A few weeks ago a rock bearing the inscription “Remembering George McDuffie” mysteriously appeared in a fenced area adjacent to Alden’s Depot Museum and the mystery of who put it there began. Longtime residents knew George McDuffie but there were some that didn’t and they wondered “who he was?”
The mystery grew last weekend during the depot’s model train show when someone asked, “Did you see the skunk? He’s outside on a rock!” Just the mention of the word “skunk” immediately conjures up thoughts of fleeing from the area so everyone within earshot was relieved to find out that this “little stinker” was just a medal sculpture perched on top of that rock. But the question remained, “who was the culprit that erected this “distinct” memorial?”
Today George McDuffie’s brother Ed lives on Torch Lake but he had no knowledge of either the rock or the skunk. Neither did the Depot Museum’s curator Dorothy Walter or any of the Alden Volunteer’s “Boys of Summer” who now have the skunk supervising them as they work on the train.
The mystery began to unravel with a phone call to Meredith Grider owner of Alden’s Red Eye Gallery. She acknowledged that when her longtime friend passed away several years back she made up her mind at that time to “do this”. She contacted noted northern Michigan artist John Goss and commissioned him to do the skunk.
For Meredith the skunk is an endearing creature that evokes memories that always take her back in time to those carefree days when there were no televisions or i- pods to amuse oneself with. As a young girl she spent her summers in Alden as did the McDuffie family. She says, “George was the instigator of adventures and fun times for many young people in the area.” He loved animals and was always collecting snakes and critters of all kinds and had a Ph.D. in Zoology.
Some of her fondest memories are of ‘two tracking over rough terrain and going on skunk hunts with George and his friend John Geohegan. At night we would watch for eyes shining in the headlights at the side of the road. Then the two young men would get out of the car corner the skunk and George would always be the one who picked it up. Needless to say we were frequently sprayed and often had to bury our clothes.”
George’s brother Ed recalls the time a wild life photographer in their hometown of Cincinnati asked George, “if he could catch some skunks for a film he was working on?” George instantly volunteered “Ed” for the job and said he would catch the skunks during their upcoming summer vacation on Torch Lake.” By the end of that summer the brothers had managed to trap a total of thirteen skunks.
When it was time for the return trip home to Cincinnati George loaded the cage containing the skunks along with a bucket of water into the trunk of the 1947 powder blue Chevy convertible he had inherited from his sister Mathilde when she entered the convent. He took off leaving Ed to close up the cottage and a short time later Ed followed in his Jeep convertible.
As Ed neared Lake City he noticed that blue Chevy convertible pulled over at the side of the road. He also noticed a police car parked along side and pulled up just in time to witness the officer turn the handle on the trunk and open it.(back then no key was required) The unsuspecting police officer was met by thirteen very unhappy skunks who took aim and sprayed him from head to foot.
Ed got out of his car and rushed to the officer’s aid offering to drive him back to headquarters in his Jeep convertible so the squad car would not be contaminated by the odor and where the officer could get de skunked. Ed admits that all the while he was driving the police officer back to headquarters he kept hoping that George would get that tire changed and make his get a way before the officer returned to the scene of the skunking. He never once admitted knowing George and even told the officer “that fellow must be crazy having all those skunks in his trunk.” Ed says, “that poor officer must have taken about thirty showers that day.”
George was able to make it back on the road with his cargo before the officer returned and eventually the skunks experienced about ten seconds of fame when they appeared in a wildlife adventure film.
The mystery of Alden’s Little Stinker may be solved but Meredith’s tribute to her friend has insured the community of Alden that the “Legend of George McDuffie and his skunks” will live on for years to come.