A Little History
Gazing out across Lake Michigan today it's hard to imagine the entire state was once a prehistoric sea (much of the present-day United States was actually underwater). This warm, shallow sea and subtropical climate produced large coral reefs all across Michigan. As the sea dried up, leaving behind a desert-like environment the reefs fossilized into limestone that lies more than 120 feet below the land you're standing on.
*Fun Michigan Fact* The sea is also responsible for creating Grand Rapids' rapids and the massive salt deposits left under Detroit.
The most distinctive characteristic of the Petoskey Stone is the six-sided hexagonal shape. When the rocks are dry the patterns can be nearly invisible and the stone resembles ordinary limestone. But once the rock is wet or polished the mesmerizing starburst pattern becomes evident.
Legend Has It
The stone's name comes from an Odawa legend. It is said a French fur trader settled in the area and married the chieftan's daughter. In 1787 the couple had a son, and as the morning sun rose, illuminating the newborn's face his father christened him Petosegay, which loosely translates to sunbeam or rays of rising sun, and predicted he would someday be an important man.
Petosegay did grow to become an important man, settling in the Harbor Springs area and marrying the daughter of an Odawa chief, later becoming recognized as Chief Pet-O-Sega. Petoskey was named in his honor in 1873. A bronze statue of Chief Petoskey was erected and placed on a bluff overlooking Little Traverse Bay near the Gaslight District. The distinctive sunburst pattern, native legend, and fact these fossils are only found in this region and are especially plentiful in this area, led to the creation of the Petoskey Stone and its being named Michigan's official State Stone in 1965.
A Treasured Souvenir
Finding Petoskey Stones does not require luck or skill, just patience. Nearby East Park always yields impressive findings, but simply searching along the Inn's lakeshore will also reveal plenty of small treasures. Spring is one of the best times to hunt for the stones since many are pushed to shore during the winter as ice forms on the bay.
To enhance the markings polishing the stones is often recommended. By using sandpaper of progressively finer grit until perfectly smooth and all white spots disappear, the final step is adding a dash of polishing powder and lightly rubbing the stone with a dampened piece of soft cloth. You'll be left with a perfectly shined piece of history and a new hobby to look forward to the next time you visit "Up North".