|Calumet Harbor, IN|
Description: The plain, modern lights that mark Calumet Harbor today reveal little about Calumet’s earlier lighthouses and the colorful personalities that staffed them. The first light was established in 1853 at a cost of $4,500 using stone quarried in Blue Island and transported down the Little Calumet and Calumet River by barge. A.G. Golton served as the first keeper. However, ship captains heading for the Chicago River were confused by the new light, and due to numerous protests, the light was extinguished on July 28, 1855. The lighthouse was sold at auction for $125, but in 1870 the government wanted to reactivate the light and had to buy it back for $10,000. The light shone again from the shore for three years, until it was replaced by a pier light. As the harbor works were improved, this light was moved in 1884 and rebuilt in 1898. This mural shows both the 1853 lighthouse and pierhead light.
Mary M. Ryan is the most notorious keeper of the Calumet Lighthouse. Following the death of her husband, she assumed responsibilities for the light on August 10, 1873. Mary Ryan remained at the post for over seven years, which given the following sampling of her log entries, might have felt like an eternity.
Mary Ryan’s final day on the job was November 6, 1880. A new keeper, with a new outlook on things took over shortly thereafter.
In 1899, the construction of a breakwater to create an artificial harbor at the entrance to the Calumet River was authorized. Starting from a point roughly a half mile north of the river’s entrance, a breakwater was extended out into the lake. The breakwater is formed of timber cribs capped by concrete, and projects east into the lake for about 4,000 feet before bending to the southeast. At the end of this 6,714-foot breakwater, work on a lighthouse began in 1905. The stout, rectangular structure originally consisted of two full stories, topped by a pitched roof, with a cylindrical tower extending above the roof at one end. Later, the pitched roof was removed, and the tower stood alone atop the boxy building.
For several years, both the pierhead and outer breakwater lighthouses were active and maintained by keepers in season. A lifesaving station was located on the Calumet River, and one of the station’s lookout towers was positioned near the pierhead lighthouse. When the surfman stationed at the lookout saw the flag at the outer breakwater lighthouse flying at half mast, he knew the keepers required assistance. Thanks to the lifesaving station logs, several instances of the keepers lowering their flag to signal the lookout tower were recorded, including the following one.
Early on the morning of April 16th 1921, the surfman on lookout noticed the distress signal was being flown at the outer breakwater lighthouse. A gale wind was blowing, the seas were very high, and the temperature was just above freezing. As the lifesaving station’s lifeboat was out of commission, a rescue team was forced to request that the M.B. Mary tow their surfboat to the lighthouse. Accompanied by two keepers of the pierhead lighthouse (James Muckiam and Joseph Gramm), the crew rowed the surfboat the final few yards up to the lee side of the lighthouse.
The lifesaving keeper recorded that “the windows of the lighthouse were broken in. The floors flooded. The building shifted about two feet, breakwater going to pieces around it and other places.” Still, the keepers refused to leave the lighthouse. They did, however, request that the lighthouse superintendent be informed of their situation. After returning to shore, the lifesaving keeper telegraphed the superintendent, who gave his permission for the keepers to be removed from the lighthouse if their lives were endangered. The lifesaving keeper judged the lighthouse keepers’ situation to be quite grave, and they were accordingly brought ashore with the assistance of a tugboat.
The mouth of the Calumet River and the surrounding land all lie within the state of Illinois, however due to the length of the breakwater, the breakwater lighthouse was actually just east of the Illinois-Indiana State Line, which runs north-south. Since the lengthy breakwater is exposed to the full force of northern storms that can sweep the length of Lake Michigan, over 12,000 tons of rip rap were placed along it in 1930 for protection.
Armand Seguin was stationed at the lighthouse in 1961-1962. During his service, the lighthouse was generally staffed by two Coast Guardsmen who spent four days at the lighthouse followed by two days off. Seguin remembers that there were two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and an office/living room on the upper level, while the lower level housed the furnace, a water tank, and the air compressor for the fog signal.
The US Steel South Chicago works provided electricity to the lighthouse for free via a submarine cable. The only catch was that it was AC at 25Hz. This meant that the lights flickered, and while a motor/generator was used to convert the electricity into a standard 110V and 60Hz signal for powering a television, the picture would periodically get off sync.
Inspectors from Chicago visited the station and found that the well water was contaminated. When Sequin inquired how bad it was, the inspector replied "Well, you might take a bath in it, but don't get it anyplace by your face! And, boil it like mad before you cook with it." From then on, the Coast Guardsmen had to haul their own drinking water out to the lighthouse.
A second detached breakwater with a length of 5,007 feet was built to provide further protection for the harbor. A small gap, which provides a direct route to the river from the lake, separates the two breakwaters. In 1995, the two-story, breakwater lighthouse was demolished over a period of 22 days. In its place, stands a white cylindrical tower marked with a red band, as seen in the bottom photo to the left. The nearby end of the detached breakwater is marked by a similar tower with a green band. The steel tower standing on four cylinders shown in the top two photographs marks the other end of the detached breakwater.
Located at the end of a 6,714-foot-long breakwater that extends from the mouth of the
Calumet River into Lake Michigan. The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.