Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the Armistice Day Storm of 1940

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the Armistice Day Storm of 1940

November storms on the Great Lakes are infamous for their ferocity and violence. Some, such as the Great Storm of 1913, which sank 12 ships and killed over 250 people, or the 1975 storm that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald, are well known. In November 1940, another strong storm struck the Great Lakes and caused widespread damage, including in the Straits of Mackinac. (more…)

Two New Vingettes Join Nearly 60 Years of Publications

Two New Vingettes Join Nearly 60 Years of Publications

2016_MaritimeTragedyVignette_TanCover Changing Face of Fort MackinacMackinac State Historic Parks is pleased to announce the publication of two new vignettes as part of its Mackinac History series. Numbers six and seven of the fourth volume are “Relics of Maritime Tragedy: Objects from Straits of Mackinac Shipwrecks” by Registrar Brian Jaseschke and “The Changing Face of Fort Mackinac” by Museum Historian Craig Wilson. (more…)

Life as a Child at Old Mackinac Point

Life as a Child at Old Mackinac Point

Although it was an official government installation intended to guide ships safely through the Straits of Mackinac, the Old Mackinac Point Light Station was also home to several families, complete with pets and children. Between 1890 and 1957, several kids lived at the station, each experiencing and sometimes helping with the daily routine of operating a Great Lakes lighthouse.

Olsen Family

Olsens- Keeper Henrik Olsen with his wife, Nila, and their sons Ray and Bruce.

Keeper-Kids-Web

Keeper James Marshall poses with his three children sometime around 1930. They are proudly displaying the “Efficiency” flag awarded to Old Mackinac Point.

Delcie&Chet1916

Chester Marshall and Delcie, daughter of his sister Ethel, play outside on the station grounds in 1916.

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A Century Ago at Old Mackinac Point – December 15, 1915

Have you ever kept a journal or a diary? Looking back at what you’ve written can help you remember ideas, special events, and how you felt at a certain time. A century ago, the keepers at the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse were required to keep a log of their daily activities, and while the logs don’t reveal the keepers’ emotions, they do tell us a great deal about what life was like at the station. (more…)

Anniversary of the Cedarville

Anniversary of the Cedarville

At 9:45 a.m. on Friday, May 7, 1965, two ships collided in dense fog in the middle of the Straits of Mackinac. One of them, the limestone-carrying freighter Cedarville, capsized and sank approximately 40 minutes later just off Old Mackinac Point. Fifty years later, the loss of Cedarville remains the one of the worst maritime disasters in the straits, claiming 10 lives.

Cedarville (1)

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March 3, 1891: Funds Appropriated for Building a Lighthouse at the Old Mackinac Point Light Station

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse plansOn March 3, 1891, almost two years to the day after authorizing the construction of a light station at Old Mackinac Point, the U.S. Congress appropriated $20,000 to build a light tower, keepers’ dwelling, barn, and oil house at the site. These new structures would join Old Mackinac Point’s fog signal station, which had been authorized in 1889 and completed in 1890. (more…)

Lamps and Lenses: How Old Mackinac Point Shed its Light

What puts the light in a lighthouse? Until 1913, a single lamp provided the light for the beacon at the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.

This lamp is similar to the one used in the first decade of the lighthouse's existence. It was eventually replaced with a brighter, electric light.

This lamp is similar to the one used in the first 20 years of the lighthouse’s existence. It was eventually replaced with a gas lamp and then an electric light.

This diagram shows how even a small amount of light from the lamp could be magnified using a number of prisms in a Fresnel lens. (Click to enlarge)

This diagram shows how even a small amount of light from the lamp could be magnified using a number of prisms in a Fresnel lens. (Click to enlarge)

Like most other lighthouses in the United States, Old Mackinac Point used a kerosene lantern not unlike those still found in many homes today. Keeper George Marshall’s duties included regularly fueling the lamp, as it burned over 5 ounces of kerosene per hour. A red glass lamp chimney originally produced a red light, helping sailors identify Old Mackinac Point. Both the kerosene lamp and red light were replaced in 1913, when the U.S. Lighthouse Service installed an incandescent oil vapor mechanism, which produces a white light similar to a modern camping lantern.

While the kerosene lamp itself shone brightly, a fourth-order Fresnel lens amplified the Old Mackinac Point light until it was visible to a distance of 16 miles. The lens contained a series of stacked magnifying glasses around its center, with each glass focusing the light from the one beneath it. Prisms ringed the lens above and below the magnifying glasses. These prisms caught and bent more light, focusing it into the central beam created by the magnifiers. The entire lens rotated around the lamp, creating a flashing signature (one flash every 10 seconds) unique to Old Mackinac Point.

Today in History: Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse Fog Signal Sounded

On this day in 1890, Keeper George Marshall sounded the fog signal at the Old Mackinac Point Light Station for the very first time. This first blast of the fog whistle signaled the completion of a project begun a year earlier. In March 1889, Congress passed two acts regarding the creation of a light station at Old Mackinac Point. The first formally established the Old Mackinac Point Light Station, while the second appropriated $5,500 for the construction of a fog signal.

This photograph from the early 1900s shows Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the fog signal building. The inset image shows the two steam whistles next to the boiler vent stacks.

The fog signal sounded on November 5, 1890 was mounted on a 20’ by 40’ corrugated iron building. Inside, two identical steam boilers and associated machinery powered 10” steam whistles, which were mounted above the roof of the building. Although only one boiler and whistle were used at a time, keepers maintained the second set of machinery as a backup system. To help sailors identify the Old Mackinac Point fog signal, the fog whistles automatically sounded in a unique pattern: a 5-second blast, followed by 17 seconds of silence, followed by another 5-second blast, followed by 33 seconds of silence. Other light stations sounded their own unique whistle signatures.

The U.S. Lighthouse Service replaced the original 1890 fog signal building with a brick structure in 1907. New boilers and whistles were installed in this building. The fog whistles at Old Mackinac Point may have sounded like this: Click here to listen to a steam whistle.

The fog whistles themselves were replaced by air horns in the 1930s. Click here to listen to the fog horns at Old Mackinac Point Click here to hear it.

Click here for more information or to purchase a copy of one of Mackinac State Historic ParksOld Mackinac Point Lighthouse publications.