Never Forget the Keepers
A little over a year ago my sons, my mother and I were out enjoying our other hobby, geocaching, and were working on a “Virtual Cache” when we were led to the Charlotte Cemetery. We were there to gather some information to complete the cache we were doing but we ended up getting a lot more. The first thing that I noticed when we pulled up to this little old cemetery was the historic marker that proclaimed that the first Lighthouse Keeper was buried there. As a family of lighthouse lovers we have been to our own little lighthouse, the Charlotte-Genesee Light, a couple of times but none of use knew who the first Keeper was.
That night, before we continued on our cache we decided to explore the cemetery to see if we could figure out who the first Lighthouse Keeper was. We found nothing that would help us to determine who the first Keeper was but we did find one grave that piqued our curiosity though. On the monument for the Cook family underneath Cuyler Cook (1820-1853) was the following inscription:
TO GOD ABOVE HIS SPIRIT YIELD
HE TOOK HIM IN HIS STRENGTH AND BLOOM,
WHEN STRUGGLING WITH THE SEAS AND WAVES
HE WOVE HIS GARLAND FOR THE TOMB
Could Cuyler Cook have been the first Keeper? If not, who was the first Keeper, who was Cuyler Cook and what tragic event inspired the epitaph on his grave? Those were only a couple of the questions that we went home with that night.
Some recent articles in “Lighthouse Digest” inspired me to see if I could find the answers to these questions. In doing a little research on the history of the Charlotte-Genesee Light I surprisingly found all of the answers we had been looking for. I had learned that when the Charlotte-Genesee Light had been completed in 1822 David Denman had been appointed as the Keeper; however he passed away shortly after his appointment. Giles H. Holden was then appointed Keeper, as is considered by many to be the first Keeper. Giles Holden served as Keeper at the Charlotte-Genesee Light from 1822 to 1834. A trip back to the Charlotte Cemetery confirmed that he is buried there in a small family plot.
Cuyler Cook it turned out had also been a Keeper at the Light, but I could not find out what years he served. I did find out though that it was Cuyler Cook's dedication to duty that brought about his early demise and inspired the inscription on his gravestone. What I found even more amazing was that he wasn't even the Keeper at the light anymore at the time of his death.
In 1852-1853 the government erected a pier at the mouth of the Genesee River that extended out into Lake Ontario and erected a small Light on the end of it. This small Light also became the responsibility of the Charlotte-Genesee Light Keeper. In August of 1853 during a terrible storm Cuyler Cook's successor, Samuel Phillips, was trying to light the fires in the small pier Light but could not reach it because of the storm. Cuyler Cook, who lived nearby, volunteered to row Samuel Phillips out to the end of the pier so that he could get the Light lit. It was while Mr. Phillips was inside the pier Light lighting the fires that the waves from the storm capsized Cuyler Cook's boat drowning him.
If that geocache had not brought us to the Charlotte Cemetery I never would have learned this important part of the history of the Charlotte-Genesee Light. I am always amazed at the devotion to duty and the courage all of the Lighthouse Keepers had. Who else but a Lighthouse Keeper (or in this case a former Keeper) would row out into stormy waters to light a Light on the end of a pier so that others may return home safely when the weather prohibited reaching it on foot? All of our Lighthouse Keepers were special people and should never be forgotten.
The Lighthouse Clock
A friend was worried about me because I wasn't sleeping well, so she surprised me with a gift of a lighthouse wall clock. “It plays soothing sounds of the sea,” she said. I could hardly wait to insert the batteries and fall asleep to the sound of the ocean..
That first night, however, after drifting off sometime around ten, I was roused at eleven by a red flashing light and a foghorn.
By 11:15 only one battery remained - the one that powered the clock. Its ticking was soothing enough.
Denial of History
Tim, thank you for your editorial titled, Denial of History. For years we have been saying the same thing. We just didn't have the proper term for it.
When the restoration of New Jersey's Absecon Lighthouse started, all that was known were the names of the six men who were the principle keepers. There were always three keepers and their families there. All of this history was lost. When the city of Atlantic City took over the lighthouse in the 1940's they tore down most of the buildings other than the tower and the oil house. We have heard they also threw out a set of original blueprints. It has also been our feeling that they also threw out its history.
We got involved with the lighthouse almost from the start of the restoration. Our favorite saying is, “It's more than a pile of bricks and an iron staircase, it has history.” We set out to rediscover that history. We compare our efforts with doing a giant jigsaw puzzle, but all of the pieces aren't in the same box. We have used the local historical society, the libraries in the area as well as the state and national archives.
We have found a total of 27 keepers, one of them a woman. Also, many children were born at the lighthouse and at least seven people, one of them a child died there. There seems to be no shortage of photographs the lighthouse itself, but photographs of the keepers have been in short supply. We have also located some descendants of some keepers. We had members of four families of lighthouse keepers at the 105th birthday party on January 15, 2007. Absecon Lighthouse is getting its history back. It is a lot of work, but worth every minute of it. Once more, thank you for your editorial.
Rich and Elinor Veit
Their experiences are something that has been experienced at many lighthouses. While we have made great strides in locating and documenting lighthouse history and the memories of the keepers, much more needs to be rediscovered. As a nation, we have done a very poor job of saving our past history. One way to help is through more subscribers to Lighthouse Digest, which in turn creates more public awareness. We believe there are many lighthouse keeper descendants and even some former lighthouse keepers still alive that are not even aware that there are many of us are trying to rediscover lighthouse history to save it for future generations.
Respect Our Elders
Lighthouses are like parents. When you think about it, they try to warn you of rocky areas and bad crashes, but you do not always listen. They are there to try and show you the way and always trying to provide a safe passage home. Maybe we need to try and show Lighthouses the same respect we should show our elders. Take care of them as they have taken care of us through good times and bad. I wish we could give more than our time! You never know how much you miss them until they are gone.
Ruth and I so appreciate the article entitled “Coal” in the latest edition of the Lighthouse Digest. I have read it and re-read it several times. It is good to see my father's words come alive again as we read about that chapter in the Corbett lighthouse experience. I am looking forward to sharing the article with friends and family members. Your layout using the old photos really made this story come alive. The article was intriguing looking even before I began to read. Good job on the whole issue. I recently had to go to NH and stopped at the Weathervane restaurant for a bowl of fish chowder. I read the entire issue before getting back on the road again! I look forward to seeing future articles by my dad. Thank-you for your efforts in making this come together for everyone.
This story appeared in the
March 2007 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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