Museum Exhibits

Ladies of the Lights: Michigan Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service

More than 50 Michigan women defied the social pressures of their time to succeed in a rough-and-tumble field historically reserved for men: lighthouse keeping. The first, Catherine Shook, rose to prominence at Pointe Aux Barques light in 1848. The last, Frances Johnson, retired in 1954. In between were Eliza Truckey who safely guided ships into Marquette harbor to retrieve raw materials for the Civil War effort; Elizabeth Whitney Williams, keeper at the Beaver Island and Harbor Springs lights, who held the women’s record for Michigan service at 41 years; and Jane Enos who was permitted to manage a male assistant keeper during her time at the St. Joseph light. Presenter Patricia Majher, author of “Ladies of the Lights: Michigan Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service,” will bring the trials and triumphs of these and other female keepers to life, helping them to the notoriety they so richly deserve.

The exhibit is secured with thanks to MICHIGAN WOMEN FORWARD HERstory!

Author Patricia Majher is a museum professional who has worked in a variety of functions for Michigan museums ranging from The Henry Ford and Mackinac State Historic Parks to the Michigan Women’s Historical Center (now the HERstory Museum). Originally trained as a journalist, Patricia has written extensively for Michigan newspapers and magazines; from 2009-16, she edited Michigan History magazine for the Historical Society of Michigan. She currently serves as administrator of the Hamburg Township Historical Museum in Livingston County, and also operates a consulting business, Majher Museum Marketing.

Fatal Crossing: Mysterious Disappearance of NWA Flight 2501 and the Quest for Answers.

Travel back to 1950 when Northwest Airlines Flight 2501, a DC-4, mysteriously disappeared in the waters off St. Joseph, Michigan, with all 58 souls on board: America’s worst aviation disaster at the time. “Meet” the individuals lost, see some of the actual items recovered from Lake Michigan by the Navy and Coast Guard, and ponder the  mystery of its loss. This exhibit is based on the award-winning book Fatal Crossing by Michigan historian and exhibit designer, Valerie van Heest, and as seen on the television show “Expedition Unknown.”

Join us LIVE on Thursday, November 18th when author Valerie van Heest will discuss her book, Fatal Crossing: Mysterious Disappearance of NWA Flight 2501 and the Quest for Answers.

Valerie van Heest is an award-winning author, documentary filmmaker, underwater explorer, and a member of the Women’s Divers Hall of Fame and has been featured guest on the History and Travel channels. She has been honored for her work preserving and promoting Michigan’s maritime history. Books will be available for purchase after the presentation.

Lighting the Way:
Fresnel Lenses from St. Joseph’s Lighthouses

The historical 4th and 5th Order Fresnel lenses from our St. Joseph lighthouses are restored, reunited, and on display at the Heritage Museum!

Fresnel lenses dramatically improved maritime safety and saved countless lives. Before their invention, lights were equipped with several oil lamps and mirrored reflectors. Invented in 1822 by French physicist Augustin Fresnel, these new lenses projected light nearly 20 miles across the horizon.

St. Joseph is the only community in Michigan to have preserved two of its own Fresnel lenses.  The United States Coast Guard removed one of the historic lenses in 2003 and the other in 2012, replacing them with solar-powered, modern optics. Through an agreement to restore and display the Fresnel lenses, the Heritage Museum received both on long-term loan.

The Big Three: Boat and Shipbuilding in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph

Located in our Research Library, this exhibit features images from collections that were recently donated to the Heritage Museum. These photographs came to the museum in poor condition and the Heritage Museum’s staff spent five months carefully restoring them for preservation, research and display. The exhibit tells the story of the boat-building industry in the twin cities and includes the 1897 Truscott boat that was acquired by the Museum in the early 2000s.

St. Joe Lighthouse Tours Exhibition on the North Pier

An ongoing seasonal exhibit; open hours and tour tickets available at Made possible in part by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, a grant from the Berrien Community Foundation, and a gift from Entergy – Palisades Power Plant.