After several weeks of working at the lighthouse, and a couple of vague references to guest keepers in past posts, I think it is time that I explain about this program more fully. The guest keepers at Tawas Point Lighthouse pay $250 a person to stay in the lighthouse for a week. During that week they give tours from noon until 6:00 every day but Tuesdays. The keepers’ week lasts from Friday to Friday. Guest keepers need to apply to stay at the lighthouse and the program is very popular. In fact, all of the spots for 2013 are filled and we have already begun taking applications for the 2014 season.
The guest keepers play an important role in the way that the lighthouse operates and each keeper brings something different to the table. Last week, our guest keeper was very interested in navigation and had been a member of the cost guard, so when he talked to guests he emphasized the importance of lighthouses in navigation. Other keepers have focused on other areas that interest them, such as lighthouse construction or the tasks the lighthouse keepers performed. In addition, this particular keeper was very interested in the Big Storm of 1913. This large November gale struck the great lakes a century ago and wrecked hundreds of ships. Twelve ships (plus their crew) disappeared completely and were never heard from again. Even with modern technology, three of these have still not been found. When the keeper came, he brought a bell from the Howard M. Hanna, one of the ships that was wrecked in the storm. While he was there, we were able to display this bell in the lighthouse and I created a small exhibit around this artifact.
Keepers who are very interested in the lighthouse and connect their interests make visiting the lighthouse a different experience for return visitors. I know that I have learned a lot from our guest keepers.
An explanation of the guest keeper program wouldn’t be complete without a mention of some of the difficulties that this program can create. As great as most of the guest keepers we have had are, there are some keepers who have not been prepared when they come or who were unable to make the orientation this spring. Because the guest keepers arrive about two hours before they begin giving tours, if the keepers have not prepared learning all of the necessary information can be overwhelming. We try to make things less stressful by being in radio contact with the keepers so that they are able to ask questions at any time and generally there is someone who can go and help out in the lighthouse when the lighthouse gets busy.
I really enjoy working with the guest keepers. It is great to work with new people each week. I have learned something from every guest keeper we have had. I’m excited to meet the rest of our guest keepers as the summer continues.