2005-05-20 / News

Noon Whistle is a Long-Standing Island Tradition

By Leslie Rott

Looking like something out of a “Star Wars” movie, the noon whistle looms above the trees from behind the fire station.
Looking like something out of a “Star Wars” movie, the noon whistle looms above the trees from behind the fire station.

  • What makes tourists and summer workers shiver with fear and confusion? It’s the same thing that Islanders and horses barely flinch at the sound of. The noon siren is a part of the everyday history of the Island and yet, few people actually know the real reason behind it, even though the history that is known is an informal one.
  • Located just behind the fire station and looking like something out of “Star Wars,” the noon whistle goes relatively unnoticed until the sound of it is heard. Even then, most people have a hard time locating it. Its sound is carried across the Island.

    According to Fire Chief Dennis Bradley, the noon siren was used as a way to notify volunteer firement of a fire on the Island. The horn used to be encoded so that it would sound differently when there was a fire on various parts of the Island. It could be activated at the police station and from four homes on the Island, including his.

    As modern technology and the use of radios and pagers became mainstream here on the Island, the use of the siren was phased out. Eventually, a decision had to be made about what to do with the siren and as a result, a heated debate took place in the chambers of City Council, Armand “Smi” Horn, an ex-fire chief and city council member said. Mr. Horn said that he felt the siren should be blown once a week, Sundays at noon, just to make sure it worked. Others, however, felt that the siren’s traditional noon test should not be so easily abandoned. Therefore, the city council decided to sound the horn every day at noon, not only to make sure that it is in working order, but to maintain a long-standing tradition. Nobody really seems to know how long of a tradition that really is.

    The siren raises many questions among tourists, who are startled by it, and, over the years, some Islanders have come up with clever answers. Mr. Horn remembers two fibs sometimes told by the locals, mainly to see the reaction of the visitors.

    “You had better head for the boat, the Island’s too full” is one, and “the Mackinac Bridge is going to swing over now” is another.

    Some locals claim they no longer even hear the siren when it blows, but both Mr. Horn and Chief Bradley say they hear it every day at noon.

    “Every time it blows, I check to see what time it is,” Mr. Horn said.

    Residents recall that many cities in Northern Michigan used to sound a noon whistle to beckon workers to lunch, and the sirens have always been a strategic aspect of the Civil Defense system, but St. Ignace is the only other city they know of that continues the sounding of the noon siren today.

    On Mackinac Island, the only time, other than noon, that the siren goes off is if there is a tornado or other major emergency of which the entire Island would need to be notified. Mr. Horn said that would be rare.

    So just remember, the next time there is a shrill of an air raid siren, there is no need to fear, unless it isn’t noon.

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