Modern Day Lighthouse Keeper Thomas A. Tag

I have the pleasure of working with Tom Tag in my new part-time position as the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s new historian. As most of you know, Tom is the “goto guy” for everything technical in the lighthouse community. He’s written numerous articles for The Keeper’s Log on lenses, lamps, fog signals, illuminants, etc. He’s inventoried surviving lenses and lamps in the U.S. He and his wife Phyllis have created a database of all the lighthouse keepers serving in the Great Lakes. The amount of work he has performed on behalf of lighthouses and lighthouse history over the past 20-plus years is truly amazing!

Tom shared with me that he was born in Chicago but grew up in Laporte, Indiana. At age 14, he would bike to nearby Michigan City and swim off the pier at the Michigan City Pierhead Light. He and his wife Phyllis enjoyed walking out to that same lighthouse when they lived in Michigan City early in their marriage. After retiring from a career in managing computer programmers, Tom was looking for something different to do with his time. On a vacation in Charleston, South Carolina, he noticed how popular lighthouse items were in the gift shops. He then decided he would “corner the market on lighthouse information” and it appears that’s what he’s been doing ever since. He initially focused on the Great Lakes. Later, after joining the U.S. Lighthouse Society, Wayne Wheeler encouraged Tom to write an article for the “Clockwork” section of The Keeper’s Log. He started with “American-Made Lenses” and went from there to publish over 14 articles on lighthouse technology. Tom is now the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s Technical Advisor and serves on their Board of Directors.

Tom Tag (on left) accepting his Ross Holland Award from American Lighthouse Council President Don Terras in 2011. (Click on photo to see citation.)

Tom Tag (on left) accepting his Ross Holland Award from American Lighthouse Council President Don Terras in 2011. (Click on photo to see citation.)

I’ve had an introduction to the digital archives that Tom has created for the U.S. Lighthouse Society and it is truly awesome. Most of it is based on Tom’s own collection and the resources collected by the Society but there is also research donated by lighthouse enthusiasts and other historians. I plan to help Tom in his work to expand the Archives and make it accessible to U.S. Lighthouse Society members.

You may have visited the Society’s new website. Most of the history sections found at http://uslhs.org/history were written or put together by Tom. If you haven’t already, you should check out the photos, architectural drawings, and Light Lists that the Society has made available online–http://uslhs.org/lighthouse-interactive-resources. Plans are to grow this online repository and I hope to do a new blog for the Society that highlights our progress.

The U.S. Lighthouse Society’s Archives contain a lot of architectural drawings not currently available on their website. I discovered that the Society funded the digitizing of the microfilm collection of lighthouse plans that served as my “course of last resort” when researching lighthouse plans at the Cartographic Section in Archives II. (The microfilm collection includes many plans, albeit not of the greatest copy quality, not found in the main RG 26 lighthouse collection.) The Society is also digitizing the 43 binders containing the letter-sized copies of plans in the main collection.

The creation of this incredible digital repository of lighthouse records would have never happened without the guidance and dedication of Tom Tag. So it is with great pleasure that I include Tom Tag in my list of “Modern Day Lighthouse Keepers”!

~ Submitted by Candace Clifford, July 8, 2016

Restoration at Halfway Rock Reveals Evidence of Its Keepers

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Since acquiring the lighthouse in early 2105, Reiche has completed an 80-foot dock, an interior and exterior restoration of the wooden structure, and begun the tower’s restoration according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Photo courtesy of Ford Reiche

I always enjoy hearing from my research clients about their projects–especially if they are using historic documentation to restore or interpret their property.

Ford Reiche has been keeping me up to date on his restoration of Halfway Rock Lighthouse in Maine. He recently sent me these three images relating to the keepers who were assigned to Halfway Rock in the 1930s.

I was delighted with his interpretation of what he discovered in the process of restoring the tower:

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Photo courtesy Ford Reiche

The crew at Halfway Rock had a long and frustrating effort to get funds appropriated for a refrigerator. From the date of construction in 1871 until 1937, they had no ice or refrigeration. Some other lighthouses had been provided with refrigerators earlier, but it was pretty much restricted to those stations with families present. Because of the inherent dangers at Halfway Rock, it was limited to men only..called a “stag lighthouse”.  Also they did not get electricity there until 1936. When the day came that they finally got a refrigerator, in 1937, the crew made room for it by removing shelves in their little galley pantry so they could slide the refrigerator in there. In the process, Wm Clark and Arthur Strout signed and dated the back wall of the pantry to mark the occasion. 

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Photos of whiskey bottle courtesy of Ford Reiche

There was widespread consternation in the lighthouse world when announcement was issued by Washington D.C. that the U.S. Lighthouse Service would be disbanded in 1939 so that the entire system could be folded into the U.S. Coast Guard. Last year when we removed a failing wall in the living quarters that had been built in 1938, we were delighted to find a little joke for us left inside the wall framing by Clark and Strout…the bottle of whiskey that had emptied to ring in the holidays at the end of 1938. As you will see from the photo below, they signed and dated it.  In addition to taking pleasure in breaking several rules about liquor on premises, I have suspected that this was a small sign of their protest about the imminent disruption that they were facing as the U.S. Coast Guard way of life was about to be imposed upon them.

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Reiche is putting together a website at http://www.halfwayrock.com

National Archives Starts Digitizing Lighthouse Photos

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Spring has arrived at the National Archives! Photo by Candace Clifford

Happy Spring!

As many of you know the primary resource for lighthouse photos at the National Archives is RG 26 LG “Lighthouses, 1855 to 1933.” These images are fragile and cannot be scanned by researchers so the National Archives has begun a digitizing project to provide them online. I’m happy to report that some have made it into their online catalog!

The images are organized geographically so the first box starts with Maine in the 1st Lighthouse District and the boxes end with Alaska and Hawaii.  There are over a 100 boxes of images so at the rate they’re going it may take years before they are all available. (So far they have made it to Marshall Point, Maine.)

The National Archives online catalog takes a little getting used too. Start at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/513238 and click on “more information.”

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Image of Avery Rock – 26-LG-1-10 from the National Archives online catalog.

Next scroll down to the “Details” section, open, and click on the link “Search within this Series” which reveals a search box to narrow your choices.  Below the search box is a list of all the stations they have scanned so far.  (They must have scanned a few random images before beginning with the first box.)  Note the first “File Unit” is Avery Rock. Click on the “Avery Rock” to take you to a page for that station.  Now click on “Search within this file unit” to see all the images for that station. Finally click on the photo, view, and download if needed.

You may want to email the Still Pictures branch–stillpix@nara.gov–and let them know how pleased you are with this project.

Another great source for historic and contemporary lighthouse photos can be found on the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s website. They have put together a fabulous archive of the many lighthouse photos that have ended up in their collection.

Finding Aid for Lighthouse Logs

I have made the National Archives RG 26 finding aid “List of Logbooks of U.S. Coast Guard Cutters, Stations, and Miscellaneous Units, 1833 – 1980” available at https://lighthousehistory.info/research/uslhs/rg-26-finding-aid-for-logbooks/. Note that lighthouse keepers were not required to keep a daily log until 1872. Many logs are missing.

Logs for the WWII era when the U.S. Coast Guard was part of the U.S. Navy are listed in a different finding aid.

Lifesaving station logs from the USLSS period are kept at regional Archive facilities.

RG 26 Logs Whitlocks Mill to Woobine

Sample page of finding aid

Modern Day Lighthouse Keeper Kraig Anderson

Most of you should be familiar with the LighthouseFriends website but may not be aware of the man behind the site — Kraig Anderson.

When asked what has drawn him to Lighthouses, Kraig responds:

The answer is a complex mixture of reasons that is perhaps better understood through firsthand experience than through words. Part of the appeal lighthouses have is that they are found in some of the most beautiful settings, often on rugged coastlines dotted with conifers or on sandy beaches lined with palms. Lighthouses can also be found in the remote extremes of the country where a sunset or sunrise over a large body of water can be enjoyed in complete solitude. A perfect viewing platform for these spectacular settings is the walkway encircling the lantern room atop the lighthouse.

Perhaps lighthouses also appeal to our nostalgic and artistic senses as they are some of the most historic structures to be found in the United States, and the architectural detail found in many of them is amazing. Not only were they built to endure the ravages of the elements enhanced by their often exposed locations, but they were also built as monuments to engineering and design. With hewn rock foundations, spiral staircases, sloping conical towers, ornate water spouts, detailed window trimmings, and lantern rooms filled with giant Fresnel lenses and topped by spherical ventilator balls, lighthouses are simply beautiful structures. With its thousands of prisms, the Fresnel lens sits like a diamond at the top of the lighthouse tower. Witnessing a first-order Fresnel lens take the light of a small bulb and shape it into beams of light, extending for miles from the lantern room and rotating like the spokes in a giant wheel, is a breathtaking experience.

Yet another reason for the allure found in lighthouses is the multitude of heroic rescues associated with them. Though many lighthouse keepers viewed their position merely as an isolating, low-paying job, for others it was seen as a chance to be of true service. Their devotion to tending the light, polishing the lens, sounding the fog signal, and assisting in rescues is remarkable.

One of Kraig's favorite lighthouse experiences was spending a few nights during the summer of 2015 with my parents and fourteen other family members in the keeper’s dwellings at Heceta Head Lighthouse and North Head Lighthouse. For most, it was their first stay at a lighthouse. Although they are unlikely to become die-hard enthusiasts, they all appreciated Heceta Head’s picture-perfect setting and were awe-struck at the red-and-white beams of Umpqua River Lighthouse slicing through the night air. (Kraig is standing at the far right.)

One of Kraig’s favorite lighthouse experiences was spending a few nights during the summer of 2015 with his parents and fourteen other family members in the keeper’s dwellings at Heceta Head Lighthouse and North Head Lighthouse. According to Kraig, for most, it was their first stay at a lighthouse. Although they are unlikely to become die-hard enthusiasts, they all appreciated Heceta Head’s picture-perfect setting and were awe-struck at the red-and-white beams of Umpqua River Lighthouse slicing through the night air. (Family group at North Head — Kraig is standing at the far right.)

A year or so ago, I encountered Kraig in the National Archives doing research for his site. I was impressed that he uses primary research in putting together his histories.

I initially relied on popular lighthouse books to generate information for the various lighthouse pages on my website, but I have gradually compiled a collection of original source material through visits to the National Archives, the Coast Guard Historian’s Office, Library and Archives Canada, regional Coast Guard offices, and various museums and libraries. More of my lighthouse-focused time is now spent in researching lighthouses rather than visiting lighthouses, and my current project is adding lists of head keepers and assistant keepers to my lighthouse pages along with historic images.

I refer to his site often in my own work if I need a quick overview of a lighthouse I’m not that familiar with. I feel confident that the information he presents is fairly accurate and appreciate that he lists his sources! And now that he includes lists of keepers at each station, I have a place to refer keeper descendants that are searching for the lighthouse in which their ancestors served.

You may have noticed Kraig includes both historic and modern photos of each lighthouse. I was impressed to learn that Kraig has visited every U.S. lighthouse and those in Canada as well.

Originally, lighthouses served as a fun way to combine two of my hobbies: travel and photography. Lighthouse journeys took me to the four corners of the contiguous United States and many places I never would have otherwise visited. They also provided the opportunity to meet numerous people, even some lighthouse keepers, who share a passion for lighthouses.

I’m not sure how Kraig manages to  be a lighthouse expert while a full-time electrical engineer in wireless telecommunications, but I really appreciate his generosity in donating his time and talents in developing a fantastic resource for fellow lighthouse enthusiasts.

It’s my hope that people will use the pages on my website to plan their own lighthouse adventures, relive past lighthouse experiences, and participate in their restoration and preservation.

Kraig Anderson certainly qualifies as a modern day Lighthouse Keeper!

~ Candace Clifford, September 2, 2015

U.S. Coast Guard Celebrates 225th Birthday

Acting U.S. Coast Guard Historian Scott Price celebrated the U.S. Coast Guard birthday doing research at the National Archives.  Photo by Candace Clifford

Acting U.S. Coast Guard Historian Scott Price celebrated the U.S. Coast Guard birthday doing research at the National Archives. Photo by Candace Clifford

According to Acting U.S. Coast Guard Historian Scott Price, the U.S. Coast Guard considers August 4th, the date the U.S. Revenue Marine Service was created in 1790, as their official birthday not the January 28 date when their name was changed in 1915 (see Scott’s January 28 blog).

The U.S. Coast Guard acquired its new name when the federal government combined the U.S. Life-Saving Service with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. Originally called the U.S. Revenue Marine Service, this early “U.S. navy” was “tasked with coastal surveys and exploration, saving life and property at sea, defending United States territorial waters, enforcing customs (tariff) and smuggling laws, and collecting the customs duties from international trade and shipping to fund the federal government” (source: United States Coast Guard Leaders and Missions, 1790 to Present by Thomas P. Ostrom and John J. Galluzo, pp. 7-8). A fleet of revenue cutters was constructed to enable performance of these duties. The Revenue Marine Service also aided the early lighthouse service in setting up and servicing buoys, choosing sites for lighthouses, and reporting on the efficiency of the lights and other aids to navigation.

The U.S. Post Office issued this stamp today to commemorate the U.S. Coast Guard. It features the USCG training ship EAGLE

The U.S. Post Office issued this stamp today to commemorate the U.S. Coast Guard. It features the USCG training ship EAGLE and a rescue aircraft. (Photo courtesy of the USPS)

The U.S. Coast Guard mission has expanded greatly in the past 100 years. In addition to lifesaving, enforcing maritime law, and national defense, it oversees aids to navigation, protects the marine environment, supports scientific research at sea, keeps ship channels free of ice, responds to oil spills and other marine disasters, ensures port security, and combats terrorism.

As many of you know, Bob Browning retired as the U.S. Coast Guard Historian earlier this year. Scott is now acting historian. Having been with the office 22 years, Scott has acquired an in-depth knowledge of Coast Guard history and has helped countless researchers (including myself) with a multitude of topics. In his new role as acting historian, Scott is very interested in exploring ways to increase the office’s outreach, promote inter-agency cooperation, and “show the flag” to make the Coast Guard Historian’s Office a more visible entity. He is responsible for the extensive website devoted to Coast Guard history. The site is an invaluable resource for researchers and I regularly visit it for information (and photos) on lighthouses, lifesaving stations, vessels, and other U.S. Coast Guard assets. To reach an even broader audience, Scott has recently started using a twitter account. 

So I am including Scott Price in my “Modern Day Lighthouse Keeper” category for his work in promoting U.S. Coast Guard history and making their records accessible to both researchers and the general public.

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.