Door County Maritime Museum Receives Historic Life-Saving Medal from 1892

Descendants of Martin Nicolai Knudsen, lighthouse keeper for 43 years stationed in Michigan and Wisconsin, gathered at the Door County Maritime Museum July 17, 2018. They came from across the country to honor their ancestor by offering a gold medal to the DCMM on permanent loan. The medal has been passed through the family and most recently resided with the Knudson family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It commemorates the gallant acts of Captain Knudsen performed in the rescue of the crews of two schooners in October, 1892 – the J. R. Gillmore and the A.P. Nichols.

In those stormy weeks, boats were tossed across the strait of the Portes des Morts (Death’s Door), dragging anchors that they hoped would keep them steady while riding out the storm in usually safe harbors. Within a week of each other, both schooners ran aground and were battered against the rocks of Pilot Island, where Knudsen was stationed. He single-handedly, at great risk to his own life, went out to the boats, first by skiff for the Gillmore where he brought the crew back to shore.  In the case of the Nichols, Knudsen jumped into break waters to reach the stranded sailors and guided the exhausted crew of eight, one by one to land.

After such a show of heroism, the Life Saving Benevolent Association of New York bestowed him with a 2” gold medal. The arrival of a registered package addressed to Martin Knudsen created quite a bit of excitement on Washington Island, and particularly to the Knudsen family. It contained the beautiful medal that was engraved with the inscription:

“Presented to

Martin Knudsen

Light House Keeper of Pilot

Island Lake Michigan in

recognition of his courage and

humanity in rescuing at great

personal peril the Crews of

wrecked Schooners J. R. Gillmore

and A. P. Nichols

October, 1892.”


Captain Knudsen was also awarded the Silver Lifesaving Medal the following spring when the tile lighthouse tender “Dahlia” made her first trip of the season to Pilot Island. Commander Alibone presented to Martin Knudsen a medal from the United States, in token of his bravery in rescuing those aboard the Nichols. This medal currently resides with his descendent, Kenneth Knudson.


The Door County Maritime Museum & Lighthouse Preservation Society is comprised of three locations; Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay, Cana Island Lighthouse in Baileys Harbor and Death’s Door Maritime Museum in Gills Rock. For more information, please visit or call (920) 743-5958.

MEDIA CONTACT:           
Amy Paul
Executive Director
Door County Maritime Museum