Category Archives: Historic images

Enduring Beacons: Documenting America’s Lighthouses

Happy National Lighthouse Day! To celebrate, I’d like to share an exhibit I put together for the Park View Gallery at Glen Echo Park, Maryland. If you live in the D.C. metro area, the show will be up until August 26, 2017.

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The contemporary images are mine; most of the historic images are from the National Archives.

Submitted by Candace Clifford, U.S. Lighthouse Society Historian, August 7, 2017

 

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U.S. Lighthouse Society News

Greetings!

Want to keep up with the latest on lighthouses? Check out U.S. Lighthouse Society News, a new electronic newsletter for the lighthouse community.

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As many of you know, I’m now working as the U.S. Lighthouse Society’s historian so I won’t be posting to my original Lighthouse History blog as often. I hope you consider subscribing to this new blog focusing on lighthouse history, preservation, education, and research. Just click on the SUBSCRIBE button in the right-hand column and provide your email address.

Have items of interest to the lighthouse community? Please submit them for consideration to candace@uslhs.org.

Thanks for your participation!

Candace

National Archives Starts Digitizing Lighthouse Photos

spring at NA lores

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.”

26-LG-1-10

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.

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.

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.

Ice and Lighthouses

Screwpile lighthouses were very vulnerable to icy conditions.  After many were damaged or swept away in ice flows, they were replaced with lighthouses built on caisson foundations.

Screwpile lighthouses were very vulnerable to icy conditions. After many were damaged or swept away in ice flows, they were replaced with lighthouses built on sturdier caisson foundations.

On February 11,1936, H.D. King, Commissioner of Lighthouses, wrote the Secretary of Commerce:

The extremely critical conditions due to prolonged and severe cold and resulting ice conditions along the North Atlantic seaboard have placed in serious jeopardy many aids to navigation, both fixed and floating, particularly in Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries . . . 

King goes on to mention that the Janes Island Lighthouse, near Crisfield, Maryland was destroyed; however, the keepers had previously abandoned the station for their safety. Personnel were evacuated from Tangier Island, Point No Point, Ragged Point, Tue Marshes, Love Point, and York Spit Lighthouses. Sixty-one minor lights had been destroyed before the end of January.

Article from the Washington Herald on the same day King wrote his communication.

Article from the Washington Herald on the same day King wrote his his memo to the Commerce Secretary.

King noted below the article shown here that a plane had been in contact with Solomon’s Lump Station and arrangements made for a distress signal that the keeper could display in an emergency. Also that “attempts are being made to reach station, both from Bay & over ice from land to take off the keeper.”

An article in the Baltimore Evening Sun, also dated February 11, reported that “Five Eastern shoremen tied together with ropes, yesterday crossed the ice to the Love Point light to bring the keeper ashore.” The lighthouse tender Violet  was able to reach Seven-Foot Knoll and remove its keeper but had to return to Baltimore before nightfall without visiting any other lights.

A press release dated February 12, 1936, reported that on February 9th, the War Department sent a plane to survey conditions and communicate with keepers still at their stations. At that time a supply of food had been dropped for Keeper H.C. Stirling at Solomon’s Lump Light. Conditions were described as the worst since 1918, when several stations were swept away.

Source: National Archives Record Group 26 Entry 50, File 3655.

Minneapolis shoal lores

A USCG tender services Minneapolis Shoal Light Station in Lake Michigan in 1944. Keepers were taken off offshore lighthouses in the Great Lakes when navigation closed for the season. National Archives photo.

Lighthouses at the Start of World War II

Scott Prices’s recent post “Pearl Harbor: 5 things you didn’t know about the Coast Guard that day” starting me thinking about what I had in my research files about lighthouses around the beginning of World War II.

Makapuu logbook

The log for the Makapuu Lighthouse, on Oahu not far from Honolulu, shows that watches were increased in the week after the Pearl Harbor attack.

As you all know, the U.S. Coast Guard became part of the U.S. Navy during the war.  On December 12, 1941, a confidential memorandum from U.S. Coast Guard Commandant R.R. Waesche discussed “Coast Guard National Defense Functions”:

While all reports received at Headquarters and the Navy Department have shown that the duties performed by Coast Guard officers and men have been very satisfactory, and in many cases deserving of commendation, I believe it desirable to call attention of our Senior Officers and to Captains of the Port, the following matters:

In addition to the duties being performed by Coast Guard officers and men at sea, there are two National Defense functions of paramount importance now being performed by the Coast Guard organization. I refer to the blacking out of aids to navigation on short notice, and the prevention of sabotage in our ports. . . . No organized plan of sabotage has as yet broken out in our seaports, but it is to be expected any time that such an organized effort may occur.

Senior Coast Guard Officers of the Naval District are also directly responsible to see that adequate and efficient plans are made for quickly extinguishing navigation lights. Some plans received at Headquarters require from two to three hours to black out a harbor. I believe by this time that this period has been greatly reduced.  Among the various measures that may be taken to accomplish the general purpose are the following:

a) Replacing lighted aids with unlighted aids for the duration of the war.

b) Reducing the candle power of various lighted aids to navigation.

c) Removal of all radio beacon buoys.

d) Taking measures to prevent lighted aids to navigation from being seen from the air while still visible from a surface vessel.

e) The feasibility of withdrawing lightships from their stations and replacing them if necessary, with other types of aids to navigation

f) The elimination of radio beacons either on lightships or on shore stations.

g) Limitation or elimination of fog signals

h) Elimination or limitation of lighted aids to navigation.

(Source: National Archives Record Group 26, Entry 82C)

This memo found in National Archives, RG 26, Entry 82c, indicates that an incident such as the Pearl Harbor attack was not unanticipated.

This memo found in National Archives, RG 26, Entry 82c, indicates that an incident such as the Pearl Harbor attack was not unanticipated.

It is interesting to note that a memo regarding “Coastal Lookouts at lighthouse stations, etc.” dated December 5, 1941, was issued before the attack. It begins:

In two districts the matter of establishing coastal lookouts at light stations to be manned by Coast Guard personnel has been considered and is being approved. These are located at prominent salients along the coast where continuous watches from lifeboat stations are not available. In some cases, at least, such lookouts would be provided with search light facilities for signaling or for challenging and communication with passing ships. . . .

(Source: National Archives Record Group 26, Entry 82C)

Makapuu Point Lighthouse. National Archives photo

Makapuu Point Lighthouse. National Archives photo