We headed out bright and somewhat early on September 2, 2017 from Big Rapids, hoping to find some interesting spots on Highway 10. There were several indicated on the map we accessed from http://www.ghosttowns.com, and we found one that wasn’t included on there–Nirvana (which is apparently pronounced by the locals such that the “van” rhymes with “can” rather than “con”–apologies to Kurt Cobain).
Brookside was more or less nonexistent; there was nothing even to photograph. Summitville was similarly empty, except for a long, winding road that included several sandy hills:
We drove down the road a ways, noting that only a few people were there apparently camping, and there were a couple of residences down a private drive–nothing visible from the road. So we headed back to M-10 and proceeded west. That’s when we found Nirvana. And by “found,” I mean there was a sign that said “Nirvana” (which we missed the first time we passed it) and a boarded-up church.
We thought there might be a cemetery near the church, so we hunted around on Google Maps and finally found it–Cherry Valley Township Cemetery, off of Knight Rd.
This was one of the odder cemeteries we’ve ever visited; for one, there were lots of missing stones, stones with missing dates (when the person is obviously no longer living), or strange stand-ins for stones, like this cinder block:
Or a basket of fake flowers with a nametag in it. Or just a plain wooden cross with no name on it. That sort of thing.
There were many World War I veterans in this cemetery; we assume that’s when the area was still thriving. There were some newer interments, but mostly older ones. Family names like Fray and Avery.
Then something really remarkable happened. As we were getting ready to leave, an older couple came into the cemetery to tend a plot of graves. They were very friendly, pulling up behind our car (since there’s only one drive, we asked if they needed us to move, but they cheerfully declined). After a few minutes, they realized we weren’t there for any specific person and asked us, not in any kind of suspicious way, what we were up to. When we told them, the older man got really excited and asked, “Have you ever heard of Andy Horujko?” When we said we had not, he led us over to a grave and started to tell us quite the story.
Andrew (Andy) Horujko was a World War II veteran who died in 2008. He lived in the area and was known as something of a recluse. He didn’t own a car, never married or had children, and they weren’t even sure he owned a phone. He kept to himself, caring for some cattle on his property. His claim to fame? Walking from Anchorage, Alaska to the southernmost tip of South America back in the 1960s.
“Do you want to see his homestead?” he asked us. Of course we did!
So we hopped in the car and followed them as they drove us even deeper into the middle of nowhere (because following random strangers into the mostly deserted wilderness to see an abandoned house is a perfectly rational thing to do). We pulled up to a property that was lined with very close-planted pine trees, which formed a visually impenetrable wall. Through the single opening in the driveway (such as it was, quite grown over), we could see a cabin-style house with the windows boarded up, a couple of barns and other outbuildings.
Upon a little more research, we found out that his great walk across two continents wasn’t his only achievement. He finished near the top of his class at Michigan Tech and worked as an aeronautical engineer for one of the Wright brothers, and he was a member of the Michigan chapter of Mensa. So, a legit genius. Apparently, his walk was meant to protest the automobile industry and the pollution it causes. Here’s a press photo we found of him online: https://outlet.historicimages.com/products/dfpy12415
We also read this account from someone who met him later in his life, in what appears to be a rare excursion for Mr. Horujko: http://theportableschool.com/MMMDI/RealWalker.html.
This really gets to the heart of what we’re trying to do when we go on these adventures: we love to hear (and in this case, even see) the stories of our amazing home state–the more personal, the better. We had never even heard of this man or his achievements, and all of a sudden we were standing in front of his house, learning about him from people who knew him personally (the older couple who led us to him were his neighbors and knew him as much as anyone did, given how much he kept to himself).
You’d think this would be the real feather in our cap and our way to end the day. But even more was in store! All this, and we hadn’t even had lunch yet! We were passing through on M-10 trying to get to Baldwin, MI, in Lake county, so we could head south to another ghost town on our map, but we were quite pleasurably detained at a small place we encountered on the way called Idlewild…