I know a guy.
Who slept in the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse.
Who used to fish from its deck.
I long to do both.
It hits me every time I pass it, whether from boat or looking east from shore. I want to be one with the red and white beauty, the lighthouse east of Navy Pier on the south end of the north breakwall.
Then last fall, I was fishing with Ron Wozny when he mentioned that not only had he fished from there but he slept there some nights.
“These guys were there for two weeks at a time,’’ he said. “There was no internet, no cell phones. All they had was radios for emergencies. They loved company.’’
The Coast Guard workers–one guy switched out each week–had a substantial allotment for food, but they couldn’t use it for beer or cigarettes. So they were loaded with steaks and lobster, but not beer or cigarettes.
Wozny would grab a case of Old Style on sale and some smokes, then take them to the lighthouse.
“They enjoyed the company,’’ he said. “For them, it was `I don’t have to talk to Joe all day long.’ ‘’
Guys, back in the day, fishing from Chicago Harbor Lighthouse.
Credit: Ron Wozny
Wozny started hanging at the lighthouse around 1969 or ‘70. He would take the boat out from Rocky’s, the fabled fish house by Navy Pier, to the breakwall, to fish for perch. For awhile, he and Tribune John, a pressman, put in a 12-foot boat, but had to stop when a police boat said they needed a registration number and the safety stuff.
“If you brought beer, [the lighthouse workers] didn’t care what you did,’’ Wozny said. “We could climb up to the lights. We would dive off it. It was a playtime.’’
Now, under alleged fears for safety (like so much of urban wilds), people aren’t even allowed to walk on the breakwalls any more.
If it was raining, sometimes Wozny would go inside and fish out the freight door.
“I do remember them getting a check one time and I was trying to get lines out real quick,’’ he said.
The guys had a pool table and special fishermen sometimes came in to shoot games.
“The girls loved that you could go to the lighthouse,’’ Wozny said. “And the guys [working there] liked it because they got to see girls. It was one of the great places to watch the fireworks.’’
After the Coast Guard stopped using the lighthouse, eventually it was rented to Stirling Bemis in April, 1980, according to a UPI story.
“I got to go once or twice more, but I didn’t really get along with him, he was a New York guy,’’ Wozny said. Bemis was actually an East Coast guy, according to the UPI.
The original lighthouse marked the mouth of the Chicago River under a Congressional appropriation in 1831, according to Lighthousefriends.com. The site also noted the lighthouse was moved east as development came and the light at the current location and structure was first displayed on Aug. 1, 1918.
On Feb. 24, 2009, the transfer began to the City of Chicago.
Wozny thinks the city could utilize the lighthouse more as an experience.
Something he knows, “It was one of my most absolute favorite times of life.’’
Long view of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse from back in the day.
Credit: Ron Wozny