Wednesday, April 6, 2016

What the Keepers Wrote

Keeper's logbooks were found at every lighthouse, worldwide. They were intended to preserve a record of activities at each lighthouse. Keepers wrote about weather, work underway or completed at their lighthouse, the arrival and departure of staff and visitors, the kinds and number of passing vessels, any rescues they did, and any problems that occurred.

Some keepers were terse in their entries, while others were verbose. A logbook might contain, for example, observations of the sky, such as an extraordinary sunset or the appearance of a comet. Keepers might mention visiting wildlife or a list of birds seen. Some added poetry to their logbooks, or wrote poems themselves. But mostly, they wrote simple entries.

The following entries are from the logbook of the Destruction Island Lighthouse, Washington in 1898. This logbook is typical--just the basics are written.

But I find the entries interesting. Destruction Island lies about three miles west of the outer coast of Washington, just off Kalaloch. It was a tough assignment, due to the extreme wet and windy weather and the island's remoteness.
Photo circa 1955. U.S. Coast Guard
Christian Zauner was head keeper in 1893. He had three assistants, due to the size of the station and the amount of work to be done. It's likely Zauner wrote the following entries in the log, but possibly his first assistant, Mark Grayson, also made entries. Their penmanship, though unappreciated here, was lovely. I hope you enjoy these entries and get a sense of what July was like on a Washington Coast lighthouse. A lot of painting got done in July!

The brackets [   ] indicate where words were undecipherable, due to ink smudges, faded pages, or too-florid handwriting.

Coast Guard Archives image from about 1965


Keeper’s Log


Destruction Island




July 1      Fresh North wind and clear to 11 p.m.  Fog set in at 11 p.m.  Mending coal sacks.  Finished whitewashing Chicken House, doing Routine in Tower, drying coal sacks, one Steamer bound South.


July 2      Sunday today.  Fog cleared 4 a.m. Light North wind and clear.  Doing routine work.  One Steamer bound North.


July 3      Calm and [      ] from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. Light North wind and clear.   [      ] and cleaned boiler.  Replaced old ropes on Smoke stack [     ] and safety valve lifts.  One schooner and one steamer in sight.


July 4      Light North [east?] wind and clear.  Only doing the Routine work this day.  Nothing in sight.


July 5      Light North-[East] wind.  Part of day clear, part cloudy.  Trimming down the grass around tower, dwellings and walks.


July 6      Light North-[East] wind.  White washing rooms in Keepers dwelling, doing Routine work, washed Plate glass.


July 7      Calm and Clear to 1 p.m. Cloudy and sultry balance of day, three steamers in sight, Indians out in canoe chasing whales.  Whitewashing rooms in Dwelling downstairs.  Doing Routine work.  Bar: falling 29 – 98 P.M.


July 8      Moderate S.W. wind and rainfall to 9 a.m.  Cloudy balance of day.  Sawing wood, cleaning up in lantern.  Nothing in sight.        


July 9      Sunday, Light S.E. wind and showery to 3 a.m.  [     ] to North and clear.  Washed plate glass in lantern.  W.S. Coast-defense Monitor Monterey passed this Station bound south at 12:30 p.m.


July 10    Moderate North wind and clear.  All hands at work painting inside of Lantern.  Three steamers in sight.


July 11    Light N.W. wind, Cloudy A.M., clear at P.M. Painting inside of Lantern. Two steamers in sight.  Indians caught whale.


July 12    Light N. W. wind and misty to sunrise.  Fresh breeze from the North.  Painting in Lantern.  Lots of Indians here with whale.


July 13    Moderate N.W. wind and misty to 8 a.m.  Clear and fresh breeze after 8 a.m. Painting in Lantern.  Nothing in sight.


July 14    Light North wind and clear.  Washed plate glass, painting inside of Lantern, one steamer bound North a.m.  U.S.L.H. Tender Manzanita arrived at this Station this P.M.   Lt. Blish   U. S. N. Inspector landed and inspected Station.  Received annual supplies.  [    ] and Family returned.  


{Log signed by John B.  Blish,  Lt. U.S.N.  Asst. insp.  15 July 1893}


July 15    Changed Local or [Sun?] time to Standard time by order of Lt. Blish Asst. Inspector.  Light S.E. wind and cloudy.  Received balance of supplies from Tender this a.m.  Commenced to rain 2 p.m.


July 16    Sunday.  Strong S.E. wind and rainfall, doing routine work.  Thick rain squalls.  Signal in operation when necessary.  One Barkentine close in [    ]   [East?] of island trying to  [    ] South.


July 17    Thick and damp fog continues to 10 a.m.  Signal [in operation?] after 10 a.m. Light N.W. wind, low drifting clouds.


July 18    Fresh North breeze and clear. 

NOAA photo

Check out the image above. Can you imagine living on this smear of ragged rocks? There was a table of grass on top and soil for a garden and flowers. Lightkeepers had livestock here--chickens, cows, and pets.

The image below shows what Destruction Island looked like a few years ago.  It's first-order flashing lens was removed about 1998 and was given on loan to the Westport Maritime Museum where it is nicely displayed. The light was turned off and the foghorn was discontinued a few years after the lens was removed.

The light station has been relinquished to U.S. Fish & Wildlife. The island is part of their marine sanctuary on the Washington Coast. Unfortunately, F&W has done nothing to preserve the lighthouse or any of its buildings. All manmade structures are slowly deteriorating. I have asked to visit the island several times but have been denied. I feel it is important to document what is left of the light station. I have serious misgivings about the future of this historic lighthouse. It would be a boon if a nonprofit group would form and devote its energies to helping F&W save this lighthouse.
Here's an aerial image of Destruction Island I took in 2006. You can see a few buildings and the helo-pad used by the Coast Guard in the days when the light and foghorn were active. You can also appreciate why the island is called Destruction--very dangerous rocks, plus it an obstacle along the north-south shipping lane. The name was actually given by the Spanish who landed here for provisions and water and sent a small boat ashore for that purpose. The crewmen in the small boat were all killed by the local Salish people.

The photo below is courtesy of Kraig Anderson of Lighthouse Friends.


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