10 January 2014


Story first appeared on USAToday.com.

If the St. Joseph Lighthouse could talk, it would probably say, "I'm ready for my close up," or, "If you want to talk to me, call my people."

Daunting photos of the ice-encrusted structure on Lake Michigan and the pier attached to it have gone viral around the world during these last couple of days of polar vortex-dom, as social media users offer their contacts examples of just how fierce weather can be. Some might say that photos of the lighthouse with gigantic masses of ice appearing to drip from it have become the symbolic face of this week's frigid weather.

The photos of the structure in the resort town of St. Joseph, Mich., about 90 miles northeast of Chicago, have gone so viral that they have spun off confusion. People have claimed on social media to have taken photos of the decommissioned lighthouse that they did not take. Three news organizations have published stories on photographers that they present as the artist whose photos have gone the most viral. And as it turns out, what might be the most shared photo was actually taken about a year ago.

"That one was taken Jan. 23 of 2013," says photographer John McCormick, 51, of Vestaburg, Mich., who shot the now-famous picture. "That's the most viral I've had an image go, for sure."

The retired auto supplier worker who lives about 120 miles from the lighthouse says he has not been out to photograph the structure since the polar vortex rolled in because it has just been way too cold. "My camera probably wouldn't even function," he said.

But normally, he enjoys running out to the lighthouse in the winter. In order to take the photo of the lighthouse that has gone viral, he had to stand on a mound of ice jutting out into Lake Michigan about 300 or 400 feet from actual land.

"I love being out in that kind of weather," he says.

McCormick was tickled when he got a telephone call from his son a couple of days ago, saying that his photo of the lighthouse was circulating via Reddit and other sites. Mashable published a story pointing out the often-shared photo was taken last January, and Buzzfeed published a story, too. CNN called to ask questions, McCormick said.

The attention turned out to be a good thing for McCormick, who also takes photos for the state of Michigan that are used on billboards. His website, www.MichiganNutPhotography.com, has gotten an additional 40,000 hits over the last couple of days and the number of "Likes" on his Facebook page are up about 1,700 to almost 20,000.

McCormick, however, isn't the only photographer whose winter images of the lighthouse are being shared during the cold snap. The Kalamazoo Gazette and its website, www.Mlive.com, published a story touting the arresting photos of Thomas Zakowski of South Bend, Ind., who has been taking pictures since high school.

The Herald-Palladium out of St. Joseph published a piece mentioning not only McCormick and Zakowski, but also Chicago-based photographer Tom Gill, who also has shot the lighthouse. The photos of the structure are being shared as far as the U.K., Italy and China, according to the news organization.

There have been various versions of the St. Joseph Lighthouse, but the one drawing people's attention in recent days was built in 1846. The catwalk today is used by walkers, runners and bikers, according to the stjoelighthouse.com website.

Something about that particular lighthouse in winter just seems to touch people, McCormick said.

"It looks like so many different things," he said. "It might resemble something people see on a video game, a Buddha or an ice monster. It's just really unique."

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