Hi. I’m Kate Walker. My husband John Walker was appointed keeper of the light on Robbins Reef in New York Harbor in 1885.
If you wonder what all that lumber behind us is, my son Jacob and I land lumber that is washed away from railroad yards and shipyards along the shore—harpooning the logs with a rope and tying them to the railing until low tide, when they could be set up to dry. A floating or submerged log can wreck a sailing schooner.
When I first came to Robbins Reef, the sight of water whichever way I looked, made me lonesome. I refused to unpack my trunks at first, but gradually, a little at a time, I unpacked. After a while they were all unpacked and I stayed on.
In 1890 John developed pneumonia. My son Jacob rowed him to Staten Island to see a doctor. John’s last words to me as they launched the dingy were, “Mind the light, Katie.”
Ten days later John died. A substitute keeper was sent so I could arrange for his burial and attend his funeral, but I was back at the light before that day ended.
I was 44 years old with two children to care for and no income. I asked for John’s job, but there were objections because I’m only four feet ten inches tall and weigh barely 100 pounds. The Light-House Board offered the post to several men, who turned it down because Robbins Reef is so lonely. They paid me a laborer’s wage to look after the light until finally in 1894, with no one else wanting the post, they did appoint me. I got the same wage as John—$600 a year. I kept that light, with only Jacob to help me, from 1890 until 1919.
I’ve joined the U.S. Lighthouse Society and want to share what I know about keeping a lighthouse. Look for the first installment in a week or so.
Based on an article by Carol Bird, “The Loneliest Woman in the World,” Philadelphia Ledger, Sunday, August 23, 1925, found in Women Who Kept the Lights.
Submitted June 23, 2017.
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