2014-06-14 / News

Frequent Island Visitor Mary Oldani Turns 102 in August

By Stephanie Fortino


Mary Oldani visited Mackinac Island in the summers while growing up. This family photograph from 1924 shows her mother, Lilian Sweeney, swimming in Lake Huron off the shore of Mackinac Island in front of Bennett Hall, where the family often stayed. Also pictured are Mrs. Oldani’s siblings, Margaret, William, and Eugene Sweeney. (Oldani family photographs) Mary Oldani visited Mackinac Island in the summers while growing up. This family photograph from 1924 shows her mother, Lilian Sweeney, swimming in Lake Huron off the shore of Mackinac Island in front of Bennett Hall, where the family often stayed. Also pictured are Mrs. Oldani’s siblings, Margaret, William, and Eugene Sweeney. (Oldani family photographs) Mackinac Island is a favorite vacation spot for countless visitors, many who return year after year to enjoy Island life. One such visitor, Mary Sweeney Oldani, spent the summers of her youth on Mackinac Island starting in the 1920s. Her birthday is August 9, and as she nears 102 years old, she remembers the Island as an escape from Detroit’s hay fever season.

Mrs. Oldani would spend the entire month of August on the Island in the 1920s and 1930s with her parents, Charles and Lilian Sweeney, and seven siblings.

Their mother kept a journal, and near the end of their vacation August 28, 1933, she wrote, “Typical Mackinac morning – fair and cool but sunny – lovely and pleasant. Children enjoying their time here before returning to Detroit for the start of our school routine.”


The Sweeney family visited Mackinac Island in the 1920s and 1930s and Mary Sweeney continued with her husband, William Oldani, in the 1940s. This photograph of the Oldanis on Mackinac Island was taken in 1942. The Sweeney family visited Mackinac Island in the 1920s and 1930s and Mary Sweeney continued with her husband, William Oldani, in the 1940s. This photograph of the Oldanis on Mackinac Island was taken in 1942. Summers on Mackinac Island were spent with relatives in the Harold King family, the John Magrath family, Mrs. Evie Horton from Chicago, and the George Sweeney family, relatives of her father. Some Sweeney family members still vacation on the Island today.

The family of 10 (including six boys, two girls, and the parents) would stay in four rooms at Bennett Hall just past the Catholic church. Mrs. Oldani remembers it cost about $210 a week, meals included, and the family attended mass at Ste. Anne’s.


Mary Sweeney Oldani and her brother, William Sweeney, enjoy a vacation on the porch of Windermere Hotel in 1998. Mrs. Oldani turns 102 years old this year. Mary Sweeney Oldani and her brother, William Sweeney, enjoy a vacation on the porch of Windermere Hotel in 1998. Mrs. Oldani turns 102 years old this year. Days were spent swimming in Lake Huron, visiting the King girls at their summer cottage on the bluff, and walking downtown for ice cream. Her brothers played golf and all enjoyed playing Keno. She remembers auctions during which linens and handmade goods were sold, attending tea dances at Grand Hotel, and going to the movies at the Orpheum where the audience had to duck their heads to avoid the bats.

Mrs. Oldani continued visiting Mackinac Island in the 1940s after she married her husband, William. The couple would stay two weeks at the Windermere Hotel and enjoyed bicycling around the Island, buying fudge at May’s, breakfast at Wandrie’s, and Sunday dinners at the Yacht Club.

In 1968, the couple brought their six children for a week at the Windermere, and it rained every day, her daughter, Julie Oldani, remembers.

Later in life, Mrs. Oldani continued visiting the Island, and her brother, William Sweeney of Cleveland, Ohio, would sometimes join her. They spent many hours reminiscing about their childhood vacations in the “old days” before modern technology.

The journey north from Detroit varied with the mode of travel. The Sweeney family sailed north on Lake Huron, or rode by train or automobile from Detroit to Mackinaw City.

When sailing, the family would ride Anchor Line’s Octorara or Juniata or D and C Line’s Eastern States or Western States. The Great Lakes vessel would leave Detroit Harbor for Mackinac Island around noon. Aboard the ship, they would partake in a tea dance and games, eat dinner, and enjoy a night’s sleep. The following morning, passengers had breakfast aboard the ship before reaching the Island.

Mrs. Oldani’s father worked in the railroad industry and sometimes he was able to treat his family to a train ride north in their own Pullman car. The train would leave Detroit’s Grand Central Station in the evening, arriving in Mackinaw City the following day.

Occasionally the Sweeney family drove to Mackinaw City, but the roads were often in rough shape. Mrs. Oldani remembers stopping to fix punctured tires or to visit rest stops for carsick siblings. Even with those setbacks, the journey from Detroit by automobile often took less than six hours.

Once in Mackinaw City, getting there either by train or car, the group would board Arnold Line’s coal-fired ferry Algomah II to Mackinac Island.

Today, Mrs. Oldani lives in Grosse Pointe. While she hasn’t visited Mackinac Island since the late 1980s, she keeps in touch with local happenings by reading the Mackinac Island Town Crier.

“Mackinac Island is one of her favorite places,” said her daughter, Julie.

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