Tragedy on South Manitou Island

Lighthouse keeper Aaron Sheridan was a Civil War soldier who lost the use of his arm in battle and as such, he was able to get his wife — Julia — appointed his assistant keeper oft his important beacon in the norther part of Lake Michigan. Given his injuries, when he needed to make the trip across the waters to the mainland, Aaron would often hire a local fisherman named Christ Ancharson to man the 25-foot Mackinaw sailboat. During such a trip, on Friday, March 15, 1878, high waves and bad weather overturned the boat just as it was approaching the harbor on South Manitou Island. Sadly, the Sheridans — including their infant son, Robert — died that day.

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Shedding Light on Michigan’s Historic Female Keepers

Serving as a lighthouse keeper was the only “non-clerical” government job that women were allowed to have in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Michigan had more than 60 women documented as lighthouse keepers at these historic beacons, often serving as assistant keepers with their husbands, fathers or brothers—and in the case of tragedy, many were promoted to the role of head keeper.

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