Editor’s note: What you are about to read is a silly fan theory about lighthouses. Though there will still be some real facts about Michigan lighthouses!
I recently read that the Point Betsie Light, located in Frankfort, MI (near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore) was the last “manned” lighthouse in the state of Michigan, with its keeper Louis S. Bauchan leaving his post in 1983. So many questions…why was THIS the last manned lighthouse? Furthermore, why do we REALLY have lighthouses?
Point Betsie Light is located southwest of Traverse City, MI.
Point Betsie Light
I’m going to play the role of “straight man” in a comedy routine here, so pretend I’m Cliff Clavin from “Cheers:”
“The reason why we have lighthouses is that lighthouses were, and are still used to help guide ships, especially at night.” That’s true. Lighthouses and shoal lights are very important navigational tools. The state of Michigan has more than 120 lighthouses, which is more than any other state in the United States. I’ve always been fascinated with lighthouses, and I have photographed a good number of them while on my numerous travels in Michigan.
Me at the Crisp Point Lighthouse in 2010, which has since been restored. This is one of the most remote lighthouse sites in Michigan, and is located on Lake Superior. Of course, it immediately started raining as soon as we arrived, after trekking over about 15 miles or so of washboard roads, which took well more than an hour. See a map showing Crisp Point’s location below…
So the “Cliff Clavin” explanation of lighthouses is that they are used to help guide ships. Yeah, yeah, that’s true…but (yawn) boring! A few years ago, my husband and I were in a bookstore in Leland, MI and we were eyeballing a framed illustrated map that included local lighthouses, landmarks, waterways, etc. And in the waterways, there were…monsters! A couple of older ladies chuckled at the presence of monsters in the illustration. But my husband Mike, decided to have a…little fun with these two!
“Of course there are monsters,” Mike said. That’s why they have all of those lighthouses, so they can see where the monsters are. The lights scare them away. That’s why you don’t see them during the day.” He was clearly a chip off the “old block” in that moment, channeling his father, particularly his abilities to spin an unbelievable yarn – and make it sound believable. The women were very entertained by his shenanigans, to say the least!
Fast forward to just a few days ago, when I learned that the Point Betsie Light near Frankfort, MI was the last “manned” lighthouse, with its keeper Louis Bauchan leaving his post in 1983. What if the real reason he was the last lighthouse keeper was because he had a reputation as having a few screws loose and told stories about monsters that he’d seen in the Great Lakes? Maybe he believed the Manitou Passage (which Point Betsie Light helps oversee) was dangerous for OTHER reasons besides the potentially dangerous currents, which can ground ships in bad weather – and also sink huge ships (it’s essentially a shipwreck graveyard, as the map below will show you). What lurked in the depths of those treacherous waters? Mr. Bauchan knew!
Seriously, how cool of a ship name is ‘Francisco Morazon?” We checked out the still visible remains of the Francisco Morazon when we took a backpacking trip to South Manitou Island in 2006. We still had a film camera back then!
Here’s a possible script:
(Important looking man sitting at desk, talking to an employee): “The Point Betsie Light is getting automated soon. You’re going to have to go there to break the news to the civilian lighthouse keeper who still lives there.”
(Employee): “I don’t know. I’ve heard that this guy is kind of nuts. The locals say he goes out chasing lake monsters when he’s not manning the lighthouse. He’s told lots of stories in the local bars.”
(Man sitting at desk): “Yeah, we’ve all heard the stories, and that’s probably why we’ve put off doing this for so long – EVERYONE’S afraid of him. But it’s gotta be done. We don’t have a budget to pay a lighthouse keeper salary anymore. You’re going to have to break the news. Be nice, though – he’s a old guy, and he’s still well respected in lighthouse keeper circles. He’s been the lighthouse keeper at Point Betsie since 1947.”
There you have it. Isn’t it MUCH more fun to think about lighthouses serving the function of scaring off the lake monsters than simply thinking of them as a means of illuminating the waterways for sailors? 🙂