Sand Hill City

Search Compilations

Atmospheric Aberrations

From:  “Grand Haven – Day by Day” project
and recent Grand Haven Tribune articles

 By Bob Beaton     March 10, 2009

Search Priority:  High


   A mirage is often seen by the life saving crew at this port.  Many times a full rigged schooner can be seen far out at sea, and above it its counterpart in the sky.  Mirages on this shore though are not as beautiful as those seen on the west shore.



   The reflection of the great fire in Chicago Thursday night was plainly noticeable from the Park Hotel.

   [This was a large fire at the Chicago World Fair.]



   One sees on cloudy nights,  a dull glow in the northern sky where the clouds reflect the light form the electric lights of Muskegon.  When conditions are favorable the reflection of the hundreds of lights of Grand Rapids can also be seen.


   Some years ago when the banks of the river were lined with saw mills, several of the mills had very strong whistles.  These could be heard blowing, in the early morning in the country districts fifteen to eighteen miles away.  The fog horn at this port can be heard as far inland as Blendon township sometimes.



   In yesterdays Democrat appeared a fanciful tale of the strange lights noticed by the crew and the passengers of the steamer Wisconsin, while on its trip across the lake.



   A pretty phenomenon was noticed last night.  Great bands of white stretched across the clouds from north to south which were continuously changing from dark to light.



   The other evening the lights of Holland were plainly reflected on the southern sky.  The reflection form the Fruitport blast furnace is visible every evening.



   A mirage was seen above the lake this morning reflecting the Wisconsin shore.



   A mirage was noticed over the lake again last Sunday.



   The members of the life saving crew and a fortunate few who happened to be a the piers between the hours of 4 and 5 yesterday afternoon, witnessed a beautiful scene, and one which they will remember.  Out in the lake about five miles was a bank of fog.  It hung close to the water and covered most of the western sky.  Upon this fog bank was a splendid mirage reflecting the Ottawa and Muskegon shore, north out of our piers and as far north as Muskegon.  The different lines of the coast, the entrance to Mona Lake and other objects were plainly distinguishable in the clouds.  Even the trees and different groups of forest were spread before the observer as if in a picture.



   Last Saturday was an auspicious day to see long distances and Muskegon harbor was plainly seen from our pier.



   A mirage showing the outline of the city of Chicago was witnessed in Saugatuck this week.          



   On Wednesday afternoon people on the lake front at Chicago saw a mirage, in which appeared the sand hills and shrubbery of the Michigan shore.  It seemed as if the lake had suddenly grown narrow and that a man could row across in two or three hours.  Many people believe the seeming land was but a mirage.  The only defect was that at each end the shore seemed to run up to the clouds, giving the impression that Michigan was up in the air.  The mirage lasted for some time. 



   The condition of the atmosphere last Sunday night, made the electric lights at Grand Rapids, Grand Haven and Fruitport very distinct, and the approach of the electric cars could be seen for miles away by the flash of the electricity from the third rail track and wheels lighting up the whole heavens until one would think an electrical storm was raging.  As the cars passed by, the buildings and tree tops were beautifully illuminated until they could be seen, at least a half mile.  During the blizzard of last week lightning flashed very many times, but Nunica is not “afraid of the cars, let it lightening.     



   On clear days it is possible to see across Lake Michigan to the Wisconsin shore.  Tuesday the smoke of the car ferry Pere Marquette was plainly visible here at noon.  Some of the deck men say that at night when atmospheric conditions are right the lights of the cities on the Wisconsin shore are plainly visible. ― Ludington Chronicle.



   Mirages have been exceptionally clear on Lake Michigan recently, the wind and atmospheric conditions being just right.  August and September are usually prolific in these phenomena and they may be expected any time the conditions are right.



   The residents of the lakeshore near White Lake were alarmed recently by a strange optical illusion which appeared very much like a steamer on fire out in the lake.  However, one of the residents secured a powerful glass and after a careful survey of the object discovered that it was a passenger steamer far out in the lake.  The sun shining on the steamer’s white hull and the dark smoke from the funnels gave a peculiar reddish like fire and led the people to think they saw a burning steamer.  The boat, which was a large one, was passing rapidly south and it is probable that the craft in question was one of the Grand Haven boats headed for this port.


Grand Haven Daily Tribune   April 3, 1925


Captain Wm. J. Preston and Crew See Lights of Milwaukee

and Racine Clearly From Surf Boat


Crew Runs Into Lake in Search For Flashing Torch

   Captain Wm. J. Preston and his U. S. Coast Guard crew at Grand Haven harbor witnessed a strange natural phenomenon last night, when they saw clearly the lights of both Milwaukee and Racine, shining across the lake.  As far as known this is the first time that such a freak condition has prevailed here.

   The phenomena was first noticed at shortly after seven o’clock last night, when the lookout called the keeper’s attention to what seemed to be a light flaring out on the lake.  Captain Preston examined the light, and was of the impression that some ship out in the lake was “torching” for assistance.

Launch Power Boat

   He ordered the big power boat launched and with the crew started on a cruise into the lake to locate, if possible, the cause of the light.  The power boat was headed due west and after running a distance of six or seven miles the light became clearer, but seemed to be but little nearer.  The crew kept on going, however, and at a distance of about ten and twelve miles out, a beautiful panorama of light unfolded before the eyes of the coast guards.

   Captain Preston decided that the flare came from the government lighthouse at Windy Point at Racine.  Being familiar with the Racine lights the keeper was able to identify several of the short lights at Racine, Wis.

Saw Milwaukee Also

   A little further north another set of lights were plainly visible.  Captain Preston knowing the Milwaukee lights well, easily distinguished them and identified them as the Milwaukee lights.  The lights along Juneau Park water front, the illumination of the buildings near the park and the Northwestern Railway station were clearly visible from the Coast Guard boat.  So clearly did the lights stand out that it seemed as though the boat was within a few miles of Milwaukee harbor.  

   Convinced that the phenomenon was a mirage, or a condition due to some peculiarity of the atmosphere, the keeper ordered the boat back to the station.  The lights remained visible for the greater part of the run, and the flare of the Windy Point light house could be seen after the crew reached the station here. 

Unexplained Conditions

   The reason for the clear view of the west shore lights is unexplained.  The condition may have been due to a mirage, of course, but the view of the lights seemed to be direct rather than by means of reflection.  All of the lights were on lake level and apparently in normal position.  A freak of atmospheric conditions which permitted the lights to be seen at an unusually long distance seems to be a reasonable explanation of the phenomenon.

   The normal distance at which a light is visible on Lake Michigan is said not to be over fifteen miles, and it is seldom that it can be seen that far.   




Have you seen Milwaukee?

Grand Haven Tribune
Thu, Nov 6, 2008

London-based audio-visual artist Hannah Rickards will be arriving in Grand Haven on Friday in search of people who have witnessed a phenomenon where Wisconsin street lights and buildings become visible from across Lake Michigan.

Scientific evidence and eyewitness accounts indicate "temperature inversion" exists, making happenings in Milwaukee visible along West Michigan's Lakeshore during unique weather patterns. The most recent confirmed occurrences happened in 1977 and 1982, according to Grand Haven Tribune accounts.

The UK-based artist plans to develop a video on the topic next spring by interviewing Tri-Cities residents. She will conduct preliminary interviews during her Nov. 7-16 visit.

Rickards, 28, will be lodging at the Harbor House Inn in Grand Haven.

Anyone who has witnessed the "temperature inversion" mystery is encouraged to e-mail her at prior to her arrival. After Friday, contact Rickards by calling the Harbor House Inn at 846-0610.

"Directly across the lake from Grand Haven — but well beyond the horizon — is Milwaukee, over 80 miles away," Rickards spokesman Tom Dingle said recently. "On an occasion in 1977, a temperature inversion over Lake Michigan created a superior mirage, and the lights of Milwaukee's skyline became clearly visible across the water, bent from beyond the horizon by layers of cold air in the atmosphere."

Rickards is developing a video that will weave together spoken recollections of the mirages of the Wisconsin shoreline, as seen by residents of Grand Haven.

"This strange and rare event happens only when specific atmospheric circumstances occur, conjuring the image of Milwaukee from beyond the horizon through a precise combination of atmospheric layers at differing temperatures," Dingle said. "The result is an immaterial image of a city hanging above the surface of the lake."

Rickards would like to meet with as many people as possible who have seen this phenomenon and are willing to share their account of it, Dingle said.

Rickards plans to make a second trip in the spring to film the accounts of those interested in participating in the project, according to Dingle.

"From the people who have contacted me up to now, I have been fascinated in the differences of interpretation; in terms of distance, appearance, what aspects of the sight were remembered; how people try to describe occurrences which are transient, infrequent and not entirely explained," Rickards said. "I would like to film a number of these accounts and descriptions with the shoreline of Lake Michigan as a backdrop. I hope to build through these descriptions — be they partially remembered or very vivid — a verbal picture of the experience, framed against the horizon of the lake."

The project will form the major component in Rickards' forthcoming exhibition organized by the Whitechapel Gallery in London in late spring 2009.

On the Net::



Local lake phenomenon research completed

Mon, Nov 24, 2008

British audio-visual artist Hannah Rickards and film producer Tom Dingle left Grand Haven last week with more material than they could have imagined — vivid recollections from locals who had "seen the lights."

(Tribune photo/Brian Keilen) British audio-video artist Hannah Rickards, right, interviews David and Lonnie Schneider of Spring Lake to obtain information for a documentary that will be filmed next year.


Rickards spent 10 days in the Tri-Cities interviewing almost 50 people who have witnessed a phenomenon known as "temperature inversion," where atmospheric conditions and air temperatures align exactly right so that the lights of Milwaukee and other cities on the west shore of Lake Michigan show up as if they're simply a few miles away.

The artist plans to return to the Tri-Cities in late March or early April of next year to film a documentary, which will include interviews from local residents. The finished product will be part of an exhibition at London's Whitechapel Gallery from Sept. 10 to Oct. 4, 2009, according to Dingle.

Grandville resident Steve Croft, who owns a Lake Michigan cottage in North Muskegon, was one of 49 people Rickards interviewed. Croft and three family members said they witnessed the phenomenon on April 8, 2005 — seeing lights and buildings reflected from Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee, Sheboygan and Manitowoc.

"I would estimate that what we saw looked like it was maybe 30 miles away," said Croft, 52. "I'm basing that on the comparison of looking down the shoreline and seeing the Port Sheldon tower, which is about 30 miles from us."

Croft, who has an engineering and business background and is now a pastor at Rockford's Resurrection Life Church, found it difficult to comprehend what he witnessed.

"I can do the math and know it was completely impossible for us to see what we saw," he said. "I was so freaked out by it. You could see so clearly all the buildings and the lights. If you saw something that you know is impossible to see, how does your brain process it?

"We watched it for at least 20 minutes," he continued, "then it started breaking up, almost like a wispy cloud that had holes in it. But there were no clouds. I theorize maybe a breeze came up and disturbed the air and broke up the perfect temperature inversion conditions. It was a major event in our lives."

Bob Pifer was the Grand Haven Tribune publisher from 1969-78. He now resides in Sandusky, Ohio, but he said he vividly recalls details of a "Milwaukee-coming-to-him" experience.

"When I looked across the lake, I could clearly see the Milwaukee lights stretching almost fully across the horizon, with harbor lights blinking in the proper sequences of seconds," Pifer said. "It was something that one never forgets."

Rickards' research confirms the first reported Milwaukee mirage occurred more than a century ago.

"In the late 1890s, one was seen in the morning from this area," Rickards said. "And there were many discoveries made when people were exploring the Arctic in the 18th and 19th centuries. They saw land and charted from a distance and thought, 'There must be an island over there.' They set out to explore it and it just wasn't there. There were a number of notable times when people have recorded and stated this island was here and then it wasn't there."

The temperature inversion researcher-artist said it's not surprising, given cool Arctic waters with mostly static and calm air. Lake Michigan is no different, according to Rickards.

"These inversions can go for hundreds of kilometers over colder waters when the air tends to be quite still," she said. "This becomes a vantage point, a staging post. It acts as a place where you can kind of examine what happens. We focused on what people experienced."

Rickards recognized what people experienced is sometimes difficult to comprehend — from both a research standpoint and from an eyewitness vantage point.

"What's striking is how vivid it was for them, even if some of the details were vague," she said. "They remembered where they were sitting and who they were with when they saw it."

Rickards and Dingle had little trouble describing their weeklong research and interview process in the Tri-Cities.

"When you come from a big city like London, which can be a bit 'bristly' and 'spikey,' and then you come to a small city like Grand Haven, it's just incredible," Rickards said, praising the local hospitality and residents' willingness to share their stories. "It's been great."

Dingle agreed.

"When you start tapping into this network, you see how the community is structured," he said. "We're impressed."

If you've witnessed the temperature inversion phenomenon, Rickards asks that you contact her by e-mail at