Tag Archives: American history

Light Housekeeping and Lighthouse Keeping

Milepost 9-29-15  Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Ludington, MI

Kaye and I just finished a two-week term of volunteer duty at a 148-year-old lighthouse on the western shore of Michigan, and we found it a rewarding experience if a bit exhausting.  Eight-hour days and six-day weeks can be a challenge for a couple of retirees who aren’t used to being on duty for anything but hammock swinging and beach walking anymore.

But rewarding it certainly was.  There is a noticeable boost to self-worth when you feel that you are providing a valuable service in helping to preserve a historical landmark and enriching the lives of hundreds of visitors who come to see a unique treasure of American history.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse is nestled between sand dunes and sandy beach.
Big Sable Point Lighthouse is nestled between sand dunes and sandy beach on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

Staying in the upstairs keepers’ quarters, the volunteers start their work day by tidying the yard around the buildings, then opening the gift shop, the archives room, and the tower for the daily shift.  The doors are open from 10 am to 5 pm, and guests arrive by land or sea, hiking a couple of miles from the trailhead at Ludington State Park, or paddling along the shore in kayaks or coming ashore in motorboats.

Workers rake, sweep, and empty trash bins preparing for the day.
Workers rake, sweep, and empty trash bins preparing for the day.
Board walks are cleaned with a leaf blower. Not very authentic, but a time saver.
Board walks are cleaned with a leaf blower. Not very authentic, but a time saver.  Whenever the wind blows – and that is often – the sand moves.

The day is spent welcoming guests, giving tours, and talking the science of lighthouse technology and the history and life of the old-time lighthouse keepers.

Kaye and Kathy sell souvenirs and snacks at the lighthouse gift shop
Kaye and Kathy sell souvenirs and snacks at the lighthouse gift shop.
Visitors are treated to scientific and historical data in the archives room on their way to the tower stairs.
Visitors are treated to a plethora of scientific and historical data in the archives room on the way to the tower stairs.
Visitors climb 130 steps to the top and a 360-degree view of dunes and lakeshore.
Visitors climb 130 steps to the top and a 360-degree view of dunes and lakeshore.
The view from the top is breathtaking - especially for those with a fear of heights.
The view from the top is breathtaking – especially for those with a fear of heights.

After hours, the workers enjoy the conveniences of modern living – in a very old house – and in the company of new friends.    The upstairs keepers’ quarters are comfortable and homey, and the workers sometimes cook for each other and play table games in the evenings.  There’s no TV, but there is wifi on site, so Kaye and I were happy campers.  Of course, the beach and the million dollar sunsets were available to us every day.

The kitchen is small but efficient with every possible appliance - and a grand view to the north.
The kitchen is small but efficient with every possible appliance – and a grand view to the north.
The old keepers' house has 3 apartments and 15 rooms, including sitting rooms where workers hand out in the evenings.
The old house has 3 apartments and 15 rooms, including sitting rooms where workers hang out in the evenings.
An evening stroll on the beach or dip in the lake is good for body and soul.
An evening stroll on the beach or dip in the lake is good for body and soul.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse is one of four historical lighthouses that are cared for by the Sable Point Lightkeepers Association (SPLKA).  Volunteers at the other three lights sign on for one-week tours, while Big Sable Point offers the only 2-week term.  There are also day keeper opportunities.

Though there are challenges to this sort of experience, Kaye and I are very happy about our time spent here and the new acquaintances we have made.  Some folks travel quite a distance to try this out (one of our fellow keepers was from Connecticut), because it is really a unique opportunity.  There are only so many shorelines and lighthouses in the world, and I am glad to have had the chance to live and work at this one.

Big Sable vertical

For more information about volunteering at any of these four west Michigan lighthouses contact SPLKA.org

I have posted a few more photos below, and made several more of them available from my online web gallery at SimsShots Photography.  Order prints from wallet size to 3-foot-wide sofa-size posters and lots of other products.

Also, there are a few of these on my photo-sharing stream at Flickr.

Big Sable dusk

Workers enjoy a twilight campfire on the sand dunes next to the lighthouse.
Workers enjoy a twilight campfire on the sand dunes next to the lighthouse.

Big Sable nighttime

This was our team of workers during our 2-week stay at Big Sable.
This was our team of workers during our 2-week stay at Big Sable.

Also, there is this:  While shooting the lunar eclipse on the evening of September 27th, a ghostly apparition showed up on one of my photos, adding another episode to the on-going legend that Big Sable Point Lighthouse is haunted.  I think it is some sort of optic anomaly, but others are sure they have seen this sort of thing before and that it is a paranormal occurrence.  What do you think?  Let me say, the night was absolutely clear with no fog or smoke anywhere near.  (Click anywhere on the photo to see it in full screen mode.)

Ghost Moon at Big Sable Lighthouse.
Ghost Moon at Big Sable Lighthouse.

Order prints of this photo at SimsShots Photography.

Lighthouse Duty Is A Tall Order.

Milepost 9-10-15                                                         Ludington, Michigan

Our long-awaited engagement at the Big Sable Point Lighthouse at Ludington, Michigan is upon us, and there are a couple of notices I need to post for those who might want to visit while we are there.

The first is that this is a remote location that is only accessible via a 1.8-mile trail through the dunes from the visitor center at Ludington State Park.  It may be a difficult hike for those who are not used to that much physical exertion (at least it is not hilly).  And then there is the lighthouse tower with its 130 steps if you want to climb to the top.  Then, of course, the  return walk to the car.

The lighthouse is at the end of a service lane through the dunes.
The lighthouse stands at the end of a sandy service lane through the dunes.

The second thing to be noted is the hours of operation.  The lighthouse and museum and gift shop are open from 10 am to 5 pm daily.  The surrounding grounds – mostly sand dunes and lakeshore – are open all the time.

There is a small fee for entry into the state park unless you have the Michigan Passport license plate.  Trailhead parking is immediately inside the park entrance.  The cost to climb the tower is $5 for adults and $2 for kids twelve and under.  Kids must be 40 inches tall to climb the tower.

Kaye and I will be arriving at the lighthouse for our tour of duty on September 14th after 5 pm, and leaving on the 28th.  We will stay in the original keeper’s house which is attached to the lighthouse and be working alongside four other volunteers, taking turns in the gift shop, the museum and the lantern room at the top of the tower.

I plan to post reports and photos of our activities while at the light whenever I have access to wireless services, so stay tuned.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse

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9-16-15 Update.  Day 3 of our 2-week engagement:

We arrived on Monday and settled in at our upstairs bedroom in the 150-year-old light keepers’ house along with the other volunteers.  The weather has been sunny and very windy every day so far.   Kaye and I take turns with the others, running the till in the gift shop, answering questions about the history of the lighthouse in the little museum, and keeping visitors safe on the tower platform 100 feet above the Lake Michigan beach.

We also rotate in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal for the group.  Today I baked pizzas from scratch and they were accepted with delight.

Skies have been totally clear the last 3 nights and I have had a chance to attempt night sky photography, something I have been hoping to try for some time but haven’t been in a dark enough location.  Though we are 9 miles from the nearest town, this is still not the best scenario, since the light on the ground tends to overpower the Milky Way.  Wish I could find how to turn off those amber yard lights next to the building.   Here’s a sample of my first attempt.

The Milky Way hangs above the 112-foot lighthouse at Big Sable Point. Ludington, Michigan.
The Milky Way hangs above the 100-foot lighthouse at Big Sable Point, Ludington, Michigan.

Old Folks in an Old Town – St. Augustine

Milepost 2-18-15   St. Augustine, Florida

It’s the middle of the winter and we are in the middle of our sojourn at St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest town in America.  They are celebrating their 450th anniversary this year, so there is a lot going on here.  Then again, this is one of those hidden pearls where there is always a lot to enjoy, even when there’s nothing special happening.

When we pulled into town and moved into our campsite near the ocean, we were surprised to see vehicles driving on the beach.  Yes, this is one of the few places in the world that accommodates the sport.  The beach is a hundred yards wide at low tide allowing plenty of room for walkers, bikers, kite flyers and four-wheel-drivers all at the same time.

4X4's are permitted to drive on the beach for ten-mile stretch.
4X4’s are permitted to drive on the beach for a ten-mile stretch.

The historical fort is well preserved and maintained by the National Park Service.  Castillo de San Marcos was built in the 1560’s using the local coral stone (coquina) quarried from Anastasia Island near where we are camped.  This is the third of four historical forts I’m visiting this winter.  (I’m planning a post next month reviewing all the forts on my itinerary.)

Castillo de San Marcos sits on the waterfront downtown.
Castillo de San Marcos sits on the waterfront downtown.
I loved the graceful grand stairway above its asymmetrical arch.
I loved the graceful grand stairway above its asymmetrical arch.

St. Augustine is built to accommodate the thriving tourist industry and there are trolleys running tours every day throughout the historical downtown district.  Some of the old narrow streets are closed to vehicle traffic so visitors may peruse the old shops at their leisure.

St. George Street is now a shop-lined attraction for walkers only.
St. George Street is now a shop-lined attraction for walkers only.
Many of the original buildings - like the old governor's house - were built with coral stone.
Many of the original buildings – like the old governor’s house – were built with coral stone.

A great place to get an overview of the area with a bird’s-eye view is the huge old lighthouse dating back to 1861.  One of the more recently-built landmarks, it was built of brick.  In fact, it took more than a million bricks to construct this 165-foot-tall edifice, one of the tallest in the country.

St. Augustine Light lomo

Only the young and most physically fit will make quick work of the 216 steps to the top of the lighthouse.
Only the young and most physically fit will make quick work of the 219 steps to the top of the lighthouse.
The tower climb offers a rewarding view of the surrounding city and waterfront.
The tower climb offers a rewarding view of the surrounding area and nearby waterfront.

Kaye and I are engaged in an ongoing challenge of testing the local eateries.  It became apparent very early on that we will certainly run out of time before we manage a comprehensive knowledge of the plethora of amazing culinary options here.  But we’ll do our best.

Average temps here are in the 60’s during the day and the mid-40’s at night, so we are enjoying our success at finding an affordable location for missing the brutal winter weather back in Michigan.