Tag Archives: historic

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

_____________________________________

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.

One Old Fart in Five Old Forts

Milepost 3-27-15    Emerald Isle, North Carolina

A fortunate byproduct of our quest to live on southern islands and forever walk the beach this winter has been the close proximity of so many beautiful historical sites, especially old forts and lighthouses.

We spent January on Dauphin Island, Alabama, within walking distance of Fort Gaines, and five miles from Fort Morgan  just across Mobile Bay.

In February we were on Anastasia Island near the archaic Castillo de San Marcos at St. Augustine, Florida.

Heading from Florida to North Carolina we stopped for a week at Savannah, Georgia where we visited Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island in the Savannah River.

And in March we are on Emerald Isle, North Carolina, sharing the island with Fort Macon which we visited yesterday.

We are ending our winter sojourn in early April and heading back to Michigan, and  I wanted to post a photographic review of these historical attractions that offered us so much aesthetic intrigue  while wandering around the south this winter:

1.  Fort Gaines, Dauphin Island, Alabama.  This fort was less than 1/4 mile from our campground.

Fort Gaines has long tunnels leading to the five corner bastions.  Cool.
Fort Gaines has long tunnels leading to the five corner bastions. Cool.
The bricklayers who built these forts were masters of their craft as seen in the intricately vaulted arches.
The bricklayers who built these forts were masters of their craft as seen in the intricately vaulted arches of the northeast bastion.
Though the interior buildings were burned during the Battle of Mobile Bay, the restorers have done a great job of rebuilding.
Though the interior buildings were burned during the Battle of Mobile Bay, the preservationists have done a great job of restoring and maintaining what was left..
Here's a gem I discovered hidden deep inside a chamber, a 10-seat latrine.
Here’s a gem I discovered hidden deep inside a chamber at the end of a long tunnel along the 4-foot thick outside wall, a 10-seat latrine.  Soldiers apparently didn’t have much privacy.

2.  Fort Morgan, Mobile Bay, Alabama.

I loved the endless vaulted casements of Fort Morgan and the mineral deposits built up by the chemical action of rainwater percolating through the brick and mortar.
I loved the endless vaulted casemates of Fort Morgan and the mineral deposits built up by the chemical action of rainwater percolating through the brick and mortar.
Fort Morgan is a fort within a fort.  This view is from the tunnel through the postern (outer fort) viewing the entrance of the inner fort.
Fort Morgan is a fort within a fort. This view is from the tunnel through the postern (outer fort) viewing the entrance of the inner fort.
And this view is from the entrance tunnel in the inner fort toward the postern (outer fort).
And this rear view is from the entrance tunnel in the inner fort toward the postern (outer fort).

3.  Castillo de San Marco, St. Augustine, Florida (1565).  This one is really old and was built with local stone – coquina – before bricks were manufactured in the U.S.

Castillo de San Marcos sits on the waterfront downtown.
Castillo de San Marcos sits on the waterfront at downtown St. Augustine..
I loved the graceful grand stairway above its asymmetrical arch.
I loved the graceful grand stairway above its asymmetrical arch.
This fort had a great collection of cannons, some of the oldest ones I have seen.
This fort had a great collection of cannons, some of the oldest ones I have seen.
Although most of the forts have seasonal re-enactments, this one has costumed guides on hand every day.
Although most of the forts have seasonal re-enactments, this one has costumed historians on hand every day.

4.  Fort Pulaski, Cockspur Island, Savannah, Georgia.

Though the impervious nature of fort design leaves them looking nondescript and unwelcoming on the outside, this fort had an attractive inside archway.
Though the impervious nature of fort design leaves them looking nondescript and unwelcoming on the outside, this fort had an attractive inside archway.
While many forts are restored to their pre-war condition, this one was still covered with the scars of war.  Only the corner that had been breached during the Civil War was rebuilt like the original.
While many forts are restored to their pre-war condition, this one was still covered with the scars of war.  Only the corner that had been breached by the Union Army’s rifled cannons during the Civil War was restored to its original condition.
Fort Pulaski had several cannons installed at their original stations.
Fort Pulaski had several cannons installed at their original stations.
There were five stairways, one in each of the five corners of the fort.  Three of them were circular stairs.
There were five stairways, one in each of the five corners of the fort. Three of them were circular stairs.
...and the other two had their own unique designs.
…and the other two had their own unique designs.

5.  Fort Macon, Emerald Isle, North Carolina.

My favorite feature at Fort Macon was the three identical stairways built over graceful arches.
My favorite feature at Fort Macon was the three identical stairways built over graceful arches.
The smaller rear entrance was as interesting and beautiful as the front.
The smaller rear entrance was as interesting and beautiful as the front.
The arches and hidden stairways create interesting scenes as the light plays around them.
The arches and hidden stairways create interesting scenes as the light plays around them.
The approach to Fort Macon is a study in beautiful curves.
The approach to Fort Macon is a study in graceful curves.

Kaye and I have really enjoyed our southern sojourn and the side trips that have been available to us.  I love old architecture, so this was a great place for me to explore while avoiding the hostility of the northern winter.  This is the final post to the Southern Sojourn as we are heading back to our new summer home (campground) in Michigan soon.

There are more photos of these beautiful historical sites on my Flickr photo stream here.

And they are available for purchase as prints and other great gifts at my photo galleries and web store here.