The Sweetest Side of the Straits

Certain American cities or regions are known for their specialized cuisine – Philly for its steak sandwiches, New England for its clam chowder, Texas for its bar-b-cue, Atlantic City for its salt water taffy. Here in Michigan, we have Coney dogs in Detroit, pasties in the Upper Peninsula and fudge right here in the Straits of Mackinac!

The sweet history of fudge dates back more than 130 years when Henry and Sara Murdick arrived on Mackinac Island. Henry and his son, Jerome, were commissioned to create canvas awnings for the Grand Hotel which opened in 1887. While they were busy working on that project, Sara put her talents to work as well. Noted for her “exquisite confectionary skills and recipes” she is credited with opening the island’s first candy shop – Murdick’s Candy Kitchen (today, known as Original Murdick’s Fudge…with a location on the Island, one in St. Ignace and one in Mackinaw Crossings). Noted as the longest-operating fudge shop in Michigan, the company is owned by Bob Benser, who still uses Sara’s time-tested recipes.

The first Joann’s Fudge Store was opened by Joan and Frank Nephew on Mackinac Island in 1969 (a second opened the following year there) and in 1980, a third location was established in Mackinaw City. Today, this third-generation family business offers up more than two dozen flavors (like Rocky Road, Raspberry Truffle and Vanilla Salted Carmel) as well as a variety of hand-dipped chocolates, brittles, candies and ice cream.

Devon’s Mackinac Island Fudge & Popcorn Co. is located inside Mackinac Bay Trading Company. Established in 1997, this family-opened and -operated shop boasts more than 3,200-square feet where visitors will find an endless supply of candy, taffy, fudge and popcorn.

Just how BIG is the fudge business in the Straits? In peak season, the more than 20 fudge shops in the Straits of Mackinac area utilize about 10 tons of sugar per week and 10 tons of butter per year just to make these delicious treats. Tourists (affectionally referred to as fudgies) collectively buy as much as 10,000 pounds of fudge per day as sweet souvenirs from their visit to the area. It is said that in one summer week, Original Murdick’s Fudge uses 200 pounds of butter, 200 gallons of cream and 5,000 pounds of sugar (80% of which comes from the thumb area of Michigan) to create its various fudge flavors.

To learn more about this region’s fudge history, pick up “Fudge: Mackinac’s Sweet Souvenir” by Phil Porter of Mackinac State Historic Parks (2001, 40-pages, $7.95). Also, make plans to attend the 2019 Mackinac Island Fudge Festival, coming up August 23-25.

Pressed Pennies: Shiny Souvenirs from the Straits of Mackinac

By Jhai Smith and Dianna Stampfler

Pressed pennies are definitely one of the most affordable souvenirs to “purchase” when visiting the Straits of Mackinac. Also known as “elongated coins,” they are quite a collector’s item for people traveling here from around the state and across the globe.

“An elongated coin (or pressed penny) is one that has been flattened or stretched, and embossed with a new design. Such coins are often used as commemorative or souvenir tokens, and it is common to find coin elongation machines in tourism hubs, such as museums, amusement parks, and natural or man-made landmarks,” according to Wikipedia. ”Private engravers make special-issue elongated coins to commemorate historical events, personal landmarks (such as marriage or birth of a child), or other events warranting celebration. They also design elongated coins for private clubs and organizations.”

The first elongated coins showed up at the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893 with four designs issued to commemorate the widely attended event (imagine having one of THOSE coins in your collection). Those earliest coins are what collectors classify as “oldies” that were produced for nationwide events like the Pan American Exposition in 1901 in Buffalo, New York and the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

Between 1965 and 1985 is what is known as the “Modern Elongateds” period, as private rollers came on the scene setting up machines at more tourist-focused regions throughout the United States to encourage collecting by the traveling public.

The “Contemporary Elongateds” era includes any coin presses and pennies from 1988 until present. It was during this time period that Disney stepped into the game, working on prototypes in 1986 but not releasing its first Mickey Mouse coin until 1987. is a great resource which shows over 3,300 of the machine locations around the country. So, if you’re traveling to the Straits of Mackinac, you can look up Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island and St. Ignace to find out where machines are located to build up (or start) your collection.

How does it work?

It’s been calculated that it takes more than 2,500 pounds of force to properly press a penny. The noted website states “an elongated coin is made by a coin, token, medal or metal blank being forced between two steel rollers. An engraving is on one or both of the rollers and as the coin passes through the rollers it is squeezed or elongated under tremendous pressure from the original round shape to one of an oval and the engraved design impressed into the coin at the same time.”

Today, you will mostly find self-crank machines where you can watch the inner workings of your penny-turned-souvenir, tempting both children and adults to enjoy its simple magic. The cost is typically 51 cents (two quarters and of course, the penny).

Choosing the perfect penny!

According to the blog, “the best pennies to use are from prior to 1982, when the pennies were made 95% of copper. For those coins, when you smash them, you will get a uniform color throughout. After 1982, pennies are made from approximately 99% zinc with a copper coating, and so you will get silver-colored streaks in the penny as it is pressed.”

Of course, the condition of the penny also plays a factor in its clarity when pressed, as older coins may be discolored with age.

Is it legal?

According to U.S. Code Title 18, Chapter 17, Section 331, it is illegal to use altered coins as money but it is not actually illegal to deface the coin if not intended for fraudulent purposes. Meaning, if you’re pressing a penny as a souvenir, you aren’t breaking any laws!

However, pressing pennies in Canada IS illegal, as it is against the law to vandalize anything with the Queen’s face on it. In other countries where pressing said country’s currency is illegal, you may find a penny machine where you insert a U.S. PENNY and the local currency to pay for your perfect souvenir.

For more information (or for serious collectors), check out, the website of The Elongated Collector – a non-profit organization founded in 1966 with a mission to “educate, encourage and promote the study, acquisition and exhibition of elongated coins.”

Below is a list of where you can find pressing machines in the Straits of Mackinac area (from…please note, this list is subject to change.

Mackinaw City

Mackinac Island

St. Ignace



Updated Details on 60th Annual Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk

Highway, Ramp & Bridge Closures in Effect in the Straits of Mackinac Area
During 60th Annual Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk

Traffic Updates Available via Text from Mackinac Bridge Authority

As many as 60,000 people are expected to converge in the Straits of Mackinac Monday, September 4 to take part in the 60th Annual Mackinac Bridge Labor Day Walk. As a safety precaution, the Mackinac Bridge Authority will close the bridge to automobile traffic between 6:30 a.m. and noon that day—only authorized buses transporting walkers and emergency vehicles will be permitted on the bridge during that time.

This is the first year that the five-mile Mackinac Bridge itself will be closed to vehicles during the walk, which begins at sunrise at 7 a.m. in St. Ignace. Participants must board an official shuttle bus by 10 a.m. in order to complete the walk by noon.

Michigan State Police (MSP) are also planning some highway and ramp closures along Interstate 75 and US-2 to reduce traffic flow in the Straits area that morning.

MSP has contingency plans for traffic issues on Monday morning while the Mackinac Bridge is closed. Gaylord State Police Post Commander, 1st Lt. Mark Harris says that the process of directing traffic during the Bridge Walk is going to be an “ongoing, fluid situation.” Officials will strategize about how best to direct traffic throughout the day. “Obviously, the intent is to minimize motorists being stranded while the bridge is closed.” He has provided the following details to be shared with the public:

In preparation for the closure, 150 portable toilets will be placed every quarter mile along this stretch of US-2 which runs along the Lake Michigan shoreline. MBA will also offer water and snack stations for motorists waiting for the bridge to reopen.

Additionally, two MBA mechanics will be patrolling on both sides of the bridge to help anyone who might be having vehicle problems during the delay.

Text Alerts Available for Mackinac Bridge Annual Walk

With the assistance of Mackinac County 911/Emergency Management, you can sign up now for text updates during this year’s Labor Day Bridge Walk.

Mackinac County 911, using its RAVE Alert System, will send updates and information from the MBA to users’ cell phones now through Labor Day. Alerts will focus on event schedule reminders, traffic notifications, weather updates, and emergency notifications.​​

“With the changes taking place during this year’s walk, we’re trying to reach as many travelers and bridge walk participants as possible,” said Bob Sweeney, executive secretary of the MBA. “We really appreciate Mackinac County 911/Emergency Management’s willingness to make this system available for notifications on this event.”

There is no cost to receive these updates, aside from any texting fees from the participant’s mobile coverage plan. The system will automatically shut down on Sept. 5.

To opt in to this text alert system:​​

  1. Text “mackinacbridgewalk2017” to 67283
  2. Users will receive a reply “Welcome to the Mackinac Bridge Walk 2017 text alerting system,” verifying participation in the text alerting system for the event.
  3. Users can opt out by sending a reply “STOP mackinacbridgewalk2017” if they no longer wish to receive text messages/alerts. Messages will automatically stop on Sept. 5.

2017 Mackinac Bridge Labor Day Walk Details:

For information about the history of the Mackinac Bridge (including some interesting facts and figures about its size and construction, check out the official website of the Mackinac Bridge Authority.

For lodging reservations for Labor Day weekend, or throughout the fall season, visit

Photo sourced from Governor Rick Snyder’s Facebook page.