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Archive for November, 2009

Anchor of the ‘Madeira’ Finds a New Home at Split Rock Lighthouse

Monday, November 30th, 2009

For the last few decades the four-ton ship anchor from the 430-foot iron ore carrier ‘Madeira’ shipwreck has been sitting in a corner of the parking lot of a souvenir shop near Split Rock Lighthouse.  The anchor had originally been raised from the 1905 shipwreck in the 1960’s.

The 430-foot Madeira around 1900Several years ago the souvenir shop burned down and when the land recently came up for sale the Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society (GLSPS) worked with the land’s owner who donated the anchor, a bollard from the ship’s deck, and a section of the storm-twisted hull of the ship to the GLSPS.  GLSPS offered the anchor on long-term loan to the Minnesota Historical Society and we agreed that displaying the anchor in front of the visitor center at Split Rock made a lot of sense.  After all, the 1905 storm (known locally as The ‘Mataafa” Blow) that sank the ‘Madeira’ and several other ships was the prime reason for the construction of Split Rock Light Station in 1909.  This last weekend divers from GLSPS, volunteering their time and equipment, along with Split Rock Lighthouse Historic Site staff, moved the anchor to the service area of the historic site.

1905 shipwreck of the Madeira, by Kurt CarlsonNext summer, in time for the centennial of the lighthouse and the 105th anniversary of the storm that sank the ‘Madeira’, the anchor will be placed on display along with interpretive information on the ship, the storm, and the anchor in front of the Split Rock Lighthouse Visitor Center.  For any who know the fabled story of the wreck of the ’Madeira’ and the heroic rescue of nine of the ten crewmen this makes a lot of sense.  The shipwreck took place against Gold Rock Point, the next point of land to the northeast of the lighthouse, and it remains a very popular dive site.

GLSPS divers moving anchor to Split Rock, 29nov2009Lake Superior divers in general, and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society in particular, have done a lot in the last several years to protect the shipwrecks in the big lake.  The GLSPS should be commended for their PIB program (Put It Back) which returns many artifacts to shipwrecks that over the years have found thier way into divers’ basements and garages.  This puts the artifacts back where they can have more meaning to divers and enhance the wrecks as the cultural resources that they are.

Fresnel lens tune-up

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

3rd-order, Fresnel lens at Split RockSplit Rock Lighthouse has the last operational Fresnel lens in the country remaining in the lens room of a lighthouse that still operates on its original mercury float and is rotated by a clockwork mechanism.

Last week one of the few people in the country who can be considered an old-school ”lampist”, Jim Woodward, along with Kurt Fosberg, cleaned the mercury and made adjustments to the lens, float, and rotating mechanism.  Since mercury is a hazardous material special certification and special care and equipment is required to prevent exposure to mercury vapors during the process.

Draining mercury from lens float

Nearly two gallons of mercury was drained, and the mercury bowl and float cleaned, and the mercury replaced.  The very small surface area of mercury that is exposed to the air when the float is closed was covered with mineral oil to stop any mercury exposure to the air.

Mercury bowl and float of Split Rock lensThis was a fascinating procedure to watch especially in that the knowledge of the old classical lenses and their care is becoming a lost art.  This tune-up, along with restoration on the lighthouse itself, were completed in time for the 100 year anniversary of the commissioning of Split Rock Lighthouse which will be celebrated in 2010.

10 November

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

The 34th anniversary of the sinking of the 729-foot iron ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald was observed at Split Rock Lighthouse on November 10.  Over 500 people visited the lighthouse for the annual beacon lighting.

Muster of the Last Watch ceremony, 2007 Among them was the family of one of the Fitzgerald’s crew members.  Siblings, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of one of the ship’s maintenance men attended the bell ceremony and the beacon lighting.  Each year relatives of at least one of the crew members who perished with the ship attend the ceremony.  This reinforces for us the importance of remembering and showing respect to the ship and crew.

The weather was unusual for mid-November in that it was calm, clear and in the high forties at sunset.

Edmund Fitzgerald Remembered

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Edmund FitzgeraldAgain tomorrow night, for the 24th year in a row, we will be holding the Edmund Fitzgerald memorial beacon lighting ceremony at Split Rock Lighthouse.  This year the weather is supposed to be polar opposites of what it was 34 years ago when the mighty Fitz went down in heavy seas during an early winter gale.

This is the event of the year for me and all of the staff at Split Rock that really resonates and brings home the reason for the lighthouse being built on this rocky point.  We enjoy seeing visitors who have become old friends and who have returned to the site each year on November 10 to experience Lake Superior in different weather and with a little different emphasis than a summer visit has.

Split Rock Lighthouse beacon at duskSo, even though the temperature will be in the 50’s and the sun will be out it will still be November.  The sun will reflect off of the lake at a very low angle and it will dip behind Day Hill at 4:37 p.m.  The long dusk allows for the lighthouse beacon to add its glow to what promises to be a glorious sunset.

Visit the Visitor Center and Store this winter

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Did you know that even though the lighthouse is closed for the season the Visitor Center, with exhibits, the 22-minute film and museum store, is open all winter, Thursday - Monday from 11 AM - 4 PM?  New product for the store is arriving weekly in anticipation of our winter friends as well as the up coming Centennial.  Stop in to say hello and enjoy the view from the Observation Deck.