Interview with Author Jacki Howard


The reaction to our review of Thumb Pointed Fingers last month was overwhelming. There still is intense interest about this true Michigan murder mystery. I was surprised on the number of people who mentioned that their grandfather or uncle was involved as a juror or in law enforcement. The tragic murders of four family members of the Sparling family near Tyre in the early 1900’s still resonates in the thumb today.

I reached out to the author Jacki Howard to see what she has done since the book was published 10 years ago. She is still involved with the book but life has moved on. Like so many in the Thumb region, we are distant cousins. While we have never personally met, we found common ground with our interest in the “Dying Sparlings” Here is our exchange.

The Sparling murders happened over 100 years ago, what got you interested in this topic to write the book?

Jacki:  “I never intended to write a book – just wanted to get answers which led to myriads of papers and the best way to compile seemed to put them into book form. I do not consider myself an author – I just told a story with what information I could gather.  I am happy to say that many people now know what the Thumb of Michigan is all about.”


How much has the book sold since publishing in 2008?

Jacki: “So far I’ve sold a bit over 3,000 copies (into the 5th printing) and have been amazed that it still draws interest.  It has been a wild and wonderful ride – one I never dreamed of.”


One element in the book was the doctor’s assertion that the victims had syphilis. At the time, this disease was untreatable. What outstanding questions do you have that are still unanswered?

Jacki: “My great-grandpa (Big Pete) said, “None of them had syphilis”.  I read that symptoms for this disease also mimicked other diseases so perhaps it was true that none had ‘bad blood’.  It was your great grandfather (George) who told me in a dream, “don’t go there” and that was before I really got started!  So, I never knew what he meant. I just wish I had the final proof of who, how, and especially why.  I’ve had people contact me that were kin to some of the attorneys, jurors, neighbors etc.”

Has it changed your life? Are you looking a writing a sequel to Thumb Pointed Fingers?

Jacki: “I would follow through with a smaller version if I ever found proof positive.  Since the book first came out, I have done several presentations and have been honored to conduct book studies. Otherwise, life has returned to normal.” 


You painted a picture of what life was like in the few years before the auto took off. The constant chores, dealing with horses, time of travel, the garden, putting up canned goods, etc. What inspired you with those vivid descriptions? Where did you get your insight to life in the early 1900’s?

Jacki: “As far as trying to relay information regarding those days, I used articles from the Bad Axe paper from the early 1900s and my Uncle Carl gave me priceless info on farming as well.  I have a few memories of being at my grandma Sparling’s farm so those were ingrained in me.  Who knows?  My grandma Sparling’s diary from 1915 gave me huge insight into farm life at that time. She never knew that her day-to-day ‘blogs’ would be used in 2008.

Things I used from these newspapers were not only world events, but state and local as well.  Newspapers also carried what might now be called gossip columns although they really weren’t gossip – just news from the different small communities – mostly in Huron County. There were also ads that helped me get in (and stay in) the period.  Every time I went to the basement (where I worked) I re-read several pages from the previous writing to get me back to the past.”

What is one amazing thing that you did not reveal in the book?

Jackie: “I was told by your great-aunt that your paternal grandmother was a nurse and was told by a doctor that they had Peter’s brain for study.  When I tried to follow up, it went cold – fast.”


Your book is not sold online but is still in print. Where can I get another copy?

Jackie: “I am the sole distributor, although Ace Hardware in Bad Axe and the Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse Gift Shop carry copies.  At one time Main Street Mercantile in Bad Axe also had them, maybe they still do. The books website; has the ability to order direct from me. “

I do have one follow up question. Do you have any plans to visit the Upper Thumb in 2018?

Jackie: “As of now, I have no plans to come ‘home’ in 2018 but that could always change.  We just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary and our way to celebrate will be a trip to Alaska in August.  We have not been big travelers so this is huge.  But I never say never, so a trip to the Upper Thumb could happen and I’ll let you know if it comes to be. Thank you again for the support.  It means more than you might know.

About Jacki Howard, Author of Thumb Pointed Fingers


I was born in Detroit, Michigan to Verl and Aimee Sparling.  Throughout my youth, I lived in Detroit, Ferndale, and Owosso.  As a child, summer vacations were always spent in the “Thumb” and to this day I feel emotionally drawn to the area.  I still have family in Michigan and it will always be home to me.

For as long as I can remember, my relatives told stories about the “Dying Sparlings.”  This unsolved mystery has puzzled me since childhood and I’ve always wanted answers.  I never even considered writing a book, but the opportunity to combine my love of family history and historical research appealed to me.

This is my first book.  I also enjoy reading, volunteer work, playing the piano, and especially being a proud wife, mother and grandmother.  I currently reside in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with my husband, Bob.


Five Overlooked Michigan Food Companies

It’s gotten ridiculous.

Go online and look up “Michigan Foods” and the same names pop up over and over; Faygo Pop, Better Made Chips and Vernors Ginger Ale. While these are fine examples of Michigan food that we love that list is far from complete. 

In our effort to be eclectic we offer these five outstanding, yet typically overlooked, Michigan food companies each with their specialties that are not to be missed.

Brede Foods – Detroit

Brede Foods HorseradishIf you use horseradish, there is a fair chance that you have one of Brede Foods products in your refrigerator right now. Known first for their horseradish, Brede Foods also has an award-winning cocktail sauce. They also have mustard, grilling and tartar sauces. They offer a private label service for those who wish to market their own special recipe. Brede’s also offers Orthodox Union Kosher Certification.

Brede Foods is family owned and operated and has been since its founding in 1923. In 1923 Edwin Brede began distributing sauces and condiments for a major food manufacturer. As the Great Depression of the 30’s took its toll on the economy, he turned to food manufacturing to supplement his income. Brede, Inc. originally sat on the site that Cobo Hall presently occupies in downtown Detroit, Michigan.

Sea Fare Foods – Detroit

Ma Cohen's Creamed Herring

Sea Fare Foods was established in 1959 by Solomon Abraham Lincoln Sack, known affectionately to his friends and family as Linc. Lincoln’s father, William, had worked as a ‘jobber’ in the herring industry through all of Lincoln’s childhood and adolescence. A jobber was basically slang for a distributor. Willy would spend part of the year in Scotland with suppliers, and the other part in New York, working with buyers. He would eventually lose his business when several buyers did not repay the credit lent to them.

Sea Fare Foods was born in Detroit Michigan. The original plant was at Fort and Green streets, in front of the railroad tracks, which was how the fish was delivered at that time. They are known for their creamed herring, smoked trout and lox under the Ma Cohen’s brand.

Sanders & Morley Candy Makers – Clinton Township

Morley's Candy Sanders Cakes

Morley Candy Company or Morley Candy Makers is a confectioner based in Clinton Township, Michigan. The company, founded in 1919, is famous for its peanut butter blocks and assorted chocolates. Morley Candy owns and markets the Sanders Confectionery line, which is famous for its Bumpy Cakes, sundae topping and ice cream, particularly in and around Detroit, Michigan. Michigan school children often sell Morley Candy for school fundraisers.

One story of note tells that President Bush stopped by the candy factory on his way to a fundraiser to purchase their famous fudge sundae topping.

Downey’s Original Potato Chips – Waterford

Downey's Potato ChipsThis is a hometown favorite for me. Since 1984 this little potato chip company has been producing its famous kettle chips in Waterford. Unlike most kettle chips this unique chip is light and has a great flavor from its peanut oil blend. They use locally grown Michigan potatoes and are cooked and hand seasoned daily. Hard to find. Look for them in gourmet groceries.

If your near Waterford you can stop in their retail store and purchase their slightly burned chips in bulk.

County Smoke House – Almont

Country Smoke House buffalo-mild-salami

The Country Smoke House started in 1988 with processing deer from their garage in the tiny town of Almont, Michigan. The hobby turned into a viable business in 1991 when a “deer shop” was constructed north of Almont on M-53 were the company resides today.

In the new facility, deer processing, along with homemade venison sausage and jerky, was offered to our customers. Today, Country Smoke House is the largest deer processor in Michigan, attributing it to the popularity of homemade smoked sausages and jerky.
Today, Country Smoke House continues to grow and has become a Michigan destination. Tourists from around the world stop by for a picture with their giant 20 foot tall steer, smoking BBQ cabin, and rustic log cabin store.





Paddle Turnip Rock – Five Things to Know

Turnip Rock is an Easy Paddle

One of the most amazing sites in the Upper Thumb is Turnip Rock. Carved over time by the force of constant wave action the soft limestone has been shaped to its namesake and separated from the mainland over thousands of years. CNN called it one of the Most Amazing Rock Formations in America and Pure Michigan featured it on it’s 2016 magazine cover. International travelers coming into Detroit Metropolitan Airport see Turnip Rock as their first view of Michigan’s wonder scenes coming into customs. It’s a marvel to behold and it’s an easy trip if the conditions are right.

This small guide offers a local point of view to avoid problems with the local law enforcement and property owners while being able to enjoy a unique natural wonder.

Paddle to Turnip Rock Port Austin Michigan

Turnip Rock is on Private Land

Despite its uniqueness as a natural wonder is located and surrounded by private land. Thus the only way to access it is from the water. Fortunately that can easily be achieved by canoe or kayak. This means that you can’t go feet dry. Stay in the water. If you must get out of our kayak stay as close to waters edge as possible. (Unless its an emergency)

Paddling  Near the Rock on Busy Weekends

During the weekends the number of paddlers can get quite large. If the area around the rock is crowded consider paddling a few hundred yards past and view the overhangs and cave features that border the Pointe Aux Barques community.  During the late 1800’s the cave were hideouts for fugitives. It’s worth taking a few minutes to explore.  You may be tempted to get out of your kayak and climb the rocks for a view. This is a no-no and there are several signs reminding not to trespass. (IMHO these signs are obtrusive, and possibly illegal as they are posted under the high water mark of Lake Huron)

Pointe Aux Barques Caves

Heed Weather and Travel Time

Plan on 2-3 hours total travel time to Turnip Rock from Port Austin. This assumes that the winds and lake are calm. You will paddle north-east along the shallow coastline until you see the small cliffs that mark the start of Pointe Aux Barques. If the wind is strong and the there are waves it’s a wise idea to defer to another day. Novice paddlers have been pushed by southern winds out into the lake requiring assistance or rescue.

Can I Climb on Turnip and Fingernail Rocks?

Despite numerous YouTube and other postings showing people climbing all over the rock formation, you are urged to not imbibe. The shore formations above the high water mark is private land. People have been hurt trying to climb it and arrested for trespass. Also the limestone is rather fragile and prone to breakage and collapse. The best way to mark your visit is to capture the rock formation with digital photos of you and your peeps in unique light and weather. Stay wet and wild and get a great shot from the water.   

Turnip Rock what to Bring

What to Bring on Board

Life jacket, Sunglasses, sunscreen, small towel, cell phone and a dry bag. Bring water and something to munch on. Water shoes are also highly recommended. It’s not a strenuous trip but winds and weather can make it a challenge for the unprepared.

Leave No Trace

Leaving no trace is everyone’s responsibility. While paddling to the rock remember to minimize your impact so it can be enjoyed for the next generation. Here are the seven principles of Leave No Trace.

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare. …
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces. …
  • Dispose of Waste Properly (Pack It In, Pack It Out) …
  • Leave What You Find. …
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts. …
  • Respect Wildlife. …
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors.


The Oldest Coney Island in Michigan

The Detroit Coney

Lafayette and American Coney Island

Today we take a road trip from the Thumb region to visit our youngest at Western Michigan University. It also gives us a chance to explore a uniquely Michigan experience the Coney Island Hot Dog. Open just about any foodie magazine or Google about about Coney’s in Michigan and chances are you will stumble onto voluminous articles and posts discussing the back-to-back Detroit standbys of American and Lafayette Coney Islands. Local legend tells that theses two hot dog stands emerged out of disagreement between two partners. However rather then locating far away from each other the former partner ended up next door. A rivalry was born.

Enough About Detroit Coneys Already

Lafayette Coney Island

I’ll admit I’m a big Lafayette and American fan. If we are in Detroit I’ll stop in. Just about every food writer in Michigan seems to place these two Detroit stands into the obligatory #1, #2 in best coney dog contests. Despite these perennial rankings many folks are amazed to learn that there are actually three tasty versions of the Michigan Coney; the Detroit, the Flint and the Jackson styles.

Want the Original Coney? Go to Detroit and Head West!

Coney Island Kalamazoo

It seems to be universally accepted that the first Michigan Coney was created in Jackson by George Todoroff in 1914. His Jackson Coney Island restaurant was located in front of the Jackson Train Station on East Michigan Avenue. It closed when his son, who was running the restaurant, was drafted into World War II. It surprises many folks to learn that the oldest continuously operating Coney Island in Michigan belongs to Coney Island Kalamazoo. They opened their doors in 1915 and it has been running ever since. Its location downtown makes for a busy lunch crowd.

The Kalamazoo Coney

Kalamazoo Coney Island

The mildly spicy low moisture Jackson style coney “sauce” is more like an open loose burger on top of natural casing hot dog. The meat spices have the obligatory garlic and chili powder but there are also hints of celery salt, turmeric and even the exotically expensive saffron. I asked one of the cooks about the spice mixture. She said that it comes pre-ground in a small stainless container for each batch and it’s a closely guarded secret. Topped with onions and mustard on a steamed bun. It didn’t last long.

Keep the Coney Rivalry Going

Coney Island Kalamazoo Cooking

In our post about Unique Michigan Foods You Have to Try , I did get some hate email about our love for the Western Michigan version of the Coney dog. We stand by our tasty assessment and point out that the Kalamazoo Coney Dog doesn’t follow you around all afternoon, if you know what I mean. I say keep the dogs cooking and try to improve an original. Pass the mustard.

Coney Island Kalamazoo Entry


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