Coast Guard flies out to fix remote Michigan lighthouse known as ‘the Loneliest Place
LAKE SUPERIOR, MI – After a harsh winter storm blew out a window in the very remote Stannard Rock Lighthouse in Lake Superior, a team from the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Alder recently hitched a ride on a Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City to make the icy repair.
Teams had been worried the missing window could threaten the electronics inside – and even the working light – at the historic lighthouse that sits off the eastern shore of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.
Built 24 miles from the Upper Peninsula shoreline, Stannard Rock is considered the lighthouse farthest from shore in the contiguous United States. That has earned it the grim moniker as “The Loneliest Place in the World.”
The Coast Guard is sharing with MLive readers their photos from last week’s helicopter and repair trip.
Petty Officers Craig Campomizzi and John Ziemba, part of the Aids to Navigation Team aboard the Duluth-based cutter Alder, made the Jan. 26 trip out to Stannard Rock with help from the Traverse City-based chopper crew.
“The weather wasn’t the most conducive at single-digit temperatures and frequent snow squalls, but thanks to the keen skill and professionalism of the air crew, they were able to make five hoists using a rescue basket to get Petty Officer Ziemba, myself, and our gear safely onto the icy structure,” Petty Officer Campomizzi told MLive. “While Petty Officer Ziemba ensured the light was operating within specified parameters and the structure was sound, I got to work boarding up the missing window until the Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Conservancy can get out there in the spring to affect a permanent window replacement.”
Built in 1883, the Stannard Rock station is well-known among Great Lakes lighthouse lore lovers. Its exposed crib – or base structure – is considered one of the Top 10 engineering feats in the U.S., according to the National Park Service. And it was built to mark a huge underwater reef that was considered one of the most dangerous obstacles to shipping in Lake Superior. The top of a large underwater mountain was found to sit just 4 feet from the surface of the water in some spots.
As such a remote lighthouse, Stannard Rock was considered one of the “stag stations,” where male keepers and assistants could work, but could not bring their families like they could at other assignments.
Here’s a little more history to give you a feel for this place, courtesy of a recent social media post from the U.S. Coast Guard Station Marquette: “The old keepers told terrible tales of life on the Rock. Violent northwest storms sent 30-foot waves smashing into the tower and spray cascading over the lantern room 110 feet above the Lake. Louis Wilks from Marquette holds the record for consecutive time spent on the Rock – 99 days. No other keeper even approached this remarkable feat. The men were rotated off the Rock, three weeks on and one off. In 1939, the U.S. Coast Guard took over the lighthouse and overwhelming loneliness remained a problem.”
The lighthouse was automated in 1962, a year after a fatal fire and explosion that left survivors stranded at Stannard Rock for days until they were noticed by a passing ship. In 1971, the lighthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It remains a working aid to navigation and can be seen by boat, airplane or – last week’s case – a winter helicopter ride.
“There is a lot of interesting history that accompanies this lighthouse and it’s very rewarding to be able to get out to, ‘the loneliest place on the continent’ to help out another agency on behalf of the U. S. Coast Guard,” Campomizzi said.
Air Station Traverse City gave a shout-out to its helicopter team for making the trip…