The summer of the year 2000 wasn’t particularly warm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My wife planned a week-long trip for the family to stay in a cabin on Lake Manistique. That week she also introduced me to lighthouses.
I will admit, I was a reluctant participant at first. During that trip we visited a total of three lights: Seul Choix Point, Whitefish Point, and Au Sable Point. Because it was our family vacation, I took a few pictures. Back then I had a 35MM pocket camera. I mostly took family pictures, but I mixed in a few of the sites we saw while we were there. Two important things happened on that trip that have had an effect on me ever since. I sparked up a dormant interest in photography, and I discovered the thrill of lighthouses.
When our pictures came back, one in particular jumped out at me. It was this picture of Au Sable Point. I loved the look of the sky, the look of the light, and that I had taken the picture. I have taken thousands of pictures since, and even thousands of pictures of lighthouses. This photo, more than any other, got me started on that path.
Lighthouses hold a special charm for me. They take me back to a time in history very different from our own. Lighthouses in Michigan were in their heyday in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If you lived on one of the great lakes, or their connecting waterways, your summer would have seen an almost unending parade of ships plying the waters, delivering cargo and people all over the Upper Midwest. First sailing ships, then later steamers, they marched up and down the coastline day and night.
Using map, compass and sextant, they navigated the waters. The lighthouses, with their distinctive paint schemes and lights, served as navigational markers, warnings for dangerous waters, and a reminder that there were people on shore ready to help should disaster strike. The stories of rescues performed by light keepers and their assistants fill many books.
I am not a seafaring person. I often joke that I grew up within a strong golf shot of Lake Erie, and almost never went to the water. I wasn’t a swimmer, I didn’t fish, and my family didn’t own a boat (nor did any of my friends). So, to me, the lake was a place for an occasional sunset, and a source of unending lake effect snow. In my adult life I have come to appreciate the Great Lakes for their intrinsic beauty, their rich history, and their influence on the more than 33 million people who live near their shores.
In the almost 13 years since that vacation I have photographed and visited over 150 lighthouses around the Great Lakes, and in California. Each time I visit a new light, there is a thrill. As I get closer to the light, whether by land or water, my anticipation builds. I think of all those who went before me. I think of the brave sailors delivering the goods that helped build and feed this country. I think of those traveling the inland seas to new homes. I think of the men and women who kept the light burning. For me, there are few other thrills as great as that first glimpse of the light, knowing that another has been added to my growing collection, and that in a small way, I share in the history of the lighthouse.