The tallest lighthouse on the Great Lakes is the White Shoal Lighthouse on the western end of the Straits of Mackinac. The tower was completed in 1910 and is 121 feet tall. During a winter storm in 1929, a fifty-four-year-old ice fisherman ended up at White Shoal Lighthouse seeking refuge. Lewis Sweet and a couple buddies came up from the Petoskey area to ice fish near Waugoshance Point. After each one of them cut a large hole in the ice, they set up their ice shanty and used spears to stab any trout that swam past. The prevailing wind blew from the west and kept the ice on Lake Michigan pushed up along the shoreline. The men knew that if the wind shifted to the east, it could drive the ice away from land. After fishing most of the day, the men noticed a storm off in the distance. The two other fishermen Sweet had been fishing with headed back for shore.
Lewis decided he wanted to fish for a few more minutes. After trying to spear one more trout, Lewis grabbed his trout and the axe he used for chopping a hole in the ice and headed back to shore. Lewis heard a thunderous sound echoing across the ice, and he knew instantly that the ice had cracked. He ran as fast as he could in the snow, but when he got to the crack, it was already too wide for him to jump across. He headed back toward his shanty as the snow began to fall. It came down so heavy that he was not able to see far and could not find his shanty. He knew he needed protection from the wind, so he built a wall from the hard packed snow and lay behind it to block the wind. He got up every few minutes and moved around to keep his body warm. He heard another crack and knew the large chuck of ice that kept him out of the freezing cold water was slowly breaking up.
He continued toward what he thought was the center of the ice floe and built another snow wall for shelter. He drifted on the disintegrating hunk of ice throughout the night. By the next morning, the ice had drifted into the twelve-story-tall White Shoal Lighthouse. The ladder used by the keepers to climb the twenty feet to the cribbing was covered in a thick coating of ice. Sweet used his axe to chop through the thick ice that had coated the ladder. He spent hours chopping, only to reveal about half of the ladder. He then got the idea to stack up the chunks of ice that had broken up when the flow slammed into the lighthouse. He finally made it to the base of the tower. The door was unlocked, and he took refuge in the relative safety of the lighthouse. Inside the lighthouse, Lewis found kerosene and a heater along with some food he could eat. He finally managed to get warmed up. His feet and hands were blistered and frostbitten from the cold. He could hear an airplane flying overhead. By the time he climbed the stairs on his injured feet to signal the plane, it was already out of sight. He had enough rations in the lighthouse to keep him alive for over a month, but he knew he needed to seek medical attention for his feet. After a few days, Lake Michigan had once again frozen over. He was not sure if he could make it back to shore, but Sweet took the chance anyways. He grabbed some rations for the trip, which included a can of condensed milk. He used a rope to lower himself down to the frozen surface of the lake.
In agony, he trekked across the ice back to land. He had managed to hike nearly twenty miles when he made landfall near Cross Village, where he found an old hunting cabin. He built a fire in the stove and found some leftover coffee and brewed himself a cup where he poured in some of his condensed milk. After drinking his coffee, he lay down to rest. He woke up to terrible pains in his stomach and wondered if the condensed milk had gone bad. He spent the next day recouping from whatever ailed him and finally was healthy enough to search for civilization. He hiked through the snow towards Cross Village, where some Native American girls spotted him stumbling out of the forest. Scared, the girls quickly ran home, and someone finally came out to get Lewis Sweet. He was taken by dog sled to the nearby town of Levering and then driven by car to the hospital in Petoskey. All of his toes were amputated and most of his fingers. He was in the hospital for ten weeks. Limited in what he could do for work, his story was published in a book with the proceeds going to support him and his family.
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