It’s hard to put into words how Tip Up Town USA has come to be the very description of winter fun and enjoyment for the whole family at Houghton Lake.
Thousands of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and neighboring residents return each year to see this largest Winter Festival in Michigan, held annually the last two weekends in January.
It all began in February 1951, when community minded persons realized that Houghton Lake, which produces great ice-fishing, was literally a ‘Community on the Ice’ each winter. Two local businessmen, Bob Sweet and Bob Carmen, conceived the idea of creating a little fun on the ice to relieve the long winter months, and by which they might attract more tourism to the area during the off season.
A nation-wide contest to name the ‘Winter Festival’ as it was then being called, drew more than 500 entries. The contest judges eventually chose ‘Tip Up Town USA’ as its name. Tip Up Town USA is now a Trademark of Houghton Lake Chamber of Commerce registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Electing Tip Up Town USA Mayors, Marshals, Queens and observing different political parties in action, has always created exciting community participants.
The campaigning of the candidates comes complete with speeches, bands, small parades and crazy costumes. Section 3 of the By Laws of TUT USA clearly states that ‘the purpose of the village on the ice is to promote bigger lies, hilarity, tom foolery and good will.’
The earlier festivals were financed for the most part by the sale of advertising and listings in a program book. Starting in 1953, the sales of TUT USA badges, made of wood, for 50 cents, became a tradition that has continued through to this current year. However, the wooden badges have been replaced by badges now made of metal and selling for $6.00. The sale of these badges brings the greatest revenue to finance this event. Collecting these badges and acquiring the earlier ‘wooden’ badges had become quite a spreading hobby for young and old alike. The badge is necessary to participate in the FUN and GAMES.
Several weeks prior to the festival, a TUT Kick-off Program is held, where the candidates for Queen, Mayor and Marshal complete their many campaigns and exhibitions for office, followed by an election ballot.
A special ‘Medallion’ is manufactured each year and hidden somewhere in the local area on public access land. A contest is held to find it using special ‘Clues’ given out each day until the medallion is found. A prize is given to the clever person able to decipher the clues and successfully locate the medallion.
A Grand Parade opens the festival activities on Saturday of the first weekend at 10:00am. The Grand Parade travels east from the Houghton Lake Heights along M-55 and ends up at the TUT USA site, where clowns, games, contests, concessions, cavorting, demonstrations and aerial performances are part of the feverish activity.
A spectacular Fireworks display over the ice in front of the TUT USA site begins at dusk on both Saturday evenings of the festival.
Sunday mornings, a non-denominational Church Service is held at the TUT USA site to start off the day of family activities.
For more than 20 years, TUT USA has been acclaimed among the top ten festivals in the nation. In 1963, the United States Chamber of Commerce acclaimed it the seventh largest winter activity in the month of January in the United States.
Approximately 80,000 people turned out during the past festivals to enjoy the results of hundreds of hours work put in by individual volunteers and various community committees.