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My Love of Lighthouses – Part 2

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For Part 1 of this post, please visit: https://imnotstalkingyou.com/2014/08/05/my-love-of-lighthouses-part-1/

Pretty standard picture you will see on postcards and mugs of Point Betsie Lighthouse.

Pretty standard picture you will see on postcards and mugs of Point Betsie Lighthouse.

After the first two excursions, my mom, and later my husband, would feed my enthusiasm for lighthouses of the Great Lakes. Whenever there was one on the way to our destination (which can happen surprisingly often when traveling in Michigan), they would let me stop. I also got a book that listed all the Michigan Lighthouses and how to reach them. This was very handy in the days before the Internet and Google.

That is how my future husband and I managed to find Point Betsie, one of the most photographed lighthouses.

I wondered how it could be the most photographed when it is not the easiest to find. We had to turn down a little unmarked road. Where we turned, we could not even see that Lake Michigan was ahead of us. Point Betsie was still active and run by the Coast Guard when we visited in 1998. This meant there were no signs screaming “Hey, must see tourism attraction here!”, because the Coast Guard didn’t want any. The road ended at the lake, where a make-shift sand parking lot had been created from all the lighthouse buffs driving over and killing the sea grass.

Once again, I desperately wanted to go inside. But there were signs posted all over stating “Coast Guard Property. No Trespassing.” It made it more difficult to bear by the fact that Coast Guard employees seemed to be living in the keeper’s house and coming and going.  How great would it be to LIVE in a lighthouse!  (Nowadays I mean, where the work is minimal.  I wouldn’t have wanted to schlep oil up and down the stairs on a cold Michigan night.)

My future husband knew this was killing me. He knew I would never disobey the signs. Not on my own, anyway. So, he went over to the lighthouse first. He stood by the tower. I took pictures of him. He kept egging me on until I stood by the tower so that he could take my picture. All the pictures you ever see of Point Betsie (postcards, calendars, mugs, etc.) are from the south side. But I have some from the north side, that totally prove my guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt. But it was so much fun!

The naughty, totally trespassing side of Point Betsie.

The naughty, totally trespassing side of Point Betsie.

And Point Betsie really is a beautiful lighthouse. But I still think Marblehead is more picturesque.

My husband so let me indulge in my lighthouse obsession that I turned our honeymoon into a lighthouse tour of Michigan. Not only did I make him stop at every other lighthouse (and even a few range lights) on the way to the Upper Penninsula, but we actually spent three nights at the Big Bay Point Lighthouse, which was one of only two lighthouses in Michigan at the time that served as a bed and breakfast.

Big Bay Point Lighthouse, Big Bay, Michigan.  My husband and I stayed on the second floor, in the window on the left in this pic.

Big Bay Point Lighthouse, Big Bay, Michigan. My husband and I stayed on the second floor, in the window on the left in this pic.

It was awesome!

It still an actual working beacon maintained by the Coast Guard. But you can crawl all over the tower and lamp room. The first night my husband got to see the Aurora Borealis from the tower. I stayed in our room because I was too exhausted to climb all those steps and the tiny rung ladder again.

To this day, I still have not seen the aurora borealis 😦

From the front.  Most publicity pics are from the side.

Big Bay from the front. Most publicity pics are from the side.

It was so cool to know that a working lighthouse was beaming out across Lake Superior as we slept. The second night, it was too foggy to see much at night. The third night, we could almost make out the surrounding lighthouses flashes in the night. One night we sat in the parlor/library with some of the other guests. My husband drank coffee, I had hot cider. While other people took normal books off the shelf to browse, I selected the giant white binder on lighthouse preservation. The whole first half of the book was about how to stabilize your structure and prevent further damage from the elements and vandals while you tried to get funding to restore it.  I felt like I had found secret insider information that I was not meant to see as a paying guest.

During our stay, my husband and I also got a couple’s massage in a screened hut on the edge of Lake Superior. The waves crashed below us against the cliff. It was awesome.

I could go on and on about lighthouses. I would love to make a whole page of my blog be photos of lighthouses I have been to. But that would probably eat up too much storage space. But that doesn’t mean I still won’t do it someday.

Looking at the book I have, Michigan Lighthouses by Penrose, published in 1996, it strikes me how the authors are lamenting over structures that have been ignored for decades and are about to crumble when the next seagull perches. But, interest in lighthouses has only increased. The cries of the Penrose family, and others, has indeed raised awareness in recent years.

When my husband and I stayed in Big Bay Point Lighthouse, it was a rare opportunity. Nowadays, it is becoming common. I mentioned that when I visited Point Betsie, it was a Coast Guard residence. Now you can rent the whole place out for yourself. The keepers house for the Charity Island light was literally being ripped apart piece by piece for firewood by campers. It has since been rebuilt and is also a rental.  There are more towers open to the public to climb as well.

To the best of my recollection, this is a list of the lighthouses that I have seen firsthand:

LAKE ERIE
Marblehead Lighthouse*
Old Port Clinton
Turtle Island
South Bass Island

LAKE HURON
Tawas Point
Old Presque Isle*
New Presque Isle*
Presque Isle Front Range
Forty Mile Point
Cheboygan Crib
Bois Blanc Island
Round Island
Round Island Passage
Old Mackinac Point*

LAKE SUPERIOR
Whitefish Point Light and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
End of the Road Front Range
End of the Road Rear Range
Munising Rear Range
Munising Front Range
Marquette Harbor Light
Presque Isle Harbor (Marquette)
Point Iroquois**
Big Bay Point*

LAKE MICHIGAN
St. Helena Island
Old Mission Point
Grand Traverse*
Charlevoix South Pier
Manning Memorial
Point Betsie
Frankfort Breakwater
Ludington North Pierhead
Holland Harbor
Manitowac

LAKE WINNEBAGO
Fond du Lac*

ATLANTIC OCEAN
2nd Cape Henry
1st Cape Henry

* Tower climbed.
** Tower climbed while I was pregnant. That should totally mean extra bonus points.

My Love of Lighthouses – Part 1

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Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, Presque Isle, Michigan

Me at Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, Presque Isle, Michigan.  See how excited I am!?

I had never given much thought to lighthouses. I had never seen one, and had no desire to.

Then when I was eight my mom took us on a trip Up North (that is how people from southern Michigan refer to any point north of Grayling). Our destinations included Mackinaw City, Sault Ste. Marie, and Tahquamenon Falls. But we also were stopping anywhere along the way that caught our eye. We were heading north at a leisurely pace on US 23, which hugs the Lake Huron shoreline.

We had just passed through Alpena (a town whose name still makes me giggle) and were headed up to Rogers City. (How nice. Roger has a whole city all to himself.) On the way, we saw an old, weather-beaten billboard alongside the road that boasted tours of a real lighthouse. We made the quick decision to check it out.

We drove on a tiny winding road through the woods for what seemed like forever. Every turn did not bring us to a great lake or tall light, only more trees. It felt we were in an episode of Scooby Doo. I expected a green monster in ratty clothes to step out of the thick woods in front of us at any minute. Except we were not in a multi-color van, but a silver Chevrolet Chevette 2 door hatchback. If we had hit one of those monsters, it would have destroyed our tiny car.

The Creeper from Scooby-Doo

The Creeper from Scooby-Doo

There were a few turns that were not well marked, but we must have gone the right way because we eventually came to a parking lot. Instead of yellow lines marking out the spaces, there were trees between the cars. You had to park just right, so that you could still get your doors open. The cool day must have warmed by that point, because I changed out of my jeans and into my shorts while we were still in the car. There were other cars there, but no people at the moment. My mom acted as a look-out. We were still under the dark cloak of the forest. But the sun could be seen to the south of us.

We walked toward the light. We found ourselves in a big grassy clearing, with Lake Huron stretching out to the east. Between us and the great lake, lay a brick house painted white. Next to it, a white stone tower. That would be the first time I would ever lay eyes on a lighthouse.

Inside there was an elderly man and woman who seemed to be running the show. They had a few souvenirs for purchase, and collected any money required to go up into the tower, details that I cannot remember. The man was also giving out rocks from the beach. He stamped them all so that they said “Old Presque Isle Lighthouse”. The rocks were free. I found him a little scary at the time. I grew up with very few males in my life. Even though he looked old and grizzled, he kindly showed me where my rock had a tiny fossil on the corner (If rocks can have corners).

Then I went up in the tower. It was a relatively short lighthouse, standing only 30 feet tall, but one of the oldest surviving lighthouses on the Great Lakes. And it was plenty tall enough for the view to be impressive to an eight year old.

View in the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, return visit 2003.

View in the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, return visit 2003.

While not a big fan of history, from that day on I was hooked on lighthouses. I wanted to see all of them that I could, but I also wanted to climb as many as I could. I didn’t even know at that time that I could do better than that.

Only after we got back home, did we discover there was an even taller New Presque Isle Lighthouse just a mile down the road. Although I would take many more trips Up North, it would take me almost 20 years to get back and climb the 113 foot tower of New Presque Isle Lighthouse, tallest lighthouse on the Great Lakes that can be climbed by the public.

In the years since, I found out that the elderly gentleman, George Parris died in 1991, and is said to haunt the Old Presque Isle lighthouse. I saw the story on a PBS special. It is kind of cool to have met someone who is now a ghost. Maybe I was on to something with my earlier Scooby Doo analogy.

Marblehead Lighthouse, Marblehead, Ohio

Marblehead Lighthouse, Marblehead, Ohio.  The most beautiful lighthouse I have ever laid eyes on.

My mom and I also went with my grandma to Marblehead, Ohio to see the lighthouse there. Marblehead Lighthouse looks the most like the idyllic lighthouse you will ever see. When you are in a souvenir shop and see light switch covers or hand towels with a generic lighthouse on them, I guarantee you that they will bear some resemblance to Marblehead. It has very classic dimensions. It is a white tower, with green doors and a red roof and railing. It is is the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes.

Photo of Marblehead Lighthouse from 1885.  Later, they would add another 10 feet to its height.

Photo of Marblehead Lighthouse from 1885. Later, they would add another 10 feet to its height.

It was a very dreary day when we visited. The sky was the same gray as the sheets of marble that the lighthouse rests on. I enjoyed climbing on the uneven stone. It really frustrated me that the lighthouse was unmanned and locked up. I was like a reverse Rupunzel. I desperately wanted to get INSIDE the tower. But it would be years later before the State of Ohio would realize its full tourism potential and started offering visitors a chance to go inside of it.

Return visit to Marblehead, 2002

Return visit to Marblehead, 2002

It turns out my lighthouse memories are very long-winded. For more stories on the lights of the Great Lakes and a complete list of lighthouses that I have personally visited, come back by on Thursday.

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