Big Red – Most Photographed Lighthouse in Michigan

When my husband and I moved to Michigan last fall I was fascinated by the many lighthouses that are in the state.  In a blog I wrote then I said I was looking forward to spring/summer when we could begin exploring these lighthouses.

Michigan’s Lighthouses

Well – that time has come.

This past weekend we visited the most photographed lighthouse in the state – Big Red.   Located at the entrance of a channel that connects Lake Michigan with Lake Macatawa.   I was surprised at how small it actually was.  Thinking of lighthouses as being very tall, this one looked more like a big barn with a tower for the light.

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The lighthouse has a great history.   The area was settled by the Dutch in 1847 on the shore of Lake Macatawa.  Led by Rev. Albertus C Van Raalte a band of Hollanders founded the city of Holland.

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When they settled here they realized they needed access to Lake Michigan from Black Lake (now called Macatawa) to help their community grow and flourish.  The entrance to the lake from Lake Michigan was blocked with sandbars and silt.

After petitioning the government for help but getting none, the citizens took matters into their own hands and cut a channel that was deep enough for barges to use.  Finally, in 1866, Congress made an appropriation for work on the harbor taking over improvement of the harbor in 1867.

The government gave funds of $4,000 in 1870 to build the first lighthouse.  A small, square structure on top was a lantern deck with a ten-window lantern room.  The lighthouse keeper lived on the shore near the lighthouse and would carry his lighted oil lamp along a catwalk where he would place the lamp under a lens or magnifying device.  He would use a 18 inch fish horn to warn incoming boats when the fog hide

 

When fog lay on the lake, as it so often did, a light signal was useless. It was obvious that a fog signal, stronger than a fish horn, must be incorporated. In 1907, a steam operated fog signal was installed. A building was made for the fog signal.  This building and the lighthouse stood next to each other until 1936 when the Coast Guard combined the two structures by placing a light tower on top of the building for the fog signal.

The two buildings were painted pale yellow with a deep maroon base.  In 1956, to satisfy a Coast Guard requirement that a structure or light on the right side of any harbor entrance must be red, it was sandlasted and planted the bright red that gives it the title now of Big Red.

Marking the end for the need of lighthouse keepers, the light was electrifid in 1934 and in 1936 air powered horns using electricity were installed.

Since the lighthouse no longer was needed the Coast Guard declared it to be surplus.  A petition and letter writing campaign to save the lighthouse began.  The Holland Harbor Lighthouse Historical Commission was organized and this group gave it the name of “Big Red” to create more awareness in its effort to save the lighthouse.

 

 

 

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View of Big Red from the adjoining beach

 

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View of Lake Michigan from the beach by Big Red

Sojourner Truth – Ain’t I a Woman?

When we first moved to Michigan I was intrigued to find there were many areas in the state where there had been  Underground Railroad activity before the Civil War..  Located close to Canada, Battle Creek was one of the main stops for slaves traveling by foot through Indiana, Detroit and then Canada.

One of the most famous former slaves who became a strong abolitionist and champion of human rights was Sojourner Truth.  She lived in Battle Creek for the last 26 years of her life.  Born in New York State in 1797 and named Isabella, she escaped slavery while in her mid-thirties.

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Promised by her owner, Dumont, he would grant her freedom “if she would do well and be faithful,” she worked for him fulfilling the time he had specified.  When the date came for her freedom,  he refused to let her go.  Feeling she had kept her end of the bargain, she took her infant daughter and escaped.  Later talking about that decision to leave she said, “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.”  It must have been a tough decision because she left her older children behind as they were still legally considered property of Dumont.

The New York Anti-Slavery Law passed in 1799 stipulated that children born to slave mothers were free.  They were required to work for the mother’s master as indentured servnts into their late twenties but then be free.  Dumont ignored that law and sold Isabella’s five-year-old son.  She filed a lawsuit to get him back and was the first black woman to sue a white man in a United States court and win.

After excaping slavery she became a Christian.  In 1843 she changed her name to Sojourner Truth.  She felt she had an obligation to travel and speak out against slavery and oppression while sharing the news of the Gospel.

Asked to speak at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convetnion in 1851 she spoke out about black women’s rights.  Reporters took down her speech and it has been widely publicized as ‘Ain’t I a Woman?”

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter.  I think  that ‘twixt the Negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon.  But what’s all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say

During the Civil War she helped recruit black soldiers.  Working for the National Freedman’s Relief in DC she encouraged people to donate food, clothes and other supplies to the black slaves escaping from the South.  This bought her to the attention of President Abraham Lincoln who welcomed her to the White House and showed her a Bible he had been given by African Americans in Baltimore.  She was bold enough to ride on whites-only streetcars while in DC.

She spoke to fellow Christians when she asked:  “Children, who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who made mine black? Was it not the same God? Am I to blame, therefore, because my skin is black? …. Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other?”

She visited more than 20 states speaking against the evil of slavery.  While speaking to a Quaker group in Battle Creek in 1856, she felt so welcome in this community that she moved here the following year.  At first she lived in a small settlement west of town called Harmonia, moving into Battle Creek in 1867 where she lived until her death in 1883.

Today there is a statute celebrating her in downtown Battle Creek.

 

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Because it was illegal to teach slaves, she never learned to read or write. This is the only known example of her signature which she wrote in an autograph book of a high school student in April 28, 1880.

She is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Battle Creek as well as some of her children.

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You can learn more about this courageous woman in “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth which she dictated to Olive Gilbert.

Fort Custer National Cemetery

My husband and I visited the Fort Custer National Cemetery today.  We were impressed by the entrance to the cemetery.  All along the main road were rows and rows of flags.

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This Avenue of Flags was dedicated May 26, 1986. It is composed of 152 flagpoles located along the main road, and an additional 50 flagpoles arranged in a semi-circle at the head of the thoroughfare.  These flags are displayed from Easter through Veterans Day with 50 flags from the 50 different states are flown on special occasions.

Named after General George Armstrong Custer, a native of the state of Michigan, Camp Custer was built in 1917.  In response to mobilization for World War I 2,000 buildings were built to accommodate some 36,000 men.  After the end of the war, the camp was  transferred to the Veterans Bureau.  The Battle Creek Veterans Hospital was completed in 1924.

In 1943 Fort Custer Post Cemetery was established with the first burial.  Army rules at that time required officers and enlisted men to be buried in separate sections.  Today you will find Section A filled with graves of enlisted servicemen and in Section O the graves of officers.  Today there is no separation.

During World War II more than 5,000 German prisoners of war were held at the Fort.  The POW’s were used to supply farm labor because of a shortage of workers due to the war.  After the Germans departed back to their country, 26 Germans were left behind, buried in the Fort cemetery.  Sixteen were killed in a car accident and the others died from natural causes.

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Every year on Volkstrauertag, which occurs in November, the cemetery hosts a ceremony of remembrance for these 26 German soldiers.  Volkstrauertag is a day of mourning for Germans and honors their war veterans.

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The National Cemeteries Act of 1973 transferred the cemeteries from the Department of Army to the National Cemetery System, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In accordance with this Act, Congress created Fort Custer National Cemetery in September 1981.  The Fort Customer Military Reservation and the VA Medical Center all donated land for the cemetery.

We found the arrangement of the graves here different from any other national cemetery we have visited.  Instead of long row after row of white tombstones stretching out one after another, this cemetery is filled with areas of trees with sections of graves in between these groups of trees.  With the tombstones flat with the ground, it was almost like driving through a park with areas of trees and then open beautiful green grass areas.

A place of history, a place of honor, a beautiful place.

 

Do You Know These Women – Part III

On May 5, 1961 Alan Shepard, Jr became the first American in space.  Mercury-Redstone’s 15-minute flight was watched by some 45 million television viewers.

I was one of those eagerly watching.   Our junior high school classes suspended the day’s teaching and brought in television sets so we could watch this great moment in history.

What exciting times!  In the years following Americans continued to watch the launching of many rockets and learned the names of the astronauts who were heroes as the Mercury project launched six manned spacecraft between 1961 and 1963.

  • Alan Shephard, Jr – first American in space in 1961.
  • John Glenn – first American to orbit the earth in 1962.
  • Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin – first to reach the moon in 1969.

Today these men’s names are easily recognized and recently a movie was even made about Neil Armstrong, whose first words as he stepped on the surface of the moon has been celebrated:

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

While these men have enjoyed fame, the women who worked behind the scene to make these space launches a success are known by few.

One of these women was Katherine Johnson.  Born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia in 1918, Johnson clearly had a brilliant mind.  In school she advanced ahead several grades and attended high school by the time she was thirteen.  Enrolling in the black West Virginia State College, she graduated with highest honors in 1937 and began teaching at a black public school in Virginia.

Selected by Dr John W. Davis in 1939 Johnson, along with two male students, were the first black students to be enrolled in West Virginia University.

In 1952 Johnson learned of an all-black computing section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ at the Langley laboratory in Virginia.  There Johnson analyzed data from flight tests and studied the effects of wake turbulence.

Johnson provided math for several of the engineers and did trajectory analysis for the first launch into space in 1961.  As the engineers began to recognize Johnson’s expertise she was asked to work with them in constructing a worldwide communications network that linked tracking stations around the world to IBM computers in Washington, DC, Cape Canaveral and Bermuda.  When John Glenn was preparing for his orbit around the earth he was concerned about the math computations that predicted where he would reenter the earth’s atmosphere.  He was not comfortable with relying on the machines’ calculations.  He asked them to “get the girl” to run the same numbers by hand that the computer had run.  “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.”

Johnson retired from NASA in 1986 after contributing to the Apollo mission sending men to the moon and working on the space shuttle program.  She has received many honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  This highest civilian honor was presented to her in 2015, at age 97, by President Obama.  NASA also named a building after her – the Katherine G.  Johnson Computational Research Facility.

When you consider the time in which Johnson achieved such success – a time when women had much fewer options opened to them as we do now – but also a time when black Americans were still living under Jim Crow laws in the south – she is an amazing example of courage, determination and brains.

To read much more about this amazing woman and her fellow computers – Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, check out the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly.

A movie has also been made based on this book.  I would recommend the movie, but to get the complete story, you need to read the book.  As all movies do, some liberties were taken in the movie.

As they say “behind every successful man is a women” this is certainly true in our space program.

These women’s history should be taught in school along with the names of the astronauts.

Anyone Remember the Icebox?

Long before electricity came to my grandmother’s house she had an icebox.  This was a wooden box usually lined with straw or sawdust that sat in the kitchen or pantry.  The ice man would come around with a 25 to 50 pound block of ice.

My mother grew up with the ice box and even after she got a refrigerator, she referred to it as the ice box.  So that is what I called it.

Until one day my daughters suggested I needed to come into the modern world and call the appliance by its correct name – refrigerator.

As a pastor’s wife I was supervising a church meal and asked a young girl if she would get the salad out of the ice box.  A few minutes later one of my daughters came to me laughing.  The young girl had come to her and said, “Your mother asked me to get the salad out of the ice box.  What is she talking about?”

It took me awhile, but I finally learned to say “refrigerator” not “ice box.”

Anyone remember the ice box?

Do You Know These Women? – Part II

History books are full of the deeds of men – both good and bad.  But what about the women?  Surprisingly women have accomplished a great deal that has never really been given the attention it deserves.

Yesterday I wrote about the women who helped break the codes of the Axis forces in World War II.  If you did not read that post, I encourage you to do so.  I also mentioned a book that gives much more detail about these thousands of women who helped us achieve victory in that war.

Do You Know These Women?

While these women were working to help win the war, another woman created a lot of controversy in her lack of support for the war.

Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to the United States Congress.   She was elected in 1916 four years before the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote.

The 19th Amendment did not give women the right to vote, it guaranteed them the right to vote.  Before passage of the amendment, women in many states already had the right to vote.  Montana was one of those states and thus was the first state to send a woman to Congress.

The following states granted women the right to vote prior to the 19th Amendment:

1890 Wyoming
1893 Colorado
1896 Utah, Idaho
1910 Washington
1911 California
1912 Arizona, Kansas, Oregon
1914 Montana, Nevada
1917 New York
1918 Michigan, Oklahoma, South Dakota

A native of Montana Rankins was an activist for much of the 20th century and a heroine to the feminists in the 1960’s.

Her first vote in the House of Representatives – the first cast by any woman – was to vote against a declaration of war against Germany in 1917.  That time she was joined by 50 in the House and six in the Senate in opposing the war.

Years later she was the lone member of Congress who voted against Franklin D. Roosevelt’s declaration of war against Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  That vote cost her political career.

In retirement she became a world traveler meeting many leaders of other countries.  She also spoke on women’s rights, called for election reform, and continued to advocate for legislation to protect children.

As a member of Congress, she had sponsored a bill with Senator Joseph Robinson to provide much needed health care for mothers and children.

During hearings on the bill a Dr. Howe objected that women should quit fighting for the vote and stay home and take care of their children.  He said babies were even born blind because their mothers did not have the sense to use silver nitrate to prevent the blindness.

Jeanette Rankin:  “How do you expect women to know this disease when you do not feel it proper to call it by its correct name?  Do they not in some states have legislation which prevents women from knowing these diseases and only recently….were women permitted in medical schools.  You yourself, from your actions, believe it is not possible for women to know the names of these diseases.”

Dr. Howe:  “I did not like to use the word ‘gonorrhea’.”

Jeanette Rankin:  “Do you think anything should shock a woman as much as blind children?  Do you not think they ought to be hardened enough to stand the name of a disease when they must stand the fact that children are blind?”

While I personally did not agree with a lot of her political and social stands, I was impressed by what she accomplished as a single woman in that time of history in the USA.  Interesting that we do not hear much about this first woman elected to Congress.  Think you might enjoy learning more.  You can – take a look at this interesting and controversial woman in the book “Jeanette Rankin – America’s Conscience” by Norma Smith.

 

 

(Details of interaction between Rankin and Howe are found in the Montana Historical Society Archives)

 

Do You Know These Women?

Do you like history?  American history?  Would you consider yourself knowledgable on our country’s past?  If so, do you know these women?

  • Dorothy Vaughan
  • Mary Jackson
  • Katherine Johnson
  • Christine Darden
  • Jeanette Rankin
  • Dot Braden
  • Ann Caracristi
  • Virginia D. Aderholt

The list could go on and on.  Somehow it seems the women have been sadly neglected in our history books.

The last three were among the first to learn that World War II was officially over.   Recruited, along with thousands of others, these women worked decoding messages sent by the Germans and Japanese.  As the war with Japan began to end the Japanese could not communicate with the USA directly because lines of communication had been cut.  It was determined that the Japanese planned to send a message announcing their intent to surrender via the neutral Swiss.  The message would be sent to the Japanese ambassador in Bern who would then take it to the Swiss foreign office.

As the message came through to the Japanese ambassador Virginia D Aderholt was the one who decoded the message.  From there word was sent to President Truman that the surrender would be coming shortly.

These three women were part of the larger group who helped to break the complex systems used by the Axis Powers to hide their messages in secret.  These young women were recruited from colleges all over the USA.  Young and eager to help with the war effort as their husbands and brothers were fighting, they did much to help our country not only win the war, but saved many American lives in the process.

Representative Clarence Hancock of New York stated:

I believe that our cryprographers…in the war with Japan did as much to bring that war to a successful and early conclusion as any other group of men>

Want to know more about these terrific women?

Check out the book Code Girls – The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II written by Liza Mundy.

And follow my blog for the next few days as I share stories of other women neglected in our history books.

Women like “Stagecoach Mary” a formerly enslaved woman who carried the U.S. mail – and her rifle – through the Montana mountains.

Lulsa Capetillo, a Puerto Rican labor leader who was arrested in Havana for wearing pants in public.

And much more.