Tour Tuesdays at the CMU Museum

Early American History Day

Tuesday, July 19
2 to 4 p.m.
Explore a Civil War camp, dig up a treasure from the past, craft a pinch-pot, create a critter, and prepare butter at the CMU Museum on the corner of Bellows and East Campus Drive. Suggested donation: $2 per participant.


Historic Schoolhouse Tour

Tuesday, July 26
2 to 4 p.m.
Step back a century and experience a school day in the Bohannon School at Preston and West Campus Drive. Suggested donation: $1 for adults, 50 cents for children.


For more information, call the Museum of Cultural and Natural History at 989-774-3829 or email


July 15, 2011 at 10:50 am Leave a comment

Wool Trade Blankets

The Hudson Bay Company started the production of “point blankets” in 1779. Blankets had been a staple in the fur trade for centuries even prior to this time, but it would in 1779 that the Hudson Bay Company would have a mass shipment of them on a regular basis. The Company would send blankets ranging from 1-6 points (including half sizes).

It is also common to make other items with the point system. In the fur traders cabin there are several wool “point blankets” in a variety of colors and styles, as well as a coat that is hung up near the table. Hudson Bay Company knew the importance of the blankets to the Native Americans and would make several accommodating products to help in the cold Michigan winters.

Point System

Each blanket is graded based on weight and size and given a corresponding number. This designated number would be displayed by indigo lines woven into the side of every blanket. A standard measurement for a 1 point blanket was 2 ft 8 in wide and 8 ft long. The value was determined by final product, not based on the amount of pelts of beaver traded.

November 23, 2009 at 10:45 am Leave a comment

Bite the Bullet

The term “Bite the Bullet” comes from the Civil War.  Bullets were packaged together with the appropriate amount of gun powder in a single paper pouch. When it came time to load the weapon,  a soldier would actually bite their bullet to tear it open to get access to the gun powder.

After pouring gun powder into the weapon, they would remove the bullet from their mouth, and proceed to load and fire there weapon. There has also been speculation that the saying can trace back  to Civil War field hospitals. Often times a bullet or stick was given to the patient to focus their energy and attention on biting it instead of the pain.   It may also have helped to reduce the screaming, which benefited the surgeon and attendants.

November 16, 2009 at 11:58 am Leave a comment

Michigan Petoskey Stone

Come see one of the largest Petoskey stones ever found, weighing in at 420 lbs! This huge stone is really a chunk of fossilized coral. The coral once lived in the warm, shallow salty ocean that covered Michigan millions of years ago. This stone was dug up during road construction to Charlevoix and before being donated to the museum, it was shown at numerous gem shows across the nation.

Come check it out in our main exhibit. We’re open 7 days a week!

Petoskey Exhibit

October 28, 2009 at 10:37 am Leave a comment


Lucy is the common name of the Australopithecus afarensis specimen that was discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia.  This hominid is especially important because it is one of the most complete skeletons ever found with over 40% of the skeleton being fully recovered.  Anthropologists worked for nearly three weeks to complete the collection after which Lucy was transported back to Cleveland for further study.  After nine years, Lucy was returned to the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa where she remains to this day.

Some may wonder how ‘Lucy’ got her name.  On the first day that Lucy was discovered, the anthropologists held a celebration in their camp.  One song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles, was played repeatedly during this evening and thus the researchers decided to call their newly discovered hominid Lucy!

Stop by and check out Lucy in our main exhibition.

September 16, 2009 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

Shrunken head, anyone?

Have you ever seen a real shrunken head?

A shrunken head from the museum's collection.

A shrunken head from the museum's collection.

There! Now you have. Why in the world would anyone shrink anyone else’s head, you might be thinking…

Originally, preparing a shrunken head was a religious practice. Indigenous peoples of Central and South America believed shrinking the head of their enemy harnessed the spirit of that enemy and forced them to serve the shrinker.

So how in the world did they do this?

First, chop the head off of the body. Next, remove the skull from the head by cutting open the back of the neck and removing all the flesh and hair from the cranium. Ew, right? It gets worse. Afterwards, put seeds underneath the eyelids and sew them shut. Use pins to hold mouth together. Then, put it all in a pot and boil in water with a few herbs (containing tannins). Let simmer for awhile with occasional stirring. Yum.

After stewing, the flesh was dried with hot rocks and sand, and molded to retain its human feature. The skin was rubbed down with charcoal ash to keep the musiak, or avenging soul, from getting out. The lips were sewn shut, and then the head was decorated with beads and adornments, making sure to add a tie so the head could be worn around the maker’s neck.

A closer look at the face, showing the eyes and lips are sewn shut.

A closer look at the face.

After all that work, the shrinker did not keep their trophy for long, typically about a year. Accounts vary as to whether the heads were discarded or stored.

At first, the practice was relatively rare. When travelers began to think the heads were a cool trinket to buy and bring home, they created an economic demand for shrunken heads and a sharp increase in the rate of killings. Today most heads are fake, but there are still a few real ones in circulation.

Ours was collected between 1918 – 1920 from Columbia.

A profile view, showing facial distortion.

A profile view, showing facial distortion.

March 4, 2009 at 4:57 pm Leave a comment

Mad as a hatter!

Where in the world did this phrase come from?

Well, it all starts with the French fur trade. For about 200 years, French fur traders were active in Michigan and the surrounding region. The museum’s main gallery hosts an exhibit showing a trading post from the 1750-1790 era.

A student reenacting a French fur trader in our fur trader's cabin.

A student reenacting a French fur trader in our fur trader's cabin.

During this time period, the ever-famous tri-cornered hats were extremely fashionable and popular for European men.

These hats were made primarily out of beaver fur. The beaver has two types of fur, a coarse outer fur that repels water and a soft under coat to keep the animal warm. The soft fur is what the “hatters”, or men who were making these tri-cornered hats, needed.

To separate these two kinds of fur the hatters used a well-known chemical named mercury. Once the fur was separated the fine undercoat was pressed into felt for the hats.

Today, we know mercury is extremely poisonous. Because these hatters were working closely with the chemical on a daily basis, many of them became mentally ill. We now know those hatters were quite literally mad!

March 2, 2009 at 3:21 pm 2 comments


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