Winsor McCay park may finally have home

Marie Havenga • Apr 5, 2017 at 12:00 PM

SPRING LAKE — It appears a Winsor McCay memorial park may have finally found a home.

After years of the village’s Historical Commission and its chairman trying to find an appropriate place for it, the former site of the Spring Lake school McCay attended is the target for a new park honoring McCay, who is known as “the father of animation.”

Union School once stood on what is now vacant land off Exchange Street, immediately west of Spring Lake District Library.

Spring Lake Township sold the Township Hall and the accompanying land to the village when the two municipalities decided to share office space at Village Hall. The building has since been razed.

The plans are to make that property the permanent site of a farmers market — and now, it appears, a Winsor McCay park.

Historical Commission Chairman Mark Miller said his committee will begin a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the park.

“It went through so many stages we weren't sure where we were going to place the park,” he said. “Finally, this property became available. This property is significant. This is where he went to school.”

Miller said McCay is known worldwide.

“He's probably one of the most famous people to come from this village,” Miller said. “He's the father of modern character animation and he was discovered over there (at the school). He drew art on the frost in the windows.”

McCay also drew the sinking of the Alpena on the school chalkboard. It was so professional, and with so much detail, that a photographer shot the image and made it into postcards.

“Walt Disney gave him credit for everything he had,” Miller said. “He told the grandson of Winsor McCay 'this should all be yours' when he visited Disney World.”

Miller said he has high hopes for the crowdfunding campaign. The Grand Haven Area Community Foundation will hold the funds.

“Crowdfunding should be lucrative,” he said, noting that somebody who crowdfunded to write a book about Winsor McCay raised $154,000, besting the target goal of $50,000. “There are donors all over the place out there dedicated to Winsor McCay, so we should be able to make this work quite well.”

Miller said the park’s plans include a bronze statue of McCay; a statute of one of his most famous characters, Gertie the Dinosaur; concrete dinosaur footprints; historical display boards; a gazebo; and exposing a portion of the foundation of Union School.

McCay was born about 1867 in Canada and was raised in Spring Lake. He died in the 1930s and is buried in New York.

Each year at the Annie Awards (the equivalent of the Oscars for the animation world), a Winsor McCay Award is presented for lifetime achievement in the field.

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