Petoskey Stones or "Crown Jewels"
November 29, 2009 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Petoskey Stones are stones of fossilized coral (Hexagonaria percarinata ) that can be found along the shore of Lake Michigan near the town of Petoskey (Population 6,000). Once polished, they can be beautiful, and are often made into jewelry. It is the state stone of Michigan and is celebrated in an annual festival. The origin of the name of the stone, however, is under contention.

According to a common story (the one in the Wikipedia article as well as the official booklet provided by the Geological Survey Division of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality), the stones and the town are named after Petosegay, the son of Antoine Carre, a French trader who married an "Indian princess" and later became an honorary chief. His son was born at sunrise, and he held the boy up and gave him the name (Petosegay is traditionally translated as meaning "morning rays"). Later, Petoskey bestowed his name on the (white settler populated) town.*

This story and other legends about the stones have been retold in two childrens' books, The Legend of the Petosky Stone and Tears of Mother Bear which have been strongly criticized by Native critics (both critiques are worth a read). Among the arguments is that "chiefs" and royalty did not exist in that culture, and thus neither the "honorary chief" nor "Indian princess" labels made any sense. There is also the issue that the authors are not Indian and are appropriating or misrepresenting Indian culture. This is more than just quibbling:
Some of us find ourselves so deeply appalled by these books that we actually wash our hands after handling them, trying to perpetually cleanse ourselves.
These stones, are called "crown jewels" and considered sacred by the Anishinaabek people.

* Petoskey is coincidentally also a surname given to many of the Indian people in that area by white settlers.
posted by Deathalicious (33 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Right now I'm looking at my awesomely huge Petoskey Stones that I found on a beach and am feeling mighty homesick. (I don't really know how to write that sentence in a way that doesn't make my inner middle schooler "tee hee.")

Great post.
posted by NoMich at 3:09 PM on November 29, 2009

Great post. I grew up in Michigan and always thought the Petoskey Stone was a cool state stone. You know, as long as we're talking about state stones, some of them have to be cooler than others, right?

Petoskey is a very pretty town if I remember correctly.
posted by marxchivist at 3:20 PM on November 29, 2009

Yeah, marxchivist, Petoskey is a very picturesque and historic town.
posted by NoMich at 3:21 PM on November 29, 2009

Yes, Petoskey is pretty damn twee. It's sort of like the Carmel-by-the-Sea of Michigan.
posted by the dief at 3:25 PM on November 29, 2009

Never heard of them before--thanks, Deathalicious! I find the comments behind the beautiful link charming.
posted by MrMoonPie at 3:33 PM on November 29, 2009

Man, this is every summer of my childhood right here. For those of you not familiar with the shores of northern Michigan, petosky stones are literally everywhere. At summer camp we would find them and toss them into a rock tumbler and give them to our parents when they came to get us, but they looked just as good in water, like fish tanks or what have you. Petosky is a pretty little town to be sure, but a main artery to traverse city runs through there and because of traffic lights, traffic is always awful.

I had heard the story of sleeping bear a million times as a kid, but never heard the history of petosky until now. Good post.
posted by orville sash at 4:01 PM on November 29, 2009

they can be beautiful

It looks like a fossilized brain.
posted by Violet Hour at 4:02 PM on November 29, 2009

I have awesome memories of being in Petoskey, walking along this beach. It seemed like every other stone was a Petoskey stone.

They're not limited to JUST being in Petoskey, MI. People who go on vacation in the greater Cherry Belt* will keep the petoskey stones they find and take them back home. It's cool how it's rare enough to be special, but common enough that you will find one, if you look long enough. My families up there all have big ole stashes.

*I just made that up, because I don't know how to group the Traverse City, Charlevoix, Harbor Springs, Benzie County, etc. area.
posted by Stewriffic at 4:08 PM on November 29, 2009

Petoskey is unfortunately a very touristy town now. I tend to find a lot of stones when I go out running on the dirt roads around the town, the graders consistently kick them up. I do love them.
posted by OmieWise at 4:10 PM on November 29, 2009

Love these stones. They were easy to find back in the '70s and '80s.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:10 PM on November 29, 2009

Some polished Petoskey stones seem quite alive. some Underwater jade near Carmel
posted by hortense at 4:21 PM on November 29, 2009

I had heard the story of sleeping bear a million times as a kid, but never heard the history of petosky until now. Good post.

Just so you are clear: that history is considered wrong, untrue, and somewhat racist, at least by the authors I linked to in the second "more inside" paragraph. Also, according to the second article, the sleeping bear is not, in fact, sleeping:
The only part of this story that is traditional is the part about a reclining bear—one of several traditional stories created to identify a large hill visible from out on the lake by the Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi, and other tribes who lived and traded on the shores of Lake Michigan. In all versions of the story told by my family, the bear is, in fact, dead. The milder version—made famous by a local national park named after a “sleeping bear” and exploited by non-Indian business entrepreneurs— is known by natives in the region as “the local white people’s Indian legend.” This is the version that was borrowed by Lewis as the springboard for her own Indian-style “legend.”
posted by Deathalicious at 4:34 PM on November 29, 2009

This was a really, really great post. I love posts where I learn something. Thank you!
posted by jefficator at 4:35 PM on November 29, 2009

I found a few Petoskey stones in northern Indiana at Royer Lake in Lagrange. Does anyone know other locations where they can be found?
posted by Hoosier Prospector at 4:36 PM on November 29, 2009

Awesome post, thanks! The pictures really remind me of voroni algorithm work.
posted by localhuman at 4:39 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

As for other state stones, I've always loved the Minnesotan Lake Superior Agate : example || wiki
posted by localhuman at 4:57 PM on November 29, 2009

I think back on the hundreds (thousands?) of Petoskey stones that I skipped back into the lake as a kid and groan. Now I want them. They were often very high quality skipping stones, ten plus skips easy on calm early morning water. I think this obsession has probably played a part in my rotator cuff issues later in life. Don't throw light things hard, just don't do it. Oh, and don't listen to loud music either. ;) Live and learn, although I am not sure I would go back and change my behavior, except for perhaps that one Styx concert where we sat right in front of the speaker array to get a better look at the band and my ears rang for weeks afterwards, and I never, ever even kind of liked the band, that was a mistake. Grandmaster Flash practically drawing blood on my eardrums, that was experience. Oh, I digress. Petoskey stones are the bomb.
posted by caddis at 5:07 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ha ha, I grew up in Petoskey and finally got the hell out after high school. The most amusing thing was in the mid- 1990s, the area suddenly went Hemmingway crazy. There was a greasy-spoon type of family restaurant that seemingly overnight redecorated with tons of nautical decor and pages of Old Man and the Sea and things like that. I'm not sure exactly what sparked it- maybe it was the influx of new money that was showing up with Bay Harbor that helped it along. I'm pretty sure the Michael Palin stuff came afterward, so I don't think that was what started it.

The second most amusing thing about that town is it's effectively split in two. Along US 31 you'll drive through a section of very old homes painted very garish colors. That's Bay View. Well, I haven't been back in town for years so maybe they aren't painted so wildly any more. But for a while there seemed to be a competition within the community on who could have the most obnoxious color palette on their 1865 built home. I think the winner was a lavender color with a combination of canary yellow, lime green, and pink for highlights.

Pretty town to visit. Nice town if you're over 60 and rich. Absolutely sucks if you're young and poor.
posted by Dr-Baa at 5:16 PM on November 29, 2009

I'm sure it beat the crap out of growing up in Mancetucky, Dr-Baa.
posted by NoMich at 5:20 PM on November 29, 2009

I think the sustaining thought for me while I was growing up was "At least I'm not in Wolverine."

Plus, the Book Stop was nice. I wonder if that's still in business.
posted by Dr-Baa at 5:25 PM on November 29, 2009

Huh. Never knew these fossils were a "thing". I have one of these sitting on my dresser that I picked up off the beach in Door County, WI. Beautiful stones. Thanks for the post!
posted by danherwig at 5:33 PM on November 29, 2009

Dwathalicious-I should have clarified. I did read the links, and I know it's all BS
posted by orville sash at 5:36 PM on November 29, 2009

We have a similar thing in the UK, called "Tisbury starred agate".
posted by raygirvan at 6:20 PM on November 29, 2009

Cool post.
posted by serazin at 6:36 PM on November 29, 2009 grew up in Mancelona? It's a small, small, world. From Grades 7-12, I was stuck in your town's older, bigger, and only slightly less retarded brother, Kalkaska.

Oh, and Petoskey Stones are awesome. My mother has a huge collection.
posted by at 8:03 PM on November 29, 2009

But for a while there seemed to be a competition within the community on who could have the most obnoxious color palette on their 1865 built home.

Seems to be one here.

They're called painted ladies. The originals certainly used multiple colors although not perhaps with as much contrast; the 20th century saw many painted monochromatically, losing the architectural interest inherent in the details. People who like Victorians tend to like to highlight those details, that's all.
posted by dhartung at 9:31 PM on November 29, 2009

localhuman: Voronoi regions are the duals of Delauney triangulations. It is not surprising that coral cells would resemble these: the definition of a Voronoi region is that each wall is on the midpoint and perpendicular to the line connecting the centroids of the regions. Coral growth finds this pattern naturally.
posted by Araucaria at 11:09 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Delighted to see a post on this topic. I have not see the stones mentioned in many years. Sadly, I don't have any. I've found them myself in my Michigan childhood.

The persistence of childhood memory/emotion can be quite amusing. "Petosky" always evokes delight, and I even know exactly why. When I was probably around 6 years old, I found the Best Sand Shovel Ever, in Petoskey (you know, for playing on the beach).

Michigan is a place of awesome beauty, unless you have something against blue and green.
posted by Goofyy at 1:21 AM on November 30, 2009

So that's what those things are!
Growing up here in Indiana, damn near every grandmother had at least one of these polished things laying around in their house. I just never knew what, exactly, they were.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:05 AM on November 30, 2009

Michigan is a place of awesome beauty, unless you have something against blue and green.

See, I think of Detroit when I think of Michigan.
posted by empath at 9:56 AM on November 30, 2009

That's too bad, empath. You could thinking of this or this or this or this or this or this. I am indeed from that little armpit of Michigan. We had to go to Kalkaska to get our driver's licenses.
posted by NoMich at 11:09 AM on November 30, 2009

Hi Michiganders! Nice to see you all here. Know what else are cool? Crinoids. You could collect crinoid segments on the shore of lake Superior, and frequently they were eroded with a hole in the middle. I made a necklace of them. I have to go now, to put on that necklace, and find one of my Petoskey stones.
posted by acrasis at 4:44 PM on November 30, 2009

See, I think of Detroit when I think of Michigan.

That's too bad. Michigan is incredibly beautiful, which is why so many people stay there despite the terrible economy. If you like the outdoors - fishing, hiking, hunting, boating, swimming, snowmobiling, etc. it's doubly awesome. I miss it a lot.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 6:45 PM on December 1, 2009

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