Thursday, May 1, 2008
Wisconsin Islands #1...Devils Island, farthest northern point... and who are Barney and Lamborn?
Devil's Island has had many names. It was once Louisiana Island, Barney and Lamborn's Island (who the hell is Barney and Lamborn...Anybody?), Rices Island, Brownstone Island, and Rabbit Island. The northern edge of Devils Island is the far northern edge of Wisconsin. Nobody lives on the island. However, in the summer you'll find National Park Service volunteers. Hordes of kayakers from Madison and Minneapolis circle the island and gaze at it's endless caves and beautiful red and yellow sandstone. I had to throw that last line in...Dr. Mike has a theory that Kayakers can only come from Madison and Minneapolis.
Devil's Island has an ancient and sinister reputation that it may not deserve. It has been written (by a white man) that the ojibwe consider the island to be the home of an arch evil demon spirit, the Machmanitou. He was banished to the Island by the Great Spirit, and remains a prisoner for eternity and also the source of the name, Devils Island. The story makes absolutely no sense as it gives the Algonkian mythos a European structure. But what the hell, it sounds cool and the X-Files used it for an episode.
"The island is a huge block of potsdam sandstone rising 50 feet above water level covered with a dense evergreen forest. The northeast exposure resists the force of 300 miles of open sea. Over a period of centuries the waves have honeycombed the solid walls into great chambers supported by magnificent arches and carved pillars. One can row into these caves several hundred feet passing from one another through wide corridors."(from a 1923 article in the State Journal)
"When the surf is heavy, the waves crash inside the island's many sea caves causing a continuous thunder and boom that can be heard a far distance from the island." The caves, which wrap around the northern shore,
are striking - they were sculpted from the billion year old red and gold sandstone bedrock. There's also a lighthouse and abandoned tram tracks. The lighthouse is quite famous and is still in operation. On the circa 1895 map at left you'll see Devil's Island marked as Rices Island. Of the 22 Apostle islands, Hermit Island, Madeline Island(over 200 permanent residents) and Stockton Island are probably the most interesting. Why? Because they all have tales of buried treasure, betrayal, vengeance, madness, murder, and ghosts...the stuff that makes the world go around. Our very well named Devil's Island is a beautiful, lonely place with no such stories...unless you're interested in lighthouse construction, history and maintenance.