The Allure of the Lighthouse | Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council

The Allure of the Lighthouse

Lighthouse TourLighthouses are the irresistible superstars of the Great Lakes. We are drawn to them in every season and in any type of weather. We enjoy seeing, touring, listening to stories about and photographing them. Every day is a good day to enjoy the lighthouses on the Great Lakes.

Designed to emit light through a system of lamps and lenses, lighthouses have long been used as an aid to navigation. Over the years, the number of operational lighthouses has declined and yet they remain powerful symbols in our lives. Embodying strength, hope and guidance, and symbolizing the need to persevere and shine strong even during a storm.

My understanding of the importance of the lights was strengthened through the stories my grandfather would tell about his experiences of piloting ships on the Great Lakes. Lighthouses made numerous appearances in his stories sometimes as an interesting detail and other times as an integral part of his navigation.

IMG 8906 Sailboat NowickiFor me lighthouses were a familiar backdrop for photos during family vacations and fishing trips. Wherever we would travel around the great lakes we would stop by various lighthouses and walk the piers, enjoy the lake and take tours when possible. During tours, it was and still is fascinating to listen to the stories of the lighthouse keepers and the challenges that they had to overcome, especially in bad weather.

One of the great things about family photos with lighthouse is that they add so much valuable information to an image. A photo on the beach could be almost anywhere, but with a lighthouse in the background the photo is instantly given the key to contextualizing a memory. Moreover, in looking at photos over time, we grow up and change in height, fashion, etc. and for the most part, the lighthouses remain the same. They stand as nostalgic reminders of times gone by and are a reassurance of continuity between past and future. Because of this, lighthouses are extremely popular for family, senior and wedding photos.

Waves Nowicki IMG 7809Living in St. Joseph, and being within a short walk of the lighthouse, I get to witness a very dynamic side to these static structures. Wind, rain, fog, clouds, snow, ice, and sunshine all paint, disguise and embellish. They transform the structure right before our eyes, every day and every hour is different and offers a new opportunity to enjoy nature's interaction with these man-made icons.

Further they add scale, especially to storms. Seeing the waves pound against the pier and lighthouse offers a very visceral and relatable understanding of the severity of a storm. When watching the waves crash against the pier, I find myself often thinking, "Wow . . . yesterday I was standing out there . . ."

When I post photos on social media I am fascinated by all of the memories that are shared about living in Southwest Michigan and visiting the lake and lights. Numerous times I have been told about how much former residents appreciate the way that seeing photos online helps to keep them connected to the area. Moreover, how much pride they have in showing images of both the beauty of the sunsets and ferocity of the storms to their friends and family.

Ice Covered LighthouseThe strong wind storms in the spring and fall have helped garner the lighthouse in St. Joseph, Michigan a lot of fame. The frighteningly beautiful way that the waves slam into the pier and lighthouses and the explosion of spray it creates draws people to the lake for storms and photos often make the news. Moreover, the first significant ice up of the lighthouse is always a noteworthy event often gaining national and even international coverage.

I am drawn to lighthouses every time the weather changes, because I know I am guaranteed a new and captivating experience.

See Josh’s photos of the St. Joseph lighthouse

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