Lighthouse keeper sculpture to be unveiled
A metal sculpture paying homage to one of the two women in Michigan’s history who served the longest amount of time as lighthouse keepers will be dedicated Saturday at 11 a.m. in Presque Isle.
The sculpture, created by Cheboygan artist Dawn Barr, memorializes Anna T. Garrity and is situated at the entrance to the Presque Isle Range Light Park on E. Grand Lake Road.
Anna was born March 29, 1872 to a family of lighthouse keepers who spent their lives within the solitude of the guiding towers. The daughter of Patrick Garrity, Sr. and Mary (Chambers) Garrity of Presque Isle, she served as keeper of the Presque Isle Range Light for 23 years from 1903 to 1926.
She and her parents, along with her siblings, lived first at the 1840 Old Lighthouse and then at the 1870 New Lighthouse. Most, if not all, of the family served as keepers during their lifetime, but it is Anna who is most remembered because of the longevity of her service.
“At the age of 31, from the front porch of the Range Light cottage, Anna would walk along wooden boards to each tower as it was her responsibility to make sure that the towers’ oil lanterns remained lit to navigate the vessels as they pulled into port ready to load,” said Debbie Trelfa, who spent a year doing research on the Garrity family in anticipation of a sculpture being commissioned.
According to U.S. Coast Guard information obtained by Trelfa, Anna was one of 27 women who served as lighthouse keepers for the State of Michigan. Julia Toby Brawn of Bay City was the only other woman among them who stayed on the job for as long as Anna did.
Trelfa was inspired to work on the sculpture project after having volunteered at the lighthouse parks alongside Presque Isle Township maintenance personnel Clayton Peters and Gene Campbell, as well as many other volunteers.
“I spent a lot of time on the lighthouse grounds,” she said. “Their dedication and passion to keep these vital landmark structures and grounds preserved and pristine soon also impressed upon me their importance. Not only was the work being done for the visitors, but also because of the history they represent for our area.”
Over time, Trelfa met many visitors who came to snap photographs of the lighthouse and the keeper’s home. She noticed that often these visitors did not spend much time pouring over old photos of the people such as Anna who kept the lighthouses operational.
“Photo albums would lie on the table or shelves waiting for someone to glance through to see what life was like then,” Trelfa said. “It was hard to see that the lives that kept the towers maintained and operational, and kept the many seamen safe, seemed to be of less importance and unknown like the unknown or forgotten soldier.”
As she flipped through the albums, Trelfa recognized how difficult life was for them, but also how dedicated they were.
“Being a keeper was not just a job; they had a passion for it and gave their heart and soul,” she said.
Trelfa, along with Kathy Dean, was inspired to pursue the possibility of commissioned statue. She contacted Moran Iron Works of Onaway, which immediately recommended Dawn Barr as an artist whose large-scale works are displayed at the Besser Museum in Alpena and the Bradley Museum in Rogers City.
Anna was not the first commissioned sculpture related to the lighthouses, however. That honor belonged to Anna’s father, Patrick, who served the longest in Presque Isle. Barr made a life size statue of him that now proudly stands at the entrance to the grounds of the 1840 Old Presque Isle Lighthouse. Each year visitors take hundreds of photos with the sculpture.
“Shortly after that one was completed I thought, what about the women keepers?” Trelfa said. “They deserve recognition as well. They too were hard-working and dedicated. To be named a keeper back then was a great achievement.”
Trelfa contacted Barr again, who agreed to “make this one for the ladies.” The project, like the previous one, gained the support of township officials and committee members.
Barr worked on this second sculpture from October 2012 to June 2013, putting in approximately 250 hours of welding, molding and shaping large pieces of steel. She paid particular attention to small details taken off an old photograph of Anna.
The sculpture of Anna, constructed of stainless steel and mild steel, now weighs approximately three to four hundred pounds. The funding for it also was the result of the combined efforts of local citizens working together. They donated items that were sold during a community wide garage sale in Presque Isle County. Monetary gifts also were given so that the total cost of the sculpture was covered within a month’s time.
“I was so touched by how a few people pulled together without hesitancy to raise the money needed,” Trelfa said. “That once again showed me the importance of history, whether it be in your backyard or elsewhere. People do care.”
A plaque also is being placed alongside the sculpture of Anna. It will mark her service and that of all the women who served on the coastline of the Great Lakes.
The dedication and unveiling ceremony on Saturday will be followed by the annual Presque Isle Labor Day Picnic that is slated from noon to 2 p.m. at Garrity Hall, located at the New Presque Isle Lighthouse. The public is welcome.