Is the Relief Tender on Its Way?
It is believed that the lighthouse keeper, who is standing on the fog signal structure and looking out to sea through the spy glass in this 1936 photograph of the Dumpling Rock Lighthouse near Dartmouth, Massachusetts, is of lighthouse keeper George T. Gustavus, who later became the head keeper at Chatham Lighthouse, which is prominently featured in this issue. The families of lighthouse head keeper Octave Ponsart and assistant keeper Henry Fontaineau were lucky to escape with their lives when the entire Dumpling Rocks Light Station was nearly destroyed in the great hurricane of September 21, 1938. Shortly thereafter, the station was demolished and replaced by a nondescript, Erector-set-style automated structure and the keepers were transferred elsewhere.
Hog Island Lighthouse
This photo, discovered in the files of the National Archives, is identified only as Hog Island Light in Alaska. But we’re not sure if this lighthouse was on Hog Island in the Kodiak Archipelago, or on Hog Island in the Aleutian Islands, which may be more probable. We don’t know a thing about it. Perhaps it was originally built by the Russians? It is doubtful that it is still standing, but then again, who knows? If any of our readers can help us, we’d love to hear from you. You can email us at Editor@LighthouseDigest.com.
Not Your Typical Lighthouse Life
The Carter H. Harrison Crib Lighthouse never had a lighthouse keeper, even though the entire crib was maintained by a staff of four men who lived onsite year-round to safely assure that fresh water from Lake Michigan could be pumped into the City of Chicago. Completed in 1900, the crib was named for Carter H. Harrison, Sr., who served as mayor of Chicago, Illinois from 1879 until he was assassinated 1893. A report of the time stated that “the living rooms are provided with all the modern conveniences.” In later years, when television came into being, each keeper had a television in his own room. However, very little of the men’s work had anything to do with the lighthouse. Even the fog bell was automated. The crew’s primary responsibilities were in dealing with the day-to-day activities of the pumping station, though, one man said that being assigned there was like being sentenced to prison without having committed a crime. By the 1930s the Carter H. Harrison Crib was showing signs of age and a new crib was built next to it, as shown in this photo. It was also named after a former mayor, William E. Dever, who had been mayor of Chicago from 1923 to 1927. When the William E. Dever Crib was completed in 1936 the lighthouse was moved from the Carter H. Harrison Crib to become the William E. Dever Lighthouse.
A Bizarre Legend
In 1922, the federal government determined the Egg Island Lighthouse in Nahant Bay, north of Boston Harbor near Nahant, Massachusetts, was no longer needed and it was deactivated. This came as no real surprise to many since the lighthouse had been automated a few years before. But, prior to that, even though it sat on a rocky ledge in the middle of nowhere, and totally exposed to the elements and often icebound in the winter months, it had been a family light station ever since it was established in 1856.
Stories abound about life on the tiny island light station. The first keeper, George Taylor, lived on the island with his wife and five children along with chickens, goats, pet crow, and his dog named Milo, who became quite famous amongst the locals.
The three sons of Thomas Widger, who was keeper from 1862 to 1871, were born on the island. Interestingly, his two daughters were born on the mainland.
Sometimes, there could be found interesting notes in the station’s log book, such as when Estella Richardson, wife of Henry Richardson, who was keeper from 1871 to 1874, wrote that when her husband was reported stranded ashore for four days because of bad weather, “Keeper was drunk ashore all the time;” perhaps indicating that this might have been a common occurrence.
One of the more interesting stories in lighthouse history, which is more likely folklore than fact, is when the wife of the keeper died on the island in the winter months. Since the island was surrounded by ice and the keeper couldn’t get her body off the island, he put her in one of the light station’s sheds where her body froze solid. When the ice dissipated, he brought her body back to the mainland for burial. He then went to court an old flame, who accepted his marriage proposal. It was stated that the minister who married the couple was the same minister who had officiated at the keeper’s first wife’s funeral just hours earlier. Legend has it that the keeper and his new wife were back at the lighthouse before nightfall on the day of the funeral and the wedding.
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 2023 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.
All contents copyright © 1995-2023 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.