Digest>Archives> March 1997

Pages from the past


You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Louis Bauchan at last year's Great Lakes ...

Louis Bauchan, one of the last true lighthouse keepers

To the many old time lighthouse keepers, light-keeping was just a job. They never realized that their job was a true part of the maritime history of our nation. Most of them never kept a photographic record of their job and now only have their memories to remind them of the "good old days."

This is not true with Louis Bauchan of Cheboygan, Michigan. He not only has his memories, but he kept a detailed photographic record of his years in the U.S. Lighthouse Service and as a keeper at various Great Lakes Lighthouses. He has been kind enough to share some of those photographs and memories with Lighthouse Digest.

During the Depression , Bauchan was working 12 hour days for A & P Supermarkets at $5 per week, when he saw an ad in the newspaper for Lighthouse Keepers. He applied and was rated 12th on his civil service exam.

He went on to serve at St. Martins Island Light, Poverty Island, Chicago Harbor, Pilot Island and Point Betsie Lights as well as on the icebreaker Mackinaw. He was stationed in Hawaii during the Korean conflict and returned to the Mackinaw, retiring from there in 1957.

Just getting married was a major project for Louis. He was a keeper at Pilot Island in 1939, when he was scheduled to marry his fiancee, Irene.

With the January 21 wedding date fast approaching, the weather was rough for days on end with waves washing over the banks, creating dangerous, deep freezes on the shoreline. There was no way to get to the Coast Guard vessel waiting off shore to pick him up. He built what he called an "ice skiff," and had the other keepers give him a hearty push and he slid down the embankment and into the water. He then rowed to the Coast Guard vessel, which took him to Washington Island where he caught a ferry boat ,which took him to Gills Rock at the tip of the Door County Peninsula. From there he had to take a bus to Manitowoc, where another ferry boat, known in those days as "The Train Ferry," took him across Lake Michigan, from the Wisconsin side to the Michigan side. From there he had to catch a train to Pontiac, Michigan and his waiting bride. Wow, talk about true love!

While stationed at Pointe Betsie Lighthouse from 1947-1952 he discovered an old shipwreck, which had been uncovered by a storm, on the beach. He thought for sure he had discovered a treasure ship which had dropped $5 million in gold overboard just before it was sunk by pirates. That search still goes on today.

He said his wife always enjoyed living at a lighthouse and they loved to garden. They grew many of their own vegetables and canned them. He recalls that the best food he ever ate was always at the lighthouse. He recalled the time when he brought 50 baby chickens out to the island in a big box. He built a type of tin can and installed an electric bulb for heat for the chicks. He never knew what type of chickens he had. He eventually ate a couple of the roosters and recalled they were delicious. After he started thinking about it, it bothered him, he could never kill another one. The chickens not only became pets, but they were like friends. He has never killed another thing since.

To this day he still cans much of his own food, such as tomatoes and beans. He recently found a jar of apple sauce canned in 1987 and it tasted as fresh as the day it was made.

"When the U.S. Lighthouse Service was abolished and taken over by the Coast Guard, things were never the same," he recalled. Although he has strong loyalties to the Coast Guard, he said many of the Coast Guard personnel sent to lighthouses didn't have the same loyalty to the station. They weren't of the same breed as the real lighthouse keepers. He recalled many of the Coast Guardsmen sent to the lighthouse were sent there because of their poor performance elsewhere.

It was shortly after he retired, that his son Dennis enlisted in the Coast Guard where he also served on the Mackinaw, carrying on the family tradition. His other son, Michael is an attorney.

Today, as he reflects at his scrapbook he said his favorite memories in life are from his days as a "Keeper of the Light."





This story appeared in the March 1997 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.

to Lighthouse Digest

USLHS Marker Fund

Lighthouse History
Research Institute

Shop Online

Subscribe   Contact Us   About Us   Copyright Foghorn Publishing, 1994- 2024   Lighthouse Facts     Lighthouse History