The East Lansing Public Library is home to a fascinating mural, created by the late author and painter Dirk Gringhuis.
Gringhuis, an East Lansing author and painter, contributed the Michigan Folklore mural to the East Lansing Public Library. After doing research in depth, he painted the mural and wrote the legend about our folklore.
Dirk's first books included Hope Haven, Tuliptime, and Here Comes the Bookmobile. In 1952 he moved to East Lansing, where he completed his first junior novel, The Young Voyageur, a story of early fur trading in Michigan. Two of Gringhuis' books were published by the Michigan State University Press.
Legends from the mural
1. Beginning of the earth: Algonquin Indian Legend
The Chief of Heaven was angry. His wife, Sky Woman, was peering down through the hole in heaven where once the Tree of Life had stood.
In a rage, he pushed her through and she fell toward the sea below. Then he threw plants of corn and squash, and animals such as the rabbit, the raccoon and the skunk.
But the ocean animals saw her falling and hurried to help. The great birds made a canopy of their wings and bore her safely down while the Great Snapping Turtle held his mighty shell above water for a landing place. Others, the muskrat, beaver and toad, brought up earth from the sea bottom and piled it high on the turtle’s back to make land.
Sky Woman and the animals landed safely.
Then as plants and trees and animals prospered, the earth grew and she became the Earth Mother.
2. The race: Chippewa Indian Legend
Nanabojo and his evil trickster brother, Peepaukawis, ran a foot race. Wherever Peepaukawis ran, snow and sleet fell. But under the moccasins of Nanabojo, new grasses and flowers sprang up. Birds sang squirrels and rabbits frisked happily in front of him.
At last, Nanabojo was far ahead of his brother and there was summer across Michigan. Tired, he lay down to sleep. Suddenly the cold winds of autumn swept down upon him as his brother dashed by.
He leapt to his feet, ice already forming on his moccasins and ran with all his might. For a brief time he passed his brother while Indian summer covered the land. Then he fell exhausted and as Nanabojo slept, his brother Peepaukawis ran far ahead and winter took over.
Now when the weather changes suddenly it is because the brothers are racing to see who will win.
3. The ghost ship: Great Lakes Fishermen’s Legend
The Griffon, first sailing ship on the Great Lakes, was built in 1679 by LaSalle. Designed to carry furs and trade goods she failed to return from her maiden voyage and apparently went down with all hands.
Now she is only seen as a ghost, skirting the shores of the Straits of Mackinac, under full sail.
4. Nain Rouge: Early French Legend
The Red Dwarf was seen often in old French Detroit. And when Cadillac, founder of Fort Detroit, saw the dwarf he tried to strike it and missed. Thereafter Cadillac was the victim of many misfortunes. When Detroit burned in 1805 the same dwarf was seen again. It is said that some citizens in Grosse Pointe still mark their houses with the sign of the cross to break the Red Dwarf’s evil spell. Nain Rouge is pictured against a French fort and trader’s house.
5. The Tommy Knockers: Early English Legend
These little dwarfs were brought to the mines of Michigan by Cornish miners around 1850. Given to impish pranks, the Tommy Knockers also warned miners of impending cave-ins or other danger by knocking on the tunnel walls with their hammers. This is where they got their names.
6. Paul Bunyan and
7. Babe the Blue Ox: Loggers Legend
Paul, the giant logger, represents the colorful days of lumbering in Michigan. He is pictured in front of a strand of white pine which has cut into squared logs with four strokes of his axe. Another slice then “harvested” an entire row of logs. Ahead, Babe, his companion, moves down across Michigan hauling an entire logging camp across the snow. Babe measured 42 axe handles and a tobacco box between his horns and his huge hooves dug the Great Lakes.
8. Johnny Appleseed: Early Settlers’ Legend
John Chapman, known as Johnny Appleseed, was born in Massachusetts in 1801 and arrived in the Ohio Territory and then into what is now Michigan scattering apple seeds and good deeds wherever he went. Beloved by both Indians and whites, he was also friend to all animals including the wolf, the snake, and even the wasp. During the War of 1812, he warned settlers of Indian raids. Today there are orchards still standing which sprang from those first seeds which Johnny brought from Pennsylvania. And the apple blossom is Michigan’s state flower.
Johnny Appleseed is shown approaching the first cabin in East Lansing. It was built by the Hagadorn family and stood on what is now the MSU campus near the present Music Building.