Spending a Night at a Michigan Roadside Motel Straight Out of the ’70s

As I drove the long stretch of empty road in Michigan’s northern panhandle, I was starting to think I had made a mistake by not booking a hotel in advance. I assumed I’d be able to find some sort of roadside lodging for the evening on my way toward Wisconsin, but so far I had come up empty.

There were very few hotels on this road, and they were overpriced. It was starting to get dark, so I was pondering my options. Pitching a tent on the side of the road was starting to seem like a more realistic option with every passing minute.

And then I saw it.

michigan hotel exterior

The old timey motel in Michigan

As I raced down the road, I thought I spotted a motel on the left. As I sped past, I wasn’t sure if the place was still in business, because it looked dark and there was only one car in the parking lot.

The place didn’t look very inviting, but since I was short on options, I pulled a u-turn and headed back that way. Sure enough, it looked like a legit motel, albeit one that hadn’t seen a facelift in decades.

I cautiously tried to front door of the office and was eventually greeted by a nice older woman who informed me that, yes indeed, they had rooms available. And the price was only $45/night. Sold!

Okay, here’s where things got weird(er) . The receptionist/probable owner told me she didn’t accept credit cards. I could pay with cash, but they didn’t have an ATM, so I’d have to go back to the gas station a mile up the street.

Or, she said, I could pay with personal check.

My mind raced with excitement with those words. I really was back in the ’70s! Paying for a motel room with a personal check in the year 2017? That was a life experience I needed to have.

Fortunately, due to an unusual set of circumstances, I had my checkbook with me in the car. So I wrote out a check, grabbed the room key and headed for my temporary home. After three straight days of tent camping, I was ready for a shower and a bed, no matter how scary.

Wood paneling is back in style

creepy hotel room

The motel felt like such a time warp. It felt like I had been transported back to 1979. I was staying at the cliché hotel you see in all the old tv dramas.

I was half-expecting Jessica Fletcher to show up to investigate an untimely murder. Hopefully I wouldn’t be the victim. (That was probably unlikely, since I hadn’t been fully established as a character and no one had motive to bump me off.)

When I opened the room door, I was greeted with a wall covered in wood paneling. Oh no, I was definitely in an episode of Murder, She Wrote! Or maybe the Bates Motel.

It reminded me of the hotel rooms I stayed at with my family when I was a kid. I got the sense that nothing had changed at this place in the past few decades.

Look at this armchair. I was excited to be the first person in probably 40 years to sit in this chair!

vintage armchair

I’d kill to have a vintage treasure like that in my own home. Perhaps I should have made them an offer.

Enduring a night at the hotel

I was expecting to hear voices in the middle of the night, or to have blood coming out of the shower. But the night was surprisingly uneventful and I got a solid night’s sleep and went on my way the next morning.

A few days later, I noticed that there was an issue with the check. When I called, the bank couldn’t find the record of the check. When I told them where I had stayed, I was met with a long pause, and then a shaky voice telling me, “I’m a little alarmed, because THAT MOTEL BURNED DOWN 20 YEARS AGO! That receptionist you spoke to was killed in the fire!”

Okay… that last paragraph was completely made up. But everything else in the story was true. I did manage to find the most antiquated hotel in America, and I stayed there, and it was strange and unnerving and slightly creepy. I would totally do it again.

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About the Author

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based journalist and blogger who seeks out offbeat attractions and awesome destinations around the world. He has been featured in Travel + Leisure, Connect Magazine, Matador Travel, and the Washington Post.

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