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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lake Michigan in Winter


This is one of my favorite views of Lake Michigan. It's a colorized postcard of the Waukegan shoreline made by the E.C. Kropp Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I use this circa 1910 image in my lectures on Lake County history, usually when speaking about the last Ice Age that ended around 15,000 years ago. That's the "truth of art." You use what you can to illustrate a point, even if it's not quite accurate. Ken Burns did that expertly in his Civil War series, and kudos to him for bringing that moment in American history to life for us all.


This 1899 photograph shows a fishing tug frozen in Waukegan harbor. Lake Michigan was a vital part of Lake County's development and economic growth, from the 1840s. Winter ice build-up in the harbor could cause mayhem for even the most experienced sailors and fishermen.

In 1963, the News-Sun reported that five fishing tugs were frozen in the ice a mile off shore. Lucky for them, within a day they broke through, unlike Ernest Shackleton's harrowing 1914-1916 Antarctic expedition.

Large chunks of windrow ice are visible in this 1913 photograph of the harbor and lighthouse. This photo is credited to E.W. Plonien. During a normal winter, 17 to 29 inches of ice grows in sheltered harbors and bays on Lake Michigan.

Break water, looking north from lighthouse, Waukegan, January, 1947.

The ice formations along the lakeshore are quite remarkable. It's worth a trip to the Waukegan harbor in mid-winter to see the frozen waves over the docks and piers.

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