History Mystery: Emmanuel Luick photos document life of the Sand Island community and beyond


Emmanuel Luick served as the head lighthouse keeper at the Sand Island Lighthouse from 1892 through 1920 when it was the first Apostle Islands lighthouse to become automated. 

Sand island Light
Sand Island Lighthouse

Along with his duties in tending the light, Luick also documented life at the light station in his log book.  For a while he allowed his first wife, Ella, to assume this duty. Ella Luick was 16 when she married 27-year-old Luick in 1895.  She took over the light keeper’s log, treating it like a diary, recording her boredom and dissatisfaction. Then in May 1905, Ella Luick jotted down that she’s boarding a boat. She sailed away and was never heard from again — divorce papers were delivered the next year. Luick later remarried and had four children with his second wife; two of whom died on the island.

When he wasn’t tending the Sand Island Lighthouse in the Apostle Islands, Emmanuel Luick apparently had some time on his hands.  So he snapped pictures. Lots of them. In fact, during the winter in the early 1900s when Lake Superior iced up and the lighthouses closed, Luick operated a photo studio out of his Iron River home.

Boats and cabins at a fishing camp in East Bay on Sand Island.
Boats and cabins at a fishing camp in East Bay on Sand Island. Courtesy Bayfield Heritage Association

Though some of his pictures survived in family albums passed down through generations, pretty much all of the thousands of photos he took disappeared. No one knew what happened to them.  Recently, however, the consulting historian of the Apostle Islands Historic Preservation Conservancy found a treasure trove of 246 of Luick’s original glass plate negatives available on eBay. Many of the photos, taken from 1900 to 1906, document life at the lighthouse, on Sand Island, and in the Bayfield area. 

Commercial fishermen mending nets at the Booth Fishery twine shed in Bayfield
Commercial fishermen mending nets at the Booth Fishery twine shed in Bayfield. Courtesy Bayfield Heritage Association

The photos offer glimpses into a long bygone era when men cut ice blocks in the winter to keep their fish from spoiling in warmer months, fishermen spent a lot of time repairing their nets, and farmers tended their flocks on Sand Island.

Farm hand feeds the chickens at the Louis Moe farm on Sand Island at East Bay. Courtesy Bayfield Heritage Association
Cutting ice to fill the Booth Fishery ice house on the Bayfield waterfront
Cutting ice to fill the Booth Fishery ice house on the Bayfield waterfront. Courtesy Bayfield Heritage Association

One photo shows Luick and assistant lighthouse keeper Fred Hudson pushing two wheelbarrows filled with clothes and blankets. It looks like they’re hauling laundry, but a darker tale emerged.  It turns out that the clothing and bedding were from the steamship Sevona, which sank near Sand Island in 1905 with the loss of seven lives.  Luick also managed to take a 1905-style “selfie” of himself in his light keeper’s uniform standing on a boulder at the edge of the lake.

Luick and assistant keeper Fred Hudson with wheelbarrows filled with clothing from the shipwreck Sevona. Courtesy Bayfield Heritage Association

After the light on Sand Island was automated, Luick became the keeper at the Grand Marais, Minnesota lighthouse from 1921 to 1936.  He died in 1947 in Superior, Wisconsin.

Emmanuel Luick in his keeper's uniform on the rocks below the Sand Island Light.
Emmanuel Luick in his keeper’s uniform on the rocks below the Sand Island Light. Courtesy Bayfield Heritage Association

The Apostle Islands are full of beauty, adventure, and wildlife; they also have a rich and varied history. This summer, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the park, we will be exploring that history with a little help from some friends: large, nearly life-sized standing poster board images of lighthouse keepers and sailors and ship captains and island lovers and more. Each one will ask you a question, present a mystery of island history, and offer you a QR code to explore the answer.

So look for the cardboard cutouts popping up in local shops, on the ferry, in the parks, all over town, and when you find them, introduce yourself, look for the question, and explore the answer to one of the History Mysteries of the Apostle Islands. Then join us at Friendsoftheapostleislands.org to support the protection of the islands, their beauty, their adventure, their wildlife, and their history.

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