I had the pleasure of knowing Jim and Sue Sutherland for many years and have talked with many visitors to “The Bench”. I am sure there are thousands of stories out there about the experience.

We hope to capture more of your stories in the next edition of “The Red Bench 2” The old bench endured for almost 30 years and the new bench was crafted by Solomon’s grandson, Don Stoll, taking care to include parts of the original bench. We hope it brings another 30 years of enjoyment to all who stop and spend time at this magical place. “The Bench” as you know from the story, sits on property owned by the Gratopp family whose home is at the bottom of the bluff directly below the bench.

One story the will be in “The Bench 2” is about a husband and wife who stopped while I was there taking photographs. As they approached slowly on a motorcycle, they asked if this is where the Red Bench used to be (it had been temporarily removed to be rebuilt), and I said yes. He then asked if he and his wife

could share a moment at The Bench. He then shared his story. He said they had been driving MICH 119 (The Tunnel of Trees) trying to find this spot. As it turns out, years before he had asked his wife to marry him here at “The Bench”. She obviously accepted and their story is now part of the legacy of “The Bench”.

If you have a story, pictures, or an experience, please send them to us through our contact page. We will continue the legacy of this magical place.

-Sincerely
The Gratopp Family

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About twenty years ago we placed a small wooden bench across the road from our house at the top of the bluff, overlooking Lake Michigan. This location gives a beautiful panoramic view of not only the lake, but of Beaver Island, twenty-two miles away, the town of Charlevoix, forty miles away by land, and North and South Fox Islands, thirty miles away.

The sunsets are spectacular, for there is nothing to obscure them. The after-glow of a beautiful sunset is hard to put into words. We’ve had as many as six cars park out front to watch it!

Our little bench was made for us by our Ottawa Indian neighbor, Solomon Francis. He died in 1988. He had also made little bows and arrows for all our grandsons when they were little, as well as canes, wooden spoons, pictures that he used a burning tool on squares of wood to fashion, etc. He was a good neighborand a dear friend.

Little did we ever dream of the pleasure this simple little bench would bring into our lives! There are very few places along the Lake Shore Drive with such a clear view where people can stop. This road is well-named “The Tunnel of Trees”. We could see that people were a bit hesitant to sit on our bench, thinking we might object, but we felt so fortunate to have this special place that we wanted others to enjoy it too. So we had a very small weather-proof sign made and fastened it to the front panel of the bench in plain view. The sign reads “Enjoy our bench and view. Please leave nothing but your footprints.” In these almost-twenty years, we’ve found only two Cigarette butts!

Now I’d like to relate some of the interesting people we’ve met over the years, and all because of the little bench. Especially during the summer and fall many bicyclists and motorcycle riders travel our road, and of course cars, recreation vehicles, and tour buses.

It’s fun to sit here at the living room window or on the front deck as people slow down, stop, look, get out of their car or off their bikes and cycles, walk over to the bench, catch the sign, read it, then glance over at the house, wave or call to us, if we’re on the deck, and then sit down.

Then out come the cameras or binoculars or video cameras. Sometimes they sit on the bench or the grass and have a picnic. Sometimes little children will run around and “get the wiggles out.” Sometimes they’ll pose for pictures, with the lake and sky of course as the background. If we’re on the deck we frequently will offer to take a picture of the group.

For several years two doctors and their wives came by on their motorcycles on a weekend trip. Two men, one from Texas and the other from Chicago, meet annually in Chicago, unload their motorcycles, and head for “the road”, as they call our bench-site, and always in time for the sunset.

One summer evening two couples stopped. We were on the deck and they took turns snapping pictures. Finally Jimmie called over to them. “Would you like me to snap one of the four of you?” They were so pleased.

One year later someone rang our doorbell, and there stood a young couple with a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers. They said, “Last summer you took a picture of us with two of our friends who were married last summer. We’re getting married this summer and these flowers are for you for taking our picture last year.” Needless to say, we were dumbfounded.

Then one summer morning when I went out to the road to get the mail from our mailbox, I found a tiny bunch of wild flowers, tied together by a long stem of grass, and a note that read, “Thank you so much for sharing your bench, so I could rest and enjoy the beautiful view.”

Several times visitors from Germany, Japan, and France have talked to us as we sat on our deck.

Just last summer a group of ten motorcycles lined up across the road against the guard-rail, each cycle containing two riders, a man and a woman. They got off their cycles, stretched, walked around, took turns on the bench, then waved to us on the deck and called hello.

They took pictures of one another, then all lined up for a picture, and of course you know what happened. Yes, Jimmie called over and asked if they’d like him to take a group photo. After the “photo session”, several walked over into the yard to talk to us. It just happened to be our 59th wedding anniversary and when we mentioned this their mouths flew open and they said, “Fifty-nine YEARS!! We have to get YOUR picture!”

Well, about a week later we received in the mail our snapshot and a beautiful anniversary card with twenty Signatures and a little message, one from each of the riders, and a lovely letter!

On Memorial Day, we found, tucked into the sign on the bench, a little cardboard coaster, on the back of which was written, “Thank you for sharing the bench and view. We traveled a long way, looking for a place to stop. Nothing could compare with this, I’m sure. What a wonderful day!”

One summer evening there was a knock at our door. A young man stood there and asked, “Would it be all right if I sat on your bench and read for a while?” We assured him that it would. About an hour and a half later he returned and said, “I just want to thank you for the most peaceful, tranquil, enjoyable, quiet hours I have ever had!” We asked him, “Where do you live?” And he replied, “Birmingham, Michigan.” We said, “Our daughter and her family live there too, on Pembroke”, to which he replied, “I play tennis at Pembroke Park. What’s their name and their phone number?”

Two days later our Debbie called and said, “A man called us last night and asked, “Do your parents live on the Lake Shore Drive?” Upon hearing that we did, he said, “I just had the most relaxing wonderful hour and a half last Sunday on that bench, reading!” And two days later we received a lovely note from him.

One summer day at almost sunset, a young man rang our doorbell. “Would it be okay if I set up my easel and painted this view?” Of course we said it was. In about an hour he came back again and showed us a sketch he’d done. “I’ll be back here next summer. I’m giving an art show in Harbor Springs. I’ll show you the completed picture, in oils, before I enter it in the show, in case you might want it.” So we’ll wait and see what happens.

And now, one last little happening, this one very poignant about our bench. One evening recently a car pulled up across the road at dusk. A lady with two dogs got out, put the dogs up on the bench, and took a number of pictures. She’d separated the dogs so that the little sign on the bench could be pictured. In a short while she rang the doorbell. Tears were running down her cheeks. She said through her tears, “I’d like to showyou something, JJ and she brought out a framed picture of a man sitting on the bench.

Through her tears she said, “I’ve been driving for a couple hours, trying to find this little bench. You see, my husband and I were here last summer, but we’d driven so many miles, enjoying all the beauty up here, that I was searching today for this place and couldn’t find it! Finally I said to myself, “I recognize this road and I think I’m getting close.” And, sure enough, she was. The tears began again as she said, “Today is my husband’s birthday. This is his picture. He died last November, killed in car accident. Somehow I just wanted to get back to the bench and take a picture.”

After we talked for a bit, she said goodbye and returned to her seat on the bench until dark. Perhaps it comforted her somehow to re-live their Sitting there together. We’ll never know, just as we’ll never know if our little bench has enabled others to find some quiet peace and tranquility by just Sitting there.

I feel sure that Solomon never dreamed what a gift he was giving to so many people and to us when he made our bench. Somehow I feel he’s looking down upon us and smiling.