"Then and Now" /A celebration in the Finnish /American Perspective/ "Ennen ja Nyt"/
August 2010 Educational Program 

Our Neighbors and Cousins: The Canadian Finns

Another FHM Educational presentation

A Memorable Tour of the Fairport Lighthouse

News Report by Elaine Lillback  

One of Fairport’s most honorable seniors, John Taipale, spoke to the Finnish Heritage Museum members and guests regarding some of his memories in serving the Fairport Lighthouse Museum.  The old Berea sandstone tower, which was ready for dismantling in 1945 by the government, was claimed by a group of Fairport Harbor citizens who chose  to make it a museum instead of losing it to the wrecker's ball.

TaipaleDesigned by Jonathan Goldsmith, the tower was  built on a foundation of solid concrete.  The structure itself is made of two stone walls, with a hollow space between the walls.  The tower never sweats.  It is a fantastic structure. 

Many pages of history have been established over the years since the first caretakers, Carroll and Margaret Mitchell with her Hedda Hopper hats, took responsibility. Many responsible citizens have cared and served at the museum.  John has related his talks with many boys and girls as they’ve come asking questions about the history of sailing ships.  

One of the stories he has told was that of the ship Eastland which when carrying 500 passengers, sank at its Great Lakes port because its ballast had not been filled with water.   The ship’s 500 passengers made the ship top-heavy causing it to roll over, leaving no survivors.  It was a greater disaster than the sinking of the Titanic.  

The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior carried one of Fairport’s football heroes, Eddie Bindon, who had actually retired, but decided to do one more voyage.  Eddie served as the first assistant engineer on the Fitzgerald.  He also played center on the  Fairport High School football team.  A heavy rainstorm that had flooded the field with three inches of water, nearly drowned Eddie as he had been tackled and held face- down by multiple opposing team players.  John was an observer in his dress suit, white shirt and colorful tie which made quite a picture in his non-colorfast garments.  Eddie went on to make a touchdown that won the game, but lost his life on the sinking ship. 

The pilot house of the steamer Frontenac was added to the Lighthouse museum  and was dedicated by Congressman William Stanton.  It is called the Dwight Boyer Pilot Wing since Boyer was instrumental in bringing it to fruition.  Finnish carpenter Olavi Rantala, who lived in the brick house down the hill below the Frontenac did all of the inside carpentry on the pilot house.

A popular exhibit is the large lens that made the light for the tower.  It was created by a French physicist  named  Augustin-Jean Fresnel. His creation multiplied the small flame behind the lens so that it was seen eighteen to twenty miles away.  It is still a captivating sight to see on exhibit. It was first used in 1823 in France.

FHLHpix “Why is the lighthouse located there on the hill, when other lighthouses are built on beaches?”  has been asked of John over the years. His response, “It was at the highest land point where its beacon could be seen the farthest away.”  The Grand River flows out into Lake Erie, with its primal source or headwaters beginning in West Virginia.  Originally, John related, the Grand River's mouth in Fairport was six miles wide after the ice age and spread up to and included the Mentor Lagoon area.  Later its divided waters became the smaller Grand River and the larger Ohio River.

 A fascinating, intriguing tale is told about the Lighthouse's ghost cat.  It brings ghost hunters to the museum in the fall season.  John was the second person to see the carcass of the old white cat when it was first found.  Now the actual cat is still around at the lighthouse, and a tale is being brewed by our FHM members Jovette Hiltunen and her husband Lasse and will be read aloud on the evening of July 24th at the amphitheatre behind the lighthouse.

Refreshments were served by Barbara Ollila and Linda Pentilla.

© Text by Elaine Lillback, © Photos by Lasse Hiltunen

See also the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse website


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