With the release date of my novel drawing near (October 15th, whoohoo!), I thought I’d give you a little glimpse into the “real life” of one of the main characters, the lighthouse keeper, Blake Strawberry. Though Blake is a fictitious character, I researched and included much of the same description clothing, duties, and way of life of the Cana Island lighthouse keepers of that time period.
Cana Island Lighthouse is in Bailey’s Harbor, Wisconsin (the red area on the map). The different harbors and bays the characters refer to, are located on the gray map. Blake and the other main character, Katy Kippling have a picnic on Moonlight Bay and also take a day trip to Egg Harbor.
This is the earliest know picture of the Cana Island Lighthouse. This was taken in 1869, about 10 years before my character would have taken residency. The walls of the lighthouse are still a cream colored brick. In 1890, they were covered with steel plates, due to major deterioration of the brick from the endless storms on Lake Michigan.
This is one of the lighthouse keepers who worked the Bailey’s Harbor Range Lights. These lights were also used to help guide ships into Bailey’s Harbor. In the late 1800s, Bailey’s Harbor was considered the only harbor of refuge north of Milwaukee. I included this picture, because it gives the ‘look’ of the time period when my characters Blake and Katy would have lived.
This is a diagram of the inside of the tower of the lighthouse. It is 89 feet high and has 92 steps. The keeper would have gone up and down these steps multiple times a day. You talk about a full body workout! There are many log books where the keepers have kept detailed logs of the many shipwrecks and storms off the island. There are many instances of ducks smashing through the plate-glass windows surrounding the lantern room. I don’t know why, but that just makes me laugh. Here the ducks are 89 feet up in the air, not a care in the world and then, Wham! Poor little guys.
Anyways, we’ll move on. This is not the best picture quality, but I thought it was very interesting. I took this inside the lighthouse, when we visited way back in 1996. The Lighthouse Association would have paid for these items to be stocked at the lighthouse. This was not just for the lighthouse keeper, but his family, also. Some of them had 5 and 6 children, too.
Lighthouse keepers in 1880, were paid $600 a year. A dozen eggs cost around $.21 and a loaf of bread around $.04. Many of the men and their wives and children grew gardens and even raised cows and chickens. This was not only to help offset the cost, but so that they wouldn’t have to travel to town as much. As you’ll see in the aerial shot a little further down, they were not very close to town, much less close to anywhere. Some of the accounts even talked about the Lighthouse keeper’s children having to walk 4 miles to the Bailey’s Harbor school.
This is a picture of the actual kitchen inside Cana Island Lighthouse. I know it’s primitive, but I think I would have loved cooking in this kitchen. It just looks so homey and warm (click on the picture, to see it better).
I love this perspective. The lighthouse looks enormous and towering, when viewed from the base, but here you realize how vulnerable it really was and how needed. If you look closely, you can see the rocky shoals jutting out around the island. These were treacherous to ships and caused many of the wrecks. You can also see the 300 foot pathway, connecting the island to the mainland. This has been built up over the years. In the late 1800s, this was a very rocky and rudimentary path. Many makeshift wooden bridges were even built, but were destroyed over and over during various storms. When the lake level was high, there were times when the pathway would be completely impassible.
Today, most visitors are able to walk across, without even getting their feet wet. When we crossed, the lake level was extremely low, and we had no problems.
To the residents of Cana Island, I’m sure it would have been a very isolating place to live and an extremely challenging way of life, but I still can’t help but think of this island and the job of the lighthouse keeper as noble, stately, and purely magical.
After all, Katy Kippling said it was, (so who am I to disagree) “..It looks protective and solid—towering over the island, guiding the ships to safety…Oh, to be a lighthouse keeper. What a glorious job! To wake to the sound of the lake washing the round stones on the shore. To have the first breeze that brushes your face in the morning be the breeze of Lake Michigan. To know that the fates of fishermen, sailors, and townsfolk all lay within that narrow path of light that you have paved upon the water’s surface–yes, what a job to have, indeed.” (Chapter 2, The Light in Bailey’s Harbor)