Madonna seems to be having a renaissance this year. Whether it’s dominating the Hawkins, Indiana airwaves in the latest season of Stranger Things, or blowing away present-day audiences on her Madame X tour, Madge, who is a mind-boggling 61 years old, continues to stay front and center.
With 2019 being the year that Madonna hops back on our collective radar, it seems like a timely moment to explore Bay City, Michigan, where she was born, and happens to be only a few hours away from Indianapolis.
While many artists such as Prince and Elvis defined themselves by their birthplaces, Madonna unapologetically distanced herself from hers. Admittedly, she has a complicated relationship with Bay City, which she famously called “a smelly little town” in a 1987 interview with Jane Pauley.
Though Madonna grew up in Rochester Hills, she spent a lot of time in Bay City visiting her grandparents. In fact, This Used to Be My Playground is allegedly about Bay City, not female baseball players. But the town never fully embraced her, and there was a whole fiasco that went down when the mayor planned to give her the key to the city, then took it back. (More on that later.) Long story short, there’s tension, and nobody’s clamoring to build the Madonna version of Graceland—especially not Madonna. But really, who needs hefty admission prices, long lines, and a gift shop we have plenty of sites right at our fingertips? Not us!
So without further ado, let’s plug our noses and head to Bay City to earn our Madge Badge.
“…let’s plug our noses and head to Bay City to earn our Madge Badge.”
Mercy Hospital (or at least, what was Mercy Hospital), 100 15th St., Bay City
This is where the magic happened! It wasn’t planned for Madonna to enter this world in Bay City. Madonna’s parents, Madonna Louise, Senior (AKA Nonni) and Tony Ciccone, happened to be in town visiting her maternal grandparents when Baby Madge came knocking. And on August 16, 1958, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone—always one to do things on her own terms—was born at Mercy Hospital. And Bay City angels sang on high—until they didn’t. Mercy Hospital has since been demolished and replaced by an apartment unit called The Bradley House. But homage is homage, so don’t let that stop you from lighting those prayer candles if you feel so compelled.
Calvary Cemetery, 2977 Old Kawkawlin Road, Kawkawlin
Madonna’s mother’s grave
If you’re going to Bay City, you’d best pay your damned respects to the woman who gave us the Queen of Pop. Nonni passed away from breast cancer when Madge was only 5 years old. Over the years, Madonna has attributed much of her grit to the fact that she lost her mother at such an early age. And if you aren’t familiar with the scene in Truth or Dare where Madonna visits her mother’s final resting place, we highly recommend you do so. It’s a heart-clutcher.
City Hall, 301 Washington Ave., Bay City
Home of the “key” controversy
Ah, Bay City giveth. Bay City taketh away. After Madonna’s initial success, former Mayor Tim Sullivan decided to host a free concert in the town square and give her a key to the city. Then unauthorized nude photos of her appeared in Penthouse magazine. Pearls were clutched. The concert was canceled, and the key was taken away faster than you can say Ciccone v. Guccione. Needless to say, she was not happy, and a long-standing rift resulted.
Casa Fortin, 1204 Smith St., Bay City
Madonna’s grandparents’ home
Elsie Fortin, Madge’s grandmother with whom she was very close, helped raise the Ciconne kids, so Madonna spent a lot of time at this modest home growing up—and also visited quite often as an adult. The home is located right across from a former Dow Chemical plant, which probably went a long way toward the “smelliness” Madonna referred to in that interview. Elsie Fortin passed away in 2011, so it’s unlikely you’ll catch a glimpse of Madge making a visit. But you can still pay due respect. One of your Indy Maven co-founders stopped to “Vogue” in front of the house a couple of years ago; the current residents pulled back the curtain, shrugged, then went back to what they were doing. They’re used to it.
Ciccone Vineyard & Winery, 10343 Hilltop Road, Suttons Bay
Madonna’s dad’s winery
Tony Ciccone is living his best life as an owner of a vineyard, where he has been making wine since 1995. Although the winery is not in Bay City, it’s probably worth the drive to head a couple hours north to Traverse City. There, you can drink some estate-grown varietals, enjoy a view of the Grand Traverse Bay, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get to chat up Tony and his wife, Joan. As of now, they don’t have any wines named after Madonna (special editions were created in 2005), though they do have one called Cassie, named after an Australian Shepherd.
Tall Ship Celebration in Bay City courtesy of Great Lakes Bay Regional CVB
Ciccone Vineyards courtesy of Traverse City Toursim