Great Lakes Now Presents

Episode 2204: Mushrooms and Mobsters

A giant fungus in a tiny Great Lakes town, gangsters vacation “Up North,” and “The Catch.”


Mushrooms and Mobsters – Episode 2204


A massive mushroom puts the tiny town of Crystal Falls, MI on the map, a look back at where Great Lakes gangsters vacationed “Up North,”  and “The Catch” offers up bite-sized news about the lakes you love.






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Premieres on DPTV

Wednesday, April 27, at 7:30 PM


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In the Month of April on Great Lakes Now

Click the tabs to read descriptions of each feature in Episode 2204.

When Crystal Falls, Michigan’s massive fungus was discovered in 1992 it got a lot of atttention in the media and in the scientific community.

Watch The Feature

The Humongous Fungus That Took Over a Town

SEGMENT 1 | Crystal Falls, MI

Mushrooms can appear as if by magic, but what you see popping up on your lawn is just the fruiting body. This “fruit” actually comes from an underground network of fungus called mycelium—and these fungal networks can be huge.

Crystal Falls, a quaint community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is home to one of the largest fungi on the planet. 

In 1992, the residents of Crystal Falls found out they had a remarkable, gigantic, nearly-invisible neighbor after scientist and forest pathologist Johann Bruhn made the remarkable discovery. 

Bruhn, along with fellow scientists Jim Anderson and Myron Smith, are featured in a documentary about the giant mushroom aptly titled “The Humongous Fungus Among Us.” 

Along with highlighting the scientific significance of the Crystal Falls’ fungal resident, the film also showcases community members like Jeff Syrjanen, who was president of the Crystal Falls Business Association when the giant fungus was discovered. 

The documentary was created by filmmaker and Crystal Falls native Tim Warmanen, who says the fungus has become a key piece of his hometown’s identity. The film made its PBS debut on WNMU-TV in Marquette, Michigan earlier this year.


Here is other Great Lakes Now work on food and nature: 

Great Grapes: Soil and climate have made the Great Lakes a top wine-producing area

Farm Protection: Ontario invests in projects to help farms improve Great Lakes water quality

The Age of Nature: Humanity’s relationship with nature in the Great Lakes region and beyond

Great Lakes gangster Jack Livingston’s sentencing made the cover of the Clare County Cleaver.

Watch The Feature

Gangsters On Holiday

SEGMENT 2 | Clare, MI

Every year thousands of people living in the Great Lakes region head Up North for vacation and weekend getaways. That includes people of all stripes, even gangsters, a history professor has chronicled.

Robert Knapp was digging through an old stack of newspapers at a yard sale and came across a story that caught his attention: the murder of a mob attorney in 1938 at a hotel bar in Clare, Michigan. The professor kept digging and found evidence of several gangsters spending time Up North. Some came up to vacation and get away from the pressures of running a criminal operation in Detroit or Cleveland. But, others came north to do a little business on the side.

That business included illegal gambling and liquor operations. But an even bigger draw was oil after it was discovered in Michigan in 1925. Mobsters saw an opportunity. They could easily launder dirty money through an oil-pumping business.

Oil wells controlled by the mob began springing up all around Clare, Midland and Saginaw. It was a booming business, and the locals didn’t seem to mind that nefarious gangsters were hanging around their towns. They didn’t cause any trouble and made sure that key law enforcement authorities were paid to look the other way.

Famous criminals such as Dillinger, Capone and Meyer Lansky visited Michigan at various times. Their presence birthed many tall tales about secret tunnels, criminal hideouts and kidnappings. Local tourist attractions cashed in on the myths and mystique of gangsters being spotted in their black Cadillacs cruising through many small towns.

But, are all those legendary stories really true? In the book “Gangsters Up North,” professor Knapp, a native of Clare, details the many sordid tales of mobster activity in Michigan in the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s. The book separates fact from a lot of fiction and sets the record straight about what really happened many years ago.


Here is other Great Lakes Now work on Great Lakes recreation: 

Lakeside Gentrification: Waterfront properties and water access grow steadily further out of reach

Michigan parks, more popular than ever, struggle to staff up for summer

Surfing the Great Lakes: ‘What? People do that here?

Pollen season is getting worse as climate change intensifies.

Watch The Feature

The Catch: News about the Lakes You Love

SEGMENT 3 | Ann Arbor, MI; Toledo, OH; Traverse City, MI

Keep up with the Great Lakes’ biggest issues. Find out how environmental challenges are impacting your enjoyment of the outdoors and the health of the ecosystem. Go beyond the headlines with reporters from around the region.

This new segment – The Catch – in our award-winning PBS program will keep you in the know. This month: pollen season and climate change, Great Lakes legislation and tribal fishing rights.

Atmospheric scientist Allison Steiner of the University of Michigan discusses a new study she and others recently published about the impacts of climate change on pollen season in the Great Lakes region and beyond. In short, if you already suffer from allergies, prepare for things to get worse in the coming years.

Toledo Blade environmental reporter Tom Henry is following a story about newly introduced legislation from U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur. The Ohio lawmaker, along with eight other House Democrats are pushing for a multifaceted boost for the region called the Great Lakes Authority.

Sierra Clark is an Anishinaabe journalist with the Traverse City Record-Eagle. She has been following the issue of harassment of tribal fishermen in the Great Lakes. Clark says this is not something new in the state of Michigan nor in neighboring states such as Wisconsin and Minnesota despite legal reaffirmation of tribal fishing rights.


Here is other Great Lakes Now work on issues reported in this month’s “The Catch”: 

Bugs, Shorter Winters, Climate: Great Lakes vineyards face changing circumstances

Legislation introduced for Great Lakes Authority, a new federal entity for the Great Lakes region

Native Rights: Where Great Lakes Tribes can fish and how much is up for debate

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