Digest>Archives> Nov/Dec 2012

Two Firsts and a Second Memorialized on Keeper’s Tombstone

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Peter L. Shook, who was the first lighthouse ...

Shown here is the tombstone of Peter L. Shook and his wife Catherine who were the first and second lighthouse keepers of Michigan’s Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse on Lake Huron. The tombstone is at the Oakwood Cemetery in New Baltimore, Michigan, which is a city located on the north coastline of Lake St. Clair.

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Peter Shook, who became the first lighthouse keeper at Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse on March 6, 1848, did not hold the position long. While traveling for supplies to Port Huron in a boat owned by Dr. John S. Heath, the boat capsized. Peter Shook, Dr. Heath, and two others on the boat all lost their lives as a result of drowning. The date on the tombstone indicates that Peter Shook died on March 31, 1849. Records indicate that he and Catherine had eight children.

Upon Peter’s death, his wife, Catherine, took over her late husband’s duties as the second lighthouse keeper of the lighthouse, which gained her the distinction of becoming the first and only female to be a lighthouse keeper of the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse. More historically important is the fact that when Catherine assumed the position as the second lighthouse keeper at Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse, she also became the first woman to become a lighthouse keeper in the State of Michigan.

Unfortunately, tragedy again struck the young widow and her eight small children within weeks after the loss of her husband. A fire broke out in the kitchen of the keeper’s house between the ceiling and the roof. In attempting to stop the fire from burning the tower, Mrs. Shook was badly burned. Although she was able to save the tower from burning, she and the children watched in horror as the house went up in flames and the family lost nearly everything they owned.

Lighthouse Inspector Henry B. Miller, who visited the light station shortly after the fire, and placed the blame of the fire on faulty chimney construction, wrote to headquarters, “The circumstances of this fire is the more to be regrettable as the husband of the keeper but lately found a watery grave in Lake Huron, and this affliction on this account falls with a double severity upon the widow who was lately appointed in his place. By this catastrophe, the widow not only lost a considerable portion of her furniture, but was badly burned in her attempt to keep the fire from the main building. They have erected temporarily a small shanty, which is very uncomfortable and unhealthy. I therefore hope that no time will be lost in having the dwelling rebuilt.”

Apparently the difficulties of raising eight children while performing all her duties as a lighthouse keeper was finally more than she could handle. Catherine Shook resigned on March 19, 1851. According to the tombstone, Catherine died at the age of 50 on August 9, 1860.

The stone lighthouse tower where the couple served also did not serve long; it was demolished in 1857 and replaced by the tower that stands there today.

It would be nice to see a U.S. Lighthouse Service Memorial Marker placed at their tombstone. (Tombstone photograph by Cindy Freeman.)

This story appeared in the Nov/Dec 2012 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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