Save the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse

Chicago Harbor Lighthouse

View of the Lighthouse      from The Cliff Dwellers           Winter 2023

Editor’s Note:Given that The Cliff Dwellers’ 22nd floor perch above the Art Institute of Chicago enjoys a truly extraordinary 180 degree view of Lake Michigan, it was entirely fitting that the Club host one of the kickoff meetings aimed at saving Chicago Harbor’s historic lighthouse.  This graceful tower in the center of the Club’s panoramic view is a powerful reminder of Chicago’s maritime heyday at the southernmost harbor on the Great Lakes.

Though the Lighthouse has stood at the entrance of Lake Michigan’s Chicago Harbor for over a century, it may not make it to a second centenary if its current state of disrepair is not addressed.

Chicago Harbor Lighthouse Tribune Article

The Cliff Dwellers event was part of a larger effort to raise funds to save this imposing relic of the past.

Past President Bill Bowe welcomed the Club members and guests, together with Cliff Dweller Ed Torrez.  Ed then went on to introduce Ward Miller, the Richard H. Driehaus Executive Director of Preservation Chicago.  Miller proceeded to set the challenge of saving the Lighthouse in the larger context of preserving Chicago’s other most treasured historic structures. The Cliff Dwellers event was hosted by Friends of the Chicago Lighthouse.  Kurt Lentsch, the organization’s Chief Dreamer and President then took the podium and reviewed the detailed plan to save the Lighthouse.  The main event followed, with Ed Torrez giving an illustrated presentation of the history of the Lighthouse, a detailed look at the current condition of the Lighthouse, and how the Lighthouse might be both restored and serve as an educational and tourist destination for the centuries to come.

The program finale is a video of noted photographer Barry Butler huffing and puffing as he climbs up all 82 feet to the top of the lighthouse.  His struggle is  accompanied appropriately enough by Richard Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, the theme music from the movie 2001.

In an further historical note to the evening, Cliff Dweller John Gorman later explained that as a Chicago Tribune reporter in 1979 he wrote an article telling the strange story of Stirling Bemis.  Bemis was the fellow who gave up his 23rd floor Lake Point Tower apartment to move into the Lighthouse after renting it from the U.S. Coast Guard.  When Gorman asked him why he moved into an isolated lighthouse, Bemis didn’t repeat Mt. Everest climber George Leigh Mallory’s famous answer, “because it’s there.”  Bemis simply said, “I’m a view freak.”