Five weird facts about Calhoun County

Critchlow's Alligator Sanctuary
Sep 12 2019

Five weird facts about Calhoun County

1) We’ve got alligators (and one crocodile)

Michigan likes to brag about not having sharks and alligators in the water, but that’s not quite true in Calhoun County.

The Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary has hundreds of reptiles in the rural village of Athens. 

The alligators come to the sanctuary through rescue or adoption and will be taken care of for the rest of their lives.

The largest of the ‘gators is Godzilla, who is 11 feet long. There’s also an assortment of lizards, toads, fish, frogs and one crocodile named Lyle.

Tourists can pay admission to watch the alligators and feed them treats in the different habitats. Rest assured, though, you can continue to swim in gator-free lakes.

2) We solved a bug problem with chainsaws

Leila Arboretum was hit hard by the emerald ash borer, a destructive beetle that kills trees.

Instead of clearing the land that was affected by the beetle menace, Leila Arboretum held a chainsaw festival. Artists came to Battle Creek and turned the dead trees into sculptures.

Now what was a bug-infested grove is a fun, interactive exhibit with dragons, wizards and one awesome centaur.

3) We were part of the booze pipeline during Prohibition

“Purple Gang” isn’t the kind of name that inspires terror nowadays, but during the ‘20s and ‘30s, they were the toughest criminals in Michigan. Along with robbery and murder, they ran a bootlegger’s line from the Canada/Detroit border to Chicago. 

Calhoun County is conveniently located halfway between the big cities, and in the 1930s the Purple Gang settled in Albion to continue operations. 

There’s a historic walking tour map available on the Cascarelli’s website. (www.cascarellisalbion.com/purple-gang-tour/) It highlights places such as the former junkyard that was a front for their operation and the alley where they’d rough up anyone who crossed them. 

Rumor has it they also did business on the balcony of the Bohm Theater, so the movie theater installed a row of purple seats as a tip of the hat to history.

4) We got a shout-out from the original Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Robert Ripley gave a shout-out to Battle Creek’s iconic stone tower, which he called the “Rock of Ages,” according to the Regional History Museum of Battle Creek.

The tower greets visitors when they arrive in downtown Battle Creek from I-194 (which locals call the “Penetrator” — okay, that’s a little weird, too).

The tower was built by historian James Brown in the 1930s. It’s an odd mish-mash of stones and artifacts. If you stop by, see if you can find: a helmet, an anvil, a letter box, a stalactite, a plate from a printing press and a plaque made from the wreckage of the USS MAINE.

5) We have an urban legend about squirrel warfare

Visit any park in Battle Creek, and you’ll likely see a flash of fluffy tail as a black squirrel runs by. They can be found everywhere. 

A popular story is Dr. J.H. Kellogg didn’t like red squirrels and so he brought in black squirrels to fight them and take over the territory.

That dramatic story is partially correct.

While the squirrels around here have black fur, they are technically grey squirrels. According to an article in the Battle Creek Enquirer from 1915, Dr. Kellogg imported 300 grey squirrels.

If it was because he was trying to incite a squirrel war, he kept that to himself. He told the newspaper he had fond memories of grey squirrels from his youth and wanted to restore them to Battle Creek.

The newspaper said “if they are protected and fed they will become as tame here as they are in Ann Arbor and the Detroit and Chicago parks where they are never molested and are common pets.”

Tell that to the locals who have squirrels in their bird feeders.

W.K. Kellogg also had a hand in conservation. He created a bird sanctuary in 1927 as a refuge for Canada Geese. The sanctuary later played a big part in saving the trumpeter swan from extinction in Michigan. You can visit the bird sanctuary in Augusta and feed the birds.

*This article was written by Annie Kelley.

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