Digest>Archives> November 2000

5th Annual Apostle Islands Lighthouse Celebration Offers Variety of Events

By Jim Merkel


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Lois Spangler, whose father served at Apostle ...

Eric M. Wefelmeyer, a computer operator from Minneapolis, Minnesota was in his element at the Fifth Annual Apostle Islands Lighthouse Celebration.

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Wisconsin’s Raspberry Island Light. Photo by , ...
Photo by: Bob and Sandra Shanklin

When he attended the annual event held for three weeks after Labor Day 2000, Wefelmeyer said he would have enjoyed being a lighthouse keeper, if he’d been born earlier. “I’ve always enjoyed the solitude aspect of the job,” he said. “I’ve always been fairly much one to function on my own and go on my own directions, and the idea of living that lifestyle was appealing.”

Lighthouse buffs such as Wefelmeyer could choose from a large variety of on-shore and off-shore activities at the celebration, which was sponsored by the Keeper of the Light gift shop in Bayfield, Wisconsin.

Off-shore, they could take a cruise to one of six historic light stations of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, which contains the largest collection of lighthouses in the National Park System. On-shore, they could attend a concert, hear a talk about the local lighthouses, watch artists at work or eat dinner with people who once lived at working lighthouses of the Apostles.

Boats of the Apostle Islands Cruise Service took 2,495 people on cruises during the celebration, held Sept. 6-27, according to Mary Grant, manager of the Keeper of the Light gift shop.

During the regular tourist season, the Apostle Islands Cruise Service only schedules boat trips to two of the six light stations of the western Lake Superior archipelago, at Raspberry and Sand Islands. Those have better docks, and are closer to Bayfield.

But after Labor Day, some of the service’s summertime cruises have stopped. That allows the cruise service to offer trips to all of the lights during the lighthouse celebration. The four additional lighthouses visited by the cruise service during the celebration are at Outer, Devils, Michigan and Long islands.

A highlight of the celebration was the keeper’s dinner, which featured a talk by James R. Marshall, who is considered to be the leading authority on Lake Superior. Marshall is the chairman of Lake Superior Port Cities, Inc., which publishes Lake Superior Magazine, and the author of a popular column for that magazine.

“The interesting thing about lighthouses is that they have to be put in place because of commercial traffic, to begin with,” Marshall said, in a wide-ranging speech about the attractions and history of Lake Superior. “And the commercial traffic on Lake Superior had many different reasonings and sources as it began.”

During the same dinner, frequent Lighthouse Digest contributor Jim Merkel gave a dramatic telling of his story, “The Unexpected Visitor.”

Also at the dinner, several people who lived at Apostle Islands lighthouses were present. They were Robert Parker, who served at the Long Island and Outer Island light stations in the 1940s and 1950s; Lois Spangle, whose father served at Apostle Islands lights from the 1930s to 1951; and Jean Brander, whose husband served on lighthouses from 1922 to 1948. Brander’s son Robert also attended.

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Visitor Center also offered presentations on subjects including the history of the Apostle Islands lighthouses to lighthouses in movies.

Other activities for the week included a concert by Lee Murdock, a musician who has released eight CD/cassettes of Great Lakes music. Artist Randall Peterson, a lighthouse artist who specializes in the technique called pointillism, and woodcarver Kevin Midthun also made appearances. Award-winning master photographer Dale Thomas gave instructions about lighthouse photography on two cruises.

As usual, those who attended expressed a special attachment to lighthouses.

They included Roger and Pam Mueller of Rochester, Minn., who came with their 19-month-old son Graham. Asked why she liked lighthouses, Pam said, “They’re beautiful, kind of a wonderful piece of history, romantic, just real pretty.”

Mary McNab, of Rochester, Minn, a friend of the Muellers who came with them on the trip, said of lighthouses, “I think they’re just beautiful, kind of the beacon of light and the whole symbolism of keeping people safe, coming into shore.” She said this was her first visit to the Apostle Islands. “It’s been very interesting just to see the area and see the lighthouses here.”

As in past years, some cruises to lighthouses were canceled, because of bad weather or high waves. That increases the danger during the transfers between larger vessels to a landing craft that brings people to islands with lighthouses. Those lighthouses are in exposed areas, usually with poor docking facilities.

This year, worse-than-normal weather for September boosted the number of cancellations.

“We offered 96 scheduled cruises during the event, and only a small percentage of them actually got canceled,” Grant said. “This year the percentage was a bit higher than last year.”

“Every year it differs. Every year it changes,” Dave Strzok, owner of the Keeper of the Light gift shop and the Apostle Islands Cruise Service, said during the keeper’s dinner. He stressed the need to protect visitors. “We have to make these decisions about safety, so if you don’t get out there, it’s for a good reason,” he said.

For those whose landings were canceled, Grant said the cruise service this year offered a number of afternoon trips past three lighthouses, at Raspberry, Sand and Devils islands. Those “3 Light Non-Stops” did not involve landings.

As for what’s ahead for next year’s celebration, Grant said, “We are still in the planning stages for next year, and I’m not sure what new things we’ll be adding.”

The Sixth Annual Apostle Islands Lighthouse Celebration will be held Sept. 5-26, 2001. The event schedule will be available in January 2001. Those wanting details may write to Keeper of the Light, P.O. Box 990, 19 Front St., Bayfield, WI 54814, call 715-779-5619 or 800-779-4487 or surf the web to www.lighthousecelebration.com.

This story appeared in the November 2000 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.

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