Thursday, April 27, 2017

I'm a fan of Rudyard Kipling! (Read my blog "Kipling's Love of Lighthouses here.) His story, "The Disturber of Traffic" has a lighthouse theme. It's an peculiar tale, part tragedy and part comedy. It's very "Kiplingish."  He loved the sea and ships and lighthouses.

Below, Amazon describes the Kindle edition of the story, which is sold here


This British “poet of Empire” was born in Bombay, India, in 1865. He was sent to England for school, then re-joined his parents in India in l881, where he wrote for Anglo-Indian newspapers. From that time until his death in 1936, he traveled widely in India and then the world, covering the far-flung British Empire and writing almost continuously: poems (“Mandalay,” “If,” “Gunga Din”), children’s books (Kim, The Jungle Book), novels (Captains Courageous), and always, short stories. He glorified the idea of empire as “the white man’s burden.”

In l892, he married Caroline Balestier and they set off for an around-the-world honeymoon. Their bank failed while they were in Japan, so they made their way to Brattleboro, Vermont, where Balestier’s relatives lived. They stayed for four years. Then it was back to England, where Kipling’s popularity soared. In 1907, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first for an English writer. In the last year of his life, he wrote his autobiography, Something of Myself, which was published posthumously.

The Atlantic Monthly published Kipling’s short story “The Disturber of Traffic” in l891, a year before he came to Vermont, as he was gaining fame. It is classic Kipling: the narrator convinces a lighthouse keeper on the foggy southern English coast to let him spend the night “and help to scare the ships into mid-channel.” The keeper of the light passes the time by telling a story. After setting the scene—“The light-frame of the thousand lenses circled on its rollers and the compressed-air engine that drove it hummed like a bluebottle under a glass”—Kipling has the two men settle in, and the central story unfolds. It takes place many years before, when another keeper is assigned to an isolated lighthouse on the island of Flores, in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), where “those currents is never yet known to mortal man … They chop and they change, and they banks the tides fust on one shore and then on another, till your ship’s tore in two.”

Slowly, deliberately, Kipling describes the loneliness that plagues the keeper of this far outpost, his only companion a native who spends all his time in the water or “skipping about the beach along with the tigers at low tide, for he was most part a beast.” Kipling takes his time describing the keeper’s descent into madness, and the peculiar form that madness takes; he leaves the reader with the feeling that the story may well have been based in fact. It is presented here just as it originally appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, dialect and all.



You can find the story in PDF form on the web. Enjoy! 

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Sadly Neglected Lighthouse

This is an excerpt from the U.S. Lighthouse Society Historian's news. I've long been disappointed with the manner in which U.S. Fish & Wildlife cares for its lighthouses. Only a few are well-kept and their historic integrity preserved. This one at Hams Bluff on St. Croix is so historic it must be saved. The U.S. Virgin Islands deserves the same funding and care for its historic any of the U.S. states or other U.S. territories..

St. Croix’s Hams Bluff Lighthouse: A Study in Neglect

Article and photos by Michael Salvarezza and Christopher P. Weaver
© 2016 Eco-Photo Explorers

Eco-Photo Explorers - Lighthouse Image Collection
The hike to the Hams Bluff Lighthouse is a moderate one. Photo courtesy of authors.

The road seemed almost impassable: deep ruts, numerous potholes, nonexistent markings, very spotty pavement and pools of water were presenting a challenge not only to the suspension on our car but to our spinal cords! We began to question how the local government could even assign a number (route 63) to this road!
We were on the island of St. Croix, a United States territory with a distinctly Caribbean feel. Our destination was the seldom-visited Hams Bluff Lighthouse. After miles of steadily deteriorating road conditions, we arrived at the end of Route 63 and parked in front of the National Guard facility. The rest of the way would be on foot.

Hams Bluff VI ca 1936 HABS LOC 050083pv
Hams Bluff Lighthouse ca. 1936. HABS photo courtesy of Library of Congress

The hike to the Hams Bluff Lighthouse is a moderate one. In the tropical heat and humidity it is important to take water and to take breaks along the way. The trail to the lighthouse is all uphill for about 30 minutes, winding its way through brush, tall grass, and tropical forest. Because the conditions on the trail vary greatly, it’s a good idea to wear sturdy footwear and long pants. Sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and insect repellent are highly recommended.
Before long, though, the canopy of vegetation gives way to blue sky and this is the sign that you have almost reached the summit of the bluff. Rounding a final turn in the trail, we caught our first glimpse of the Hams Head Lighthouse.
Our hearts dropped.

Eco-Photo Explorers - Lighthouse Image Collection
St. Croix’s Hams Bluff Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of the authors
Eco-Photo Explorers - Lighthouse Image Collection
Rust detail on exterior. Photo courtesy of authors

There before us was the rusting hulk of this once handsome and useful lighthouse. Standing on a cement platform, the 35-foot tower stood in the baking sun atop this bluff overlooking the Caribbean Sea and its deteriorating condition was immediately evident. Huge streaks of rust stains ran down its sides, the rails on the cupola were broken in spots and several areas of the tower had completely decayed through to the inside.

Eco-Photo Explorers - Lighthouse Image Collection
Interior with stairs. Photo courtesy of the authors

The door was ajar and we could make our way inside to a dank, soggy interior. The floor consisted of a crunchy layer of fallen iron and steel flakes, and the walls were all desecrated with thoughtless graffiti. A short ladder led to the second level of the lighthouse, and once upstairs we were reluctant to walk around for fear of falling through the rapidly crumbling floor. We could see from this level, however, the wonderful views of the sea and the bluff, and could easily imagine the usefulness of this lone sentinel when it was in operation.
The Hams Bluff Lighthouse was built in 1915 by the Danish government, who owned this island at the time, and was originally operated by lighthouse keeper A.L.F.L. Madsen.
The lighthouse was constructed with cast iron on a concrete foundation and was originally painted white with a black cupola. It was built atop the Hams Bluff, which rises to a height of about 360 feet above sea level, to help mariners navigate safely around the west end of the island and into Fredericksted Harbor. Shortly after it was built, the Danish West Indies were sold to the United States. St. Croix, along with St. Thomas and St. John, became United States territories and at this point the U.S. Coast Guard took over operation of the lighthouse. In the mid-1990s, the lighthouse was deactivated.

Eco-Photo Explorers - Lighthouse Image Collection
In 2010, a skeleton tower was built alongside the abandoned lighthouse and it currently operates two white flashes every 30 seconds. Photo courtesy of the authors

We stood on the bluff with the cooling breeze coming up over the hills from the water. It felt good after our strenuous and sweaty climb to this point. The views of nearby Annaly Bay and Davis Bay were stunning. But we could not shake the melancholy feeling of sadness over the condition of this poor, once proud lighthouse. Clearly it has been deteriorating for years in the harsh salty environment atop the bluff. With every hour of searing tropical sun we could imagine another flake of iron falling off the side of the tower. Neglected, forgotten, abandoned this lighthouse will soon crumble into the soil of the bluff. There have been some efforts to preserve this remnant of history but so far nothing has really resulted in any progress.
Honestly, we wonder if it’s too far gone anyway at this point.
The area surrounding and including the bluff has another, darker component of history that is also fading away into the recesses of time. Maroon Ridge is the geological feature that the area takes its name from, and during the time of Danish ownership of the island, a community of slaves was known to be here in an area the Danes referred to as Maroonberg. According to historical accounts, a particularly brutal form of slavery was operated on St. Croix, with runaway slaves severely and publically beaten and tortured. Runaways often headed for this remote area and used it as a way to leave for Puerto Rico. Thousands fled the plantations in search of freedom, and many would eventually pass through Maroon Ridge. Many were recaptured by the Danes, but many more committed suicide rather than face recapture. Documents indicate that only 300 brave and desperate slaves ever made it to Puerto Rico and to freedom.

Eco-Photo Explorers - Lighthouse Image Collection
The view from the lantern room. Photo courtesy of authors

We sat in silence, our thoughts wandering through the pages of the past to imagine a time when lighthouse keepers tended to this lighthouse and mariners depended upon its service. We contemplated the desperation of the runaway slaves who passed through here long before this lighthouse had ever been built. And we were struck by the history that lies embedded in these hills and forests, a history that is fading with each passing year.
We then stood up, bid the lighthouse good bye and began our hike down the bluff and back to our car. Along the way, a tear mixed with our sweat and dropped to the forest floor, a token of our concern for this neglected lighthouse on St. Croix and a measure of our respect for the slaves who passed through these hills. As we walked away, we stole one final glance at the lighthouse that still maintains its dignity despite years of neglect. And we wished it well.
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U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please consider joining the U.S. Lighthouse Society if you are not already a member. If you have items of interest to the lighthouse community and its supporters, please email them to

Go here for more lighthouse news.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hanging out with Betsie

Point Betsie Lighthouse in Michigan is among my favorites. It's more than the beauty of the place, its changing tableau throughout the year, and its rich history. It's about experiences. Memorable experiences always add to the wonder of a place.

Photo of the Aurora Borealis over Point Betsie Lighthouse by Dennis Buchner

My first visit to Point Betsie was in the fall of 2000 when I attended the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival. Jon and took our little motorhome to Michigan and visited a number of lighthouses on both shores before stopping at Alpena for the festival.  Lighthouse Kitty was with us. She was a good little traveler, though I doubt she knew the significance of all the places she had been.

We drove the narrow dirt road back to the Point Betsie Lighthouse (it might be paved now) and parked at the end. The road simply stopped, and Jon did some tricky maneuvers to get the motorhome turned around. Lighthouse Kitty jumped onto the roomy dashboard when the motor stopped, aiming to take a nap in the warm autumn sun.

A picture of a picture-taker! Jon photographed me taking a picture of Point Betsie, with a wave tumbling over the seawall just in front of me and the wind styling my hair. It was a lovely autumn day in Michigan!

We walked the grounds and took scads of pictures. The beacon blinked a hello and a good-bye. Steady, reliable, emotive. Lighthouse beacons always affect my senses, reminding me of all the kind and solicitous meanings they possess. 

Wind rustled the grasses and bent back the shrubs and trees. High clouds stretched across the heavens, shaped by the high currents. I wondered if this place ever experienced a calm.

A friendly red dog followed us as we toured the site. Animal lover that I am, I petted and chatted with him. He seemed happy to be greeted so fondly. I'm sure, if dogs could talk, he could have told me many interesting things about Point Betsie. Did he belong to a caretaker? A neighbor? Was he a stray? Or, like Jon and I, was he just visiting for a short time?

When it was time for us to leave, he followed me to the door of the motorhome, as if he thought he might go with us. The map on the side of the motorhome had many state stickers on it, suggesting travels aplenty. I went to the tiny kitchen and fetched a piece of lunch meat. Jon grinned, pointing out that Red Dog, as we'd named him, looked well-fed. But I am a giver. Red Dog enjoyed the morsels and took them gently from my hand. A dog with manners!

Another peculiar shot was taken by Jon, who photographed me snapping a picture of Red Dog racing us as we left Point Betsie.

As we fired up the motorhome, Red Dog took off ahead of us, running at top speed. Was he showing us the way out. Or did he think he'd follow us to our next stop? I snapped a photo of him speeding along the side of the road. He had been our welcoming committee and was our farewell committee too.

Dennis Buchner capture Point Betsie in her winter wear! You can purchase his photos at Fine Art America.

At the end of the dirt access road, Red Dog stopped. I waved as we passed him. He lingered a long time, wagging his tail and watching us go, before he turned and trotted back toward the light station.

Photo by Anne Chapman

Beautiful Point Betsie Lighthouse was named by the French--Pointe Aux Bec Scies. The French name was mined from a native name that referred to the sawbill ducks (Mergansers) that lived nearby.  The lighthouse was built in 1854-1858 and first signaled to mariners in 1859, marking the route to Manitou Passage.

Point Betsie Lighthouse in 1895, from the National Archives.
The lens, courtesy of

An aerial Coast Guard photo shows the bulwarks protecting Point Betsie Lighthouse from erosion.

Today, the lighthouse offers overnight accommodations.  It also has a nice museum in the quarters. To find out more, go to the lighthouse website.

Accommodations at Point Betsie, from

Monday, April 3, 2017

Meetings & Events this Spring

Here are a couple of good events taking place this spring in the Northeast. Please circulate to your friends and contacts in the lighthouse community.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kids Love Lighthouses Too!

Go here for instructions on making a paper cup lighthouse.

At the U.S. Lighthouse Society webpage there are LOTS of materials for kids. Click on the "Education" tab and find what you want.

My Pinterest pages also have materials for kids.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Memories of Slip Point Lighthouse

Some years back, a group of us in the Washington lighthouse community organized a lighthouse keepers' reunion. It was held in Silverdale at a hotel and was well-attended. I put together a booklet of keepers' memories and had it printed and bound. At the reunion dinner, I met Joan Miller whose husband had served at the Slip Point Lighthouse at Clallam Bay in the early 1960s. By that time, the old wooden lighthouse was gone--taken by a landslide in the wet winter of 1940. 

When Slip Point Lighthouse was first built, it was only a fog signal with a lens lantern propped on a shelf (seen on the right side of the building with a ladder accessing it). Photo from 1904 in the collection of the Coast Guard Historian.
As shipping lanes became busy in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a wooden light tower was added to the west side of the fog signal building and a fourth order lens replaced the lens-lantern.

In its place was a pole beacon, which later gave way to a skeleton beacon with a dayboard on it. 

The lighthouse still appears in this image, but it had been deactivated due to the threat of erosion. The bridge walkway can be seen behind the box structure holding the beacon. Photo taken by the Coast Guard in 1951.

Here is Joan's account of life at Slip Point--



            On December 31, 1961, my husband and I along with our two young sons, moved into the Slip Point Light Station at Clallam Bay, Washington.  We had just come from a very active search and rescue Coast Guard station at Hammond, Oregon and my husband was anxious to have a less dangerous responsibility and activity level for awhile.  I was expecting our third child in late February. 

Snow at Slip Point on Feb.29, 1963. Photo courtesy of Joan Miller.

            We had other friends that were at light stations and had heard that life at a light station could be serene and pleasant, but that there were certain demands that were required of both the Coast Guard personnel and their wives.  I was told that the house was to be ready for inspection at all times which was supposedly even more important since my husband was the officer-in-charge.

            Slip Point did not have the traditional light house sitting on a hill or bluff as the first one had fallen into the sea many years before our duty began.  Instead, we had a walkway out onto the reef with a light on the end that also included a fog signal.  However, our house, a large duplex was in the typical lighthouse style.  Three stories, many windows, and beautiful cherry wood furniture supposedly made years before in the prison system.

            On a clear and beautiful Monday afternoon on January 29, 1962, my husband was asleep upstairs after serving on the night watch and our two boys were outside playing.  The station's Seaman knocked at the door all excited and said we were being invaded.  He had heard shells going overhead and was able to convince me that we were in fact being shelled. I got the boys in the house right away.  The next task was to rouse my husband and tell him. 

            The news was hard to believe and he was hard to persuade, but he agreed to get up and see what was going on.  As it turned out, yes we were being shelled, by accident of course, but by the Canadian Navy who had sent a drone plane out over the Straits so that their ships could practice firing two or three pound "dud" shells at the plane.  Unfortunately, the plane went over our reef and the shells followed.  One hit the Clallam Bay school yard five minutes before school was let out.  A brass detonator landed a few feet from a fellow in town who was digging in his garden.  A shell did hit one house and knocked off a few shingles.  Another landed embedded in a log that someone was able to locate.  All of these items were gathered up and ended up on my kitchen counter while we waited for our US Naval munitions to arrive and check everything out. 

            Lots of excitement and an international event was prevented, but none of us quite got over the close call of nearly being hit with one of those practice bombs.        
Our length of service lasted only 18 months as my husband found that he really missed search and rescue.  Due to a number of incidents, I also agreed that this was not the quiet life we had envisioned and I was glad to move on.  So, in June of 1963, we moved to Cape Disappointment station in Ilwaco, Washington and one of the busiest search and rescue stations in the US.

Joan E. Miller
wife of CWO-4 Willis Paul Miller

Paul passed away in 1977 after serving in the Coast Guard for 23 years.

I flew over Slip Point about ten years ago and took some photos. All that remains are the concrete walkway supports. You can see them in the images below. They trail off to the east and into the water. That's because the sites of the wooden lighthouse and the pole beacons that followed are now underwater. The Coast Guard gave up on a light for the point years ago and settled on an offshore buoy.

The quarters, which were at the time of the photo occupied by the local sheriff.

Remains of the concrete foundation of the raided walkway.

The concrete walkway remnants trail into the water now. The site of the original lighthouse is far out in the strait. Bruce Robie photo.
In recent years, the town of Clallam has expressed interest in rebuilding the old wooden lighthouse. Its return, along with refurbishment of the quarters to their 1930s glory, it would bring many visitors to the area and bolster its economy. The shore here is beyond description, with rock formations and scenic views. Drive another hour or two west and you can see the Cape Flattery Lighthouse via a boardwalk trail and visit the Makah Cultural Museum. The fishing is good on this coast, and there's camping at several parks. The 6-mile round-trip hike to Cape Alava will take you to the westernmost point on the Lower Forty-Eight West Coast. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Farewell Jens Pedersen

Photo by Elinor DeWire

For at least fifteen years, Jens Pedersen, who grew up at lighthouses in Washington, was my friend. He passed away about a week ago. My heart aches for his loss--no more pleasant conversations with him, laughs, hugs, and enjoying his smile. He was indeed a wonderful man with lucid memories of a life on the lighthouses.

Jens Pederen, fourth from right, spent a few years of his youth at Turn Point Lighthouse on Stuart Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington. His father, Jens Sr. is second from left. Jens' older sisters are in the lineup, along with the children of Edward Albee. Photo courtesy of Ila Albee Lee (third from right).

His father, Jens O. Pedersen, was a lightkeeper at several Washington lighthouses. most notably Point Robinson Lighthouse on Vashon Island. The elder Pedersen retired from there in the 1950s as one the last keepers from the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment era. Now, his only son is gone. Several other Pedersen children also have passed. Those us of in the lighthouse community mourn these losses--sure indicators that the chapter of human lighthouse keeping is fast coming to a close.

Jens Pedersen, Sr. on the lantern of Point Robinson Lighthouse, about 1950.

Jens, Sr.'s retirement in the mid-1950s. Beside him, his faithful wife Elsie looks on with pride. Jens Sr. died in 1958, a short time after his retirement. He was 64.

Here, I'm sharing a few images of Jens Pedersen, Jr., plus a tender and much-deserved tribute to him from the President of the Keepers of Point Robinson, Capt. Joe Wubbold.

My Dear Members of the Point Robinson Family,

For the second time in a month, it is my sad duty as your Captain to tell you of the death of one of our own.  Our friend, colleague, faithful attendee at all of our events and gatherings and former resident of Quarters A,  Jens, died last week.  I had a call from his nephew Tom, who wanted to know how to make a donation to the lighthouse.  I must have been particularly dense and obtuse, because it took a minute for me to realize that this was a memorial to Jens.  I had then to back down and ask, right between the running lights, if he was telling me that Jens was dead.

Snow was rare at Point Robinson. A youthful Jens, Jr.. combined snow shoveling with fun (note the face peeking out of the snow on the left side of the walk). In the background is one of the station's tanks and the family car.

The story becomes a little complex at this point, and I am awaiting further word from his family.  Jens did not want any ceremony, nor any memorial, just a party.  So if the family is willing, we will all help in that final wish.  What form that will take, when it will be, and other details must await the fullness of time.  It seems to me that the most appropriate place, and in fact, the only place, to have this would be in Quarters A, in which he lived when his father was stationed at Point Robinson.  
It was never in our thinking that our houses would be the site for the departure ceremonies for our friends.  When we had good memories of Ka, just a few weeks ago, Carol wanted it to be in the house in which he had put so much of himself.  So also is it with Jens.  We had his 90th birthday party there, and we have had our Open Houses there on the first Sunday of December.  When Jens did not come to the top of the lighthouse this last year, a tradition we had observed for years, I was concerned, and hoped it was only a minor ailment.  It turns out, now, that it was much more serious.

As we hope for all of us, when the final call is sounded, he did not die alone.  And we will honor his wish for no sadness, or actually a lot, but also for that party.  I will put out more information as I get it,  I have included former Board members, people who knew Jens but are no longer directly connected with the Keepers of Point Robinson, and some people who I just want to know.

Jens and his two sisters reunited about 2009 on Vashon Island. Jens humorously labeled this photo "A thorn between two roses."

Jens and I had a special relationship.  Look at the Vashon Then and Now on Point Robinson, and you will see a charming part about Jens and our resident "daughter of the light", Mirabelle.  Jens and I had a tradition of his coming up to the top of the tower to "make his number with Captain Joe", whenever I was there, and he came to the Station.  Whenever he would do that, I would introduce him to the people taking the tour, and he would tell stories of what it was like to live as a child on a light station.  Jens, you were such a gracious man, generous of spirit.  We will have that party, and you will be there.

I am, as always when I have to do this, reaching out to each of you, and asking that we remember a lovely man.  That he was over 90 does not make me any less sad today, just thankful that he had admitted me to his friendship.  This is the same affection that I feel for each of you.

From the top of the lighthouse, Quick Flash 2, every 12 seconds, for that is the characteristic of Point Robinson Light,

Your Captain Joe

Jens and me on opening night of the Centennial Exhibit for Point Robinson's 100th birthday in October 2014. An entire exhibit panel was devoted to the Pedersen family and their time at the lighthouse in the 1930s through the middle 1950s. (Photo by Jonathan DeWire)

Below, the handsome fifth order lens at Point Robinson shines for all the keepers and their family members. Dear Jens, rest peacefully in lighthouse heaven!
(Photo by Bruce Robie)

All images courtesy of Jens Pedersen, Jr., except those otherwise labeled.