7 Mechanical Marvels in Michigan: 50 States of Wonder - Atlas Obscura

50 States of Wonder
7 Mechanical Marvels in Michigan

Michigan is famous for its steep, sweeping sand dunes, freckling of lakes, and unique fossils—but across the state, you'll find slews of automated wonders, past and present. From old animatronic toys to the ruins of early assembly lines, here are seven places to be dazzled by industry.

As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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The museum is stuffed with mechanical toys and games. Jim Bahn/cc by 2.0
Old Arcade

1. Marvelous Marvin's Mechanical Museum

Once your eyes become accustomed to the dim light, they will feast upon 5,500 square feet of old arcade games, automata, model airplanes, and other objects collected over the last 50 years by pharmacist Marvin Yagoda, who passed away in early 2017. Drop in to chat with old, jerky fortune tellers, observe quivering antique boardwalk amusements, or visit with Dr. Ralph Bingenpurge, an automaton built to continuously vomit onto a pile of old bottles. (Read more.)

31005 Orchard Lake Rd, Farmington Hills, MI 48334

Rivera's room-spanning mural includes 27 paintings. Quick fix/CC by-SA 2.0
Art

2. Diego Rivera's "Detroit Industry" Murals

In the 1930s, Edsel Ford—son of Henry, and scion of the Ford Motor Company—commissioned the painter Diego Rivera to pick up his brush and paint an ode to the city’s industrial boom. Rivera, an ardent leftist and a big fan of the fresco, painted sprawling scenes that stirred up no small amount of controversy. Rivera’s mural—which winds around an entire room of the Detroit Institute of Arts—wasn’t a straightforward embrace of industry. Instead, its subversive Easter eggs left some industrialists scowling. (Read more.) 

5200 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202

For a while, the tire was even pricked by an enormous nail—a visual boast about its sturdiness. MJCdetroit/CC by-SA 3.0
Roadside Attraction

3. Giant Tire

Anyone who looks out the window or windshield while barreling down I-94 is bound to see several car tires—but one of them will be far more enormous than the rest. Some 80 feet tall, this roadside curio was once a ride at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Riders clambered into little gondolas, which whizzed them up and around using mechanisms that riffed on the Ferris wheel. The gondolas are long gone, but the giant tire endures as a monument to America’s love affair with the car. (Read more.)

Allen Park, MI 48101

Over the years, the abandoned building slumped. Anna Fox/CC by 2.0
Building

4. Michigan Central Station

For much of the 20th century, trains chugged through Michigan Central Station, a grand, Beaux Arts building in Detroit. In many years, up to hundreds of trains and thousands of passengers hurried in and out each day. By the late 1980s, though, the soaring building was abandoned, and began a slow slide into dilapidation. A few years ago, the Ford Motor Company purchased the property for a new campus and began to shore up some of the historic details that hearken back to the city’s days of clacking rails. (Read more.)

2001 15th St, Detroit, MI 48216

Slick ride! Sicnag/CC by 2.0
Museum

5. Ford Piquette Avenue Plant

Auto enthusiasts will be jazzed to visit the birthplace of the Model T. This factory, built in 1904, was the first to assemble a hundred cars in a single day. Ford’s operations quickly outgrew this space, but it’s now a museum and protected landmark home to a fleet of fascinating old cars. (Read more.)

461 Piquette St, Detroit MI 48202

The old factory, photographed in 1936. Kalamazoo Public Library/Public Domain
Factory

6. Gibson Factory

Over the decades, scores of cars rolled off Michigan’s assembly lines—but crooners and strummers found lots to love in the state, too.

Around the same time that Henry Ford was helping to turn metro Detroit into an automotive mecca, Orville Gibson brought a very different industry to the city of Kalamazoo, 130 miles west. Gibson’s business was musical instruments, from mandolins to guitars, and the company scaled up repeatedly, trading a humble, workspace for more expansive factories. By the mid-1980s, the company—which has fashioned companions for Chuck Berry, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, and countless other artists—relocated operations to Nashville. A few former employees stuck around to launch a new guitar business on the old site, and it’s still humming along today. (Read more.)

225 Parsons St, Kalamazoo, MI 49007

The bright assemblage towers over an alley. Karl Anderson/CC by 2.0
Installation

7. Hamtramck Disneyland

Tucked away in a narrow alley, you’ll find a wacky assemblage of hand-carved and found objects clustered on the roof of a garage. Known as “Hamtramck Disneyland,” it is the brainchild of Dmytro Szylak, a Ukranian immigrant who spent three decades working for General Motors. 

When Szylak died in 2015, Hatch, a local art gallery and education nonprofit, began to look after the installation. Between some low-hanging power lines, you’ll spot a tangle of Christmas lights, American flags, and menagerie of dolls, rocking horses, Santa Claus and many, many other charismatic neighbors, some of which shine or snap to action at night. (Read more.)

12087 Klinger St, Hamtramck, MI 48212

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Workers assess the exterior of the Washington Monument after an earthquake in 2011.

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