A ‘Grand’ Tradition: Iconic Mackinac Island Hotel Celebrates 125 Years

Dan Musser III gained several indelible memories while preparing to celebrate the 125th anniversary of his life's work, the Grand Hotel.

There is the photograph recently restored of him, his eldest son and father walking along the hotel's iconic porch, considered the world's longest and one of the most memorable images of its home, Mackinac Island.

There were multiple gatherings of family, friends, longtime employees and dignitaries, including three former Michigan governors. Over its private-label champagne, guests toasted the majestic hotel and the generations who worked and played there since its opening in 1887.

The Grand Hotel rates among Travel + Leisure magazine's "500 World's Best Hotels for 2012." All of its 385 rooms are uniquely decorated. Photo by Grandin Hood

And then there was the most emotional of them all. During the hotel's anniversary weekend, Musser recalled how a crowd gathered on that massive, 660-foot porch to watch a fireworks display. At one point, Musser recalled, the audience spontaneously began singing along to "God Bless America," synched to the fireworks exploding over the Straits of Mackinac in honor of the Grand's quasquicentennial.

"It was a particularly moving moment -“ there was that patriotic melody and all those people singing on the front porch on a summer's night," said Musser, who marked his 28th season of full-time work at the Grand Hotel this summer.

Of Michigan's many vacation destinations, few may have as many scenic vistas, well-appointed homes or impressive visitors as Mackinac Island. It could be argued that the Grand Hotel is the Island's most well-known attribute -“ its huge white façade and stunning porch columns are the first things travelers coming over by ferry will recognize emerging from the Island's steep, wooded hills and rocky shoreline.

"We're ahead of the curve a little bit (in terms of retaining long-term guests) because of our longevity and our unique setting here," Musser said. "The goal then is to keep the traditions strong and provide enhanced experiences going forward."

Rich with family tradition
Few names are as ingrained in Mackinac lore as that of the Musser family. Pretty much every worker on the island from porters to cub reporters to fellow business owners know and respect the moniker. It is a respect borne of time, experience and hard work. A Musser has been a part of the Grand Hotel for nearly 80 years.

"Dan the Third," as he is known among hotel employees, is a fitting nickname. Musser is the third generation of family to manage the sizable operation. (Longtime owner R.D. Musser Jr. worked at the hotel since 1951 until his retirement last year.)

As president, Musser is responsible for all day-to-day operations of the hotel, which include supervising the front desk, convention services, food and beverage, sales and marketing, housekeeping, maintenance and recreation.

This high-touch management style is no accident, Musser notes. He prefers to have a hand in all of the hotel's operations for a variety of reasons. Mostly, it is because that is the way it has always been done. Both he and his father have held pretty much every job there is at the Grand. Musser himself jokes that his glasses came about when he helped computerize the hotel's reservations systems years ago.

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