Friday, February 16, 2018
“Our Lives as Keeper’s in Charge of An Isolated Light”
I wrote this story back in mid-2013. Since then, I’ve spent time researching this Au Sable Point Light-Station. I’ve gathered new information about the light-station, those that served their and some new information that added to the overall content of the story. So, based on what was written before and what I’ve added, let’s get started.
In 1874 Au Sable Light Station was constructed on Au Sable Point. This was a well-known hazardous location on Lake Superior also known as the: “Shipwreck Coast.” Au Sable Point Reef is considered a shallow ridge of sandstone. The depth varies from six feet below the surface and extends nearly one mile into: “Lake Superior.” According to legend Au Sable Point Reef was known as the: "Ship Trap" and one of many dangerous obstacles facing ships running along the south shore of Lake Superior. During the early days of shipping, captains would keep land in sight as their main navigational method of running along: “Au Sable Point Reef.” In 1859, One of those caught in that trap was the passenger ship: “Lady Elgin.” She found herself stranded on the sandstone.
“Lonely and Isolated” was how keepers, assistants and their families described their lives at Au Sable Point Light-Station. The nearest village at that time Casper Kuhn was appointed to Au Sable was Grand Marais, Michigan. The small village was twelve miles to the east of the light-station and the two locations were connected by a narrow path that ran along the base of the “Grand Sable Dunes.” During rough/inclement weather and those long cold frigid winter months, keepers found this path difficult to navigate and totally impassable. Keepers would either put on their snowshoes or use a dog sled teams to access other areas along the shores of Lake Superior. Those aboard Revenue Marine Cutter’s would deliver supplies and occasionally maintenance personnel to Au Sable Point Light-Station. The Cutter’s would tie off to a wooden timber pier located at the base of the foghorn building. Supplies and materials would be hoisted off the deck of the cutter, lowered down onto the old wood pier and then brought up to the light-station.
Keepers and their assistants were required to enter daily notations, weather conditions, drilling, rescues and observation into the station logbook. While reading the logbooks from Au Sable Point, I was to understand with a great deal of comprehensive on what went at the light-station, it also provided me with some insight about life there and daily records of news from the district and how it was distribute out to the keeper’s, assistant’s and their families. The logbook also provided me with when lighthouse tenders would arrive, what daily chores were done around the station. There were notations about the excitement of visitors arrived or leaving. It also talked about the operational task at the light or foghorn, the passage of lake bound vessels, and vessels that wound up stranded/wrecked on the dangerous reef.
“Those logbooks provide one and all with a fascinating glimpse into the history of this very isolated light-station.”
Keeper Casper Kuhn was appointed to his position by United States Lighthouse Service. On the 7th day of July 1874, Kuhn reported for duty at Au Sable Point Light-Station. Part of Kuhn’s first duties upon his arrival was to climb the long winding tower staircase and lit the new lantern for the very first time. On the evening of the 19th day of August 1874, the light shinned brightly through the new Third Order Fresnel lens and was seen by vessels about eighteen miles out into Lake Superior.
“The Third Order Fresnel lens was manufactured by Louis Sautter, Lemonnier et Cie. The lens was shipped from Paris, France to the site aboard a Revenue Marines Cutter, after it reached the main lighthouse depot.”
Keeper Kuhn spent his first month of service alone at Au Sable Point Light-Station and life according to him wasn’t easy. On the 29th day of September 1874, the United States Lighthouse Service appointed Paul Happold as Keeper Casper Kuhn’s First Assistant. Upon Happold’s arrival Keeper Kuhn welcomed him to this isolated and lonely place with open arms.
One of the most critical duties the two men had to accomplish was getting enough wood stored way for the long and cold winter months. The men spent their hours cutting down trees and hauling them back to the station for processing. The two men continued their day-to-day activities of maintaining the structures and keeping the light illuminated.
On the 8th day of July 1876, First Assistant Happold: “Resigned.” On that same day, Keeper Casper Kuhn also: “Resigned” from active service. On the 8th day of July 1876, Napoleon Beedon was appointed to the position of: “Acting Keeper” by the United States Lighthouse Service.
Once he completed the tasks of the day and the couple settled in their new home for the night. Napoleon Beedon took a moment to sit at his desk and write down the following sentence in the station’s logbook:
“Replaced former Keeper Casper Kuhn at 5:00 p.m. today”
His appointment as: “Keeper” came about on the 16th day of November 1876. His First Assistant was his wife Mary Beedon, who was appointed as: “Acting First Assistant” and then to the position of: “First Assistant” on the 16th day of November 1876.
“Napoleon Beedon was a twenty-year seasoned and experience Lake Superior lighthouse keeper.”
Upon his arrival at Au Sable Point, Beedon described the inclement weather at the station like this: “A light breezy is blowing in from the South.”
While he continued writing down the events of the day in the station logbook there was a horrific storm that was now roaring across Lake Superior. Napoleon and his First Assistant wife Mary were both fearful of the storms high winds. They were worried the winds would blow the light-station and brick tower down. The two of them were shaking like a leaf as the winds continue to howl out of the northwest. They also noted it was snowing outside our front doors. We are having a hard time seeing through the blinding conditions and the storm continues to worsen as each minute passes. The violent storm and high winds blew down fifty trees that were situated close to the light-station. Napoleon stated:
“In all the time I’ve spent serving in the Lighthouse Service, I’ve never experienced this type of violent storm that is now wreaking havoc along the lake.”
On 19th day of July 1879, The United States Lighthouse Service Eleventh District Inspector Commander Joseph N. Miller appointed Frederick W. Boesler Sr. and his son Frederick W. Boesler Jr. to the positions of “Acting Keeper” and “Acting First Assistant” of Au Sable Point Light-Station. The two men took over on the same day that Keeper Napoleon Beedon and First Assistant Mrs. Mary Beedon “Resigned” from the United States Lighthouse Service. During May of 1881, Keeper Frederick W. Boesler Sr. noted this entry in the station logbook:
“I grafted twenty-four fruit trees, twelve of them were cherry and the other twelve trees were apple.”
On the 27th day of July 1882, Keeper Fredrick Boesler Sr. received new kerosene lamps that were delivered by the: “Steamer Dahlia” prior to the crew stopping off at Big Sable Light-Station. On the 15th day of August 1882, First Assistant, Fredrick Boesler Jr. noted he found an: “Indian Bark Canoe” on the beach. Inside the canoe was box of supplies. On the 1st day of October 1882, the United States Lighthouse Service abolished the position of First Assistant, which left Frederick W. Boesler Sr. alone. On the 4th day of July 1883, Frederick was under a great deal of pressure. According to Keeper Boesler Sr.; the weather along Lake Superior was described as: “clear, blowing hard from the northwest.” On the water was the wooden bulk steam-barge freighter S.S. Mary Jarecki. She was making her way down bound along Lake Superior. Her two-hundred-foot-long hull was loaded down with five hundred and three net tons of iron ore and she was sitting low in the water. The Mary Jarecki was driven ashore at “Au Sable Point” during a heavy fog and became stranded on beach. The steam-barge was slowly pounded to pieces by the raging storm and everyone aboard managed to exit the vessel. On the 10th day of October 1883, Boesler Sr. noted the “Steamer Warrington” arrived. The crew aboard was at station to paint the tower, do some minor repairs and they were expected to stay with us for about a day and half. On the 30th day of April 1884, Frederick W. Boesler Sr. “Resign” his position as keeper of Au Sable Point Light-Station.
On the 21st day of May 1884, “Acting Keeper,” Gus Gigandet, his wife Mary Gigandet and First Assistant William Laviate arrived at Au Sable Point Light-Station. One of the first points Gus noted in the station logbook was:
“I feel contented and satisfied with the station.”
Keeper Gus Gigandet must have been telling the truth, because he remained at this lonely and solated place until his passing in 1896. On the 16th day of 1885, Keeper Gus Gigandet wrote the anchor from the sail boat was accidently lost near the shoreline. Gus figured they would find it before the day had ended. He also noted there was a light breeze blowing from the South. During the summer of 1886, Keeper Gus Gigandet bragged in the station logbook about his accomplishment while fishing near the light-station at “Au Sable Point.” Gus stated, he caught one hundred and forty-four brook trout near the mouth of the: “Hurricane River.” Keeper Gus, his wife Mary, his assistants lived and worked through the worst weather Lake Superior could throw at them. On the 5th day of November 1886, Keeper Gigandet noted the following in the station logbook:
“One of the heaviest gales from the northwest is blowing in off the lake. There is a blinding snowstorm taking place right outside my door. In my all my years, I’ve never experienced this type of snowstorm until now.”
At the end of the navigational season in 1886, First Assistant, William Laviate took a position at a local lumber camp while the station was closed for the winter. On the 7th day of July 1887, Keeper Gus Gigandet stated:
“The winds were blowing so violently that it caused the tower to shake hard.”
On the 8th day of August 1887, Keeper Gigandet wrote an “Old Gentlemen” who was a watchman for “Lumber Camp #7” that was about seven miles west of the station. The man arrived here around 2:00 p.m. He was sick and unable to travel any further. Gigandet’s problem is there are gale force winds blowing and I couldn’t take him by boat. According to Gus the seventy year old Canadian born man died on station at 9:30 p.m. The following morning the dead man’s body was taken to Grand Marais, Michigan for burial. On the 29th day of October 1896, Keeper Gus Gigandet passed away after battling an illness that lasted a least two weeks. First Assistant William Laviate took over as: “Acting Keeper” of Au Sable Point Light-Station. He continued working and maintaining the light until United States Lighthouse Board appointed Gigandet’s replacement.
On the 30th day of January 1897, Herbert W. Weeks was appointed to the position of; “Keeper” of Au Sable Point Light-Station. A little less than two years into his tenure at Au Sable, Keeper Weeks, his first wife Johanna and his entire family are now dealing with a major tragedy. The Weeks had six daughters: Marion, Alice, Margaret, Bessie, Hanna, Clara and two son’s Frank & Hebert. On the 30th day of September 1898, First Assistant Laviate wrote this entry into the station logbook:
“The principal keeper left his station to go to Grand Island, Michigan at 8:00 a.m. to bury one of his four daughters. Based on my research the daughter that passed was Alice.”
On the 4th day of November 1901, Keeper Weeks wrote this notation in the station logbook:
“First Assistant, John J. Keating had killed a very large bear. I had to leave the light and help him drag the large animal back to the station.”
In 1901, Keeper Herbert W. Weeks faced another problem. The crib that supplies water to the light-station had become inoperable. Over a three-year period, the crib had become severely damage as a result of waves that continually pounded away at it. The United States Lighthouse Service Depot repair crew out of the main depot in Detroit, Michigan was called out to Au Sable Point. Their mission was to replace the old crib. Until the water supply was re-established to the station, Keeper Weeks and First Assistant Laviate were forced to fill buckets up with lake water and carry them one by one up to the light-station. Over the span of a single day these two men made countless trips just to keep the fog signal equipment operational.
“I came across what could be an error in Herbert Weeks overall timeline at Au Sable. In a United States Lighthouse document date, the 1st day of July 1899, Weeks is listed as Keeper of Big Sable Point Lighthouse and his Assistant at that time was listed as: Winfield S. Adamson. The notation in another document list Weeks was Demoted & Transferred on the 1st day of October 1903. Make you wonder?”
In 1904, the United States Lighthouse Board finally made the decision to add a Second Assistant at Au Sable Point Light-Station. On the 11th day of April 1904, they appointed Garfield L. Sweet to the position of Second Assistant. He moved into the Keeper’s Quarter that was already occupied by Keeper Otto Bufe, appointed on the 2nd day of October 1903, First Assistant Orrin P. Young appointed on the 11th day of August 1903 and their families. The present dwelling size and accommodation within the existing keeper’s quarters built in 1874 was already bursting at the seams. There were two families (Bufe & Young) already living in the dwelling and now with the addition of Sweat, everyone found themselves shuffling around and make room for Sweat’s family. On the 3rd day of April 1907, Garfield was promoted and promptly transferred to another Great Lakes Light-Station. On the 1st day of November 1908, James Kay was appointed: “Keeper” of Au Sable Point Light-Station. In 1909, the following notation was part of Inspector Oliver G. Brown inspection report:
“The main point on which the light-station stands has been cleared of timber for a ¼ mile in each direction.”
The United States Lighthouse Service figured this undertaking would help improve the easterly and westerly visibility of the light that continued to illuminate from the Third Order Fresnel lens. The other reasons why the over growth was scheduled to be removed was stated as to clear out the over growth of timbers. They figured this would allow easier access by boats and vessels anchoring off Au Sable Point Fog Signal Building. The access from the water’s edge was by a foot trail that was also cleared away. The crew of worked also cleared out the over grown dirt road that was within three miles of the light-station. Each of these undertakings made it easier to deliver dry goods, lumber or personnel up from the beach or on foot.
The Eleventh District Inspector, Commander James T. Smith finally acknowledged the unacceptable and cramped living conditions at Au Sable Point Light-Station. The Lighthouse Engineers headed up by Major Godfrey Weitzel had plans drawn up for a second keeper’s quarters. The new dwelling would be constructed exclusively for the keeper and his immediate family. The original keeper’s quarters that was built in 1874, was about to be improved and converted into a multiple family dwelling. Sometime in late 1909, Keeper James Kay moved his family, personal belongings and furniture into the newly improved and very spacious quarters. Keeper Kay and his family remained at Au Sable Point Light-Station until he: “Resigned” from the Lighthouse Service in 1915.
My final thoughts on Au Sable Point Light-Station comes from researching the area around Au Sable, the history of the light-station, those who served there and from my own accounts. Over the past ten years I’ve walked the: “North Country Trail” that leads to the light-station and spent numerous hours photographing this very isolated place in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The times I spent their made it easy for me to understand why those who served and lived there felt the way they did “Isolated and Very Much Alone!”
If you would like to learn more about “Au Sable Light-Station,” or other lighthouses, light-stations or buoy depots along the “Great Lakes” come checkout my Google Blog called: “Great Lakes Lighthouse Historian” or my Google Website called: “Great Lakes Historian.”