Great Lakes Lighthouses
The lighthouses gracing the Pictured Rocks are an integral part of the story of the area's maritime past. To gain a full understanding of this record, the reader must have some comprehension of the history of the lights, as well as a general appreciation of the lighthouses on the Great Lakes.
Government's involvement in safe navigation began early in American history. The first lighthouse was established on the east coast in 1716 at Little Brewster Island at the entrance to Boston Harbor. By 1789, there were a dozen active beacons.
On the Great Lakes, the first light reportedly was established in 1815 at Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario, although there is some debate about this in historical circles. It is possible the Presque Isle light on Lake Erie may have preceded it.
As commerce grew on the lakes, the number of lighthouses increased. By 1865 there were seven on Lake Ontario, a dozen on Lake Huron, 26 on Lake Michigan and 15 on Lake Superior. Each new light improved safety by warning mariners of dangerous shores and reefs as well as guiding them to sheltered harbors.
Lake Superior received its first light in 1849, although there is some confusion whether it was at Copper Harbor or at Whitefish Point since records indicate both were established at the same time. Other Lake Superior lights quickly followed; Eagle Harbor in 1851, Raspberry Island in 1852, Marquette in 1855, Grand Island North in 1856, Keweenaw Bay in 1856, Gull Rock in 1867, Grand Island East Channel in 1869 and Au Sable Point in 1874.
Originally all lights were under the auspices of the fifth auditor of the Treasury Department. While significant growth occurred during this period, overall management was poor. The attempt was generally to spend the least possible amount of money without regard to securing acceptable equipment or results. The outcome was a rising chorus of complaints from sailors, ship owners and insurers. In 1851 Congress directed the Secretary of the Treasury to convene a special board to investigate the situation. The board's report was thorough and inclusive, and concluded that the lighthouse establishment was poorly managed in both economy and efficiency, keepers were ill-trained and in many cases incompetent, and the lamps and reflectors were obsolete and inferior in design.
Responding to the investigation, Congress in 1852 established a nine member Lighthouse Board with the Secretary of the Treasury as ex-officio president. Other members included scientists, U.S. Army engineers, U.S. Navy officers and members of the U.S. Coast Survey. The new Board organized the lights into districts. The Great Lakes were initially divided into the Tenth and Eleventh Districts. A reorganization in 1886 resulted in the Tenth District consisting of Lakes Erie and Ontario; the Ninth District, Lake Michigan; and the Eleventh, Lakes Superior and Huron.
The Board also appointed an inspector for each district, giving him the responsibility of building and maintaining the lights and equipment as well as buying supplies. The inspector was required to inspect each station in the district every three months. As the number of lights increased, additional help was provided for the inspector. An Army engineer officer assisted with construction and maintenance duties. Local collectors of customs were kept on as lighthouse superintendents. They had the responsibility of appointing and paying keepers and handling routine fund disbursements. Eventually their role was phased out completely.
Central depots for forwarding supplies and performing repairs to the apparatus were also established. On the lakes they were at one time or another located at Detroit, St. Joseph and Milwaukee.
Improvements under the Board's leadership were significant. They established lights where needed and made certain they were well kept and reliable. Inefficient men were fired. The Board also experimented with new technology, trying whatever new equipment or fuels they thought might offer improvement. Prior to the advent of the Board, the U.S. provided the worst lights in the civilized world. Afterwards, we had the best. In 1903, the Board was transferred to the Commerce Department.
Early lightkeepers often were selected based on political loyalties. Trustworthiness, reliability or competence were not requirements; political affiliation was. Congressmen and senators with a light in their district didn't hesitate to use the appointment of a keeper as a real plum for a deserving bootlicker. Although the actual appointment of a keeper was the responsibility of the local collector of customs, these worthies were relatively far down the political food chain. Depending on the results of an election, wholesale dismissals and appointments were made. This happened so frequently that in the interest of efficiency and economy, the Lighthouse Board had blank forms printed to notify keepers that they had been replaced!
The Lighthouse Board was well aware of the problem and tried its best to minimize the deleterious effect of politics and achieved some limited success. It did establish standards for the keepers to meet, which included a three month probationary period. After being tested on his duties by the district inspector or engineer, he could be dismissed for failure.
It wasn't until 1884 that uniforms were prescribed for keepers. Until then, they dressed to suit their own tastes.
The public outcry against the evils of the spoils system finally resulted in the passage by Congress in 1883 of the Pendleton Civil Service Act. Under it, appointments to key government positions would be based on ability, and special examinations were required of all applicants. Although initially only a few agencies were covered by the act, later presidents gradually increased the number. In 1896 President Cleveland added the U.S. Lighthouse Service and from then on appointments were based on merit. Following World War I however, special consideration was often given to wounded veterans, a most laudable effort on behalf of those who so bravely served.
As times change, so do methods of management and administration, and in 1910 Congress abolished the Lighthouse Board and established in its stead the Bureau of Lighthouses. The new organization remained under the Commerce Department. Instead of the nine member board, there was now only one man, the Commissioner of Lighthouses.
The new commissioner had the authority to organize not more than 19 districts, each to be headed by a civilian inspector. An Army Engineer officer assigned to each district continued the role of providing professional expertise to lighthouse design, construction and maintenance. The entire organization was firmly under civilian control and leadership.
Growth was phenomenal. Nation wide, in 1910 there were 11,713 aids of all types. Within three years there were 12,824 including 1,462 lights and 51 light ships.
As in the old U.S. Life-Saving Service, a viable retirement system was slow in coming. The life-savers finally got theirs in 1915 when they merged with the U.S. Revenue-Marine to form the Coast Guard. Three years later the lighthouse men got theirs.
On July 7, 1939, in another move for greater governmental efficiency, the president abolished the old Bureau of Lighthouses and transferred its duties to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard operated under the Treasury Department, so lighthouses which had started under the Treasury Department had now returned.
As part of the process of integrating into the Coast Guard, lighthouse personnel were given the option of either retaining their civilian status or converting to a military position. About half chose to convert.
Most Great Lakes lighthouses were built during a relatively short period and are generally similar in construction. To withstand the ravages of storms, the lights were well constructed of brick or stone. Wood may have been used for mere range lights, but never for "real" lights. They tended to be square in shape and plain in design with no emphasis placed on anything "frivolous." The lights were not usually "one of a kind," but built from standard plans and designs. For example the Au Sable light, eight miles east of Grand Marais and the Outer Island Light in the Apostles were both built in 1874 from the same plans. In many instances, however, the basic design was modified to meet a particular site requirement.
Usually the light station would consist of a compound of several buildings: the lighthouse proper, a combination tower and dwelling, an oil house and a fog signal house. A pier or dock was also built to facilitate the landing of personnel and supplies.
Lamps, Lenses and Lights
The earliest lights on the Great Lakes used Argand lamps with parabolic reflectors. These lamps were complicated, inefficient and difficult to maintain.
Between 1852-59, nearly all of the Great Lakes lights were given the new Fresnel lens. This lens has a powerful central lamp surrounded by refracting prisms and glass rings. The rings and prisms bend and guide the light, aiming it outward in powerful beams. Invented in 1820, the lens was named for Augustin Fresnel, a French scientist.
Fresnel lenses were classified into seven sizes or orders, relating to their power. A sixth order lens was less than a foot in diameter, while the largest lens, a first order was six feet in diameter and nearly 12 feet high. The lenses were also very expensive, a factor which discouraged their early adoption by the United States. Eventually, the United States shifted to the Fresnel system and realized that as a result of their efficiency in reducing fuel costs, using only a quarter of previous requirements, they soon paid for themselves.
Up until about 1864, the Great Lakes lights, as well as all others, burned sperm whale oil. When its price increased to a level the government thought too high, the fuel was switched initially to a lard oil and later to kerosene or as it was then called, mineral oil. The ultimate improvement was made in 1904 when the service changed to the use of incandescent oil vapor lamps. Operating much like a Coleman lantern, fuel is forced into a vaporizer chamber and then into a mantle. This arrangement increased brilliance manyfold over the old-fashioned wicks. Today all lights are electric powered.
Fog signals were also maintained at many lights. At first they were only hand rung bells, but by 1851 mechanically operated systems were in use. Later steam whistles and sirens were used. By 1900 nearly all fog signals were of the steam powered variety. One problem with the steam whistle, however, was the long time needed to raise the necessary steam pressure before the signal could sound. Often the process of starting a boiler fire and waiting patiently for the steam pressure to rise to a sufficient level could take as long as 45 minutes. In a busy channel this was a very long time indeed. Eventually steam signals were replaced with ones using compressed air which greatly decreased response time. The compressed air was provided by gasoline or diesel engines driving special air compressors and was stored in large tanks for instant use.
Running a light took a special kind of person. The daily routine was difficult and demanding. It also was tedious and boring, depending on one's outlook. The light had to be maintained in a constant state of readiness. The lens had to be cleaned and polished, the lamp filled and wicks trimmed and all associated apparatus kept in functioning order. It is from the work of trimming the wick that the old keepers received the nick-name "wickies." Regulations called for the light to be ready for the night's use not later than 10 a.m. The grounds also had to be kept clean and orderly as well as all buildings and facilities.
The exact details of the keeper's responsibilities could be found in the publication Instructions to Light-Keepers provided by the Lighthouse Board. Literally everything he needed to know was spelled out in laborious precision.
To help pass the time and also provide fresh vegetables, keepers often kept small gardens. Often they were not very successful since the lights were usually located in areas that did not have good soil. In some instances keepers brought boxes of their own garden soil with them. For many years this was the practice of the keeper at Stannard Rock Light. Located 44 miles out in Lake Superior, almost directly north of Marquette, the light is often lashed by terrific storms. As a result the keeper constantly "lost" his gardens to the grasping waves.
To help fight the boredom the Lighthouse Service also provided special portable libraries. Packed into sets of roughly 50 books, each library box could easily be exchanged between stations. As an added bonus, the boxes were designed to stack into neat book shelves, thus helping to minimize furniture requirements.
The lights were resupplied by special vessels called lighthouse tenders. These tough little vessels carried not only all the operating stores needed by the lights but also the dreaded inspector. These men were infamous for their "white glove" examinations of stations. A poor inspection could spell the end of a keeper's career.
Some keepers handled the deadly daily routine well. Others however, after a careful reading of their daily logs, appeared to "lose their marbles." More than one keeper was driven over the edge of sanity by the terrible grinding isolation and lack of human contact.
A lighthouse was often a family enterprise where the husband and wife teamed up to make the light a success. The husband as keeper assumed full responsibility for the light proper, while the wife took charge of the dwelling.
Lighthouse inspectors often used this team effort to their advantage. After carefully examining the husband's light, he would pull the man aside and say something to the effect that he was doing a fine job but that his wife was letting him down. She just wasn't keeping the quarters up to standard. Perhaps the keeper could encourage her to do a better job. When he finished checking the quarters, the inspector would pull the wife aside and tell her the same thing about the husband's performance. Au Sable Light
The most famous of the Pictured Rocks lights is that at Au Sable Point. The point was recognized as a hazard to navigation at least as early as the 1660's when Pierre Esprit Radisson called it ". . . most dangerous when there are any storms." As lake traffic boomed in the middle of the nineteenth century with the discovery of iron ore and the opening of the Soo canal, Au Sable Point reef, reaching out into presumably safe waters, was especially dangerous. Unless warned off, vessels could fall prey to this ship trap, breaking their hulls on the unforgiving Jacobsville sandstone.
The region was also infamous for the thick fogs caused by the interaction of cool lake air with warmer currents rising from the Grand Sable dunes. Long recognizing the dangers of the area, shipping companies, as well as others, began to lobby for a light. For example, The Marquette Mining Journal , said on July 29, 1871 that, ". . . in all navigation of Lake Superior, there is none more dreaded by the mariner than from Whitefish Point to Grand Island." The Eleventh Lighthouse District, in whose purview the new light lay, commented in its annual report that a light was more needed at Au Sable Point than any other unprotected location in the district.
Originally Au Sable Point had been known as Point Aux Sables by the French, who named it for the nearby dunes. When the new Americans assumed control over the region, the name was translated to "Big Sable Point," which caused confusion with Big Sable Point on Lake Michigan. To end the chaos, in 1910 the Lighthouse Service officially renamed it Au Sable Light.
In 1872 Congress appropriated $40,000 to build a lighthouse at the point. The State of Michigan deeded 326 acres land to the federal government for the light station. Construction started the following year and on August 19, 1874 the light officially went into service. Its flickering and comparatively weak kerosene flame was multiplied to 6,750 candlepower after being reflected by 90-degree mirrors through a 270-degree Fresnel lens. The steady beam cut clearly 17 3/4 miles out into the black night. A hand-cranked foghorn was also installed to warn vessels off in thick weather.
The brick tower stands a full 86 feet high. Its base is 16 feet, six inches in diameter and the top, 12 feet, eight inches. The 23-foot foundation of rubble masonry rests firmly on bedrock. A passageway connects the tower to the keeper's residence. Au Sable Point Light was not unique in design. In fact, it is identical to the lighthouse at Outer Island, in the Apostles, Lake Superior, also placed in operation in 1874.
Duty at Au Sable was lonely for both the keepers and their families. It was considered one of the most isolated mainland lights in the country. The nearest village was Grand Marais, 12 miles to the east, via a narrow path running along the base of the steep dunes. During stormy weather the trail was virtually impassable due to the crashing waves. Usually all personnel and supplies came to the light by boat, coming ashore at a small pier at the base of the station. Travel in winter was by snowshoes, sleds and dog teams.
By regulation keepers were required to keep journals, faithfully recording daily events and activities. These documents provide a fascinating look into the human history of this isolated station, since they recorded news of the keeper's families, the arrival of the lighthouse tenders, daily chores, visitors and even the excitement of shipwrecks.
Keeper Napoleon Beedon described on December 8, 1876 a "...light brees," from the south, that by 5. p.m. had been replaced by a "...frightful storm" that blew down 50 trees or more close by the lighthouse and caused him to fear that "...the lighthouse and tower would be blow down as they shook like a leaf the wind was N.N. West snowing and freesing it was the worst storm I ever saw on Lake Superior."
On September 25, 1883, Frederick W. Boesler Sr., the keeper who took over from Beedon in 1879, wrote that the weather was "... clear, blowing hard from the northwest," as he watched the stranded steamer MARY JARECKI, on the reef since the previous July, beaten to splinters before his eyes.
Keeper Gus Gigandet, who arrived on May 21, 1884 with his wife and an assistant keeper, noted in his journal that, "I feel contented and satisfied with the station." Gigandet's feeling must have indeed run deep since he remained keeper until his death on October 29, 1896. Bad storms were a frequent companion. On November 5, 1886 he recorded "... one of the heaviest gales from the northwest with a blinding snowstorm I have ever experienced." The following July the wind blew so strong that it caused "the tower to shake hard." On July 24, 1893, during the height of a smashing thunderstorm, lighting struck the tower,"burning two holes in the bottom of the tower, right at the foot of the stairs."
While monotony was a constant companion, there were advantages to living at the light. Hunting and fishing were excellent and could always be depended on to supplement the larder. In 1900, Gigandet bragged that he caught 144 brook trout. The journal recorded that on November 4, 1901 the assistant keeper killed a bear so large that it required most of a day for two men to drag it back to the light. The local bears could be very dangerous. A bear at Point Iroquois light on Whitefish Bay had once dragged a small girl into the woods and devoured her. One assistant, William Laviate, earned extra income by spending his winter working in a local lumber camp. On a horticultural note, in 1881 keeper Boesler wrote that he had "... grafted 24 fruit trees, 12 cherry and 12 of apples." The fruit provided an important supplement to the food supply.
As time passed, many more improvements and additions were made to the station. A wooden boathouse and wood shed in 1875; a brick oil house in 1895; the steam powered fog horn in 1897, as well as piping to carry in lake water to operate the system, replacing the hand cranked unit. However, the first fog signal didn't work and it was a year before a replacement unit was operational, finally ending the keeper's arduous job of cranking the signal when the point was shrouded in fog. Improved boat ways were built in 1901, a new seawall in 1906, the old single story keeper's house was raised to two levels in 1909 and brick privies were added at the same time. A diaphone fog whistle was installed in 1928, the same year a rough road to Grand Marais was finally finished, providing eventual access to the public highway. No longer were the keepers quite so isolated.
During the harsh winters the road was impassable and the isolation complete. The winter seclusion was in part blamed for the deaths of a keeper's son and daughter. Both were buried near the station.
Seeing the station today, nestled into a forest of green trees and other foliage, it is hard to visualize how it looked when it was a working lighthouse. An excellent idea of what the station looked like in 1909 can be drawn from the Description of Buildings, Premises, Equipment, etc. of Au Sable Light Station , by Ralph Tinkerham, Light-House Establishment, Department of Commerce. "The main point on which the light house stands has been cleared of timber for a quarter mile each way from the station to facilitate the visibility of the light to the E'd and W'd. This clearing has grown up to the second growth -- small stuff ... Access is by boat or wagon road to within three miles of the station, thence by foot trail; this trail is cleared out so that a team without a load can get to the light station."
The old light was also the scene of personal tragedy for some of the families that maintained it. Keeper Otto Buffe had an especially difficult time. On October 14, 1904 his pregnant wife was very ill and he sent his second assistant to fetch the doctor from Grand Marais. In spite of the physician's best efforts at "4 pm Mrs. Buffe was delivered of a dead male child." The next day the child was lovingly buried on the grounds. In September 1905 another Buffe child died at the light. The next month the Buffe family was transferred to Point Iroquois, away from Au Sable's numbing isolation.
As the 20th Century grew older, life at the station gradually improved. A good road was finally built to the station in 1943, making it possible to reach it by car or truck. Batteries were used to power both the light and fog horn then, but electric generators were later installed.
In 1945, the quarters were modernized and the Coast Guard took over from the old civilian keepers. The light itself was automated in 1958, saving an estimated $20,000 a year. On January 12, 1968 Au Sable Light was officially transferred to the National Park Service, although the Coast Guard retained ownership of the light tower and continued its responsibility to maintain the steady beacon that is still as welcome to sailors today as it was in the days of sail.
The original six-foot high third order Fresnel lens, which was produced at a cost of $3,800 and removed in 1957 when the station closed, was returned to the light in 1995. The National Park Service is currently restoring the light to its 1909/1910 appearance. Grand Island North Light
Some consider Grand Island to be among the most beautiful islands on the Great Lakes. Roughly eight miles long and three miles wide, it has stark sandstone cliffs the equal of the famous Pictured Rocks, as well as white sandy beaches and small rocky protected coves. Located just north of Munising, its bulk acts as a natural windbreak for Munising Bay. It is also the largest island on the south shore of Superior. The island was a favorite stopping point for early explorers. Pierre Radisson and his brother-in-law Medard Chouart Sieur des Groseilliers were the first European to sight the island and record their experiences in detail, arriving in 1658. A fur trading post was operated on the island for a time in the early 1800's by Astor's American Fur Company. The old North West Company had run a post on the mainland opposite the island in the late 1770's. By 1832 a total of 50 people lived on Grand Island: seven men, six women, 23 children and 14 mixed blood.
In 1840 Abraham Williams arrived and for several generations thereafter he was the major influence. Initially he took over several log cabins abandoned by the American Fur Company. Later Williams and his family operated a sawmill, blacksmith shop and cooperage as well as farming and running a trading post. They also provided cordwood for the many steamers calling at Grand Island harbor. Williams Island, Williams Landing, the Anna River (named for his wife), and Powell Point (for his daughter's husband) are all part of the legacy of this remarkable man.
His family maintained ownership of the island until 1900 when it was sold to the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company for $93,701.61. The island's timber resource was harvested for many years and for a period the location was used as a corporate retreat and game preserve. For a time the island was stocked with elk, Rocky Mountain sheep, moose, caribou, mule deer and antelope. In spite of problems with local predators, the animal population multiplied and the company used the surplus to stock zoos around the world. To make the island into an exclusive resort, cabins and lodges as well as horse paths, boats, tennis courts and archery ranges were constructed. The island was promoted as an "ideal summer resort." By 1958 the resort had closed. People had become more interested in other forms of recreation than enjoying the pampered tranquility of the north woods. Later selected timber was harvested but the island remains undeveloped. The exotic game long since succumbed to the ravages of nature. In 1990 the federal government purchased Grand Island for use as a national recreation area.
The first Grand Island Light was built at the north tip of the island at the edge of a 175-foot cliff. The original light was established in 1856 (some records indicate 1854) as the result of an 1853 appropriation of $5,000 to establish a "lighthouse at Grand Island Harbor." Apparently this structure was made of wood with a 30-foot tower, making it at the time the highest light above sea level on the lakes. This first light didn't last. In 1865 it was reported to be in "wretched condition," due apparently to the inferior materials of original construction.
The light was doubtlessly built in haste, the result of the increasing traffic between the Soo and the iron ore port of Marquette. Grand Island was also the only shelter between these two points and important as a wood shop for the early steamers. The light was needed to safely navigate the coast, especially considering the propensity for coastal sailing.
In 1867 the old light was torn down and a new one built adjacent to it. The new tower stood 40 feet tall with a keeper's house attached. Both were built of brick. A fourth order Fresnel lens comprised the optics. An oil house, storage building and outhouse completed the facility. It continued to be the highest light above sea level on the Great Lakes. To differentiate it from the East Channel Light, it was called North Light, or Grand Island North.
During this same period similar style lights were built at Ontonagon, Gull Rock, Huron Islands and Granite Island. Older lights at Copper Harbor and Marquette were rebuilt to the new North Light design.
Following the SUPERIOR disaster in October 1856, when nine of the survivors made their way there, life at the light continued without major interruption, other than on August 5, 1891 when the tower was struck by lightning. In 1941 the keeper was removed and the light changed from oil to acetylene gas. No longer did the trusty old wickie climb the winding tower steps on his rounds. Without the benefit of human habitation, or any significant maintenance, the structure deteriorated greatly. In 1961, the beacon proper was relocated from the stone tower to a pole near the cliff and automated. Also in the 1960s, the property was declared surplus and sold to Dr. Loren Graham, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with deep roots in Grand Island. After a great deal of effort, he was able to renovate the building sufficiently to make it his summer home.
North Light was also the scene of a real life murder mystery. What actually happened is still anyone's guess, but the known facts are these:
On June 12, 1908 the body of 30-year old Edward S. Morrison, the assistant lightkeeper at North Light, was discovered in a small sailboat near Au Sable Point. Although identification took a while, since few of the local people knew him, it was definite once made. Morrison had a distinctive tattoo of thirteen stars on his left arm, leaving no doubt as to the identity of the remains. Initial reports said his head had been "battered almost beyond recognition" and that "the head and shoulders were fearfully crushed, as if battered by a club." Inexplicably though, a coroners jury concluded death was due to exposure, thought to be caused by the rough weather on the 7th. A reported second coroners jury also examined the evidence and returned a verdict that the members were not able to tell how he died, but they had a strong suspicion of murder!
Morrison had been assistant keeper only six weeks when he met his death. A native of Tecumseh, Michigan, he joined the Lighthouse Service on May 1, 1908 and secured the assistant keeper's appointment at North Light. Friends claimed he had a "bright and sunny disposition" and that he "didn't have an enemy in the world."
The keeper of the light was George Genery, a long-time veteran of the Service. Appointed to North Light in 1893, he had been the assistant keeper at Menagerie Island, Isle Royale from 1887 until his posting to Grand Island. It was later claimed he had trouble keeping his assistants since none lasted longer than a season. Working with Genery was said to be difficult at best. The keeper was in Munising on June 6 to get supplies.
Baffled by the discovery of Morrison's body and the knowledge that the beacon had been dark for nearly a week, a delegation from Munising went out to the light. They discovered the supplies Genery had brought back from Munising still piled on the dock. An empty wheel barrow stood nearby and his coat dangled undisturbed on a hook in the boathouse. Morrison's vest was hanging carefully on the back of a chair, his watch and papers safe in a pocket. Of the three boats normally kept at the station, reports differed whether two or only one was missing. The last official log entry was made on June 5, while the slate entry for the 6th was made in Morrison's hand. Neither gave a clue to anything being amiss. Other than the untended lamp, all else was normal, without evidence of any unusual occurrence. Local volunteers manned the light until the service send a replacement.
Authorities immediately started a search for the missing keeper, but he had completely dropped out of sight. There were reports that five different men had seen him at various times in Munising between June 9 and 12, and that he was drinking heavily. His wife, living in town, claimed no knowledge of his whereabouts and did not seem overly concerned with his strange disappearance.
There were several theories proffered to explain the case. One said the two men had gone out to lift nets and that Genery had fallen overboard and drowned. Morrison, unfamiliar with a sailboat, then drifted about helplessly until finally perishing from exposure. Friends, however doubted such reasoning. They considered Morrison an expert sailor, and in fact he had previously owned a 32-foot sailboat on the Detroit River.
Another theory is based on their having been paid on the 6th; that they were attacked by one or more unknown assailants on the island, murdered, robbed and the bodies dumped into the sailboats and cast adrift. Morrison's eventually made shore. Genery's never did. Lonely to distraction, no better location for such a crime could be imagined. No one else was in the area to witness such a heinous deed. The nearest other occupant on the island was the Cleveland Cliffs game keeper, whose house was seven miles to the south. There was a story that a body was later discovered in the east channel, but it was apparently never identified so whether it was the missing keeper is unknown. Finding "floaters" was not that unusual, so no definite link between it and Genery was possible.
The third theory was that Morrison was murdered by Genery. It was thought that Morrison had come down to the dock with the wheelbarrow to help carry the supplies back to the light. As evidenced by Genery's coat and Morrison's vest, both men were in shirt sleeves and had likely just finished the hard work of unloading the supplies from the boat. For an unknown reason the two started to argue. Possibly it was the quarrelsome Genery who began by berating Morrison for some failing, real or imagined. In a moment of fury, Genery smashed Morrison's skull with a blunt object, perhaps an oar, shovel or hammer. To hide the dastardly crime, he then placed the body in a sailboat and pushed it out into the lake. With luck it would disappear and after a decent interval he could claim his assistant deserted for no apparent reason. If it was later found, he could claim it must have been a terrible accident, that Morrison left for a sail and evidently fell, injuring his head, or was stuck by the boom during a quick jibe. Regardless, Genery needed a drink, or several, and headed for Munising. Later reconsidering his plan, he went home where he was hidden by his wife. When the body was discovered and the charge "murder" echoed through the town, he fled. Some people claimed he reached Canada were he lived out his days in quiet obscurity.
Perhaps Morrison had a premonition of his own death, or at the very least was very unhappy working for Genery. On June 16, four days after his body was discovered, his wife in Flint received a letter from him posted just before his death. In it he wrote, "do not be surprised if you hear of my body being found dead along the shore of Lake Superior." He stated Genery was of a "... quarrelsome disposition..." and that he feared "... an accident if he opposed him ..." Did Morrison "oppose" him and did Genery respond to the challenge with murder?
Morrison's death was another example of the old adage, "death always comes in threes." Two years before his sister was murdered in Toledo. The previous fall a brother was killed when the locomotive he was riding in crashed through a wooden trestle.
Exactly what happened will of course never be known, but it is fair to say that not all men could handle the terrible monotony at the isolated lights. The long empty hours, days, weeks, months and years of crushing sameness could have caused Genery to become more irritable and unbalanced as evidenced by his trouble keeping assistants. Finally, for some unfathomable reason, he snapped resulting in murder most foul and a North Light mystery still unsolved. East Channel Light
The small wooden frame lighthouse on the southeast shore of Grand Island was constructed during the period 1869-1870 for the purpose of guiding vessels into Munising harbor from the east. The land was one of a number of parcels reserved in 1847 for government use. Resembling a small county church in style, its original color was white. The location, opposite the dangerous shoal at Sand Point was critical for safe navigation. By 1905 however, the Lighthouse Board noted that the light was no longer serving its original purpose and, considering difficulties in maintenance and the mariner's desire for improved range lights, its abandonment was only a manner of time. The light was finally abandoned in 1913 as the result of the construction in 1908 of improved range lights. In 1915 the land and lighthouse were privately purchased and divided into lots. The lighthouse building became community property. The building is still privately owned and although it is in badly deteriorated condition, periodic efforts have been made to reinforce the historic structure.
The small light was home to many keepers and their families. The last was George Prior, who served there from 1891 to 1907. Two of his children were born at the light. Difficulties the old keepers had to overcome were many. Just maintaining a reliable and varied food supply was always a problem at the Superior lights and the East Channel Light was no different. Like many other keepers, Prior kept a small garden as well as chickens and perhaps even a cow. Setting a net or two assured fresh fish.
Munising Range Lights
The west channel range lights were established in 1868 to accurately guide vessels clear of the shoal running into the channel west of Grand Island. Vessels entering the bay carefully aligned the rear and front lights to place them on a safe course. The rear range light with a 32-foot tower was identical to the existing East Channel Light. The front range was a 19-foot wooden tower. Each was painted white, as is normal for range markers. Both were lit on August 15, 1868. The present 62-foot conical steel tower was erected in 1914 to replace the original wood structure. It was deactivated in 1969, the same year the front range light was torn down to make room for the Bay Furnace directional light.
The east channel range lights, intended to replace the East Channel Light, were erected by the Champion Iron Company of Cleveland in 1908 as the result of a 1907 congressional appropriation of $15,000. The front tower, built of 5/16 inch, riveted steel plates, is 12 feet in diameter at the base, eight feet at the top and 58 feet tall. The rear range light tower, also built of riveted steel, is 10 feet, nine inches at the base, seven feet at the top and 33 feet tall and is located five blocks inland, on the side of steep hill. REFERENCES:
Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board , (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Treasury, various issues).
"Grand Island," Alger County Chamber of Commerce, n.d.
Francis Ross Holland, Jr., America's Lighthouses, An Illustrated History (New York: Dover Publications, 1988).
Dr. Loren Graham, correspondence the author, March 9, 1996.
Instructions to Light-Keepers (Allen Park: Michigan: Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, 1989).
National Maritime Initiative, 1994 Inventory of Historic Light Stations (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1994).
Donald L. Nelson, correspondence to author, March 9, 1996.
Donald L. Nelson, "The Lighthouses of Grand Island on Michigan's Lake Superior." The Beacon , December, 1995.
Dennis L. Noble and T. Michael O'Brien, Sentinels of the Rocks (Marquette, Michigan: Northern Michigan University Press, 1979).
Grace Lee Nute, Lake Superior (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1944).
Laurie Penrose, Bill T. Penrose and Ruth Penrose, A Traveller's Guide to Michigan Lighthouses (Davison, Michigan: Friede Publications, 1992).
Porcupine Press , August 15-21, 1990.
Faye Swanberg, "The East Channel Lighthouse," Alger County Historical Society, n.d.