© 2024 South Carolina Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Minnesota Has An Opening For A Historian To Manage Iconic Lighthouse


Imagine 160,000 people dropping by your house every year. That's been Lee Radzak's life for the last 3 1/2 decades looking after the iconic Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior's north shore. But Radzak is retiring, and his job is back on the market. Minnesota Public Radio's Euan Kerr reports.


EUAN KERR, BYLINE: On a fine day, Split Rock is gorgeous. 40 miles off the shore from Duluth, the lighthouse is perched atop a 160-foot cliff. The enormous Lake Superior sparkles below. For lighthouse lovers - and apparently, there are a lot - it oozes romance. It's here Lee Radzak has answered the same questions again and again.

LEE RADZAK: If my wife and I are sitting on the front porch, they say, you live here? Yes. Do you live here year-round? Yes. Oh, it must be lonely. And then you want to say, well, look behind you. There's 50 people standing there listening to you.

KERR: In summer, Split Rock attracts 2,500 visitors a day. There are far fewer in winter, but they still come, even when it's below zero and the storms blow so hard, the spray coats the buildings with ice. Lee Radzak is not the lighthouse keeper. His title is historic site manager. And he's here to tell the lighthouse's story.

RADZAK: As a lighthouse goes, it's kind of a Johnny-come-lately. It wasn't built until 1909.

KERR: There was no road to Split Rock then. A boat dropped off the keepers in the spring and picked them up in the fall. There were three families that lived here pretty much on their own, other than some boat traffic going up and down the shore, and five miles to the closest town for their mail.


KERR: Radzak leads the way up the lighthouse stairs to the lamp room and the site's prized possession.

RADZAK: This lens has been in here since 1910.

KERR: The keepers lit it with a kerosene lamp to warn ships away from the rocky shore. The 252 cut glass prisms in the lens focused the light into a 7-foot beam visible for 22 miles. And on days when they couldn't see, they sounded the foghorns.


KERR: Split Rock had changed by 1983, when Lee Radzak moved in. It was still remote, but Highway 61 - the one Bob Dylan famously revisited - now passes just a few hundred yards away. The Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse in 1969. Razak arrived as a newly-married man to manage the site for the Minnesota Historical Society. He and his wife thought they'd give it a few years. But then they had two children, and they stayed.

Early on, Radzak oversaw the building of the visitor's center and learned about budgets and managing a summer staff of 30. Lee Radzak's last day is Friday, April 12. An interim will fill in for the summer. Minnesota Historical Society manager Ben Leonard will lead the search for a replacement.

BEN LEONARD: This job is going to be probably the hardest job to fill in the Historical Society because people think about the view, what they don't think about - the emails or the reports or the HR issues because those aren't romantic.

KERR: Leonard's looking for a historian with the patience and skills to manage crowds, harsh weather, and deal with the occasional bear. For NPR News, I'm Euan Kerr at the Split Rock Lighthouse in northern Minnesota.

(SOUNDBITE OF GIANTS' "WHISPERED EARS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Euan Kerr