Lighthouse Keeper Records Prison Riot at Alcatraz

Alcatraz Lighthouse in 1954. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

Alcatraz Lighthouse in 1954. Note the cell house in the background. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

Harry Davis became keeper of Alcatraz Lighthouse, marking the entrance to San Francisco Bay, in 1938. I was recently copying his logs in the National Archives as part of a research project for the U.S. Lighthouse Society. Davis’s log followed the two-page-for-every-month format, devoting one or two lines to each day’s weather and activities. He and his three assistants spent most of their time maintaining the property and the two fog signals. Then the format changed for May 1946 with a narrative written across two pages:

May 2: 1430 hrs. Convicts on the loose with submachine gun, entire prison held at bay. Shooting is almost continuous. Island surrounded by Coast Guard and Navy boats. C.G. called by the Keeper in charge at 1445 hours.

1815 hrs. The U.S. Marines landed on the north end of island, at this writing. More wounded guards were removed to the city, total of five so far, firing is still heavy.

2115 hrs. Eight more wounded men recovered and sent to hospital. Capt. Weinhold, Lieut. Simpson most seriously wounded, Mr. Stites and Mr. Miller both killed. Total 13 wounded, two deaths.

May 3: 1100 hrs. Fire again raging in cellblocks, Marines lobbing anti-tank bombs through windows into cellblock; hand grenades being dropped through holes broken through the roof. The prison is being reduced to a shambles – numerous aircraft circling around prison all day.

1300 hrs. For the past hour they have been throwing heavy demolition shells without effect. Gen. Stillwell just arrived; they have issued an ultimatum to surrender within 10 minutes otherwise they are going to blast the cellblocks and walls down with TNT; all convicts will then die.

1320 hrs. The warden refused permission to use TNT. All firing stopped at 1330 hrs. Broke out again at 1800 hrs.

1800 hrs. The Marines are dropping hand grenades into the cellblocks through holes in the roof, quit when dark at 1830.

Guards from San Quentin State prison arrived today to assist, they are inside cell houses with Marines. Extra guards from Leavenworth federal prison arrived by plane, all are in cell house. All is quiet inside at 2040 hrs.

2400 hrs. All is still quiet in the prison.

May 4: 0820 hrs. There was a sudden burst of explosions inside, rifle and grenade fire, lasting about five minutes.

1000 hrs. The sudden burst was a cover up for the guards to break through. Three dead convicts were found, had been killed by a hand grenade, they were in C block. D Block will be rushed later to end it for good.

1030 hrs. It ‘s all over. D Block has been taken with 26 live convicts. The end of 44 hours of living hell. The extra guards from McNeils Island & Denver will be here for some time.

Alcatraz Lighthouse Keeper Henry Davis's Log for the first week of May 1946. Log found in National Archives RG 26 Entry 80. (Click on image for larger view.)

Alcatraz Lighthouse Keeper Henry Davis’s Log for the first week of May 1946. Log found in National Archives RG 26 Entry 80. (Click on image for larger view.)

The Alcatraz lighthouse was automated and the prison closed in 1963. Alcatraz Penitentiary is now a unit of the Golden Gate National Recreation area.

Maritime Heritage Grants Available – Apply NOW!

The Delaware Division of Parks & Recreation received $25,119.14 to restore artifacts and build a replica beach cart.

The Delaware Division of Parks & Recreation received $25,119.14 to restore artifacts from the Indian River Lifesaving Station and to build a replica beach cart. Photo by Candace Clifford

Maritime organizations received over $2.6 million from the 2014 National Maritime Heritage Grants cycle. (See recipient list.) The National Park Service is currrently accepting proposals for another $1.7 million in funding. Education projects can request $15,000 to $50,000 and preservation projects can request $50,000 to $200,000. A one-to-one match from non-Federal sources is required. Federal entities cannot apply but their partners or friends groups can.

I recently spoke with NPS maritime historian Anna Holloway who is overseeing the current grants program. She encouraged everyone to start the grants process early. The application requires that you use the federal grants website and apparently it can take up to two weeks to complete the registration process before you can submit your application. The deadline for the 2015 round is August 3, 2015. Application information is available at http://www.nps.gov/maritime/grants/apply.htm

I hope to see lots of lighthouses on the 2015 recipient list!

~ Candace Clifford, July 1, 2015

Lighthouse Author Writes About Civil War

Almon Beneway changed his name to Albert Walton so that his mother could not pursue him and make him return home.

Almon Beneway changed his name to Albert Walton so that his mother could not find him and make him return home.

Mary Louise Clifford is best known in lighthouse circles for writing Women Who Kept the Lights; however she has written other books on a wide range of topics. Most recently she published a book on her grandfather, who at 14 ran away from home to serve as a drummer boy, was later captured at the Battle of Chickamauga, and served out the war in various prison camps.

According to Clifford, this writing project started some eighty years ago:

As a child I listened to my father tell what he remembered of his father’s war stories. Years later my army husband obtained Almon’s Military Service Record and Civil War medal. In the 1970s I tried to trace his childhood on microfiches of the 1850 and 1860 census, without success. I did obtain the history of his regiment from the Virginia State Library, and found there the story of Almon’s enlistment.

First page of Albert Walton's compiled military service record from the National Archives

First page of Albert Walton’s compiled military service record from the National Archives

The censuses are now online, and my professional researcher daughter began bringing me not only the census records, but pages from city directories, marriage license registers, newspapers, etc. with my grandfather’s name listed. She took me to the National Archives and introduced me to the Military Service and Pension Records, and, using the regimental history rosters, I began hunting through the members of Almon’s company and regiment who were either wounded or captured at Chickamauga. When I found a letter written by my grandfather in one of the folders, I knew it was time to sit down and start the book.

Then I found a second-cousin-once-removed who is the custodian of some of Almon’s memorabilia, including a 24-page hand-written memoir of his Civil War experiences that he didtated to his daughter. It deals mainly with those months he spent as a prisoner of war.

I was aided enormously by an 1879 book by John McElroy, who was imprisoned in the same four Confederate prisons as Almon and described his experiences in very vivid prose. Even more useful was a journal written by a member of Al’s regiment, William Bluffton Miller, published in 2005, for it told the day-to-day activities of the regiment as it marched from Louisville to Chickamauga.

Putting all these bits and pieces together has been challenging and enormously satisfying.

The book is intended for high school age readers but has appealed to many adult Civil War enthusiasts. Autographed copies are available for $19.17 ($15.95 plus $3.22 media mail) to those ordering directly from the publisher through their ordering website. For more information visit the book’s website.

Alexander Hamilton and Lighthouses

Source: Record Group 26, National Archives, Waltham, Massachusetts (Click on image for larger version.)

Source: Record Group 26, National Archives, Waltham, Massachusetts (Click on image for larger version.)

While working in my digital research library, I recently revisited several letters written by the Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton. As you know, the Secretary of Treasury oversaw lighthouses in the early years of the new republic, with frequent oversight from President Washington.

These letters were written to Benjamin Lincoln, the first customs collector in Boston, who, as the letters indicate, became the first superintendent of lighthouses for the state of Massachusetts. Copied from Record Group 26 during a 2001 visit to the Boston Regional Branch of the National Archives, the first letter is dated March 10, 1790, and the second July 14, 1790. In the March 10th communication Hamilton described Lincoln’s new duties as “keeping in good repair the Light houses, beacons, buoys and public piers in your State, and for the furnishing of same with necessary supplies.”

The letter also instructed Lincoln to confirm the appointments of four keepers who were already keeping the lights at Boston Harbor, Cape Ann, “Plumb” Island, and Nantucket. Hamilton mentioned the “widow of the late General Warren” as keeping the lights at Plymouth. I believe he was actually referring to Hannah Thomas, widow of John Thomas. When General John Thomas went off to fight in the Revolution he left his wife Hannah in charge of the twin lights at the entrance to Plymouth Harbor. Our book Women Who Kept the Lights begins with a chapter on Hannah, the first known female lighthouse keeper in the U.S. The July 14 letter shown here indicates that Hannah’s son John Thomas, Jr., received the appointment at Plymouth. He set their salaries based on what the Colony of Massachusetts had been paying them. The Boston keeper received $400, Plymouth $240, Cape Ann $400, Plumb Island $220, and Nantucket $250.

In his correspondence to Lincoln, Hamilton also touches on Portland Head, then part of Massachusetts. That lighthouse was under construction when the letter was written. Photo copyright Candace Clifford

Here is the March 10th letter in PDF format: Hamilton’s letter of March 10 1790

Candace Clifford, May 9, 2015

U.S. Revenue Cutter Service Celebrates 225th Anniversary

Copy of letter from Alexander Hamilton authorizing the construction of five revenue cutters. National Archives, Record Group 26 Entry 143

Copy of letter from Alexander Hamilton to Philadelphia Customs Collector regarding construction of early revenue cutters. National Archives, Record Group 26 Entry 143A (Click on image to view larger version)

As most of you know the U.S. Coast Guard is an amalgamation of five agencies–the Revenue Cutter Service, the Life-Saving Service, the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, and the Bureau of Navigation. Established as the Revenue-Marine Service in the Department of the Treasury under Secretary Alexander Hamilton on August 4, 1790, the Revenue Cutter Service collected taxes and tariffs, enforced maritime laws, and suppressed piracy.

The Revenue Cutter Service also frequently worked with the early Lighthouse Establishment. Before acquiring vessels to tend lighthouses and other aids to navigation (primarily buoys) the Lighthouse Establishment often relied on revenue cutters to assist them in this work.

As the number of aids to navigation increased during the first half of the 19th century, it became apparent that the lighthouse service could no longer rely on revenue cutters to willingly perform tasks associated with tending buoys. In addition to contracting pilots and other mariners to take charge of these responsibilities, Pleasonton acquired two sailing vessels to help with this work thus confining the duties of cutter officers “to an occasional examination of the Light Houses.” (National Archives RG 26 Entry 17K, 1843)

Completed in 1854 Seahorse Key Lighthouse was designed and constructed under the district lighthouse engineer Lt. George Meade of the U.S. Army Topographical Engineers. (National Archives photo)

Completed in 1854 Seahorse Key Lighthouse was designed and constructed under the district lighthouse engineer Lt. George Meade of the U.S. Army Topographical Engineers. (National Archives photo)

Stephen Pleasonton, administrator of lighthouses from 1820 to 1852, depended on revenue cutter captains for reports on conditions at the stations and the effectiveness of their lights in aiding navigation since local lighthouse superintendents had little opportunity to view the lights they oversaw. In 1851 Captain RIchard Evans of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Campbell was called upon to recommend a site for a potential lighthouse along the gulf coast of Florida.

Seashore Key, the south one of a group called Cedar Keys, appears to have been formed by nature as a site for a Light House, having a high bluff on its southern extremity about 30 feet above the level of the sea, from which a shoal extends southwest fifteen miles and deep sandings close to it, thereby rendering approach in the night dangerous. I understand that the Cedar Keys have considerable commerce, being the depot for cotton brought down the Suwanee River amtg. to over 3000 bales per ann., and on the increase. I would therefore recommend a Light House on said Key, and would add in my opinion that the Lantern should be 100 ft. above the level of the sea. (National Archives RG 26 Entry 35)

1922 radio address lores

Edward Clifford (seated) gives radio address to commemorate the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service’s birthday on August 4, 1922.

 

On a more personal note, my grandfather, Edward Clifford, oversaw Coast Guard activities as a Treasury Department official almost a century ago. (This was before the Coast Guard oversaw lighthouses.) I occasionally come across his correspondence while working on projects in the National Archives. Recently I came across a script of a radio address he made on August 4, 1922, commemorating this anniversary. I had a family photo of him giving the address so was delighted to find a copy of his remarks.

On August 4, 1790, George Washington, President of the United States, approved an Act which included, among other provisions, authorization for the construction of not exceeding ten revenue cutters and specified how the cutters should be officered and manned and what should be the compensation of their officers, mariners, and boys. This was an Act of the second session of the First Congress and it is of interest to note that this entire session was held in the city of New York.

After the freedom of the American colonies had been won through the War of the Revolution the Continental Navy was disbanded. There was then no sea force available for the protection of the coasts and the maritime interests of the newly constituted United States until the organization of the Revenue-Cutter Service, effected under this Act of August 4, 1790. The cutters formed the only armed force afloat belonging to the young Republic until a Navy was authorized a few years later. The officers of the first cutters were appointed largely from the officers who had served in the old Continental Navy. It is interesting to know that the first commission granted by President Washington to any officer afloat was issued to Captain Hopley Yeaton of New Hampshire in the Revenue-Cutter Service.

August 4, 1790, was, therefore, the birthday of the Revenue-Cutter Service which was merged, in 1915, with the Life-Saving Service to form the United States Coast Guard. So, today, August 4, 1922, we are observing the 132rd birthday anniversary of the Coast Guard.

It is a source of gratification to me that there has been issued a General Order directing that August 4th shall be observed each year as a holiday in the Coast Guard. It is a wise thing for us all to pause occasionally and reflect and take an account of stock as it were; to recall the past, to contemplate the present, and to anticipate the future with hope, confidence and zeal; and a birthday seems a most appropriate time in which to do this.

The dominant thought in your minds today should be an intense pride in the long and honorable record of the Service. The Coast Guard is no mushroom growth. Founded at the very outset of our national history, it has served the country faithfully and well for 132 years, in peace and in war. The Service has played a distinguished part in every war in which this country has been engaged, with the exception only of the War with Tripoli; and, with a notable military history, it has also established a record that is unequaled for humanitarian accomplishment in affording succor to those in distress at sea. It has behind it a long and honorable past before many of the public eye were even dreamed of. The Service was an arm of the Government when the young Republic, just setting out on its career of destiny, had yet to convince the World of its permanence; it played its part through all the vicissitudes of our national growth until today when it is a valuable and highly respected instrumentality of the greatest nation that the world has ever seen.

I will not attempt to recount now anything of the history of the Coast Guard. Officers of the Coast Guard should know the history and traditions of the Service and should see that the men under their command are conversant with them. It seems to me that it must be a source of great pride and satisfaction to any officer or man to consider that he belongs to a military organization with such an exceptionally long and honorable record of accomplishment, with such traditions and with such high standards of duty. There is not, to my knowledge, any other organization under our Government which may so properly and accurately be called “The Peace and War Service.” It is also the “Silent Service” whose record and work are not known as widely throughout the land as they should be.

There is just one danger to an organization that lies in the possession of a long and distinguished history and that is the temptation for the personnel of today to rest content with what has been accomplished, to view with complacency the standing of, and respect for, the Service that their predecessors have won, and to feel that there is no great necessity to endeavor to add thereto. I am pleased to say that I have seen no tendency of this sort in the Coast Guard and I trust that such will never exist. We must not rely solely on our past record but must go forward. Today we may contemplate with pride and extreme satisfaction the proud record of the past. Tomorrow we must set our faces resolutely to the front with an earnest determination that the Coast Guard shall attain even higher standards of accomplishment and be even more efficient in wider fields of usefulness to the nation. (Source: National Archives RG 26 Entry 97A-1)

The U.S. Coast Guard was a very young agency when these remarks were written; this year they celebrate 100 years as a service, or should it be 225?

Candace Clifford, May 7, 2015

Bodie Island Keepers: Oral and Family Histories

lighthousehistory:

May 2015 update – Cheryl Roberts has copies of BODIE ISLAND KEEPERS available for purchase. Contact her at cherylrbrts22@gmail.com

Originally posted on Lighthouse History :

Bodie book

Cheryl Shelton-Roberts and Sandra MacLean Clunies have produced a unique book based on the genealogical research they did for the Bodie Island Keeper Descendants Reunion that took place at Bodie Island Light Station last October. Published by the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society, the book features short essays on the keepers with lots of photos of them and their families. The reunion attendees must have been delighted to learn so much about their ancestors. There may still be copies available for purchase through the Society.  Email Diana Chappell –diandmanda at aol.com — for more information.DSCN1123

Record Group 26 in the National Archives includes only a few sources for letters from keepers. You can sometimes find them as attachments to letters written by custom collectors and district inspectors and engineers to their superiors in Washington.  A few letters from keepers also survive in field records.  The letter pictured above is part of…

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Los Angeles Lighthouses

Apart from a few more trees, Point Fermin Lighthouse has not changed significantly since its construction in 1874.  Photo by Candace Clifford

Apart from a few more trees, Point Fermin Lighthouse has not changed significantly since its construction in 1874. Photo by Candace Clifford

Point Fermin in 1893. Herbert Bamber photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

Point Fermin in 1893. Herbert Bamber photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

I recently attended the Council of American Maritime Museums conference hosted by the Los Angeles Maritime Museum. Upon arrival in Los Angeles I went directly from the airport to the Point Fermin Lighthouse, where historic site manager Kristen Heather gave me a delightful tour.

The tower was designed by Paul J. Pelz, A U.S. Light-House Board draftsman who designed six stick-style lighthouses. Pelz also worked for the U.S. Life-Saving Service and designed several their stations.

The tower was designed by Paul J. Pelz, a U.S. Light-House Board draftsman. The stick-style design was used for six lighthouses. Pelz also worked for the U.S. Life-Saving Service and designed several of their stations.

Front parlor at Point Fermin Lighthouse. The station is now a museum run by the City of Los Angeles.

Front parlor at Point Fermin Lighthouse. The station is now a museum run by the City of Los Angeles.

The visit was especially meaningful because the first keepers of Point Fermin Light, when it was established in 1874, were sisters Ella and Mary Smith. Although I realize these women had challenges living in such a remote location, I think it would have been a rather plum assignment when compared to many other light stations of that period. The interior exhibits interpret the lives of the station’s four keepers and their families. The fourth-order Fresnel lens is on display in one of the ground floor rooms and visitors can climb to the top of the tower for a spectacular view.

Kristen Heather, the historic site manager, has worked with the property for over a decade.

Kristen Heather, the Point Fermin’s historic site manager, has worked with the property for over a decade.

Lovely gardens surrounding the property are maintained by volunteers. For more information on this wonderful station, visit the Point Fermin Lighthouse website or read Point Fermin Lighthouse Families by Henrietta E. Mosley. The next morning I ventured further down the coast to Point Vicente Light Station. Unfortunately it was closed. Although generally open on the second Saturday of the month, April was the exception. Apparently it was open the previous weekend for a whale watching festival. However I enjoyed walking along the cliffs capturing views of the lighthouse at a distance.

Completed in 1926, Point Vicente used reinforced concrete in the construction of the tower.  A material adapted after the 1906 earthquake. Photo by Candace Clifford

Completed in 1926, Point Vicente used reinforced concrete in the construction of the tower–a material adapted after the 1906 earthquake. Photo by Candace Clifford

The lantern plan for Point Vicente.  Note the diagonal astragals.

The lantern plan for Point Vicente. Pointe Vicente had a larger lens than Point Fermin so could be seen at greater distances. Note the diagonal astragals.

Marking the entrance to San Pedro Harbor, the San Pedro Breakwater Lighthouse was completed in 1913. Photo by Candace Clifford

Marking the entrance to San Pedro Harbor, the San Pedro Breakwater Lighthouse was completed in 1913. Photo by Candace Clifford

Fortunately the CAMM conference included a narrated cruise of the harbors of San Pedro and Long Beach so I was able to capture the San Pedro Breakwater Light, also known as the Los Angeles Harbor Light and locally as “Angels Gate.” Still an active aid to navigation, the tower is located at the end of two-mile breakwater. It welcomes all types of vessels into the nation’s busiest container port. In 1928, Los Angeles Harbor Light Keeper Frank Weller described his duties as consisting of: Standing watches and upkeep of station and grounds, illuminating apparatus, fog signal engines, motors and generators, radio beacon apparatus, aga beacons, oil beacons, gas buoys, motor launch, sail and rowboats.

The Fresnel lens from the Los Angeles Harbor Light is on display at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

The Fresnel lens from the Los Angeles Harbor Light is on display at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

The watches average eight or more hours a day. The first watch is from sunset to 11 p.m. . . . The man on watch starts to light up I.O.V. lamp by heating up the lamp with alcohol; keeps a good light at all times; sees that clockwork and lens is on time; keeps watch on the weather; operates radio beacon for fifteen minutes every hour from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.; and in foggy weather or smoky weather operates fog signal continuously. . . .  Weller had started out as an assistant keeper in 1916. He became keeper around 1922. In 1928 he had two assistants–James E. Dudley and Herman L. Francis. Apparently life at this “bachelor station” was challenging for the assistant keepers. Their high turnover rate indicates that it was not a popular assignment. The Los Angeles Harbor Light was manned until the light was automated in 1973.

The Los Angeles Maritime Museum is located in the old ferry terminal on the San Pedro waterfront.

The Los Angeles Maritime Museum is located in the old ferry terminal on the San Pedro waterfront.