Saugatuck-Douglas in the 1950s-1970s Saugatuck, Douglas as a Mirror of American Life in the “Atomic Age”
Currently closed for the winter. Will re-open May 26th 2018, Noon-4pm
Daily, Memorial Day through Labor Day, weekends in September and October
This exhibition chronicles how the two small lakeshore villages of Saugatuck and Douglas reflected the contrasting worlds of fear and fun during the Cold War era of the 1950s-1970s.
Prior to World War II, the villages had a remarkably good relationship with visitors, but in the post-war years this cozy relationship was disrupted amid a rapidly changing world. New cars, superhighways, and plenty of cash drew the pre-war tourist clientele to more exotic destinations, leaving the towns ripe for invasion by wild youth in fast cars and motorcycle gangs who arrived on summer weekends by the thousands. Some were hippies, most were not. Some were locals, most were not. The streets were clogged with cars parading up and down. Ruffians zoomed through town on loud motorcycles. Bars were plentiful—from classy to trashy—and the live jazz and rock music was the best in Michigan. Add in big boats and the Oval, the marvelous “drive-in” beach, to complete a '50s scene where automobile, sand, water, and beach crowd met like nowhere else.
Looming above it all, from high atop the once-friendly old Mt. Baldhead dune, beamed a frightening message. In the new Cold War, a U.S. Air Force radar station was built to monitor approaching Russian bombers—a scary and omnipresent threat of a nuclear attack from abroad. Dauntingly, the tower and its constantly revolving radar screen looked down upon a divided nation, ushering in an unsettling era of fallout shelters, school “duck and cover” practice, and air-raid drills, as well as assassinations, student protests, and anti-war music and culture.
Troubling, unsure, but also happy, it was a time of sharp contrasts. Local authorities, although fair and adept, found the young visitors impossible to control. The music played on, and the visitors had a blast. It was indeed the hottest town in Michigan.
Welcome to Cold War|Hot Towns.