Digest>Archives> August 1995

Our Visit to Michigan's Presque Isle Light

By Timothy Harrison


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Michigan's New Presque Isle Light, The area ...

When my partner and I went to First Day of Issue celebration of the new Great Lakes Lighthouse postage stamps in Cheboygan, Michigan this past June, we took the time to visit as many Michigan Lights as we could in the short time our schedule allowed us.

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Mary Ann McGee at work in the gift shop at ...
Photo by: Timothy Harrison

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The foghorn and steamwhistles display at Presque ...
Photo by: Timothy Harrison

But there was one lighthouse I was especially anxious to see and one person I was especially anxious to visit. I had spoken to Dan McGee numerous times in the past years, but only over the telephone. As a matter of fact it was my mother that first put Dan in contact with us a number of years ago when we used to wholesale lighthouse gift items to retail stores. Dan McGee was also one of the first people to take a more than passive interest in Lighthouse Digest when we first began publishing a number of years back.

As we drove up the road toward the lighthouse, we thought about stopping at the Old Presque Isle Light, but decided that visiting a long time telephone friend first was more important.

Although I had seen hundreds of pictures of the new Presque Isle Light, I had never been there in person. As we drove into the grounds of the station I could easily tell why everyone who comes here, falls in love with the site. As a matter of fact this is the only spot in lower Michigan where you can see both a sunrise and a sunset over the water from the same spot. This is due to the shape of the Presque Isle Peninsula.

Presque Isle Light was built in 1870, young compared to some of the old lighthouses on the East Coast. The tower is 113 feet high, but is actually 123 feet above water level.

We first walked in the small but compact gift shop which is loaded with lighthouse goodies. As soon as we introduced ourselves to Mary Ann, Dans wife, she was excited to see us and said Dan would be back in a moment. We watched the people in the gift shop having a great time trying to figure out, just which or how many souvenirs they were going to buy.

When Dan arrived he gave us personal tour of the museum which he believes has the largest collection of lighthouse artifacts on the Great Lakes. He was really proud to show us the replica of the United States Lighthouse Service Clock he made. But what he wanted to show us the most was his collection of steam whistles and fog horns. As we walked across the grounds to the gazebo, which he personally built to house the steam whistle display, you could tell this was a man who loves what he does, and he loves lighthouse history and its stories. As Dan talked about the lighthouse, I had the feeling that we were stepping back in time and actually meeting a real lighthouse keeper from 100 years ago.

Dan came to the lighthouse nearly 14 years ago and when he saw how run down the place was, he convinced the township to let him mow the grass and he's been here ever since. When he realized that the property would just get worse and worse from neglect he and some friends decided to form a non profit group and everyone threw in $5.00 to get things started.

One of the Historical Society's greatest accomplishments was getting the tower repaired. Dan said the bricks were falling off the tower so fast that they had to rope off large areas around the lighthouse to prevent someone from getting killed. One day he found out that a Coast Guard Admiral was giving a speech in a nearby town. The Historical Society sent a delegation of women to confront the Admiral. Dan said that one of the ladies was "quite a talker". Apparently there plan worked, it wasn't to long after that the Coast Guard authorized $100,000 to rebrick the tower.

By now we were at the gazebo and Dan's collection of whistles. The whistles are operated from air pressure from an old water tank (rebuilt by Dan) that was originally in the basement of the lighthouse. The first whistle he blew was mild, I guess he did that to build us up for the next blast which nearly knocked us over. Wow! Dan started the collection a number of years ago to what it is today, quite impressive.

As we sat there talking, he spotted Kathy looking up at the tower. "Would you like to climb the 144 steps to the top?, he asked. Kathy replied, "I thought you'd never ask. Lets go." As we walked back to the tower, Dan amusingly recalled the time he accidently locked a tourist in the tower. Kathy said something about "you can lock me in the tower, I'd love to stay here." Well, that lead to another one of Dan's stories.

Legend has it that there was an old tunnel leading from the tower to what used to be a barn which sat some distance from the lighthouse. Perhaps it was dug so keepers could get to the barn during a harsh Michigan winter storm. Whatever the reason the story goes on to tell about the Keeper whose wife drove him nuts and he wound up putting her in the tunnel and bricked up a wall to seal the tunnel. During renovations, what do you think they found, you guessed it, a tunnel under the lighthouse or certainly what appears to be the beginning of a tunnel with a bricked up wall at the end of it.

Dan opened the small opening in the floor so we could view the tunnel. I decided that if I leaned over at the right angle I would be able to get a picture of the bricked up wall in the tunnel. In doing so my expensive or not so expensive $40.00 twelve year old sunglasses dropped from my pocket onto the floor of the tunnel. Now what do we do ? I looked at Dan, and he said something to the effect that he was much to big to get through the opening and I knew I couldn't fit either or perhaps I was just afraid of the ghost lying in wait to grab me. We both looked at Kathy, we knew she could fit through the opening.

Could this be where the ghost lives that haunts the lighthouse? Kathy went in and reached for my sunglasses, grabbed them and handed them up to me. Before she had the courage to look for the ghost or even at the bricked up wall in the pitch black tunnel, she heard a noise. Needless to say she was out in a flash. We quickly covered the opening to the tunnel and left the lighthouse.

Oh, by the way, the view from the top of the tower is quite spectacular.

As we left Presque Isle Lighthouse I stopped for one more look and of course another picture.

A few minutes down the road we stopped and took pictures of the Old Presque Isle Light, and the two nearby range lights, but nothing was quite like our experience at the New Presque Isle Light.

Did I mention that the grounds and museum are open from May through October and the tower is open three times per year for the public to climb, Fathers Day, July 4th and Labor Day, which is also the time of the big pig roast celebration at the lighthouse.

I would highly recommend a visit to the New Presque Isle Light. If you do go there, be sure to say hello to Dan McGee. Tell him that Tim from Lighthouse Digest said to say hello to Dan McGee, a real life Lighthouse Keeper, and tell him Kathy says "Boo!"

This story appeared in the August 1995 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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