Category Archives: Modern Day Lighthouse Keeper

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

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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.

Remembering Cullen Chambers – Lighthouse Preservationist

Cullen Chambers at Heceta Head Lighthouse, 2001

Cullen Chambers at Heceta Head Lighthouse, 2001

Cullen in his inspection gear at Heceta Head Lighthouse

Cullen in his inspection gear at Heceta Head Lighthouse

The lighthouse community is mourning the loss of a great friend and colleague, Cullen Chambers. Incredibly knowledgeable about all aspects of lighthouse preservation, Cullen was responsible for the preservation of Key West, St. Augustine, and Tybee Island Lighthouses as well as assisting in countless other preservation projects locally and around the country.

I first met Cullen while working on the National Lighthouse Museum Committee which later became the American Lighthouse Coordinating Committee. As part of the latter, Cullen wrote a position paper on Fresnel lenses, demonstrating an impressive expertise on those unique artifacts.  He applied this knowledge in working on two lens projects at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and Heceta Head Lighthouse.  For his exceptional contributions to lighthouse preservation, Cullen was a recipient of the Ross Holland award in 2007.

The "lens team" at the Franklin Institute

The “lens team” at the Franklin Institute

Disassembly of the Fire Island lens at the Franklin Institute.  (Cullen on left)

Disassembly of the Fire Island lens at the Franklin Institute. (Cullen on left)

Cullen inspects the metalwork on Heceta Head Lighthouse's lantern

Cullen inspects the metalwork on Heceta Head Lighthouse’s lantern as part of a condition assessment he prepared on the lighthouse.

Always upbeat and charming, Cullen was a joy to work with. He will be sorely missed by his friends in the lighthouse community.

Cullen at Heceta

Cullen assisting with reassembly of the Heceta Head Lighthouse lens.

Cullen assisting with reassembly of the Heceta Head Lighthouse lens.

Modern Day Lighthouse Keeper – Bob Trapani

On my recent trip to Maine, I had the pleasure of stopping by Owls Head Lighthouse and catching up with Bob Trapani, president of the American Lighthouse Foundation.  The lighthouse, as you can see from these photos, looks fantastic.  Bob’s hard work has paid off.  Folks can now enter the tower and climb a few steps to enjoy the view and see the beautiful fourth-order Fresnel lens.  The keeper’s dwelling now houses the offices of the American Lighthouse Foundation on the second floor with the first floor devoted to a gift shop and some interpretation.  (And yes I did drop off the new edition of Women Who Kept the Lights, the first copy I distributed actually.) Bob has plans to enhance the interpretation and is currently writing a book about the station using lots of material from the National Archives.

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Bob Trapani, keeper of Owls Head Lighthouse, copyright Candace Clifford, 2013

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Owls Head Lighthouse, copyright Candace Clifford, 2013

In addition to Owls Head, the American Lighthouse Foundation is affiliated with some 20 other light stations. One of the biggest challenges Bob faces is the continuous maintenance and repair these station require in their harsh marine environments.

A talented photographer, Bob posts a lot of his wonderul photos to Owls Head facebook page.  Bob also finds time to work with the local Coast Guard’s Aids to Navigation team, getting a first-hand perspective on caring for offshore lights and the evolving technology. I am very pleased to feature him in the first post of my series on modern-day lighthouse keepers.