Rare Fog Horn Recording Re-discovered

It all began with a walk on a pier for a Christmas present. History and nostalgia came together in Michigan when a forgotten recording of an old foghorn was rediscovered in the tape collections of a former boater.

The tape, of the famous Holland Harbor Light at the entrance from Lake Michigan to Lake Macatawa, was a Christmas gift 36 years ago, recorded by his daughter. Sally Scobey was a young girl when she took a walk with a hand-held cassette tape recorder the summer of 1970 with the idea of capturing the sound of the horn for her father’s Christmas present later that year.

“As the child of Great Lakes boaters, I grew up with the bellowing, melancholy sound of the old fog horns,” said Scobey. “Those foggy days had a special feel. Of course we love the sunny days and glassy seas, but there’s something about those foggy days with the sound of a fog horn in the distance that boaters, cottagers and other water’s-edge dwellers remember with great fondness. Those were the days you took a misty walk along a pier, or curled up with a good book. You never forget those days.”

She knew her father loved the sound too, so she set off with the recorder to create a special gift for him. Little did she know that the walk would preserve history. A failed effort in 1998 to bring back the fog horn at Holland Harbor Light, affectionately known as “Big Red,” prompted Scobey to ask her father, Clint, to find her old recording.

“There was an attempt by local congressmen to insert an amendment into the U.S. Coast Guard budget to re-commission the horn in the late 90’s. The Coast Guard District Headquarters told me bringing back the old horn would be an expensive proposition. It would take scheduling headaches and an army of civilians to staff it on foggy days, which, of course, are unpredictable. I don’t think the bill to re-activate the horn ever got out of the House or Senate, but since there was such an interest in the sound, I started wondering if my recording was unique.”

She called the Holland Historical Trust and Hope College Archives. Both facilities said they were unaware of any other recording of Big Red’s horn, and requested a copy.

With the news that her recording was possibly the only one in existence, Scobey decided to bring back the sound her own way. She took it to an audio production studio to have it digitally mastered, and she decided to share it with others who miss the sound of the old horns. The re-mastered recording has 31 minutes of the horn as it would be heard if walking up and down the pier, then it gradually fades as the recorder moves away down the beach. Geoffrey Reynolds, archivist for the Joint Archives of Holland, requested a copy, but said people would probably not listen to it much on the headphones at his facility. He thought it would be a better background sound to enjoy at home.

Thirty-One minute CD’s of the horn with seagull cries and waves are also sold in the Holland Museum. It is the only known fog horn sound now to be offered on the internet. There has been quite an interest from people reading the unusual story and contacting Scobey for copy, which was first offered on cassette tape in 1998. The interest surprised her.

“People have called me from around the country; even lighthouse catalogues carried it for awhile. I guess the foghorn helps people remember days gone by.

“Sound is a powerful thing. When you hear an old song you immediately remember where you were when it played in your past. The foghorn does the same thing. It reminds people of good times at the beach or on the coast. Life is always simpler in the summer by the water, and the foghorn evokes that kind of feeling.”

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