I must admit it's pretty amazing to find newspaper or magazine articles about unicorns,
but every now and then one shows up. And I'm not talking about tabloids here either.
This was an article in the Montreal Gazette, a front page article, from several years ago. I'm not sure of the date because I had cut it off.
October is Unicorn Questing Month
In search of a one-horned medieval symbol of purity
by Mark Abley
"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness," a poet once called it. Today we know it was
a month of pumpkins and red trees, Thanksgiving and the World Series.
But October has other meanings, too. Just ask Bill Rabe.
A retired public-relations man, he lives in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., just a stone's
throw away from Canada. At 70, he's reached an age when a lot of men slow down.
Not Bill Rabe. For him, January brings Dancing Cuckoo Week, June means World
Sauntering Day, and July had the Mackinac Island Stone Skipping Tournament.
But Rabe's year is crowned by October. For on Mackinac Island, not far from Sault
Ste. Marie, October is Unicorn Questing Month.
Be warned: a quest is not the same thing as a hunt.
"Only thing you can hunt on the island is a squirrel," Rabe says. "Of course, a deer
will swim over from the mainland sometimes."
And couldn't deer be related to the fabulous unicorn?
"Not at all," Rabe retorts. "Deer have got too many horns."
A unicorn, you'll remember, has only one horn, growing proudly in the middle of its
pale forehead. Unicorns have been rumored to exist for millennia - the Bible contains a
few references to them - but nobody ever suceeded in capturing one. In the Middle Ages,
the unicorn became a symbol of purity, often linked to virginity.
Unicorns also were a symbol of truth: "If you stood in front of a unicorn and you
were guilty," Rabe says, "he would shish-kebab you."
Now in the forests of Mackinac Island, during the first 11 days of October, Unicorn
Questing Season is reserved for people with bows and arrows. At other times, Rabe's
official licenses say, questing devices may include general levity, iambic pentameter and
The season culminates in Unicorn Follies, a weekend of revelry at the Grand Hotel. A
four-storey building, built in 1887, it lives up to its name: the hotel has more than 300
rooms and 500 staff.
The follies begin with a cocktail party at which questing licenses are issued, new
members welcomed, and everybody listens to a tape of the Irish Rovers droning on about
unicorns. When enough rusty nails and brown cows have been imbibed, in walks a fair maiden
with a unicorn on her arm.
"The unicorn is my son James," Rabe explains. "He's 22, and he'll do anything to wear
a tuxedo. So he gets dressed up in a white tie and tails, and then he puts on a rubber
James Rabe and his rubber mask reappear at the costume ball. One year a bush and quail
showed up; another year, two people came disguised as Hershey bars.
"At the bottom of her costume," Bill Rabe recalls, "the woman wore a little sign: NO
To wash down the drinks, there's a lavish buffet, for which the hotel chef carves a
meter-long unicorn out of ice. You don't have to worry about drinking and driving, because
Mackinac Island has no cars.
When the guests have dispersed, Rabe returns to Sault Ste. Marie. But he doesn't just
wait for Dancing Cuckoo Week; all year long, he does publicity for the unicorn.
Since the Unicorn Questers were born 21 years ago, Rabe has given out more than 80,000
licenses. A unicorn also appears in the seal of his Sons of the Desert Society.
The Sons of the Desert, in case you were wondering, are devoted to Laurel and Hardy
films. In Rabe's mind, if no one else's, they're associated with Hush Labels, which
produces silent records.
Back to the unicorn. "It's a symbol of the impossible dream," Rabe says. "It's a
symbol of why man is here. It's a symbol of the meaning of life."
And what is the meaning of life?
Well, if you want to join the Unicorn Questing Society, you have to swear the following
oath: "I was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world is mad."
This year's edition of Unicorn Follies has been sold out for weeks. If you'd like to go
next year, be ready to fork out about $500 U.S. a couple per weekend.
For more information, write:
W.T. Rabe, 1204 Davitt, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. 49783, U.S.A.
This was reprinted without permission. Another disclaimer is about the info at the end, it may no longer be accurate due to the unknown date of the article.