Digest>Archives> November 1998

Third Annual Apostle Islands Lighthouse Celebration Attracts Biggest Crowd Ever

By Jim Merkel


You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Ron Kuhr of Fort Wayne Indiana, a volunteer at ...
Photo by: Jim Merkel

Lighthouse enthusiasts who visited Bayfield, Wisconsin the first half of September were able to view some nearby treasures in a way few visitors to the popular Lake Superior resort community can enjoy them. The rest of the summer season, regular excursions are available to only two of the six light stations of the Apostle Islands. However, during the annual Apostle Islands Lighthouse Celebration, excursion boats took them to all six light stations, which together protected ships from the 22 sandstone islands northeast of the ports of the Chequamegon Bay.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Devils Island Lighthouse, Apostle Islands, ...
Photo by: Jim Merkel

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Michigan Island Lighthouse was visited by record ...
Photo by: Jim Merkel

In its third year Sept. 9-16, the event attracted about 775 participants. That's a jump from the 500 or so who attended in 1997, and the approximately 375 who came in 1996, the first year. "We start Wednesday after Labor Day, because this is the time of the year that the Apostle Islands Cruise Service is available to do something like this,'' said Mary Grant, manager of the Keeper of the Light Gift Shop in Bayfield, which sponsored the lighthouse celebration. "During the summer months, the cruise service only goes to Sand and Raspberry Island Lights on a regular basis. So unless you have your own boat, you can't go see those lighthouses.''

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
The Island Princess was one of the boats that ...
Photo by: Jim Merkel

Grant said part of the increased attendance for 1998 was a package of articles in the Chicago Tribune in 1997 that called Bayfield the Best Little Town in the Midwest, among 139 tourist destinations surveyed. But Grant said there are other factors, which should make the fourth annual Lighthouse Celebration Sept. 8-29, 1999 even bigger. "A lot of people that come here don't even know these lighthouses are out here,'' Grant said. "It definitely is a growing interest."

There was more to the event than a once-a-year chance to take an excursion boat to lighthouses on Devils, Outer, Michigan and Long Islands. Making the lighthouse celebration more attractive, were special lighthouse tours when people arrived at the islands, and a program featuring people who lived and worked on the lighthouses, as well as the historian of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Among those who came to take advantage of what the celebration had to offer were Dennis and Mary Myers of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Gary and Sue Hammond in Cambridge, Wisconsin. Like many of those who came to the Lighthouse Celebration, these are not merely people who think a picture of a lighthouse is pretty.

"When I married him, I married lighthouses, also,'' Mary Myers said of her husband. "I never even gave them a thought before that. They are fascinating. I think what I enjoy most about them are the stories - the people that lived in them, and the story behind them is what fascinates me,'' said Myers, a receptionist and a secretary in a doctor's office. As for the reason Myers wanted to get near the lighthouses of the Apostles, Myers said, "I'm interested in seeing them up close, rather than just drive by with the boats."

Myers' husband Dennis, who works in facilities and maintenance for the Milwaukee Public Schools, said he's been around lighthouses in Florida, Virginia, Michigan and Wisconsin. He said they were in the Bayfield area eight years earlier, and took a boat excursion past the islands, but never had a chance to see the lighthouses close up. "This gives us a chance to actually go into the lighthouses. You can get the beauty and mystique of the place,'' he said.

The Hammonds, who operate a restaurant and retail shops in Cambridge, Wisconsin, offered similar reasons for coming. "We've always liked lighthouses, We thought it would be kind of fun to actually walk up and if we can go upstairs, we'll do that or whatever we can do,'' Gary Myers said. Of all the lighthouses of the Apostles, he likes the architecture of the native sandstone Gothic Revival-style structure on the north end of Sand Island, which guards the western end of the archipelago. On Sept. 2, 1905, the keeper of that light watched helplessly as the 3,100-ton steam Sevona broke up in a gale, costing the lives of seven on board. The retelling of the story of that wreck is a mainstay of local lore.

But people come to Bayfield and came to the Lighthouse Celebration for more reasons than to hear about shipwrecks or even - Is it possible? - Lighthouses.

"I'm really here because of the Great Lakes. I love the water, and the lighthouses are just the frosting on the cake,'' Sue Hammond said. "I think we've probably been in the Bayfield area about six different times. We're really attracted to the Great Lakes. I grew up on Lake Superior. So, we always come back to the Great Lakes, mainly Superior and Michigan. We love the boats and everything that the water brings.''

Of course, lighthouses are a major thing to many people, including enthusiasts like Bob Mackreth. He's the historian at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore of the National Park Service. The Lakeshore consists of all but one of the Apostle Islands, and a sizable chunk of beachfront along Lake Superior northwest of Bayfield.

A former National Park ranger, who took 20 years to get into his chosen field of history, the bearded Mackreth said he's the luckiest man in the world for having his job. He freely acknowledges he's hopelessly enthralled with lighthouses, and that there's an easy way to spot someone like himself. "What is it about lighthouses that makes people travel from all over the country to get on a boat, to hike up a trail or climb off a boat, just to see a building?" Mackreth asked people at an orientation meeting, held the first night of the Lighthouse Celebration.

Macketh told those at that meeting the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is the Holy Grail for lighthouse buffs, with its wide variety of styles and architectures. "It is for the National Park Service the premier collection of lighthouses in any one area,'' Macreth said. "I challenge people to point to anywhere else in the country where you have such a wide variety of lighthouses with such a diverse history, in such a small compact area.'' Those six light stations were built from 1857 to 1891, to provide directions for ships coming into the Chequamegon Bay port towns of Bayfield, Washburn and Ashland. At one time, they comprised a bustling Great Lakes port, as ships brought lumber, quarried stone, iron ore and grain from those towns, and made the lighthouses necessary.

Today, the port trade is gone, but not the travelers who come to see the Apostles and its lighthouses, especially the visitors known by their neighbors, friends and spouses as lighthouse fanatics. "If you have lighthouses on the walls of your living room, if you have lighthouse plaques by the medicine cabinet in the bathroom and a little lighthouse light switch in your hall....if that's what you've got, you're among friends,'' Mackreth told those at the orientation session for the celebration. "This is the place to come for lighthouses.''

Those at the same meeting also heard talks by Lois Spangle, the daughter of an Apostle Islands lighthouse keeper, and Bob Parker, who served at Apostle Islands light stations. They heard from a speaker who urged people to consider being volunteers.

Visitors also heard from Dave Strzok, owner of the Apostle Islands Cruise Service and the Keeper of the Light gift shop. Strzok said the number of human stories involved in the lighthouses of the Apostles are fantastic, and have a vast amount of historical data. "This is the closest concentration of lighthouses on the shores of the United States, the number and the proximity,'' Strzok said. "They're all stretched along the oceans, but in terms of this, they're all stuck pretty close together. Not only that, but they're being maintained by the park. Well maintained by the park, with very tight budgets.''

With what the Apostle Island lighthouses have to offer, and with the growing popularity of the lighthouse celebration, organizers look forward to a much bigger event in 1999, when it goes to three weeks. "It's kind of a bold jump for us, but we think that the interest is out there. If we get our schedule together right after this event and get the word out, it'll be successful," Grant said.

Already, Lee Murdock, a popular folk music singer of sea chanteys, has been confirmed for Sept. 11, 1999.

Those wanting more information about the 1999 celebration may write to Keeper of the Light, P.O. Box 990, 19 Front St., Bayfield, Wisconsin, 54814. Or you may call 715-779-5619 or 800-779-4487 or visit their web site at www.apostleisland.com.

This story appeared in the November 1998 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