On Saturday, May 30, 2009, the National Park Service (NPS) will host a ceremony to celebrate the relighting of the South Manitou Island Lighthouse, off the coast of Empire, about a half hour west of Traverse City. History will be made when the great-grandson of lighthouse keeper Aaron Sheridan, who first lit the lamp in the present tower in 1872, flips the switch of the new solar-powered light. Festivities for the public will take place on the beach at the Maritime Museum in Glen Haven starting at 9:00 p.m. In 1871, the U.S. Government replaced a 35-foot tower with the present 100-foot tower and installed a third order Fresnel lens from Paris with a three-wick lamp whose light could be seen as far as 18 miles away. The lighthouse keeper at the time was Aaron Sheridan and he had the honor of lighting that new light when the next shipping season began. One hundred and thirty-seven years later, his great-grandson, Jack Sheridan, will be on South Manitou Island and will honor his family’s history by relighting the lighthouse light.
On the mainland, the public is invited to the Maritime Museum at 9:00 p.m., where Park Ranger Joanne De Jonge will tell shipwreck stories of the Manitou Passage. Mike Deren, a professional historic interpreter and songwriter, will transform himself into a 19th century ship captain and engage the audience in a musical journey. The National Lakeshore Superintendent, Dusty Shultz, and representatives from the partners who made the new light possible, will provide a few brief remarks. Light refreshments will follow and at dark, the light will be turned on for everyone on shore to see and enjoy. Sunset will be at 9:22 p.m.
The Manitou Islands Memorial Society, Manitou Island Transit, and Electro-Optics Technology, Inc., all collaborated with the National Park Service at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to raise funds to purchase a replica third order Fresnel lens. It was installed in the lantern room of the lighthouse last fall after park employees worked all summer to repair and repaint the tower.
Lighting the South Manitou Island Lighthouse was a NPS Centennial Initiative project. The Centennial Initiative is a 10-year program to reinvigorate America’s national parks by 2016, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and requires that all federal funds be matched with private donations. Superintendent Shultz praised the efforts, saying, "The South Manitou Island Light project was a success because of strong partnerships and commitments from private donors. Thanks to our generous supporters, the South Manitou light will shine on the horizon from May through October, and visitors to the island will be able to view the replica lens and lantern room, and better appreciate all the work accomplished for many years to come."
For more information on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, visit the park’s website or call 231-326-5134.