William Upjohn Parfet
Friend, Great Lakes Enthusiast
President of The Upjohn Company, 1990-1993
Presently Chairman & CEO of MPI Research
Nothing is more captivating than the sea. Since the beginning of time the expansive bodies of water that cover two-thirds of the earth’s surface have intertwined with the history and development of mankind to form a unique and almost miraculous bond.
The vast regions of fresh water in North America known as the Great Lakes share the same captivating qualities as the salt water counterparts into which they flow. Glacial effects, early exploration, shipping channels, recreational activities and abundant fishing, all characterize the important role the Great Lakes have played in history.
Tales of Native American encampments, early settlers, violent storms, shipwrecks, and peaceful vistas and winter ice floes, all add to the lore of the Great Lakes. The most tangible reminder of the varied and evolving development of these fresh water seas is the lighthouses.
Constructed originally to mark areas of danger to seafarers, lighthouses were eventually built to designate a safe route for passage.
Each lighthouse along the Great Lakes has its own history, its own unique character, its own charm, and its own meaning to those many who venture past either by land or by sea.
This book, this compendium of aerial photographs, is the work of John L. Wagner who has devoted the last six years to capturing the essence of the Great Lakes lighthouses from a perspective never seen before.
John, a skilled pilot and photographer, has worked painstakingly to provide these beautiful lighthouse portraits. Whether it is the presence of huge ice floes in winter, the sparkle of the bright sun off crystal clear water in summer, or the magnificent effect of changing light on the diverse shoreline in fall and spring, John demonstrates his artistic talent in the photographs included in this publication. Each portrait provides a vivid reminder of how captivated we are by the history and national beauty of the Great Lakes.
Thomas L. Jones
Historical Society of Michigan
Executive Director, 1980-94
Two of the elements of nature that have fascinated humans throughout our history are air and water.
The ability to fly and soar—like the birds—captured our imaginations for ages and still holds our emotions even now when we have essentially conquered flight. Still, flying remains for us an inherently “unnatural” act. At the same time, we are taken with water, not only its “moods,” but also our dependency on its life-giving elements and our frailty in the face of its many forces. Here, too, we have learned to live with, in and on water, but are never comfortable doing so. There is always the element of surprise that makes that coexistence so intriguing for us.
In this wonderful book, John L. Wagner has brought together both of those very human fascinations, air and water. Intrepidly flying alone over the length and breadth of Michigan, he has captured on film perspectives of lighthouses that not only allow us to marvel at their architectural variety—and unfortunately, decry the effects neglect and vandalism have wrought on them—but also to understand their important role in helping us deal with the vagaries of water travel.
For those of us whose visits to lighthouses are limited by the seasons or modes of transportation, John Wagner has lifted us out and beyond, into the air and in all seasons. Through his work, we can feel we have, for the moment, conquered the elements of air and water. It is an exhilarating feeling.
Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association (GLLKA)
Navigational aids were a necessity from the moment man went to sea. This is best illustrated by pointing out that two of the seven ancient wonders of the world served as lighthouses; Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt and the Colossus of Rhodes, both built about 300 B.C.
The vast Sweetwater Seas, the Great Lakes, were the backbone of exploration and commercial development of Midwest America. It should not surprised anyone that Michigan, with over 3,100 miles off shoreline, had more than 100 major navigational aids. These light stations were cared for by dedicated, enterprising, courageous and industrious men and women.
Technology has been their savior and perhaps their destroyer. The last lighthouse to be automated in Michigan waters was Point Betsie in 1983. Thus, the traditional lighthouse keeper is a thing of the past. It was obvious that if the structures were to be preserved, volunteers would be required to carry on this monumental task. The need to develop a “new generation of preservationists,” today’s youth, became apparent. Nationwide, organizations spanning all age groups enthusiastically embraced this concept.
The Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association (GLLKA) has allocated major resources to develop a curriculum guide for maritime heritage education that is available to teachers and youth leaders. GLLKA has used the award-winning preservation/restoration of the remote St. Helena Island Light Station as a laboratory to develop this guide. An aerial record of this project appears in John Wagner’s book.
John L. Wagner has done a masterful job in photo documenting Michigan’s maritime monuments. His spectacular three dimensional, year-round aerial photography vividly illustrates the purpose of the lighthouse’s location and the need for superior structures to withstand mother nature’s wintertime wrath. And John’s vignettes add a meaningful human dimension to the photo story— well done!
William G. Milliken
Governor of Michigan, 1969-82
The Great Lakes were sculpted by the glaciers, and are continually honed by wind and wave. Those of us who have reaped the benefits of living in the Great Lakes region, share a special affection for the magnificence of this freshwater system, a system that includes one-fifth of the total surface freshwater in the entire world. The Great Lakes have met our industrial, agricultural, navigation and recreational needs, while at the same time serving to inspire, to soothe, and leave us in awe of nature’s splendor.
This spiritual relationship was captured by Henry David Thoreau, who wrote: “A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye: looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”
This splendor, and this spirit, is captured as well by the aerial eye of John Wagner.