The cliffside lighthouse is built on a 41-meters wall of rock overlooking Lake Superior.
The structure was designed by lighthouse engineer Ralph Russell Tinkham and was completed in 1910 by the United States Lighthouse Service at a cost of $75,000, including the buildings and the land.
It was built after the disastrous Mataafa Storm wrecked 29 ships in the area five years previous, and one of these shipwrecks, the Madeira, is located just north of the lighthouse.
At the time of its construction, there were no roads to the area: all materials and supplies arrived by water and were lifted to the top of the cliff by crane.
First lit on July 31, 1910, thanks to its scenic location, it soon became a tourist attraction for sailors and excursion boats. So much so, that in 1924 a road (now Minnesota State Highway 61) was built to allow land access.
Split Rock Lighthouse lit the coast of the lake until the light was retired in 1969 after modern navigation technology rendered the picturesque lighthouse obsolete save for aesthetic purposes. The lighthouse keeper Lee Radzak, who worked at the lighthouse from 1982-2019, was the longest tenure of any keeper at the site.
Now it is surrounded by Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and is run by the Minnesota Historical Society.
The site includes the original tower and lens, the fog signal building, the oil house, and the three keepers’ houses. Restored to appear as it did in the late 1920s, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969 and It remains a popular stop on the North Shore Scenic Drive, Minnesota Highway 61.
Though the lighthouse no longer acts as a lighthouse across the lake, for one day and night every November 10, the light is lit after a ceremony commemorating the day of the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank on that date in 1975.
When launched on June 7, 1958, she was the largest ship on North America’s Great Lakes, and she remains the largest to have sunk there.
On that fateful day, she had been fighting her way through a pounding storm on Lake Superior. Then it radar went out, and she started to take on water. Despite gale-force winds and ten-meters waves, there was no reason to think the vessel wouldn’t find safe harbor at Whitefish Point, Michigan.
It seems that the last words from her captain, Ernest McSorley, was “We are holding our own.”
However, by all indications, the crew had no idea they were in mortal danger before they plunged to Lake Superior’s bottom with no chance to call for help.
SS Edmund Fitzgerald was located in deep water on November 14, 1975, by a U.S. Navy aircraft detecting magnetic anomalies, and found soon afterwards to be in two large pieces.
The day after the wreck, Mariners’ Church in Detroit rang its bell 29 times, once for each life lost.
And so the names of all 29 crewmembers are read to the tolling of a ship’s bell.
Visitors to the ceremony can then climb the lighthouse after dark and see the light radiate to the waters in their memory.
Images from web – Google Research