 52.

Somewhere in Time Suite

main dining room at the grand hotel
The main dining room has window views for every table.

A special “Somewhere in Time” suite at the Grand Hotel is one of the most popular and is filled with photos of the movie stars and other movie pictures.

“The suite is decorated all in 1912 décor with a lot of the movie memorabilia,” Tagatz says.

As a historian, Tagatz said the movie holds a special interest for him.

A Time Travel Movie

“It’s a beautiful movie but, as a historian, time travel is something in which I am very interested.

The theme of the movie is that love transcends death and that is something I think everyone wants to believe in.”

A coach waits for passengers in front of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island
A coach waits for passengers in front of the Grand Hotel.


They Find Each Other

Hint: The two lovers are not destined to live happily ever after in 1912. But they eventually do find each other again – Somewhere in Time.

For more information: Contact the Grand Hotel at (906) 847-3331, grandhotel.com

For more info about visiting Mackinac Island.