THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
Tales from the old-timer
Issue Date: February 5, 2014
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
daughter of the Old-Timer
One of my very favorite stops when I am home in Marinette visiting is the Menominee lighthouse. If I had to pick an icon for the area, that would be it.
Years ago, before GPS or wireless communications or radar, the shipping and boating traffic was absolutely dependent on lighthouses to tell them where they were at night. Imagine being in the dark on the trackless Great Lakes - no mile markers, no road signs, no homing signal for you to follow. Other than the instincts of the captains, it was a guessing game as to their exact position without the help of the lighthouses. Each lighthouse has a unique flashing color and on/off sequence which allowed those ships to safely navigate to their destinations, while avoiding rocks and shoal water. (Most early lighthouses warned ships away from a hazard, rather than beckon a ship toward a safe port.)
Early lighthouses, so critical to sailor safety, were staffed 24/7. They were run by generators before electricity was available to automate the lights. The lightkeepers slept by day and tended the lights, ensuring the lens were clean and generators fueled, at night. Some lighthouses were staffed by a family, and some of those families lived in near-total isolation on rocks or islands in the lakes where the lighthouses were located. In late fall at ice-up the attendants would come ashore for the winter until shipping started again in the spring.
The lighthouse in Menominee is photogenic, full of charm and history. Some newer light structures are steel skeletons, practical and less expensive to build, but without the heart and soul that makes you drive out of your way to see a classic lighthouse. And many lights are being decommissioned, because modern navigation no longer depends on them and there is no money for upkeep.
What an asset the Menominee light is to the shared Marinette/Menominee waterfront, and how empty the lovely view from shore would be without it.
I think of the Menominee lighthouse often as I have framed pictures of it, along with two of my favorite Door County lights, on my walls here in Oklahoma. There were only land schooners here, the covered wagons of the settlers, so the Great Lakes lighthouses are a beacon from home to me.