Saturday, September 22, 2012

A May 2011 tour of Menagerie Island

We departed from Mott Island and headed toward Menagerie Island. The Ranger who piloted our small boat was unfamiliar with the waters around Menagerie, so the Ranger from Malone Bay came out to meet us, lead us into Malone Bay and then took over pilot duties on our small boat for the trip out to Menagerie.


 We were blessed with calm waters again on this day of our trip as you can plainly see in this photo taken as we approached Menagerie. The area in which we would "dock" the boat was nestled among the rocks right below the lighthouse.


 Here we make the final approach to the lighthouse. It was a good thing that the Ranger from Malone Bay was at the wheel, since there were a number of shallow, rocky areas that needed to be avoided during our approach.

After reaching the island, and positioning ourselves to land, the pilot cut back the throttles and raised the engine to allow us to slowly drift into this natural cut between the rocks. We were really fortunate for the weather conditions, since you can plainly see that any wave action would easily break over the the guard rocks to the right and smashing the boat against the surrounding rocks.


As is the case with mainland of Isle Royale itself, Menagerie is a thin island which lies from northeast to southwest. After climbing up the rocks, to the surface of the island, I decided to head off to the southwest end to check out the oil storage building.

The oil storage building still contains some components of the original shelving supports on which the standard oil butts were stored, along with a couple of empty 55-gallon drums.


One of the many gulls on the island had claimed the floor of the oil storage building as its nesting site in which it had laid two eggs. The gulls swooped down at our heads screaming at us whenever we approached their nests, with come of them attempting to hit us with liquid bombs. Fortunately, their aim was was imperfect!


 As I moved across to the east of the island, the character changed considerably as it is made up of a huge wall of rock which slopes down at an angle of about 30 degrees to disappear down into the water.

Moving toward the dwelling, a dark brown rusted iron acetylene storage cabinet box came into view against the side of the covered way which connects the tower to the dwelling. I had caught a glimpse of this cabinet on previous water views of the island, but it was good to finally be able to inspect it close-up.


While there are a couple of other remaining acetylene cabinets at lighthouses around the Great Lakes, this one is by far in the best condition of any I have seen to this point. As a result of the island's remote location and difficulty in making a landing in anything but the calmest weather, this lighthouse is one of the most vandalism free of all the "abandoned" lights I have yet visited. The cabinet even included the clamp straps behind the upper door which locked the three cylinders in place.


The front door of the lighthouse. Note the lichens on the stone, which cover virtually everything around the exterior of the station.

Entering the lighthouse, the stairs to the second floor double back to the right, a pair of angled doors in the rear lead into the three downstairs rooms, and the door to the right led into a service room and then the covered way to the tower.


This is room on the first floor appears to have served as the kitchen. Because the lighthouse was automated before the Coast Guard took over, the color scheme and interior wood details all survive from the Lighthouse Service era, not being painted over with the standard Coast Guard gray and white color scheme. The widows to the right face approximately east, and the door to the rear leads to the summer kitchen. The ladder is placed in front of the door for a good reason.

The entire floor of the summer kitchen collapsed as a result of significant water infiltration through the roof before a new roof was installed about ten years ago. Watch your step!

 Back into the main entry hall, I next headed up to the second floor, which contained four bedrooms. Again, because of its isolation and difficulty in landing, the lighthouse interior shows very little sign of vandalism, with all newel posts, spindles and handrails still remaining in position and in great shape.

After turning the landing on the stairs, we are again faced with double doors at an angle to each other on the far wall, and doors to two small rooms on each side of the hall.


Each of the bedrooms was outfitted with a single window at the gable end, and a closet at the inner end wall.

After heading back down the stairs, I made my way into the service room, in which there was firewood stacked against the wall from the crew that came out to install then new roof some ten years ago. Again, the colors all adhere to the original Lighthouse Service color scheme.


 Making my way into the covered way which leads from the service room to the tower. It is approximately ten feet in length. The roof in the covered way also experience considerable water damage before the new roof was installed ten years ago, and the deteriorating lath and plaster ceiling has been covered with plywood to eliminate falling debris.

A standard segmented cast iron circular stair way leads from the first floor to the lantern 70 steps above.

This service cabinet immediately beneath the lantern floor is still in surprisingly good condition, with the exception of its back wall, which shows some rot from minor water infiltration over the years.

Yes - even remote Menagerie Island has been visited by the Coast Guard over the past year and had its old Tidelands Signal optic upgraded to one of the ubiquitous Sabik LED 350 optics.


 The view to the northeast from the lighthouse gallery. Over the three hours we were on the island, the weather changed a umber of times between overcast and partly sunny.

This cast iron chimney cap makes a great roosting spot for one of the gulls. I have not personally seen thus specific type of chimney cap on any other lighthouse, and I believe it may be unique to Menagerie island.

Back down into the service room of the main entry hallway, with the stairs to the second floor visible by the door to the right. As I looked around this room, I noticed that numerous lighthouse Service and Coast Guard personnel had written their names on the walls along with the dates they had visited the lighthouse, with many of them also including the name of their home towns.


 As I looked around the room, I recognized many of the names on the walls. I got a real shiver down my spine when I came across this name on the wall. I was fortunate to interview Bill Muessel about eight years ago, and have him tell me of his two years on the lighthouse tender AMARANTH, and how he had witnessed a horrendous accident at Rock Of Ages lighthouse where one of the crew members had been cut in two when the tender's scow up-ended due to a shifting generator. I almost felt like I was reaching through time to shake Bill's hand when he was a young man.


After leaving the dwelling, I headed for the northeasterly end of the island. Along the way, there I found two privies. This, the first of them was a standard Lighthouse Service structure with a single hole and standard pitch roof.


The second of the two privies was gable-roofed, and of two-hole configuration. Note the substantial limestone sills and lintels on the single side window. Historic photographs show that there was also a workshop with large windows located immediately to the northeast of this privy, but I was unable to find any evidence of the structure or its foundation due to the thick grasses which were prevalent in this are of the island.

A view inside the hip-roofed privy showing the double-hole configuration. An archaeological excavation of both these privies and the site of the old workshop would make a great future project.

A view back toward the lighthouse from atop the steeply angled rock wall which makes up the entire eastern coast of the island.


A wider shot from the northeast end of the island showing the angled rock face. When I realized there was a pool of water retained down in the rocks t the left of center of this image, I had to make my way down the lichen-covered rocks in hope of finding a location in which I could photograph the lighthouse reflected in the pool.

Sure enough, the pool lined up perfectly, and I was able to capture one of my favorite shots from the day's shooting.

Switching to a different and smaller pool, I caught this somewhat abstract reflection shot, with the lighthouse reflection taking on a strange greenish tinge as s result of the high algae content in the water.

As we pulled away from the island, the sun again began to bathe the island in a warmer light......

.... and we couldn't resist swinging all the way to the northeastern tip of the island to catch a more distant shot of that dramatic eastern shoreline.