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Guest column | Mary Partington

Trip shines a light beyond the 45th parallel

The sign said we were crossing the 45th parallel. It startled me as we drove to our destination in Michigan. It meant we were half way between the Equator and the North Pole. It also means on the summer solstice you will have more than 15 hours of daylight.

We were born in Michigan and all of our children were born there. Our last five years in the state were spent in Cadillac, Mich., an interesting place to live.

When we first arrived to locate a house, I saw telephone poles next to the fire hydrants and I was told they were there to mark where the fire hydrants are during the winter.

The snow arrived in October and stayed around until April. I have seen snow flakes in June. We did not even own a fan. If it was warm on a summer day, we went down to the basement to cool off. The annual snowfall would be 150 to more than 200 inches. I think our time in Cadillac was the motivation behind coming to Florida to retire.

But there was a yearning to go back as well. During a Web search I discovered an unusual opportunity to stay in a lighthouse about 90 miles north of Cadillac. Getting away from the Florida heat and knowing that the weather would be cool, I decided to pursue the opportunity. We did all the paperwork, including a personal phone interview and sending letters of recommendation. We passed muster and were assigned a week to work and live at the lighthouse.

We arrived at 8 in the morning at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse on a sunny and cool day. We had driven about 1,500 miles to arrive at this remote location. A fellow lighthouse keeper greeted us and she led us into the lighthouse.

One of the staff welcomed us later and she gave us our keys and explained our duties as keepers of this 1857 lighthouse.

Our duties were to keep the property clean, raise and lower the flag, greet visitors, and work in the gift shop. Small projects were to be completed such as replanting the herb garden and restocking the gift shop. A small charge to the public to go through the museum required that one of us had to take the admissions and answer questions.

The lighthouse is divided into two apartments. One belonged to the lighthouse keeper and his family and the other was for the assistant keeper. We stayed in the assistant keeper's apartment. The other had been turned into a museum, set up just as it was in the 1920s and contains many items original to the lighthouse.

The Grand Traverse Lighthouse was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1972 when a new automated light was installed. The property was left to decay until 1985 when a group of women from Northport, Mich., decided the lighthouse should be preserved. In 1987, the lighthouse was opened to the public. The Grand Traverse Lighthouse Foundation was formed with the goal of preserving the historical buildings and creating a "living museum" to give the public an opportunity to see things as they once were.

The week flew by and we were treated to lovely sunsets, stormy skies and pleasant encounters with the people who came to see this historical structure and climb the tower to see Lake Michigan in all her glory.

For one week, we had no Internet, no cell service, no McDonald's, and three TV stations with pictures that came and went with the wind.

The mail was in town at a post office box and the newspaper was a weekly. It was truly a break from the heat but also a step back to the past.

We lived with noises and creaks that may have been the resident ghosts and stories of murders and pirates were told. A real break from the usual and it cost less than $200 per person.

Now the cost of the gasoline to get there was another matter.

Mary Partington lives in New Port Richey

Trip shines a light beyond the 45th parallel 06/29/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 7:10pm]
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