Friday, September 27, 2013

The stories behind Michigan's state symbols, Part II

Here's part two of my series on Michigan's state symbols. Check out part one here: The stories behind Michigan's state symbols, Part I



7. State fossil (mastodon) --- Back in the day (and by "back in the day," I mean tens of thousands of years ago), mastodons lived across the southern two-thirds of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. The creatures were elephant-like mammals with trunks and tusks, but, unlike elephants, they had a thick coating of hair across their bodies. Mastodons disappeared about 10,000 years ago, but several of their fossils have been found in Michigan. The mastodon is one of the newer entries on the "state symbol" list, having become Michigan's official fossil in 2002.




8. State reptile (painted turtle) --- The painted turtle owes its status as Michigan state symbol to a group of fifth graders in Niles. The students learned that Michigan didn't have a state reptile, and their teacher, sensing a great civics lesson, stepped them through the legislative process until, in 1995, Public Act 28, which made the painted turtle Michigan's state reptile, was signed into law. The painted turtle was an appropriate choice for this honor, as it's one of the only types of turtle still found in Michigan.




9. State stone (Petoskey stone) --- The Petoskey stone is probably one of the state's best-known symbols. It's not actually a stone, but rather a fossil of coral that lived in the shallow seas that covered Michigan during the prehistoric era. Several thousand years later, during the Ice Age, glaciers grabbed the fossilized coral and deposited it primarily in what is now the northwestern Lower Peninsula (though smaller numbers of Petoskey stones can also be found on the LP's northeast coast). In 1965, during a ceremony attended by the only surviving grandchild of Chief Petosegay, an Ottawa merchant from whom the city of Petoskey---and, by extension, the Petoskey stone---got their names, Governor George Romney made the Petsokey stone Michigan's state stone.


 

10. State tree (white pine) --- The white pine has been an important part of Michigan's economic history. It was one of the most prized trees among 19th-century lumbermen, who valued it because white pine wood has few knots or scars. The white pine became Michigan's state tree in 1955.


 

11. State game mammal (white-tailed deer) --- I had no idea "game mammal" was even a category of state symbol. Anyone who has ever witnessed the mass exodus of hunters to Michigan's forests and fields around November 15 (the start of regular firearm deer hunting season) will understand why the white-tailed deer received this honor (though I'm not sure honor is the right word, as the designation basically means that the white-tailed deer is the animal most likely to be staring down the barrel of a hunter's gun). In any event, the white-tailed deer became state game mammal in 1997, thanks to the efforts of a class of fourth graders from Zeeland.

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