Jack’s Journal: Lifesaving Station

Lake Michigan is beautiful to look at but, as pretty as it is, it can be deadly. The Manitou Passage was especially treacherous.

“A very dangerous stretch of water,” said Matt Mohrman, National Parks Service. “So, right at the turn of the century, around 1900, they decided, ‘hey, we need a lifesaving station.’ So that’s when this was built.”

Unlike today’s Coast Guard with ships and aircraft, these life savers were land-based and relied on muscle and brains.

At the station, the keeper, his family and seven surfman stood guard. They drilled the skills every day and would walk the beach in all types of weather in search of a wreck.

“If they found a wreck ashore, they’d run back in. Wake up the crew, ‘wreck ashore, wreck ashore!’ Then decide which type of rescue method they wanted to use,” explains Mohrman.

And this is where it got fun. If they needed, they would push the surf boats from the shed to the beach and head out into the waves, or they would roll out the beach cart, which weighed about 1,500 pounds.

Remember, this usually took place in terrible weather. Boats didn’t wreck on beautiful days.

“That they would roll out full of gear, take it to the wreck, man power only. Seven guys and the keeper, pulling this down the beach,” explained Mohrman.

The lifesaving station is open in Glen Haven as part of the National Lake Shore Park. In its life span, the crews here saved 172 lives and assisted countless ships. Mohrman is retired from the U.S. Coast Guard and has great respect for what these men did here.

“When I was a Coastie we use to say that’s when ships were wood and the men were steel.”

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