Keepers · Lifesaving Service · News

Celebrating Ida Lewis

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Ida Lewis. National Archives photo 26-LG-69-60

Today is Ida Lewis’s 175th birthday. Google has marked the occasion with a google doodle. Ida was famous in her day for her numerous lifesaving rescues at Lime Rock Light Station in Newport, Rhode Island. She received a gold lifesaving medal in 1881 and Lime Rock was renamed in her honor in 1924.

Idawalley Zorada Lewis, called Ida, was born in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1842. Her father, Captain Hosea Lewis, was a coast pilot whose health was declining. In 1853 he became the first keeper of nearby Lime Rock beacon on a tiny island a third of a mile from the shore of Newport. At first there was only a temporary lantern and a rough shed that provided shelter when the keeper was on the island in bad weather. Lewis’s family remained in the old part of Newport until 1857, when a Greek Revival building with a hip roof was constructed on the island. Lewis moved his family into the lighthouse when Ida, his eldest child, was 15.

Hosea Lewis had been at Lime Rock less than four months when he was stricken by a disabling stroke. Like many wives and daughters of lighthouse keepers before and after, Ida expanded her domestic duties, now increased by the care of her invalid father and a seriously ill sister, to include the care of the light—filling the lamp with oil at sundown and again at midnight, trimming the wick, and extinguishing the light at dawn. All these responsibilities precluded further formal education for Ida.

Since Lime Rock was completely surrounded by water, the only way to reach the mainland was by boat. In the mid-nineteenth century it was highly unusual for a woman to handle a boat, but Ida, the oldest of four children, rowed her siblings to school every weekday and fetched needed supplies from the town. The wooden boat was heavy, but she became very skillful in handling it. (An article in Harper’s Weekly, written after Ida had made several daring rescues, debated whether it was “feminine” for women to row boats, but concluded that none but a “donkey” would consider it “unfeminine” to save lives.) Ida was also reputed to be the best swimmer in all Newport.

Lime Rock Light Station was renamed Ida Lewis Rock in 1924. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office
In 1924 the Rhode Island legislature officially changed the name of Lime Rock to Ida Lewis Rock. The Lighthouse Service changed the name of the Lime Rock Light Station to the Ida Lewis Rock Light Station—the only such honor ever paid to a keeper. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

Ida’s skill at the oars was regularly tested. During her first year at Lime Rock, four young men who were out sailing nearly drowned. One of them had foolishly shimmied up the mast and rocked the boat to tease his companions. The boat capsized, and four boys who couldn’t swim clung to the overturned hull, shouting for help. Ida heard them and rowed to their rescue. In their terror, they almost dragged her overboard, but she pulled all four over the stern into her boat and returned them to land. This was only the first of a number of rescues that later made Ida famous.

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Because of her many rescues, Ida Lewis became the best-known light keeper of her day. During her 54 years on Lime Rock, Ida is credited with saving 18 lives, although unofficial reports suggest the number may have been as high as 25. Tales of Ida Lewis’s skill and courage spread so widely that both President Ulysses S. Grant and Vice President Schuyler Colfax  went to visit her in 1869. Here she is pictured on the cover of Harper’s Weekly for the July 31, 1869, issue. Image courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

Ida and her mother Zorada tended the Lime Rock Light for her father from 1857 until 1872, when he died. Her mother was appointed keeper until 1879, although Ida continued to do the keeper’s work. Then Ida received the official appointment and her own salary ($500 a year). She continued at her post until her own death in 1911. On the night of her death the bells on all the vessels anchored in Newport Harbor were tolled in her memory.

On September 28, 1881,William Windom, secretary of the Light-House Board, wrote to Ida Lewis as follows:

I have the honor to transmit herewith the gold medal which has been awarded to you under authority of the Act of Congress of June 20, 1874, in recognition of your services in rescuing from drowning at the peril of your life, two soldiers belonging to the garrison of Fort Adams.

It appears from the evidence submitted to the Department in this connection, that on February 4th last, these men were crossing between Lime Rock light-house and the fort and the ice, being dangerously weak and rotten, gave way under their feet, and let them in. Hearing their cries for help, you ran from the light-house with a rope, one end of which you flung to them and standing upon the ice, in imminent danger of its giving way beneath you, and also of being dragged into the water, both men having hold of the line, you succeeded in pulling them out, one after the other. The rescue of one you effected entirely unaided; the second man you hauled from the broken ice, with the help of your brother, who arrived at the spot in time to render this assistance.

It is the testimony of the rescued men, and of the several eye-witnesses, that in this act you placed your life in great peril.

The papers before the Department in this case, cite the instances of no less than thirteen persons saved by you from drowning, at dates anterior to this occurrence, and it is stated that there are many more who do not appear in the record. These deeds have won for you a national distinction, and it is peculiarly appropriate that you should receive the national life-saving medal in commemoration of your brave acts as a life-saver, while it is an occasion for added satisfaction that such a memorial of unquestionable heroism should have been won by a woman. (Source: National Archives, Record Group 26, Letterbook 553.)

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The Ida Lewis Yacht Club now occupies the lighthouse. 2013 photo by Candace Clifford

In 1927 the Bureau of Lighthouses removed the lens from the lantern and placed an automated beacon on a skeleton tower in front of the lighthouse. This light continued in service until 1963, when it was deactivated by the Coast Guard. Later the Newport Yacht Club bought the lighthouse and obtained permission from the Coast Guard to put a light back in the old lantern and maintain it as a private aid to navigation. Although adaptively used by the yacht club (and renamed the Ida Lewis Yacht Club), the building is virtually unaltered from the time that Ida Lewis lived there.

In 1995 the Coast Guard launched the first of a series of new keeper-class 175-foot coastal buoy tenders and named it Ida Lewis.

Submitted by Candace Clifford using excerpts from Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers (Alexandria, Virginia: Cypress Communications, 2013), February 25, 2017

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please consider 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 candace@uslhs.org.

Keepers · News · U.S. Coast Guard

A Guiding Light

This article from the Coast Guard Mid Atlantic blog seems very appropriate as we celebrate Black History month. A Guiding Light describes John White’s experiences as Officer in Charge of Thomas Point Shoal Light Station, Maryland.

For a related video, goto https://www.dvidshub.net/video/434565/thomas-point-lighthouse-visit.

Original article by David R. Marin, USCG Petty Officer 2nd Class

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please consider 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 candace@uslhs.org.

Keepers

Lighthouse Keeper Grave Marker Program

As a followup to an earlier post, “Grave Markers for Lighthouse Service Veterans,” Jack Graham provided the following message to lighthouse stewards:

“Hello Lighthouse friends,

First of all, thank you for the wonderful work you are doing to care for one of our American maritime treasures. I wish you the best in these endeavors.

My name is Jack Graham. I have been a volunteer docent at several lighthouses across the U.S. over the past decade, and like to think of myself as an amateur historian. I am not affiliated with any group, nor am I writing to ask for money nor to sell you anything. My purpose is the topic noted above.

grave-markerThis is a photograph of a BRONZE GRAVE MARKER, intended to be placed on the graves of any person who once served as a keeper at a U.S. lighthouse.  It is similar in size and purpose to the markers you may have seen on the graves of military veterans (Civil War, WW II etc).

The markers have been developed by Richard Ryder, a U.S. Navy vet and descendant of a veteran of the old U.S. Lifesaving Service. Similar markers have been developed for veterans of the Life Saving Service, and of the U.S. Coast Guard. More information can be obtained from Mr. Ryder at inquiries@uslifesavingmarker.com.  Lighthouse Digest magazine promotes this program unequivocally and is eager to publish stories and photos of marker placement ceremonies. Please send this information to editor@lighthousedigest.com.

Undoubtedly many men and/or women served as Keepers at your light station. In far too many cases, the details of their lives afterwards and where they are buried are simply unknown. But if you do know, or want to put in some effort to find out, wouldn’t it be a grand way to honor their memory, and another way to preserve the history of your station, to so mark their graves with one of these USLHS markers?

I urge you to consider this idea. Should your group be interested in so marking the known gravesite of a former Keeper, markers may be obtained at   www.uslifesavingmarker.com.

Thanks for your consideration. I hope you get involved.

Submitted by Jack Graham, December 13, 2016

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please consider 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 candace@uslhs.org.

Keepers · News · Research · Society Members

Presidential Appointments of Lighthouse Keepers

The earliest lighthouse keeper appointments in the new nation were approved by President Washington. The practice continued with Thomas Jefferson but as the number of lighthouses grew, keeper appointments became the responsibility of the Secretary of the Treasury.(The Treasury Department administered lighthouses from 1790 to 1901). There are some exceptions however. Apparently John and Rebecca Flaherty had some sort of connection to President John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa, and did not hesitate to use it.

According to Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers, Rebecca Flaherty wrote Mrs. Adams asking for her influence in seeking a keeper appointment at Thomas Point, Maryland, for her husband John, a War of 1812 veteran. Eventually in the spring of 1826 John received an appointment as keeper of Dry Tortugas Lighthouse in Florida. The Flahertys did not fare well at that isolated station and soon requested a switch with the keeper at Sand Key, a station nine miles from Key West. The request was granted by President Adams in the letter below.

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Letter dated January 18, 1827, from Stephen Pleasonton to President John Quincy Adams requesting his approval of the keeper appointments at Dry Tortugas and Sand Key Lighthouses, Florida. National Archives, Record Group 26, Entry 17I “Correspondence Relating to the Appointment of Lighthouse Keepers, 1801 -1852.”

As you can see, President Adams noted his approval directly on the letter, not an uncommon practice, although the presidents generally just “initialed” their approval.

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President Adam’s approval extracted from letter above.

I did not see this letter when researching Women Who Kept the Lights, but it came to light when gathering some material for U.S. Lighthouse Society member Neil Hurley, who researches Florida light keepers and is currently writing a book on the vessels and towers that have lit Carysfort Reef in the Florida Keys.

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2016 photo of Carysfort Reef Lighthouse showing both the old tower and its new replacement tower in the distance. Courtesy Neil Hurley.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, January 8, 2o17

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please consider 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 candace@uslhs.org.

 

 

Keepers · News · Research

Lighthouse Keepers React to Attack on Pearl Harbor

Seventy-five years ago today Americans were stunned at the news of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Most lighthouse keepers shared the news in their logbooks and noted the immediate effects of this event at their station.

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At Makapuu Point Lighthouse, located not far from Honolulu on the island of Oahu, the lighthouse log entry for December 8, 1941, begins “War against Japan was declared by President Roosevelt after Japan attacked without warning Naval & Army bases on Oahu. Watches have been rearranged effective today on a basis of 4 hours on and 8 hours off without liberty. . . .” 

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On December 9, 1941, at Alcatraz Light Station in San Francisco Bay, the keeper notes “The first official Air Raid Warning for S.F. [San Francisco] and the U.S.A.”
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On the December 8, 1941, the Keeper at Cape Arago Light Station on the Oregon coast does not note the attack but does report that he “put the radiobeacon out of commission at 2146 and total black [out] at 2300 per orders received.” 
Soon after December 7, 1941, the U.S. Coast Guard would become part of the U.S. Navy. The lighthouse personnel became part of the War effort as the military set up defense and communications at many of the stations. At key stations the number of station personnel would increase substantially to cover additional duties such as beach patrol, plane lookouts, radar, radio communications, etc. Some coastal lighthouses were extinguished or dimmed and many lightships were taken off their stations to avoid sinking by enemy submarines. All coastal keepers were drilled in blackout measures should the need arise.

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Note the WWII lookout tower placed above the lantern at Plum Island Lighthouse, on Long Island Sound, New York. National Archives photo from RG 26 Entry 281.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, Historian, U.S. Lighthouse Society, December 7, 2016

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please consider 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 candace@uslhs.org.

Keepers

Keeper Fannie Salter at Turkey Point Light Station

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Fannie Salter and her son feed the turkeys at Turkey Point Light Station, Maryland. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

Fannie Salter was the last woman to serve as a civilian lighthouse keeper. After her keeper husband died, she tended the Turkey Point Light on the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay from 1925 to 1947. In 1943 Fannie had much to be thankful for when the light’s incandescent oil vapor lamp was replaced with an electric light bulb. She no longer had to make four or five daily trips to the top of the tower to ensure the light was burning properly. Only during cold weather were additional trips necessary to defrost the windows in the lantern. A spare lamp was always kept in readiness, however, should the the power fail.

U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please consider 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 candace@uslhs.org.