The Kaptain’s Kolumn #12

Benjamin Ellsworth, keeper of the Ipswich Range Light Station 1861-1902. Courtesy of Gordon Harris, Ipswich town historian; from “The Ipswich Lighthouse” at

Captain Joshua Card here, at Fort Point on the New Hampshire Seacoast. The days are getting longer and the weather’s been mostly clear. I haven’t had to wind the fog bell mechanism in more than a month. That will change come summer.

Thought I’d tell you about Benjamin Ellsworth today, another contemporary of mine who was keeper for more than 40 years down at the Ipswich Range Light station in Massachusetts. His daughter, Susan, was really an assistant keeper, although she was never paid for the position. The Ipswich station went into operation on December 1, 1837. The lights served as a range for mariners coming through the main channel into the mouth of the Ipswich River. If you’ve been to the area, you might know the area where the lighthouses once stood as Crane’s Beach.

Benjamin Ellsworth with visiting children, probably his grandchildren. Courtesy of Edith Sturtevant.

Benjamin Ellsworth, who was born in nearby Rowley, Massachusetts, in 1813, was appointed keeper in 1861 after spending some years in the local clamming and fishing industries. Ellsworth’s wife died soon after he took the position, and the keeper’s daughter, Susan, kept house at the station. Susan was the youngest of 12 children. Three sons of Keeper Ellsworth fought in the Civil War, and all three returned safely.

Ellsworth was responsible for several rescues of shipwreck victims during his long stay. In October 1863, he went to the aid of the passengers of an English schooner that had run aground. He later said he could “scarcely help from laughing” when he reached the wreck, because the passengers thought he was there to rob them. One of the passengers, a lawyer, had to convince the others to go with Ellsworth, and they all survived.

Keeper Ellsworth feeding his flock of chickens outside the rear range tower, circa 1900. Courtesy of Edith Sturtevant.

During the cold afternoon of March 11, 1872, a small fishing schooner, the Garabaldi, went aground on a sand bar near the Ipswich station during a snow squall. Ellsworth received a citation from the Massachusetts Humane Society for the rescue of the men from the Garibaldi. Later, in 1892, he performed a daring rescue a few miles the coast from his light station in high wind and waves. For his heroism, the keeper received a bronze medal from the Massachusetts Humane Society.

Ellsworth was interviewed for a newspaper article in 1897, when he was believed to be the oldest keeper employed in the United States. His daughter Susan—known as Susie—was still assisting him, as was a son, Jason.

Another article in 1898 described the station:

“About the house are several beautiful shell pictures, the result of Miss Susan’s skill and artistic taste, and the house also contains the government circulating library. This is replenished every year by the lighthouse tender Verbena, when she brings the supply of oil, chimneys, wicks and coal for the station. A plank walk, 400 feet long, leads from the keeper’s dwelling to the lighthouse, and from there to the ‘bug light’ near the beach, is another plank walk, 1000 feet in length.

“Like his own home, everything about the lighthouse shows the nicest of care, and is the very acme of neatness… Mr. Ellsworth is still hale, hearty and ruddy with the health-color that comes from the brisk sea-breezes that have whistled about him for nearly 40 years of life at the beach. He is one of the prize packages of Ipswich.”

A 1902 article praised Ellsworth: ‘As long as things go on properly he will probably never be removed. The family, and especially the old man himself, are so deeply rooted there at the light it would be hardly possible for them to be happy elsewhere.” The writer described Ellsworth cracking delectable Ipswich clams for his cats, and emphasized the many contributions of his daughter Susan:

“It is Miss Susan Ellsworth who has tended the light. As a vestal virgin of old Rome fed the sacred fire on the altar, that it should never die out, or as a nun watches over the altar lamp and keeps it ever shining brightly, so this New England daughter of a lighthouse keeper has tended, with almost reverential feeling, this great light… ‘It is my life,’ declared Miss Ellsworth recently, and as she said it, softly, and with shining eye, a flush crept across her face, such as is seen on the face of a maiden when her lover’s name is spoken.”

Keeper Ellsworth (by the horse) and others in front of the keeper’s house at the Ipswich Range Light Station. Courtesy of Gordon Harris, Ipswich town historian; from “The Ipswich Lighthouse” at

Benjamin Ellsworth died soon after the 1902 article, at the age of 89. His daughter Susan would live to be 104, surviving her 12 brothers and sisters. On the occasion of her 100th birthday, a local newspaper reported:

“Miss Ellsworth helped her father keep the great lamp in the lighthouse glittering. She performed such chores as cleaning the glass reflectors, polishing the metal and trimming the wicks so that seafaring men could rest assured of safe voyage, at least near the Ipswich Light.”

The Ipswich Range Lights circa early 1900s, when the front light was known as a “bug light.” The rear light tower was moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1939, where it still stands as the Edgartown Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Dolly Bicknell.

Lighthouse News of the Week

New London Harbor Lighthouse in November 2016, photo by Jeremy D’Entremont

New London Harbor Lighthouse (CT) Reopens for Tours

With a new agreement in place governing the number of tours that can be given per day and week, public tours have resumed at New London Harbor Lighthouse in New London, Connecticut. The lighthouse tower is owned by the New London Maritime Society, while the adjacent house, where the lighthouse keeper once lived, is privately owned. The lighthouse, established in 1761 and rebuilt in 1801, is the state’s oldest.

Click here for more on this story.

* * *

Lorain Lighthouse Foundation (OH) asking area residents to vote the lighthouse “Best of Lake Erie.”

The Lorain Lighthouse Foundation Inc. board of trustees is asking area residents to vote the Lorain Lighthouse to be the “Best of Lake Erie.” Voting is online at by April 1. There is a also paper ballot in Lake Erie Living’s 2019 annual travel guide.

OH Lorain
Lorain Lighthouse, from the U.S. Lighthouse Society archives

Click here for more info.

* *


Grays Harbor Lighthouse in 2015, photo by Jeremy D’Entremont

Grays Harbor Lighthouse (WA) study to be discussed tonight



The Westport South Beach Historical Society’s quarterly potluck Friday at 6 p.m. will include a presentation of findings from the 2018 professional review of the Grays Harbor Lighthouse. The society’s president Pete Eberle and members of the lighthouse restoration committee will be presenting and available for questions. There is also a grounds cleanup at the lighthouse starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday.

Click here for more on this story.



* * *

Umpqua River Lighthouse (OR) extends hours

The Umpqua River Lighthouse museum and gift shop now has extended hours through September, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. The lighthouse is home to one of the most magnificent first-order Fresnel lenses in the United States.

Looking into the Umpqua River first-order Fresnel lens; photo by Jeremy D’Entremont

Click here for more on this story, including a gallery of photos of the lighthouse inside and out.

* * *

Upcoming Events

Tom and Lee Ann Szelog at the Maine State Library in Augusta, March 20 at 6:30 p.m.

Imagine living in a century-old lightkeeper’s house on the coast of Maine. It sounds like a fantasy, but for Tom and Lee Ann Szelog, dream became reality when they settled into the keeper’s quarters at the Marshall Point Lighthouse, in Port Clyde. Join the Szelogs to experience what it’s like to live in an authentic and operating lighthouse on the Maine coast on Wednesday, March 20, at 6:30 p.m., at the Maine State Library. Presented by the Kennebec Historical Society.

Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde, Maine; photo by Jeremy D’Entremont

Click here for more information.


History of Dutch Chocolate – Wine & Chocolate Tasting at the Hudson River Maritime Museum, Kingston, New York, on Friday, March 22 at 6 p.m.

This educational evening will feature a wine tasting by Stone Ridge Wine and Spirits, as well as chocolate fountain, and homemade chocolate truffles. Stone Ridge Wine and Spirits will show you how to pair wines with chocolates, focusing on the best ports and dessert wines for your favorite sweets. There will be a special raffle for a case of wine, donated by Stone Ridge Wine and Spirits available only to guests of this special event.

There are a limited number of tickets available – click here for more info and registration


Lost Lighthouses of the Hudson River – Lecture at the Hudson River Maritime Museum, Kingston, New York, on Saturday, March 23 at 2 p.m. in the classroom at the Wooden Boat School. Seating is limited – click here!

* * * * *

Kate's Corner · News

Kate’s Corner #33

still picture identifier; 26-LG-34-22C
Old postcard of Biloxi Lighthouse, from the National Archives (image 26-lg-34-22c)

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

I want to pay tribute to two women keepers who served longer than any other light keeper—male or female—as principal keeper at a single light station: Maria Younghans, who served at Biloxi Light Station in Mississippi from 1867 until 1918, and Catherine Murdock, who kept the light at Roundout Creek on the Hudson River from 1857 until 1907. Both of them served while I was keeping the light on Robbins Reef. Maria Younghans at Biloxi Light stayed 51 years. Murdock retired in 1907 after spending 50 years at her station. These are two of the longest tenures ever at a single station in the United States.

Perry Younghans was appointed keeper at Biloxi in 1866 and died within a year. His wife
Maria succeeded him. A career as extended as Maria’s should have left behind some interesting memorabilia, but a few newspaper clippings provide all that we know of her half-century-long career. An 1893 edition of the New Orleans Picayune reported that Maria, “the plucky woman who was in charge of the Biloxi light, kept a light going all through the storm [hurricane], notwithstanding that there were several feet of water in the room where she lived.”

In the Biloxi and Gulfport Daily Herald of August 22, 1925, her obituary states that “during a 1918 storm, when the heavy glass in the lighthouse tower was broken by a large pelican being blown against it, she and her daughter, mindful of the especial need of the light on such a night, replaced the glass temporarily and made the ‘light to shine’ as before, unimpaired.”

Rondout LH (3) - Ralph Eshelman
The extant Rondout Lighthouse was built in 1915. U.S. Lighthouse Society photo by Ralph Eshelman.

In 1856 keeper George Murdock took Catherine and their two small children to a rickety
lighthouse on the Hudson River, already damaged by weather and ice. Catherine was too
preoccupied with producing a third child to give much thought to safe surroundings. Within a year after his appointment, her husband drowned. Catherine continued faithfully to maintain the light.

Catherine Murdock (Hudson River Maritime Museum)

She spent a decade (including the Civil War years) in the old lighthouse, which was
threatened repeatedly by severe storms and spring flooding. In 1867 a new light station
(referred to as Rondout I) was constructed of bluestone on the south side of the creek entrance—a solid, cozy structure with four rooms on each of its two floors.

Catherine’s worst experience was a flood in 1878. At 3 a.m. the dam at Eddyville upstream gave way.

Catherine could hear the crashing of houses, barns, barges, boats, and tugs torn from their moorings and swept downstream in the
raging current.

In 1880 Catherine’s son James was appointed assistant keeper. He succeeded his mother when she retired in 1907. I would like to have met Maria Younghans and Catherine Murdock. We would have had much in common to talk about.

As for male keepers with the longest tenure at a single station, so far I have found Charles P. Skinner at Marshall Point in Maine Honeywell at Cape Canaveral, FL, 1891 – 1930 [39 years], both of them serving while I was at Robbins Reef. Are there others?

[Editor’s note: William Welch was in charge at Van Wies Point, New York, for 52 years (1858-1910), although he didn’t live on site and it was considered a “laborer” position rather than a true “keeper” position. Joseph Henry Herrick was keeper at Hospital Point in Beverly, Massachusetts for 44 years (1873-1927). If you can find other keeper tenures at single stations that exceed the 45-50 year range, please let us know.


21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker copy

Information is from newspaper articles and a fact sheet supplied by the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, New York.


Lighthouse News of the Week

Kate Walker at Robbins Reef Lighthouse

Statue of Keeper Kate Walker to be constructed at the Staten Island Ferry landing

A statue honoring one of America’s most famous lighthouse keepers, Katherine “Kate” Walker, will be erected by New York City at the Staten Island Ferry Landing on Staten Island.

Born in Germany, Kate Walker immigrated to the United States just eight years before she took  on the job of keeping Robbins Reef Lighthouse in the Kill Van Kull, a shipping channel between Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey. Standing four foot ten and weighing about 100 pounds, Walker saved at least 50 lives during her nearly three decades at the lighthouse. She also made sure her son, Jacob, received an education by rowing him to shore each day on Staten Island. Jacob eventually succeeded his mother as keeper.

Robbins Reef Lighthouse (Photo by Jeremy D’Entremont)

The statue of Walker is one of four works honoring trailblazing women announced on Wednesday, as part of an effort to honor women who have helped shape New York City and to address the lack of female statues in public places. The City will also construct a statue of jazz legend Billie Holiday in Queens, civil rights leader Elizabeth Jennings Graham in Manhattan, and Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías in the Bronx. These women were chosen through an open call that drew more than 2000 nominations.

The search for artists is expected to begin at the end of this year with the statues being installed by 2022.

Click here for more on this story

And also more here


*  *  *

Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse (MO) to be reconstructed

The Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse is surrounded by 10 acres of parkland on Cardiff Hill in Hannibal, Missouri, near the banks of the Mississippi River. A tower was originally built on the site in 1935 to commemorate the centennial of the birth of Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, Hannibal’s favorite son. It was rebuilt after being heavily damaged by a windstorm in 1960. Although lighted, it serves little navigational value. The interior is not open to the public, but the area around it affords a panoramic view of Hannibal and the river.

Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse (Wikimedia Commons, photo by Jens Bludau)

Hannibal Parks and Recreation officials now say that the current lighthouse is beyond repair, and they are set to spend $135,000 for reconstruction. The work is set to take place this summer.

Click here for more on this story.

*  *  *

Huron Harbor Lighthouse (OH) to be illuminated

Huron Harbor OH 2008 Mike & Carol McKinney
U.S. Lighthouse Society photo by Mike & Carol McKinney

After two years of efforts, Huron, Ohio, city officials have received permission from the U.S. Coast Guard to illuminate the Huron Harbor Lighthouse with four LED lights at night.

According the Sandusky Register, the lighthouse will be illuminated beginning this spring, and it will glow with different colors for special occasions. “For instance, officials could project green and gold lights during St. Patrick’s Day; red, white and blue lights for the Fourth of July; or orange lights for Halloween.”

Click here for more on this story.


*  *  *

Report commissioned for Eagle Bluff Lighthouse (WI) restoration and maintenance

A report has been commissioned by the Door County Historical Society that will set the stage for a plan to restore the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse Museum to a historically correct condition. The report also will include a plan for long-term maintenance of the lighthouse and other structures on the site.

Eagle Bluff WI - Sandy Karnes

Eagle Bluff Lighthouse (U.S. Lighthouse Society photo by Sandy Karnes)

“The restoration will take a long time,” Executive Director Bailey Koepsel said. “I’m sure it’s something that will have to be done in phases. But, that’s something the (Historic Structure Report) will tell us.”

Click here for more on this story.

*  *  *

Upcoming Events

Weather Forecasting Seminar at National Lighthouse Museum, Staten Island, NY, March 28, 2019, 6:00 p.m.

The National Lighthouse Museum and the America’s Boating Club (US Power Squadron, Established 1914, Staten Island Club) have teamed up to present a Basic Weather and Forecasting seminar on March 28, 2019, 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. This seminar could be a lifesaver for boaters and a valuable resource for weather enthusiasts.

Click here for more info

Spring Fling for Lighthouse Preservation, Kittery Lions Club (Kittery, Maine), Saturday, April 6, 2019, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Join Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses for a fun event that will include live music and dance, a raffle and silent auction, food, and more! Admission is free but donations are welcomed. At the Kittery Lions Club at 117 State Road (Route 1) in Kittery, Maine.

Click here for more info

*  *  *  *  *  *

U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. You can receive these posts via email if you click on the “SUBSCRIBE” button in the right-hand column. Please support this electronic newsletter by joining the U.S. Lighthouse Society if you are not already a member.

If you have items of interest to the lighthouse community and its supporters, please email them to Jeremy at

Kaptain's Kolumn · News

The Kaptain’s Kolumn #11

Keeper George L. Lyon of Egg Rock Lighthouse, Massachusetts. From “Lightkeeper” magazine.

Ahoy, Captain Joshua Card here, down at Portsmouth Harbor Light in my home town of New Castle, New Hampshire. Winter’s been hanging on tight but spring is just around the corner, so they tell me. Today I’d like to tell you about an interesting fellow who kept the old Egg Rock Lighthouse down the coast off Nahant, Massachusetts: George L. Lyon.

Nineteenth century illustration of a sea serpent passing Egg Rock. Collection of Jeremy D’Entremont

The three-acre rocky island known as Egg Rock, almost a mile off Nahant, resembles a whitish-gray whale rising up about 80 feet out of the ocean. It got its name because of the large number of gulls’ nests there. The original lighthouse on the island was established in 1856 largely to help the local fishermen in Nahant and Swampscott; the station was rebuilt in 1897 with a square brick tower attached to the keeper’s house.

Postcard of the 1897 Egg Rock Lighthouse. Collection of Jeremy D’Entremont

George L. Lyon, who grew up in nearby Lynn and was previously an assistant at Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse, became the keeper at Egg Rock in 1889.  A large and athletic man, Lyon loved the sea and was on a lifesaving crew on Lake Erie by the age of 21.

The artist and writer Charles A. Lawrence of Lynn visited Egg Rock in 1891. He described Lyon: “Bronzed and blue-shirted, his yellow beard suggested the Norseman of old. I would not have been surprised to see him raise a drinking horn from somewhere and shout, ‘SKOAL!'”

Lawrence wrote about a tour of the light station with Lyon and his mother, who was then nearly 90. They also met the station’s housekeeper, Ada Foster, who was 15 at the time of their visit. During a tour of the lighthouse, the keeper jokingly told Lawrence, “Lots of people ask us what makes the light red, and we tell ’em it’s the red oil. Some of ’em don’t get it, and they say, ‘Oh, that’s it. I never knew.’” (The light was actually made red by the placement of a red glass chimney around the lamp.)

This painting, called Saved!, by the English artist Sir Edwin Henry Landseer depicted Milo, a dog belonging to George Taylor, a previous keeper of Egg Rock Lighthouse. Milo was credited with several rescues around the island and gained wide fame. The model for the child in the painting was Keeper Taylor’s young son, Fred.

In the summer, there were countless visitors to Egg Rock. Lyon grew tired of people asking him if he longed for life on the mainland, and took to wearing a sign on his back that said, “No, thank you, I am not the least bit lonesome.” He was an avid reader, especially of scientific and technical books.

Keeper Lyon was a carpenter, boat builder, an expert marksman with a rifle, and an authority on firearms and explosives. He developed a well-equipped machine shop in the island’s boathouse. His mechanical aptitude enabled him to repair the dory engines of many local fishermen, and he invented a new type of crankshaft for boat engines that saved on gasoline. His crowning achievement at Egg Rock was the building of a landing stage on the island. With this arrangement, a boat would be hoisted out of the water onto a deck, then hoisted again into the boathouse. A powerful hand winch was used for both hoists.

Postcard showing the landing stage built by George Lyon. Collection of Jeremy D’Entremont

Lyon was responsible for countless rescues in the vicinity of Egg Rock during his 22 years there. Once, after the keeper saved a group of five men, they took up a collection and presented a not-so-generous reward of 85 cents to their savior.

Keeper Lyon had a Newfoundland dog with the strange name of “O-who.” O-who loved to fetch sticks thrown by the keeper into the waves, and he rode along and “assisted” in some of the rescues around the island. Charles Lawrence called O-who a “sailor at heart.”

Lyon and his housekeeper, Ada Foster, developed a friendship that grew into romance over the years. Charles Lawrence wrote that Ada blossomed from a slender girl and developed a “robust physique that enabled her to bear a hand at the winch in hoisting the boats, an accomplishment which in no wise detracted from her fine skills as a cook and entertainer.” After leaving Egg Rock in 1911, Lyon became keeper at Graves Lighthouse in Boston Harbor, then at Nobska Point at Woods Hole on Cape Cod. The keeper and Ada planned to marry, but Ada died before the marriage could take place, while Lyon was at Nobska Point.

The keeper’s house in the ocean in October 1922. (Lynn Historical Society)

The light on Egg Rock was converted to automatic operation in 1919 and the keeper’s house was sold at auction, with the stipulation that the buyer had to move it to the mainland. As the house was being moved down the slope toward a waiting barge, a cable snapped and the building careened into the ocean. For some time, remains of the dwelling washed up on local beaches. The brick lighthouse tower stood until 1927 when it was destroyed.







Lighthouse News of the Week

Bell Rock (1) - Stevenson
Illustration of Bell Rock Lighthouse in a gale, from the U.S. Lighthouse Society archives

Scotland’s Bell Rock Lighthouse operating again after interruption

Bell Rock Lighthouse was built between 1807 and 1810 off the Firth of Tay, in the North Sea off the east coast of Scotland, by the engineer Robert Stevenson. It is considered the world’s oldest sea-washed–or wave-swept, depending on your terminology–lighthouse in the world. The challenges faced and overcome in its construction have also led to its being dubbed one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.

Recently, engineers at Scotland’s Northern Lighthouse Board were alerted to the fact that the light had gone dark after a generator had failed to charge the batteries at the lighthouse. Locals reported that the light hadn’t been seen for several days.

Repairs have been carried out, and the light is again operational. In the long term, there are plans to replace the diesel generator with a solar power system.

You can read more about this story here.

*  *  *  *  *  *


138 st augustine
St. Augustine Lighthouse (U.S. Lighthouse Society archives)

Night Fest at St. Augustine Lighthouse, Florida on March 2


In an annual celebration of the bond between the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum and the Junior Service League of St. Augustine, the museum will host the annual Lighthouse Night Fest on Saturday, March 2, in conjunction with the JSL’s Lighthouse 5K & Fun Run at the St. Augustine Light Station. The museum will be open for free to all guests from 4 to 8 p.m. Children’s activities will be offered, and guests can tour shipwreck exhibits, the conservation lab, view the boat building, and walk the nature trail.

For more information, go to


*  *  *  *  *  *

History/Snowshoe Hike around Grand Traverse Lighthouse (Michigan) on March 2

Grand Traverse MI 1858 drive TAT
Grand Traverse Lighthouse, photo by Tom Tag

Meet at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum Gift Shop on Saturday, March 2, at 10 a.m. for a history snowshoe hike around the campground and lighthouse area. This is a ranger-led hike by the Leelanau State Park staff.  Complimentary hot chocolate and snacks will be provided afterwards in the gift shop.


“There’s serenity in being in the park and seeing the natural untouched beauty — fresh snow, no footprints — all wild and natural,” said Stephanie Rosinski, Leelanau and Traverse City State Park interim supervisor.

Click here for more info

And also a story here

*  *  *  *  *  *

Remembering Terry Pepper

5c7701745e919As reported here earlier this week, Terry Pepper passed away at his home in Brutus, Michigan, last Saturday. Terry was one of the leaders of lighthouse preservation and education in the United States and he will be greatly missed.

An obituary has been posted on the website of the Gaylord Community Funeral Home; click here to read it. 

From the obituary: A private ceremony will be held for family only but a public memorial is being planned by the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association.  Those who wish are asked to consider donations in his memory to the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, P.O. Box 219, Mackinaw City, MI  49701 or Hospice of the Straits, c/o McLaren Northern Michigan Foundation, 360 Connable Avenue, Suite 3, Petoskey, MI  49770.

Terry was the executive director of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association for a decade, and they have posted a beautifully produced, moving video tribute to him. Click here to see it.

*  *  *

U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. You can receive these posts via email if you click on the “SUBSCRIBE” button in the right-hand column. Please support this electronic newsletter by joining the U.S. Lighthouse Society if you are not already a member.

If you have items of interest to the lighthouse community and its supporters, please email them to Jeremy at

Kate's Corner · News

Kate’s Corner #32

Kate Walker here, keeping the light on Robbins Reef.

Kate Walker at Robbins Reef

Light keepers do much more than keep the light. The water around Robbins Reef is treacherous. Over the years I rescued 50 people.

One such newsworthy incident was the wreck of a three masted schooner that struck the reef and rolled onto its side. I launched my dingy and took aboard the five crew members plus a small Scottie dog, whose survival pleased me immensely.

I almost lost my life in a sudden storm that came up while I was rowing back from Staten Island, a one mile journey. After three hours of struggling through snow and wind, I was rescued by a ferry that towed me as close as possible to my home. By the time I ascended the ladder, I was covered in ice.

Another time, my rowboat, my only transportation, almost came loose from its mooring in a storm. As I struggled to secure it, the chain holding the boat hit me in the eye, and the wind nearly blew me off the deck.

Other keepers faced similar problems. Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana is an inland lake, but the New Canal Light keepers there were not immune to danger. A hurricane in September 1915 heavily damaged the station with winds estimated at 130 mph. Keeper Caroline Riddle was commended for heroism in showing the light during the storm.

LA New Canal 3
New Canal Light Station, Louisana (U.S. Lighthouse Society archives)

The barometer fell to 28.11 inches, setting a U.S. record, and Lake Pontchartrain rose to the top of the levees and flooded parts of New Orleans. Riddle was forced to douse the main light and hang a small lantern in the rocking tower.

Keeper Maggie Norvell, also at New Canal, helped 200 victims ashore from an excursion boat fire in 1926, treating each of them until they could be evacuated. A Navy pilot who
crashed into the lake near the station owed his life to Norvell, who rowed out to his sinking biplane in a two-hour rescue.

Keeper William C. Williams (Courtesy of William O. Thomson)

Boon Island in Maine was the site of several shipwrecks. Keeper William C. Williams reported the schooner Goldhunter aground in December 1892. The crew in their yawl boat reached the light station after a six-hour row. Their barking dog alerted the keeper, who guided the boat to the landing and then hauled it through the breakers onto the shore. “The crew was frozen to the thwarts and almost helpless. The keepers and their wives had a desperate task for the next few hours to resuscitate the almost lifeless men,” according to Williams.

Probably the most famous rescues by light keepers involved Marcus Hanna, keeper at Cape Elizabeth Light Station in Maine, and Ida Lewis at Lime Rock Light Station in Rhode Island, both of whom won medals for heroic rescues. Details can be found on the Web.


21 Dec 1902 - Times Picayune - Kate Walker copyInformation is from Lighthouse Friends; New Orleans Tribune, June 26, 1932; Lighthouse Service Bulletin, Vol. I, p. 186; Robert Thayer Sterling, Lighthouses of the Maine Coast and the Men Who Kept Them (Brattleboro, Stephen Daye Press, 1935).