By Buzz Hoerr, Board Chair
Harbor Beach Lighthouse Preservation Society
The sun had set, light was fading, and hundreds were watching Michigan’s Harbor Beach Lighthouse from Lincoln Park Beach as the countdown began….
On Saturday, July 18th, the Harbor Beach Lighthouse Preservation Society held a 130th Birthday Celebration for the Michigan beacon on the anniversary of its commissioning. The nightcap featured the lighting of an exact replica of the original 4th order Fresnel lens in the lantern that had been manufactured by Dan Spinella of Artworks Florida.
It was an all day event, with a large tent for guests who came to listen to speakers such as Terry Pepper of the Great Lakes Light Keepers Association who spoke about lighthouse history; Bob Kegerreis from CHPC Productions who showed a great film on the lighthouses of Lake Huron; Bob McGreevy who, through his beautiful paintings told the history of many of the ships that have plied the Sweetwater Sea over the years; and also live entertainment from Lee Murdock, who led the attendees in lighthouse and lake ballads throughout the day and evening.
The story of “Bring Back the Light!” is one that began over three years ago when the society decided that it was important to have a Fresnel lens back in the lighthouse. The process of getting a Fresnel lens back into the tower was a long and often exhausting process, and at times it seemed hopeless. However, with the assistance of Captain Scott Smith, USCG Chief of Navigation Systems, the mission was eventually accomplished.
It may be hard for some to imagine that a lighthouse would have value beyond the functional aspects of being an aid to navigation. But that feeling of something evocative and emotional to so many people is what was on display July 18th. Although the Harbor Beach Lighthouse is an aid to navigation, it also has a personality, as many of them do as lighthouse aficionados will attest to, not only for the former keeper, but also to the general public who don’t come to just watch an “aid to navigation.” They see the “face” on the front with eyes, nose, and a jaunty hat topping it off, and then something more mystical than that - something that calls out to them as a symbol of the community over the years, of a time when that community came together in 1874 to petition Congress for the $1.1 million and the eleven plus years that it took to build this lighthouse at what was at the time, the largest harbor in the world.
And there are the stories of dates they had with partners years ago, such as with former lighthouse keeper Dick Bandelow, who told of meeting his wife when she and some other friends swam out to the lighthouse one afternoon just to get a closer look. A movie date, marriage, and family soon followed.
Lighthouses draw us to them, and while the exterior day markings and building design and shape are attractive, there is no more special time to watch a lighthouse than in the evening as that light comes on, and then later as it stands out in the darkness with stars all around with that pulsing white then red flash sweeping around the harbor and out to the ships and other vessels passing many miles offshore. They are called “light” houses for a reason!
The Harbor Beach Lighthouse Preservation Society created the “Bring Back the Light!” campaign in 2014 to galvanize its members and the large number of area residents who had helped them with money and personal time throughout the restoration and now public access.
The response was amazing. In just a few months the organization raised nearly $75,000 in donations by offering sponsorships for the many individual prisms, the operating systems, and even the lantern room glass replacement from over 90 people. The group then commissioned Dan Spinella to create the new Fresnel lens that is an absolute “dead ringer” for the original lens that is now housed and conserved in the nearby Grice House History Museum.
After a wonderful dinner and a community photo taken from the bucket of the City fire ladder truck, the attendees gathered around a unique eight foot tall “knife switch” that local residents Raymond and Susan Buggs had made for the event.
After inviting Mayor Gary Booms, City Manager Ron Wruble, and City Councilor Al Kleinecht to come and join with former keeper Bandelow and Society members Bill Rands, Pam Semp and Shelley Boehmer, and myself, we all put a hand on the switch and started a countdown from ten to zero. As we closed the switch a moment later, the Fresnel lens lit up the evening sky.
People cheered, some cried. It was a moment many had been waiting over 30 years to see. Now it was a reality.
This story appeared in the
Sep/Oct 2015 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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