Dig uncovers history at lighthouse

Winter months set for studying findings

By Brandon Hubbard
Petoskey News-Review

MACKINAW CITY, Mich. (AP) — Indiana Jones never does paperwork. That’s what one student said about the slow process of uncovering Emmet County’s early history.

A team of anthropology students from Central Michigan University spent seven days working at the Emmet County-owned lighthouse since Aug. 4 to excavate what remains of a barn that was once thought to be located on the property. The group also spent time at the lighthouse on St. Helena Island and at its former fishing village.

The dig — performed in two small cross-section excavations — concluded Friday. Now the students and university will spend the winter months studying their findings, before writing a report in the spring.

“All of the artifacts we have (found) are late 19th century, early 20th century, roughly contemporaneous with when the lighthouse was in use at McGulpin Point,” said Sarah Surface-Evans, the Central Michigan University postdoctoral fellow overseeing the project. “Some of the things (we found) might not sound too interesting, but they are personal objects and tools the lighthouse keeper would have used and his family would have used.”

Among the artifacts exhumed in the past week are daily-life objects like gun casings, parts of a potbelly stove and toys. Other critical smaller finds were glass fragments, nails and bones from consumed animals.

“We found part of a porcelain head — a doll head, a marble and a ceramic jug,” Surface-Evans said. “We’ll take everything back and clean it, date it, analyze it and then write a report about it. Then, all of it will come back (to McGulpin) to be incorporated into exhibits at the lighthouse.”

One of the biggest finds is what the students believe are postholes and a corner to the original barn itself. The find is significant, because Emmet County would like to build a replica barn in the future. The only previous historical record of the barn was a single hand-made drawing of a barn on the property.

Dick Moehl, who helped organize the dig and is the president of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, said when the team arrived no one had an idea what might be uncovered, but that almost immediately the project yielded results.

“They start digging and they find all kinds of stuff,” Moehl said, adding that this dig will be used as the starting point for someone to conduct a much larger dig in the future.

“It’s really fun. You do this thing and it is working,” he said. “At the beginning it is a hope, but the hope is becoming a reality.”


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