About the Project Begin the Journey Sailing the Greatlakes The Revenue Cutter Service Meeting Margaret Buffalo Lighthouse Marblehead After Marblehead Historical Documents Books and Links

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As with any good story, it all began with a box...
The Serendipity of Research
I knew the photograph of the bi-plane was not built by the Wright brothers...
A Plane, A Presidential Library, and The Coast Guard
(or perhaps) Semper Paratus Adiuvo
Who listens to T.V. commercials?...
We had all grown up with the stories...
We were sitting in a French restaurant with my cousin...
( ark -vst, -k-) n.
Lighthouses and Their Keepers
There is a large statue outside the the National Archives...
Safely tucked away in an envelope were the original...
The photograph fell from my hands...
One of the entries intrigued me...
The letter that slipped from the pages...
The list to follow was only the first chamber in...
Lost for eternity...
The Lighthouse and keeper's residence had been left to die...
I was richly rewarded from the archives...
It was time to say goodbyes...
History's story is never finished...




As with any good story, it all began with a box.  The box was filled with pictures and mementos of a lifetime, an era long since past.  One particular envelope was marked “old film”. Indeed, the contents revealed negatives from an old camera.  Holding them to the light I could see vague images of boats and lighthouses. Some were of structures that no longer exist. Others I had no idea or clue as to what or who they belonged. Of one thing I was clear, I held in my hand images of history and I realized these negatives told an important story. Little did I know in 1996 the incredible journey I would take on the path to learn about the structures and the people in the photographs and negatives. By 2009, I was to know very well the man and woman whose life was recorded in those images. He was Edward M. Herman, his wife was Margaret King Herman and he was my great uncle, the last U.S.L.H.S. Lighthouse Keeper at the Marblehead Lighthouse, Ohio.

The story should end there, but it doesn’t. There will never be a final chapter. That is not the story of history.  History is a mountain, ever changing, both beneath the surface and it’s rising. History’s truth is whichever side of the mountain presents the greatest challenge.  Finding it and conquering it is never easy. Time changes the mountain.  The mountain today is not the same tomorrow.  Nor is it the same mountain from the past.  If it is climbed with the same expectations from the previous trip disappointment will surely occur.  History’s mountain is fickle and like the weather can change overnight. Landscapes can be disrupted, views can be lost and yet the mountain still there, is now somehow different to our eyes. The first moment there was life there was history preserved.  Its preservation is not peculiar to humans. This box was my mountain, its contents my history. Yes, someone had climbed it before me. And yes, they had lived and breathed its history. But now, it was my turn to climb. And, my turn to live and breathe its history. (A note about spelling and punctuation; the spelling and punctuation of certain names and words reflect the multiple variations used in historical documentation and family records. These variations have been used throughout the web site and photograph texts.) 

I met him once, the man whose pictures and ephemera filled the box.  I was a small child and he was a very old man.  He drove from Ohio, long retired and after his wife died. He came for one last visit although we did not know that at the time.  Edward had been a handsome and dashing young man.  He still, at age eighty-six retained an air of dignity and dashing. There he sat on my parent’s couch and I on a stool pulled up next to the lighthouse keeper.  I do not remember a single word of the conversation. I only know that here sat a man we all knew as Ed, the lighthouse keeper who was old, whose wife had died and who never had children. When he left I made it my childhood mission to be a part of his life.  He was added to my nightly “God Bless” everyone list.  I wrote him letters.  I sent him cards.  When he was in the hospital I made him a huge valentine.  My enthusiastic pursuit was not mutual.  Although nothing sent was returned, it was also never acknowledged. That day when I sat at the foot of the lighthouse keeper I did not know that almost fifty years later our paths would once again cross. Only this time, my enthusiastic pursuit would be returned.

I saw it once, the lighthouse, his lighthouse.  By now I was grown and living in Chicago.  I was working on my Master’s Degree.  My parents were driving me back after my visit.  My dad suggested we stop and have a look at the place. Only a short detour from New York State to Chicago he said and it would be fun. Fine, I didn’t really care anymore about the Ed who was the lighthouse keeper.  Or the lighthouse he had kept not only in perfect working order, but also meticulously clean.  Still, I was not prepared for the horrible condition that greeted our arrival.  Far older then Edward, it was not handsome or dashing.  It had been left to die a slow decaying death.  The wind off the lake blew the fallen leaves around like so many sailors cast out to sea.  The sound of it all was haunting. The lost souls crying to be set free, a resurrection of sorts that would not come for the stone had not yet been moved.  Tree branches littered the grounds.  Paint peeled off the towering structure.  The keeper’s residence was not a grand statement of American architecture. Instead, it seemed to groan under the weight of abandonment.  Fences once painted white were now gray and broken.  The waves from the lake and the low howl of the wind were the only noise to break the awful picture set before our eyes.  It was horrible and I wanted to leave.  Apparently, so did everyone else for we were the only people there that day.  Little did I know, standing amongst the decay, our paths would eventually cross again, thirty-five years later. Only, this time I would care.  And, so would everyone else. And, I would not be the only person to walk the path of the lighthouse keepers beneath the towering lighthouse.  There would be many people gathered to move the stone.  And there would be a resurrection.    

When my father died suddenly in 1996 he had only possessed the box for a short time. The box was his by default, being passed on to him after the death of my great aunt Viola, Edward’s youngest sister at the age of ninety-six. I did not know of its existence until my mother told me to take it. She said the contents were old photographs and postcards belonging to my father’s family.  Do what you want with them; no one else took them which is why they ended up with your father she told me. It was some time after my return to Texas that I was able to look through the contents of the box. Indeed there were many photographs and postcards.  I sorted through the material, realizing I had seen them all many times before.  Family treasures kept by those that found meaning in the images and words. I was a former curator having worked in museums and archives.  How many times had people brought these very same photographs and family bibles to my desk?  How many times had I told them to keep these treasures?  They were the story of family, not the genealogy of the begotten.  The wedding pictures, the infant pictures, they gave a life line to connect the generations which someday would be forgotten if not for the pictures.  The museum couldn’t keep them; they belonged to the families who knew better then to discard their stories.  Now I sat with those very same pictures.  There were wedding pictures, tin types, a handsome young man labeled “mother’s brother, John Westphal” Dakota Territories, a small child hauntingly beautiful posed dressed in fur coat and hat, a happy, young family, the center of which was the same little girl only now a baby.  Sailors, ships, lighthouses, lighthouse keepers, families posing with lighthouse keepers, the piles and piles of pictures kept falling from the box.  Some were labeled; a few had dates, and most were simply unrecorded images of people I did not know.  My mountain had now become a Himalayas of history. Every piece of history has a beginning.  Indeed, the best chapters in history are the ones not yet written.  But where was I to begin?  My degrees were in design, anthropology and religion.  They had nothing to do with naval, lighthouse or military history. And, certainly not aviation history. Aviation?  Yes, this is where my chapter would begin.  It was here that I was led on a path of discovery that would allow me to learn all about the contents of this box and the people in the photographs. Ironically, part of that first chapter would remain still a mystery and is waiting for its story to be told.

Ten years had now passed.  It was a new century.  One picture from the box had stayed in my mind the past ten years.  It was of a bi-plane.  The photograph was very faded.  The plane was flying over water and the Marblehead Lighthouse was in the background.  This was not just any bi-plane.  It resembled the first Wright brother’s plane.  The structure itself was primitive, as though a child had constructed it using tinker toys.  If you looked closely through a magnifying glass the person flying the plane was dressed in a suit using a bicycle inner tube for a floating device.  My husband, Michael told me he thought it important.  My curatorial instincts told me it was probably important.  Everyone who looked at the photograph told me they thought it was important. No one could tell me who it was. I began my assent. This was the mountain I would conquer. After mounds and mounds of research, the only thing I could say definitely about the photograph, it wasn’t one of the Wright brothers' planes.

In the meantime, I took out the box again.  Once more I sifted through the contents.  This time it would be different.  There would be an important piece of the puzzle I hadn’t noticed earlier. Why hadn’t I seen it before? History has its own time. The process cannot be hurried. The research and the researcher will suffer for it. I had seen only an impassible mountain before me.  Since my first look at the box I had learned much.  Now, I would not be disappointed.   Neither would all the people I was soon to encounter.

The small brown cover was plainly in sight. It must have been there all along, maybe stuck between envelopes.  It was for me my Rosetta stone. Edward’s day book sat in my hands!  Now I just had to interpret the contents.  Who were these people-Rosedale, S.C. Baldwin, A. Stewart and M. Putnam?   What did SS, Scho, Prop mean next to these names?  The answers would come later.  Further down the pages were dates.  It was the documentation I needed written in the script of the Victorian and Edwardian centuries beginning with 1899.  Over time the handwriting, the pens and the inks had changed for the recorder of this day book.  But, Edward had continued recording it all, even to the last day of his U.S.L. H.S., 1943.  Just as unlocking the hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians gave birth to an understanding of events so did Edward’s day book to the box before me.  I could now match the names, dates and correspondence. While doing this the term “scientific research” would be replaced by “the serendipity of happening to be at the right place at the right time” approach to my research. My box would become everyone’s box.  My history and my story would become their history, and their story.  Events would unfold leading me to people and answers in the most unlikely places.  And, they would be connected to me long before I met them.  After a time I came to believe that my childhood pursuit was being acknowledged and returned. I was guided by the last lighthouse keeper.  This would be made all the more apparent the day I stepped into the National Archives in Washington D.C. and opened up the first of the Marblehead Lighthouse Keeper’s log books.

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 The mountain was slowly being conquered.  By now I knew the names in Edward’s day book were ships that had sailed on the Great Lakes. They were schooners, steamships and propeller ships.  Some were historically important because they were the first to be built entirely of steel.  I also knew that Edward had been in Detroit, Michigan around 1906.  There was a postcard from a young woman.  She wrote how lonesome she was for Edward.  She wondered when they would meet again.  By this time he had joined the U.S.S Revenue Cutter Service and was sailing on the Lot M. Morrill.  Her query would never be answered.  However, her postcard would eventually provide me with not only an answer, but connect me to a stranger through a series of unusual circumstances.  I still needed information on some of those early ships.  They were not listed in the Bowling Green Great Lakes Maritime archives. I also wanted pictures of them.  On a whim I went to eBay and did a search for Great Lakes ships.  I was hoping to find postcards.  What I found was a man selling actual photographs of old Great Lakes ships.  He had dozens of them.  Although they were not of the ships I was looking for, there was the possibility he might have more, just not yet listed. There was one tiny obstacle.  The eBay auctions were finished.  There were no other listings by the seller.  I waited and waited but nothing showed up on eBay. Then the serendipity of research began.  I Googled Great Lakes ships one afternoon.  A site belonging to a house painting business showed up and attached to it was the very same eBay auctions!  It was definitely the same seller, but he was not the house painter.  I contacted the painter explaining the nature of my business and hoped he would pass the email on to the man selling the photographs.  I was not sure how the two were connected.  (Eventually, I learned they were brothers, the one owning a house painting business).   I heard back from the seller who was surprised I had tracked him down.  Yes, he could help me but no he did not have any more ship photographs.  A series of emails flowed back and forth.  His knowledge of Great Lakes ships was amazing.  Finally, I asked how he came to know so much.  He told me it was easy when you live close to the information.  He also had been the ship keeper on the St. Claire.  Curiosity moved me to do a search for this ship.  I landed on a web site about the restoration of the ferry which took passengers back and forth to the Bob-Lo Island.  In 1898 the Detroit, Windsor, and Belle Isle Ferry Company opened up a recreation park on the Detroit River.  There were two passenger vessels, the Columbia and the St. Claire. I had never been to Detroit, yet the St. Claire looked familiar.  The name Bob-Lo also seemed familiar to me. How could I possibly have any knowledge of a Detroit passenger ferry when I had never been to the city or ridden on the ferry?  How could I find the name of an amusement park I had never been to familiar?

Months later I was again sifting through the contents of the box having moved on from ship identification.  I needed to learn about the people in the correspondences and the photographs.  As I began assembling the postcards by dates and people I found the answer to my question. The ferry looked familiar because I had seen it before!  There in my hand was a postcard with a picture of the St. Claire!  It was dated 1910 and was addressed to Edward, the lighthouse keeper at Marblehead Lighthouse. The addressee was Margaret King Herman, his wife.  She had taken that ferry while visiting friends in Michigan!  The same ferry the seller from eBay had worked on as the ship keeper!   In 1906 the Revenue Cutter the U.S.S. Morrill had been docked in Detroit. The postcard sent by a young woman “lonesome” for Edward was of the Belle Isle Park located on Bob-Lo Island. Probably sent as a fond remembrance of a romantic time spent together, they would have also taken one of those ferries to the island!

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I knew the photograph of the bi-plane was not built by the Wright brothers.  I knew it was taken before Edward arrived at the Marblehead Lighthouse.  What I knew didn’t really help me with what I didn’t know.  Edward had kept the photograph even though the image had been captured by another, possibly one of the keepers. The fact that Edward had kept it probably meant something. But what was the significance of this plane and what role did the lighthouse play?

The envelope containing the “old film” which turned out to be photographic negatives would be helpful in answering part of the question.  I had located a film conservator who was able to identify the type of camera used to take the pictures and develop the negatives.  He agreed to make contact sheets since individual photographs would have cost more than my nonexistent budget allowed.   Since they were not labeled or dated he put the images together in no particular order. This would later be a source of confusion.  I was also trying to research the Revenue Cutter Service. There were several large photographs of the Morrill and Edward.  His uniforms had changed and I was trying to identify his rank.  Both areas of research would again play the serendipity card. 

Names of those early aviation pioneers entered my vocabulary daily.  Orville and Wilbur Wright, Tom Benoit, Charles Morok, Stinson, there were literally hundreds of them here and in other countries.   Because there were no regulations governing aviation yet people built airplanes in yards, garages and took them to the air, or at least attempted to fly them.  Ohio was the birth place of U.S. aviation and the home of the Wright brothers.   Cedar Point, Ohio, an amusement park was located on Lake Erie and could be seen from the Marblehead Lighthouse.  It was here that early pilots tested their skills by doing barnstorming shows thrilling crowds with their daring flights.  Ohio was also the place Orville and Wilbur returned after their historic flight at Kitty Hawk, SC.   People are often surprised to learn that when the Wright brothers first flew their plane the Kitty Hawk Life Saving Station keepers were involved.  They provided rescue assistance in the event of a crash during the many attempts to fly.  They also took many of the photographs for documentation.  The Wright brothers wanted to document every aspect of their practice flights as well as that first historic event.  The dilemma was to keep it very secret while capturing the images to prove what they had accomplished.  The Kitty Hawk Life Saving keepers and crew could be trusted on both counts.  I knew the plane in my photograph was not one of their planes.  I had looked at all 3,000 plus images of the Wright brothers' planes.  “I have a photograph” became my mantra.  I began sending emails to historians, aviation experts, museum curators and anyone who I thought might be able to identify this plane.  My husband and I spent an entire day at the Texas Air Museum muddling through books and pictures with the help of the founding director and the curator.  No one could identify the plane or the person flying. That is, until late one Friday evening.

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My research to identify this plane took me deeper and deeper into the history of aviation.   And, I was still trying to identify Edward’s Revenue Cutter Service uniforms.  This led me to the U.S. Coast Guard Museum’s website.  I sent an email to the curator of the Coast Guard Museum requesting help identifying the uniforms.  Little did I know this one email would change my entire focus and serve to be the catalyst for this project.  It would also take me to Washington D.C., the National Archives and eventually to the Marblehead Lighthouse and the Lakeside Heritage Society.  It would be instrumental in helping me to change a small piece of aviation history, maybe. 

It was late into the evening.  My research landed me in the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center Library.  The Hayes Center, the first Presidential Library, located in Ohio was not far from the Marblehead Lighthouse.  It also contained a rich source of aviation history.  Buried in the site were photographs by Ernest Niebergall.  He documented life around Ohio at the turn of the century and also worked for the newspaper.  Somewhere in the 600 plus photographs there was suppose to be a match for “airplane” and “Marblehead”.  Image number 300 started getting interesting.  Niebergall documented the historic flight of Glenn Curtiss one of the aviation giants, from Euclid, Cleveland to Sandusky, Ohio and back.  It was the first time an airplane flew any distance over the open water.  The photographs in this series had a plane similar to the one in my photograph, but the back wheels were different.  The one in my photograph had a double set of wheels.  The photographs were mostly of the crowds gathered around Glenn Curtiss and his airplane on the beach.  My husband Michael, sensing my frustration offered to give me a break.  Just as the stuck cap on a food jar opens immediately for the next person after you give up trying, he called me back.  I had been gone from the computer for less than two minutes.  BINGO!  A match!  Ernest Niebergall had a photograph of the same plane minus the lighthouse in the background.   It was labeled, “Glenn Curtiss, Areoplaning at 300 ft.” !  And, the back wheels were a double set!

I studied the photographs in Edward’s Marblehead Lighthouse collection for any clues.  The contact sheet offered a small connection even though the images were recorded at a much later time.  There was a picture of the lighthouse taken from the water, almost the exact angle as the one with the bi-plane.  Slightly visible was an oar from a boat, most likely one of the keeper’s boats.  My guess was one of the lighthouse keepers took the photograph in my collection, documenting Curtiss’ flight while Neibergall was taking his for the newspaper and his personal collection.   The keeper would want to have the lighthouse in the background.  Ernest wouldn’t have had that same interest.  I also wondered if this was history unknown or forgotten.  Could it be that the Marblehead keepers were an important part of aviation history much as the Kitty Hawk keepers were with the Wright brothers?

Response emails from historians indicated I might be on to something although there was no evidence to indicate lighthouses had played any important role in the history of aviation.  There was no evidence to back up my theory that Marblehead was involved with Glenn Curtiss.  It was all just speculation and two photographs. 

My inquiry to the Coast Guard museum curator about uniform identification set things in motion for Revenue Cutters and airplanes.  As an aside I mentioned the bi-plane.  I knew that five minutes after airplanes first left the ground interest in using the new technology spread like wild fire.  The potential for their use carried through every aspect of the United States government from the military to the postal service.  Indeed much of the advancement of aviation technology came as a result of what those first airplanes couldn’t do rather than their accomplishments.  Scant few records survive of the various government agencies and their early experiments with airplanes.  Since the agencies involved were not sanctioned to do so and did not have an official budget, they were not obligated to keep any documentation.  A good example is a rare mention of the governor of Nebraska.  He thought airplanes were a great idea and felt they could be useful in the Nebraska National Guard.  There was one problem he faced, money.  He came up with this bright idea.  No money? No problem.  He put out the call for interested pilots.  Assembling his “air force” without a budget called for extreme measures.  Each pilot was expected to “build” his own plane.  In order to pay their salaries and provide the state with a budget he came up with another bright idea.  Each summer the new National Guard pilots would go to county fairs all over the country barnstorming for money!  It was a short lived plan. 

The U.S. Post Office also saw the potential airplanes offered delivering the mail.  Long before Charles Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis across the ocean he delivered mail sacks by plane.  Those early airplanes did not have instrument panels.  It didn’t matter that they didn’t fly very high since ground level landmarks could be used for navigation.  But there was a problem if the fog rolled in or when darkness obliterated the landmarks.  Using the coastline to follow mail routes by plane was great during daylight hours.  Night time was a different matter.  Lighthouses were used as navigational devices.  Experiments were made using “movable” flashing semi-lighthouse structures up and down coastal shores to help guide those early mail pilots.   It didn’t work very well.  The loss of those brave mail carrier pilots was tremendous.   The development of airplane navigational panels was the direct result of those deaths.  It was essential for night time aviation and the life of pilots. 

Perhaps there might be a record of the Marblehead Lighthouse and Glenn Curtiss in the archives of the Coast Guard.  I also didn’t want to reinvent the wheel if this was already well known and had been extensively documented.  My question would be answered. Many more would be asked.  Some of them without answers.

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The United States Coast Guard’s motto is Semper Paratus: “Always Ready”.  The motto has a murky history, the origins of which are not clear.  But, for me their motto should have been; Semper Paratus Adiuvo: “Always Ready to Help, Aid, and Assist”!

Once again emails flowed back and forth.  This time it was to the curator of the Coast Guard Museum.   The uniform identification wasn’t going very well and he asked me to send him a photograph of Edward. I didn’t have a scanner or a digital camera.  It seemed a dead end. There were so many questions and no answers.  So many generous people involved their precious time to help me. And what did I have to show for it?  Their precious time and a mail box full of emails.  This mountain was not to be conquered let alone climbed.  I felt I was still at the base, looking up.  Too much time spent on a bi-plane and not enough time spent on the rest of the collection.   This was about to change. 

The subject matter of the email read, “The United States Coast Guard Historian’s Office, Washington D.C.” The historian for the U.S. Coast Guard had been contacted by the Coast Guard Museum curator.  Apparently, he had forwarded my emails to his office.  Initial emails flowed back and forth after which he told me he would put me in contact with the U.S. Coast Guard Archivist.  She and I began a long series of emails.  Beyond the call of duty, she patiently answered my questions and when appropriate helped with my research.  Often, when doing research she would stumble across something related to lighthouses and aviation.  These would be passed on to me in emails or postal mail.  One day there was an email from her.  “Eureka! I think we might have a match to the bi-plane!”  An obscure article detailed the relationship between lighthouses and navigation history.  Well, now we were really onto something!  She offered to contact the curator for the Glenn Curtiss Museum. Without actually looking at the photograph, but based on the information provided by the Coast Guard archivist, he said it was possible this could be Glenn Curtiss.  It was well known at the time he was in the area. Suddenly, it seemed to be all coming together after years of research.  I was not prepared for what would happen next. 

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Who listens to T.V. Commercials?  Even so, they stick in your mind like pieces of gum to the soles of your shoe. Everything was shelved when my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer and my 22 year old daughter with pre-cancerous cells, both the same week in December.  Instead of visions of sugar plums I had visions of death.  The last thing on my mind was Edward, bi-planes and lighthouses.  I was half way up the mountain and fell.  Now, I was trapped on a ledge with nowhere to go.  Neither up or down, the next two years were spent tending to my family.  I could think of nothing else.  Yet, like the gum stuck on shoe soles, this history would remain.  It was a T.V. commercial constantly running in the back of my mind.   It would not be laid to rest.  Neither would my husband and daughter.  In spite of complications they both survived.  I survived and one early spring day I had an email from a cousin which read “Going to be in San Antonio. Would love to get together”.   I did not know it, but the rope had been lowered.   My rescue and assent would soon follow.  The mountain was still waiting to be conquered, even if the landscape had changed. 

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We had all grown up with the stories. My father, my uncle and their sister had given us a rich legacy of story.  The details were a banquet that nourished us at family holidays and sustained us at family funerals. The earliest story was of my father, Richard and his brother, Delbert.  The family compound encompassed an area of several blocks.  Surrounded by aunts and uncles within a stone’s throw from the Niagara River, they had free roam of the streets of Tonawanda, NY.   My father idolized the Tom Mix cowboy character.  Adorable, mischievous and the youngest, he had every one of his aunts and uncles eating oatmeal so he could obtain an authentic Tom Mix outfit.   Eat enough boxes of oatmeal and you could order an entire Tom Mix cowboy outfit for a few dollars. Perhaps an explanation as to why they all lived into their 80’s and 90’s and a tribute to the properties of oatmeal, he received his outfit. Only young enough to ride their tricycles they decided Tonawanda in the early 1930’s was not wild enough.  They would travel out west.  But how?  They did not have access to a map and even if they did they weren’t old enough to read it.  My father decided Tom Mix, the cowboy would help.  Surely he would know the direction west.  If they couldn’t consult Tom then the next best thing was his ten gallon hat.  Believing it to be the real thing they tossed it into the air.   Wherever the tip of the hat landed would point them in the direction of the wild west.   And, so they rode, on toward Buffalo, NY.    To make matters worse for my grandmother who frantically looked for them when they did not return home for dinner, they saw a matinee featuring Tom Mix.  Located no less in Buffalo!  

The story told is of my grandmother sobbing at the home of her sister while the police dredged the Niagara River, fully expecting a retrieval, not a rescue.  Somehow after the evening newspaper ran an article the boys were found.  Cold and hungry when the movie ended they decided Tom Mix didn’t know worth beans about the west and they sought the comfort of their mother’s loving arms.

Tonawanda, NY sat directly across from Grand Island which was in the middle of the Niagara River.  The only way to get to the island was by ferry or swim.  This island had a rich and varied history belonging at times to the Iroquois, to Canada, and finally the United States (even at one time being designated a part of Tonawanda).  Grand Island’s west river looked over to a tranquil and pastoral Canada.   The east river looked to Tonawanda.  The west river was home to wealthy New Yorkers, presidents, authors, poets and actresses who would spend their summers at their mansions.  The rest of the island was rural farms.  Grand Island was about the size of Manhattan Island.  Situated between two Great Lakes of the inland seas, Erie and Ontario and upriver from the mighty Niagara Falls, mist rising from those waters could often be seen from the island’s northern most point.   Rivers and the Great Lakes were no stranger to our families.  Indeed, the middle class families of western New York would take the expensive ferry across river to the island for weekend picnics and family gatherings during the summer.  But the island also had a dark side to its history.  It had been stripped and ravaged.  All because of the white oak trees which grew in abundance and were in high demand for their wood.   This forgotten piece of island history would tie a chef, a lighthouse and a winery to me in another serendipity moment. 

Edward’s nephews would swim the mile across the river to Grand Island.  In the remaining forests they would camp overnight.  The stories told would be adventures to match those written by Mark Twain.   Foggy summer nights would be warmed by camp fires lighting the way to catch the bull frogs whose tasty legs would be grilled and eaten by hungry boys.  And, there were other things to be interested in when you were a young boy.  Airplane flying.  It was a consuming passion for my father.  By the time he was old enough to solo he could fly an airplane.  The day he turned sixteen, the legal age one could obtain your pilot’s license he soloed.   Perhaps that was the reason Edward had kept the photograph of the bi-plane.  To give as a souvenir for a nephew who loved to fly. 

Yet, it was not to the skies my father headed when WWII swept across Europe and the Pacific.  It was the Navy, the ships and the ocean’s call that he answered.  His brother joined the army and marched across Italy.  Richard ignored the wings of the airplane for the decks of PT Boats.  Borneo, Fiji, Australia and the Hawaiian Islands were his to call home for the next several years.  They also provided a backdrop for the stories told to a young daughter, not yet a reality but, who soon would be born.  And, these stories would influence her decision twenty-four years later to major in anthropology and minor in museum studies.

Soon another war was being fought.  The Korean War was now in full force and Richard was again on a ship in the ocean.  He was sailing in the waters off Cuba and Haiti because after returning home from WWII he joined the inactive Navy reserves.  When the Korean war began they were the first to be called into action.   His wife, who had been diagnosed with a rare life threatening autoimmune disease followed him to New Port, Rhode Island because Richard had been told his unit would be stationed there for the duration of the war.   Now Richard was out to sea and she learned to her dismay she was pregnant.  She had already lost a set of twins and this was not good news.  To complicate the matter was the RH factor and this was her second pregnancy.  Alone and without any family, she felt her fate had been cast.  The Navy doctors told her they did not think she would survive.  They also did not think the baby would live.  The doctor, told Richard to prepare for the worse.  He should request and it would be granted at least a month’s leave or more, for the birth, death and burial of his wife and baby. 

Now Richard’s commanding officer was not known for much and certainly not for his compassion.  In fact, the only thing anyone knew about him was that everyone who knew him hated him.  When a young sailor standing ahead of Richard requested a leave due him he was told no, and not given an explanation.  Without looking up the officer said, “Son, I bet you’d like to spit on my grave right now, wouldn’t you?”  “No sir.” was the reply.  “I wouldn’t want to stand in line that long.”   Richard was not hopeful but asked to be granted the month’s leave and explained the circumstances.  It would be granted on one condition.  The ship which was now in dry dock would have to be completely over-hauled, cleaned, painted and ready for sailing in less than a week’s time.  It was an impossible task.  Never-the-less Richard assembled all the men of the ship.  He was told not to worry, he would get his leave for they would all work 24 hours round the clock.  The ship would be ready.  On the fifth day the ship stood freshly painted, cleaned and ready to sail.  The men had made good their promise to my father.  The commanding officer would not.  Standing before the men on the deck of the ship he acknowledged that an impossible task had been accomplished.   And, promptly rewarded Richard with a scant one week leave, barely enough time to get from the ship to New Port let alone be with a wife and unborn baby who were going to die and would need to be buried.  

Histories fate often has other stories to tell.  Sometimes those stories have very different endings.  My father’s Himalaya was climbed and the ending of the story told over and over again.   His wife lived, in fact she would eventually out live Richard.  The baby lived.  A girl, his daughter would be named after one of the characters in a Mark Twain novel-those same adventures that had inspired Richard’s camping trips to Grand Island.  In fact, one day they would all live in a house on that island, built by Richard, his wife and his father.  This was the very same house where his daughter would first meet Ed, the Lighthouse Keeper from Marblehead, Ohio. 

This daughter however, was not to be born of the river or the inland Great Lakes.  Instead she would be born of the sea and rebellion.  On his return from her birth, Richard assembled the men on the deck of the ship along with his commanding officer.  He announced the good news to the applause and shouts of the men.   Both the wife and the new daughter were alive and doing just fine.  He then passed out very expensive cigars.  As was the custom, the commanding officer would be given the best, most expensive cigar last.  When all the cigars had been given out to the men assembled, Richard turned to his commanding officer.   He placed in his hand a small white cigarette.  “What’s this”, demanded the officer.  To which Richard responded, “Well sir, big leave big smoke, little leave little smoke”.  Again, to the applause of those men assembled on the ship’s deck.

Sometimes history’s ending is most unexpected.  And, the story told has far reaching influences and might just take a whole generation to unfold.

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We were sitting in a French restaurant in San Antonio with my cousin and his wife. We started to reminisce.  We talked about Edward, the lighthouse and about some of the other great uncles and aunts.  It seemed there was much information I had learned from my research that was unknown to him.  Some he knew that I did not know.  We discovered there was a mystery aunt none of us knew existed.  Not even my uncle.  Yet her death notice was among the papers in the box.  Her name was Mary and she died the same year Edward’s younger brother died of a ruptured appendix.   He knew about our great uncle Charles who worked for the Parks Department in Washington D.C.  He also was under the impression he simply operated the elevator at the Washington Monument for the tourists.  I thought Charles had done much more then that based on what happened when we went to visit him once in Washington D.C.  I mentioned he took us to all the sights, even arranged private tours of the Washington Monument.  One living room wall was filled with photographs autographed by famous people.  Scribbled across the glossy faces were inscribed personal messages such as, “Charlie, thank you for the wonderful tour of the Monument.  You made history come alive for me”.  Some of the faces I did not know.  But some I did.  There was Lucille Ball and Shirley Temple.  Heads of state and dignitaries stared back at me from that impressive jumble of photographs.  I didn’t think he just pressed an elevator button, although I didn’t know exactly what his job had entailed.   What was his job?    In August 2009, my uncle would turn 90 years old.  A birthday celebration was being organized and I made plans to attend.  I did not know that in addition to attending the celebration in Buffalo, I would be going to Washington D.C. And, while in Washington D.C. I would learn something very interesting about Charles Herman.

That evening of reminiscing reminded me of the box, the unfinished research and the unidentified airplane.  I was pulled off the mountain ledge I had been stranded on for two years.  Although getting off the ledge was fairly easy, beginning the assent was a different matter.   In two years time a mountain can change and the path traveled completely altered.  For all the Coast Guard historians knew I had just dropped off the face of the earth.  The last email from their archivist was about the bi-plane with the museum curator’s attached response discussing the possibility of it being Glenn Curtiss.   To begin the climb I sent off two emails and a letter.  One email was to the Coast Guard archivist, one email to the museum curator at the Glenn Curtiss Museum and a letter to Edward’s niece.  What happened next helped to plant the idea for a web site.   The cultivation of that idea would occur soon after.

The curator answered my email.  He was willing to look at the Ernest Neibergall photograph.  Edward’s niece answered my letter.  She did have a few photographs of Edward and Alfred.  Photocopies of them would arrive in the mail.  And, the Coast Guard was still interested.

From the curator for the Glenn Curtiss Museum came disappointing news.  He felt very certain the photograph was not Glenn Curtiss or his airplane.  To make matters worse he emailed a picture from their archives of another early plane flying past the Marblehead Lighthouse.  It was not identified or dated.  Great! Now there were two mystery planes! 

I sent an email to the Rutherford B. Hayes Center informing them the photograph in their collection may have been incorrectly identified.  I asked how the information about the plane had been obtained.   I was informed Neibergall had written the information on the back of the photograph.  They pulled the image.  The landscape of the mountain had suddenly changed.  Their archivist was curious about the collection in my possession.  Upon learning it was about a lighthouse keeper from Ohio, they were interested.  They would like to include in the files on local history a copy of my email.  I told them when I was done with the research they would be provided a disc with all the information. 

The following week an email arrived from Southwest Airlines offering an unbelievable discount on airfare to certain cities.  Included on the list were Buffalo, NY and Baltimore, MD.  Suddenly things were all falling into place.  Perhaps now my childhood pursuit, fifty years after meeting the lighthouse keeper was being returned.  There were three things I knew I had to do.  Attend my uncle’s 90th birthday celebration, go to Washington D.C. to research the lighthouse logs at The National Archives, and meet with the historians for the U.S. Coast Guard.  I needed to know if the keepers had recorded the bi-plane flying past Marblehead Lighthouse.  Southwest Airlines had just handed me an opportunity on a gilded plate.  I was about to eat the feast that came with the plate.  

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( ark -vst, -k-) n.

A person who assesses, collects, organizes, preserves, maintains and provides access to information.

Just as new technology had changed Edward’s world, so would new technology change my world.  I had added a fourth category substantially widening and extending the path of my journey.  I decided to design a web site providing public access to Edward’s collection.   A new technological development was changing not only the mountain’s landscape, but the view from the summit.  Digital photography.  Banned from research rooms, archives and museums cameras were the scourge of those charged with maintaining and preserving historical documents.   The constant flashing from the camera lights would over time cause fading to occur on paper documents.  There was no easy way to provide access to original documents beyond their acid free gray boxes unless you had very sophisticated equipment, hired a professional to scan the information, or you went to the original source in person.  Digital photography however, could be used inside and without flash.  It opened up a whole new avenue for recording documents.  With the right camera, documents and photographs could be reproduced and formatted for access on a web site.  Now individuals would be able to “see” the document in its original form.  With a computer, a camera and some high tech, but fairly inexpensive recording devices images could be captured, and manipulated without having to utilize expensive laboratory equipment.  This could even be done in situ.  The National Archives suddenly became very accessible and so did the lighthouse log books.  It would be possible to photograph the pages and let researchers and those interested in the information read the actual log books, not a facsimile.  In fact, all the documents and photographs in the collection could be digitally reproduced for a web site.  The only thing you couldn’t produce was the smell of a new book and the feel of a bound cover.

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The history of lighthouses predates many of the architectural designs that have given rise to the human “culture” of structures.  Perhaps understanding our fascination with them can be directly traced to the need for marking a way home.  It is not peculiar to our own species.  Indeed, all species use various means of marking whether as a way of identifying themselves to others, their territories, their migration routes, or even their return to procreate their species.  The instinctual need to do this is so ingrained animals will trample through places where human construction and cultivation have invaded those marked routes.  Even when this travel endangers their lives.  Humans also exhibit this pattern, even when this travel endangers their lives.  Using a light to mark the way is not peculiar to humans.  Birds and moths and crickets to name a few are known to use the light of the moon for guidance.  What remains peculiar to humans is the use of fire for this means.  Humans, unlike animals are not repelled by fire.  Instead, we are drawn to it. Every human language has a word for light and fire.  Every creation story includes an explanation for the existence of light or fire or both.  Light and fire are synonymous for life and are either created or given to humans by the divine, whatever the mythology of their belief system.  There is no human religion that does not include this in their creation stories.  It is so ingrained in us that we use words associated for light and fire when describing human emotions and our connection to a belief in the divine.  Indeed, battles in the heavens have been fought and won over the possession of light and fire by both angels and the gods.  When fire is the struggle between good and evil, good emerges triumphant, dancing flames the symbol of its victory.  And when it is extinguished, so is our way home both in this world and the afterlife. 

The moment in evolution when our ancestors first emerged from the sea we sought to return.  Some did return almost immediately.  But, for others it was too late.  Arms, legs and lungs replaced flippers, fins and gills.  Bodies had shed their scales.  To return to the seas and oceans of their birth meant they had to build structures to float.  Whatever the reason, whether for food, for land to cultivate, or for banishment the seas, lakes and rivers gave us roadways to travel.  Once again, they provided us with a means for survival, both physical and cultural.  The heavens which once had battled for possession of our souls now provided us with the stars and the moon for navigation.  Yet, it wasn’t enough; we still needed to return to the land.  To guide our safe landing a light came from the shores and beaches.   Given to us by the gods of our creation stories, those fires would illuminate the way back home.   

There has long been debate over the origins of the first lighthouse.   There need not be.  The first fire constructed on a beach for the purpose of guiding those at sea back to their home was the ancestor of the lighthouse.  The tender of that fire was the first keeper. 

The first “documented” lighthouse structure was the Pharos of Alexandria.  It was built during the third century B.C. and was classified as one of antiquity’s Seven Wonders of the World.  Another structure built to guide ships and their sailors was the Colossus of Rhodes.  The architecture was a bronze statue of Helios, the Greek god of the Sun.  Its height was 100 feet above the harbor of Rhodes.  An earthquake destroyed the impressive building which was lit by fires inside and visible through the statue’s eyes and hands. 

The Pharos was built to guide trading vessels to Alexandria, Egypt.  Completed about 280 B.C. at the Nile Delta it was an important structure for an important city. Historical records indicate the height of this lighthouse was 436 feet and the light from the fire could be seen 40 miles out to sea.   Perhaps as a testament to its impressive structural design, the name of the architect remains well recorded in the historical documents.  His name was Sostratus of Cnidus.  Built of stone, it contained three levels.  The first was a square 236 feet tall and 100 feet square.  The second level was an octagon 115 feet tall.  The third level was a cylinder 85 feet tall.  On this last tier was a brazier which held the fires.  The light keepers reached the brazier by a spiral ramp.  Surviving wars and weather it was thought to be imperishable.  An earthquake in 1346 destroyed it, the ruins being incorporated into an Islamic fortress in 1477.  If there were records kept of those light keepers, none survive today.  What does survive is the word used for lighthouse.  The words, phare, and faro, are the basis for lighthouse in French and Spanish.  

Lighthouses and their prototypes have been built wherever ships and sailors travel to and return from the seas and oceans.  There is no one standard design for these structures and they often reflect their indigenous culture‘s architecture.   Japanese lighthouses have a distinction about them as do North American, European and Scandinavian structures.  Individual lighthouses whether of Western design or Eastern design have a distinct architecture and paint pattern.  This was no accident.  When lighthouses were placed along vast stretches of shores and beaches ships, many miles out to sea needed guides to distinguish one structure from another. This was done in order to accurately pinpoint their location.  Light flashing patterns at night provided that help.  During day light hours structural designs along with paint colors and patterns helped with that identification.  Lighthouses were often identified by the surrounding community; even taking their names form them.  Early lighthouses especially in the United States were often kept by someone from the local community and in many cases were actually built by the community.  If the keepers were not from the local community they were “well seasoned” and experienced seamen.  In some cases they were women.  The communities looked at keepers with much respect-often bestowing on them the title “Captain”.   Later, with national government involvement more stringent rules for the hiring of keepers would dictate their role and placement. 

The public’s fascination with lighthouses and their keepers can be traced probably as far back as that first documented lighthouse.  Writings of travelers and historians mention the Pharos of Alexandria.  The fact it was considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World speaks volumes to people’s fascination and curiosity with a structure simply meant to guide ships and sailors into port.   This fascination was not just limited to the Seventh Wonder of the World.  Lighthouses and their keepers continued to interest people and has been the subject of paintings, literature, art prints, poetry, music, song, newspaper articles and scientific journals.  The height of their popularity in the United States came in the 1800’s into the mid 1900’s.  Both lighthouses and their keepers were romanticized by the general public and fueled by the heroic accounts of dramatic rescues depicted in newspapers and lithograph prints of that era.  Lighthouses continue to fascinate us.  A simple search on eBay will yield 20 some pages of lighthouse ephemera, not all of it antiques or of historic value.  There are numerous lighthouse societies internationally, nationally and locally.  We are not ready for them to fade from our history.  Very few are still actual “working” structures.  When the general public realized these structures were slowly fading into obscurity and their history close to being lost forever they responded.  A noble concern to save the lighthouse structures and the history of their keepers, spurned another romantic obsession.  History changed the landscape of the mountain once again.  What had once belonged to the local community now belonged to a nation.  Their history became “our” history, their story became our “story” and their destruction and loss would symbolize something far greater then a history lost.  It would symbolize for many the extinguishing of a light that had guided sailors and souls to their home on earth and to the afterlife for thousands of years. 

The demise of the lighthouse from a once noble past to a relic or coffee table photograph book has not rekindled just a public fascination.  For many of these structures the stone has been moved and a resurrection has occurred.   Tumbled down keeper’s residences are now restored and the lighthouse structures freshly painted.  If we can’t have the “real” thing anymore the public will reinvent it.  Now it is possible to “live” in a lighthouse for a week or two, pretending to experience the real deal.  If you are not up for those hardships one can stay at a structure now turned into a bed and breakfast.  And, if you are really committed you can purchase one of the lighthouses offered for sale to the general public each year and make it your permanent home.  We don’t have real lighthouse keepers anymore.  But that doesn’t stop us from manufacturing them as living history programs.  Now the docent can be dressed in an actual replica of the keeper’s uniform, complete with pipe and a good yarn to spin.  The only thing that can’t be duplicated is the dedication and hard work it took to save thousands of lives from perishing to the bottoms of lakes and seas.  This has been lost to us forever.

While there is documentation on lighthouse structures and their development throughout history, scant few records tell us much about light keepers and their history.  At some point the “keepers of the fire” became “keepers of the light”.  Tending a fire on a beach in order to guide fishermen from the community and their “vessels” home from a fishing trip would not have required any specialized skills.  Tending to a fire in a bronze brazier 436 feet high guiding trade “ships” filled with sailors who depended on a light to guide them in unfamiliar waters would require, to some degree, specialized skills.   Knowledge of wind patterns and the fire’s response would be information taught from light keeper to light keeper.  Knowledge of weather patterns would need to be learned.  As navigation on seas and waterways became more sophisticated so would the fires that guided the ships.  Understanding wind patterns, fog, storm clouds and storms were necessary when calculating the intensity and brightness of those brazier fires.  This would have been “learned”, a specialized information taught to light keepers.  There are no manuals that survive today to tell us what they learned or the manner in which it was taught.  There is only speculation. 

It would be logical to surmise the first light keepers who required specialized knowledge might have been drawn from the sailors and captains who navigated the lakes and seas.  They certainly would have acquired the skills and education to assess the weather patterns and needs of the navigating ships.  There is no surviving historical record(s) to tell us when it was deemed important for keepers of the fires to stay at or near those structures.  Or, how many were required to keep the fires going.   Even the origin of the terms lighthouse and lighthouse keepers remain an enigma to history.  Were there separate duties for the keeper’s of the structures and the keeper’s of the fires?  The answer is unknown.   It is not clear when the keepers first began to perform rescues of sailors or, when they began looking for ships in distress.  It would seem a natural outcome when light keepers stood high above the seas, higher than anyone else on the shores and beaches.  They would have been the first to see a sinking ship.  But seeing and rescuing are two separate acts.  Alerting and performing would require skills and special equipment.  Unless an obscure document written centuries ago is tucked away in an archive or library of antiquity we may never know the answers to those questions.

One of the hazards of romanticizing history is that the facts often get confused.  The history of lighthouses and lighthouse keepers is a good example.  Newspaper accounts in the 1800’s-early 1900 have reported on a daily basis the horrors of ship wrecks and accidents.  The loss of life was tremendous.  As ship building technology improved and the income levels of Americans rose so did the number of wrecks and loss of life.  Now in addition to sailors and trade vessels there were passenger ships filled with people.  They traveled for pleasure.  They included whole families, not just men folk gone out to sea.  The ships built were bigger and stronger than their predecessors.  But that did not save them from the wrath of the lakes and the seas.  Larger vessels meant larger passenger lists.  Larger passenger lists meant larger death tolls. 

The lonely old lighthouse keeper standing watch, the sentinel guarding against death became the myth of stories.    Romanticized prints of the day paint a picture of an old bearded man, pipe in hand or mouth gazing out to sea, ready at a moment’s notice to perform acts of heroic rescues.  Salty old men dressed in foul weather gear they resembled our memories of a kindly old grandfather replete with stories we would have been told while nestled in the warm lap of security.  This image was portrayed over and over again in stories, on cereal boxes and in advertisements of every kind.  Lighthouses found their way on everything from food products to insurance company ads.  Even an ad for chocolate in the early 1900’s claimed a lighthouse complete with shining beacon to highlight their product.  As late as the 1960’s Kellogg’s cornflakes depicted a salty old grandfather half way between lighthouse keeper and ship captain rowing a grandchild out toward a lighthouse.  The implication being if you ate their product you would be as safe and as strong as the old man keeper.  Insurance companies knew a good thing when it came to advertising their wares.   Policies replaced products, yet the message was the same.  A modern day family shoveling snow to clear the path to the lighthouse in an advertisement was for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company the reason to buy their insurance.  It provided a life line to families struck by tragedy-the loss of the bread winner.  The lighthouse was a symbol for their insurance policies and everyone knew lighthouses and the kindly old man keeper would never let you down.  If the stories, advertisements and lithograph prints made people feel good about their lives and the products they used, then it really didn’t matter if they resembled real lighthouse keepers and lighthouses.  If enough myths are presented to the general public the myth eventually becomes the reality, it is the truth and without question is believed. 


Stereotypes are usually based only on partial truths.  Most lighthouse keepers were not ancient men.  To be sure there were keepers who continued to perform duties until well into the golden years.  This mostly occurred before the government took over the running of lighthouses and established standards, rules, regulations and a pension system.  Some historians have all too often fallen victim to those stereotypes and myths.  They have continued to present us with a picture that is only partially painted.  Based on documents that are worded in the language of the centuries in which they were written, writers of lighthouses and lighthouse keeper’s history often fail to “read” the entire culture of the time period.  When government documents required keepers to be able to read and write, they assumed many couldn’t.   When government regulations and standards did not expect keepers to be college educated they assumed they had little or no education.   Census records present a different story.  Many came from families that produced ship captains, ship builders, engineers, specialized blue collar workers (i.e. longshoremen, carpenters), nurses, teachers, and in some cases physicians.  They not only could read and write, but the penmanship in those log books would rival any Japanese calligraphy master.  They were artists, poets, musicians and writers.  They were scientists, meteorologists, and historians.  In some cases the only record that survives to tell the true story is what was recorded by the lighthouse keepers and not written in log books.  For some of the lighthouses all records including the log books as well as the lighthouse itself have vanished.   And, very few smoked a pipe, they were fit and robust.  Climbing hundreds of stairs on a daily basis gave the cardiac muscles an excellent workout.

Contrary to popular belief many lighthouse keepers were not lonely, isolated or bored.  Some would report they were bored and site tedium as a problem. However, not all lighthouses were completely isolated. Numerous lighthouses were located near communities that supported and nurtured their beloved keepers and their families.  They had access to transportation in the form of horse and carriage, then later the automobile.  Often they would travel to visit family during the closed navigation season.  A fact of history is that all families in the 1800’s and into the 1900’s lived a low keyed life.  They worked, came home and went to churches or synagogues on their day of worship.  The only difference was they did not record their activities minute by minute on a daily basis.  They might well have reported their lives to be bored and the day in and day out activities of their lives tedious.

The responsibilities of the lighthouse keeper have often been written by historians as “simple”, the “anyone could do it mentality”.  Mostly written by men who probably never dusted anything save their minds of facts, this is another myth. The lighthouse lens rooms were kept as clean as a modern day operating room.  This was necessary for the maintenance of the lens which produced the light.  Fuel was not clean burning, ever.  Lenses were extremely expensive and not easy to install.  Some were massive in size.  The same care, consideration and sanitation given to the lenses into the 1800’s and early 1900’s was not yet a part of medical operating  procedures.  Plagued with insects, mold, dust and soot, the keepers, long before their medical counterparts, realized cleanliness would result in saving lives. 

With the passage of time, the public began associating the heroic rescues of drowning sailors and civilians exclusively with the lighthouse keeper.   The same kindly, ancient man staring out the lighthouse window was also performing the daring rescues so romanticized by another generation.  Attributed to the lighthouse keeper was the ability to single handedly row a boat capable of holding most of the ship’s passengers into churning waters while throwing life savers to desperate people.   With a large row boat filled to capacity and passengers saved, the heroic keeper would row back to shore, complete with pipe at the side of his mouth.   The public began fusing together two separate entities.  Prior to 1871 most rescues (and some were indeed dramatic) were done by lighthouse keepers and their assistants.  However, in 1871 the Life Saving Service was established in the United States in the Revenue Marine Division under the Treasury Department. (In 1848 the Newell Act provided for the construction of structures to house life-saving rescue equipment. These buildings were located on the salt-water coastal areas where frequent ship wrecks occurred.)   The Life Saving Service operated out of Life Saving Stations.  The stations were buildings, not lighthouses. (There is only one instance where a lighthouse served as a Life Saving Station).  While they also had keepers who kept log books, there were crew members who served as surf men.  The Life Saving Service by an act of June 18, 1878 was placed under a general superintendent who was responsible to the Secretary of the Treasury.  The Life Saving Service along with the Revenue Cutter Service merged to form the United States Coast Guard in 1915. (For more information on the Life Saving Service: www.uslife-savingservice.org; www.lifesavingservice.org)  

The Life Saving Stations were often in close proximity to lighthouses.  While a separate entity, they did work closely with the lighthouse keepers.  Log books for the lighthouses and log books for the Life Saving Stations record this mutual cooperation.  Often the keeper for the station would ask the keeper for the lighthouse to watch for bodies of drowned victims.  The lighthouse keeper would alert the keeper for the Life Saving Station if a ship in distress was spotted and needed to be rescued.  The Life Saving Stations were built specifically to perform rescues.  Their equipment was highly specialized for this purpose.  The keepers and their crews, the surf men, were specially trained for this job.  Each surf man was given a number, sewed on his uniform sleeve, that would designate his position and responsibly.  Drills and maneuvers were performed on a daily, weekly and monthly basis in all weather conditions.  The drills were timed and recorded.  The purpose for the constant drilling was to improve response time and when performing rescues the routine would be very familiar.  The surf men were hired on a seasonal basis and usually from the community they served.  These were the men who did the beach patrols on foot.  They had large self righting boats to take to the ships and rescue the victims.  The specialized equipment included Coston flares, faking boxes, Lyle guns to shoot a rescue line to the distressed ship and the breeches buoy, a life saver device used to transport the people from the ship to the shore on the rescue line.  Often the crews from the Life Saving Station would perform for people at special exhibitions.  Their dramatic maneuvers were very popular and drew large crowds.  There are records of women lighthouse keepers; a few were famous, having performed dramatic rescues and duties under extreme conditions.   There is no documentation of women Life Saving Station Keepers or crew, this being strictly the domain of men.   After the Life Saving Service merged to become the United States Coast Guard, and the nature of rescues changed they faded from the scene.  Unlike the lighthouse, which was built to last, their buildings were often constructed of wood.  When they no longer served a useful purpose the buildings were torn down or sometimes absorbed into the Coast Guard facilities.  Lighthouses remained standing long after they were no longer functional.  Over time the public saw “lighthouses” and not the “Life Saving Stations” and in the public's mind the two merged into one image. (For more information on the history of the U.S. Life Saving Service; Wreck Ashore, U.S. Life-Saving Service, Legendary Heroes of the Great Lakes. By Federick Stonehouse). 

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There is a large statue outside the National Archives in Washington D.C.  Chiseled into the stone are the words, “study the past”.   Spring had turned into summer, summer was nearing its end and we were in the nation’s capitol.  I was now standing at the doorway to the great house of archival records documenting all aspects of our nation’s history.  Everywhere you turned white men in white stockings with the phrase, “We the People” written above their heads stared down at me.  Indeed, I was now one “of the people” and going through the separate entrance for researchers propelled me into the National Archive Experience.  Many are surprised to learn our national records belong to us all-free and clear.  The assumption is often made you need special permission to do research in our National Archives.  While you cannot wander through the building and suddenly decide, “Oh - bring me out a box of Lincoln documents”, anyone has the right to do research.  The staff is most accommodating and generous of their time.  Our National Archives has regional centers so not all documents are stored in Washington D.C.  Conducting research the first time can be a daunting experience, especially in D.C.  Security is very strict.  There are rules about what researchers may and may not bring into the research rooms.  All papers and documents carried into the archives must be stamped going in and accounted for.  The list of rules is endless and everyone inadvertently breaks at least one. 

“Pull” times for boxes with the requested documents are only certain times of the day.  It usually takes a while for staff to locate the boxes and send them to the research room.  The first morning I began my research journey I had not yet realized what it meant to be “researching lighthouses”.  What I did know was it seemed to take forever until I was told the boxes were ready.  The research room is large.  It is very quiet with only the sounds of those intent on discovering their histories.   Slipping hands across onion skin pages, newspaper clippings, thickly bound registers and forgotten calligraphies mark the passage of a time now only known through the written words left by the marker.  It was when my curiosity got the better of me that I learned what it meant to be researching lighthouses.  There were historians, authors, and researchers from countries beyond our borders all doing the important work set before them.  Yet, when they learned I was researching lighthouses and a particular lighthouse keeper I was accorded the same stature as if the pages had been written in the hand of Washington or Lincoln.  The depth of feeling toward those men and women, who risked their lives every day to save a life, was a remarkable presence that stayed with me throughout my time in Washington D.C.  A generation had passed yet, even at the morning hotel breakfast a guest would tell me about the lighthouse in their own community and how much it meant to them.  My humbling experience was about to begin. 

The grey box sat before me on the research desk.  I felt like all the other explorers who had ever been at the entrance to something unknown.   The quietness becomes an unspoken silence followed by a slight hesitation before the shinning of that first light down a tunnel, a tomb, or when unearthing a past.  Taking a deep breath, I opened the box, removed the first log and opened the pages.   Edward’s letter slipped from those words.  Here I was directly across from the room that housed the document containing the words, “We hold these truths to be self evident” and I was holding a document written by my great uncle the lighthouse keeper almost one hundred years ago.   This was my truth, my history and my story.  Until that moment, I had not realized what it meant for a truth to be self evident.   I was holding the gilded plate. 

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Safely tucked away in an envelope were the original photographs Edward’s niece had photocopied for me.  Given to me in Buffalo, I was to take them back to Texas, digitally photograph them, and return them when finished.  Little did I know inside this envelope a tiny photograph would be a giant piece of another puzzle.  The puzzle was a postcard written by Edward’s brother Charles.  It was dated 1911, never having been posted to Edward, it contained a reference to a cutter.   It was common knowledge that Alfred had followed his older brother Edward into the Revenue Cutter Service.  There were photographs of Alfred in his uniform standing on the deck of the U.S.S. Morrill.  There were also postcards written by Alfred while on the Morrill and sent to numerous family members including Edward.  Yet, Charles wrote on his postcard he was on a fine cutter.  He detailed a rescue that took placing saving five men form a boat that had stove a hole.  No one remembered Charles ever serving on a cutter.  And, there were no other correspondences written by Charles that mentioned a cutter.  Charles had written to his brother Alfred that he was bored and wanted to do something meaningful with his life in one of the postcards.  But he never indicated what that might entail.  The few postcards in the collection were posted when he was leaving for France during WWI.  My research turned up no evidence any other vessel was referred to as a cutter.  It remained a mystery until this particular morning in Washington D.C. 

We sat in the United States Coast Guard’s archives surrounded by the documents and history of the one branch of the United States military solely dedicated to saving lives.  The Coast Guard as we know it today was formed through a succession of mergers.  The newly formed nation realized it need an organization to patrol the waters of oceans and the inland seas to make sure our coast lines were safe and also collect revenues and seize illegal vessels.  The Revenue Cutter Service was designated that organization and it was first under the auspices of the Treasury Department.  There followed the United States Lighthouse Service (this organization would also undergo name changes) and the United States Life Saving Service.  Eventually, by the first half of the 1900’s these three organizations would be merged into the United States Coast Guard, that branch of the military charged with keeping the nation’s coastline safe and performing those heroic and dangerous water rescues.  Today’s Coast Guard stands on the shoulders of a long and proud tradition dating back to the early beginnings of our nation. 

Yet, for all the history of their various branches the office of the historians for the Coast Guard is rather small and staffed by only a few.  Their dedication and knowledge is first rate among historians of any subject. 

While the lighthouse log books had yielded a rich source of material I was left disappointed that I had not found a reference to the bi-plane in the photograph.  How could this be?  The area surrounding Marblehead Lighthouse was filled with builders of planes and aviation history knocked at its doors. The head keeper had not even mentioned Glenn Curtiss’ historic flight on July 4, 1908.  Only the most mundane activities were recorded and if you blinked, the fact it was our nation’s birthday would pass by in an instant.  For Keeper Hunter the day was uneventful.  The Coast Guard historian would answer this question, but I would be left with one still unanswered mystery.  Who was flying past the lighthouse in a bi-plane?

The keepers were required to log the passing of ships.  They also logged certain historical events such as holidays, the election of new presidents, the death of presidents and so forth.  Aviation was new and its historical events still unfolding.   Keepers were not required to log the passing of airplanes until much later.  The fact that he did not record the event did not mean it didn’t happen, it meant he was not required by the government to do so. New standards within the U.S.L.H.S. dictated they keep detailed light station journals which were not to be filled with as much descriptive, personal enteries as had been the practice in previous centuries. Therefore, Charles Hunter wrote in the books only what was necessary for government documentation.  Oddly, though bypassing this one historic event, on the last day of July 1908 he made a strange reference in the log book.  He mentions in the evening he observed a bright star north-east of the lighthouse, so bright he thought it might perhaps be an “air ship”!

No one from the Coast Guard that day was able to identify the bi-plane.  Yet, other interesting events would make up for this unanswered question.   The photographs of Edward and Alfred on the U.S.S. Morrill were previously unknown to the Coast Guard.  In fact, they had very little information on the enlisted men that made up the crews of the Revenue Cutter Service.  And, they were interested to learn two brothers had served on the same ship.  Now, I was to learn something very interesting about Charles.  I mentioned the postcard and the reference to the cutter. I learned it could have been possible for Charles to serve in the Revenue Cutter Service, if only for a short period of time.  The Revenue Cutter Service was a seasonal job for most of the men.  When the Great Lakes froze over, the navigational season ended.  The men signed off and could return to sign on again the next year when the navigational season re-opened.  A small crew would remain permanently signed on with the Revenue Cutter Service.  And, this information would lead to something else we would learn about Edward.  The uniform confusion was soon solved by the Coast Guard historian.  Edward had quickly risen in the ranks of the Revenue Cutter Service.  His uniform changed when he received an "enlisted officer's" rank.  In one photograph I had previously identified as a lighthouse keeper uniform we learned it was a Revenue Cutter Service uniform.  Edward was the Master-At-Arms.  This was an important position on a ship.   It would be confirmed later when we looked at the muster rolls for the Morrill. (Family written documentation indicated Edward had obtained another higher rank, yet this was not confirmed on the muster rolls). Learning this was the impetus for my decision to later photograph the muster rolls. 

When we left the Coast Guard later that morning it seemed as though many pieces of the puzzle were being constructed into one picture.  I did not know flying back to Texas I would soon be on another journey.  And, the journey would have at its end a piece of interesting history relating to Edward’s Master-At-Arms rank.  I also did not know that when we returned home I would find something small but very significant in the photographs from Edward’s niece I now carried with me.  It would tell me a great deal about Edward’s brother Charles.

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The photograph fell from my hand.  It was being placed in an envelope with other photographs to be returned to Edward’s niece.  So small was this photograph it might have gone completely unnoticed had it not briefly caught my eye while fluttering to the floor.  When it landed upside down two names were visible on the backside.  They were Charles and Alfred with a question mark and a line drawn through Charles’ name.  Originally, the photograph had been in the envelope marked Alfred.  It was so small there seemed no room for information on the back so it had never been turned over.  Now looking at the face in the photograph it was clear this was not Alfred, it was Charles.  And, he was dressed in what appeared to be the Revenue Cutter Service uniform!  He really had been in the Revenue Cutter Service it seemed, at least for one season!  There was no information indicating the name of the cutter, but it seemed likely it might have been the Morrill. (Charles never appeared on the muster rolls for the Morrill through the date of the 1911 postcard which indicated he may have served on a different ship).  Now, based on the postcard and the one small photographed, there had been three brothers in the Revenue Cutter Service. (This interpretation would eventually be proven wrong, but, not for several more years.)  And Alfred and Charles, following their older brother Edward, most likely aspired to become lighthouse keepers.  However, life would eventually choose very different paths for Alfred and Charles.  Charles probably did not continue a sailing career because within a few short years the world was heading toward a disaster. The Great War was soon marching across Europe. And when the United States entered WWI, his journey would take him to France fighting as one of O’Ryan’s Roughnecks.  A victim of the horrors the new warfare would bring, mustard gas, he returned home to a country changed forever.  In an irony of fate a famous battle liberating the French would result in a monument built by the people of France to honor the Americans.  In the years following the Great War, Charles’ journey would eventually lead him to another city and another monument.   Built to honor our nation’s first president, a general of the war fought for independence, the Washington National Monument stands taller than any other structure built in Washington D.C. to honor our nation’s heroes.   Charles’ path would lead to Washington D.C. and the Washington National Monument.  He would become the Head Custodian, an important position within the National Parks Division, created shortly after the monument was completed.    Sadly, Alfred’s journey would have a different, very tragic outcome. *( The mystery of the cutter Charles sailed on took another two years to solve. It also provided an important piece of the puzzle and helped to fill missing information on another historical event, The Great War. In 2011, while doing research on an article for Lighthouse Digest Magazine a small entry in the social pages of the North Tonawanda Evening News revealed the information. Charles Herman, the article stated was sailing on the lighthouse tender, the Crocus. The article was dated 1911, the same year the postcard was written by Charles detailing the saving of five men whose boat had stove a hole. Charles had not sailed on a Revenue Cutter, he had sailed on a lighthouse tender! Later, other images were discovered of Charles wearing his lighthouse tender uniform and his WWI uniform. This information eventually led to another path of discovery and a trip to Belgium).

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One of the entries in the Marblehead Lighthouse log book intrigued me.  Keeper Hunter had recorded that Mrs. Herman and the keeper (Charles Hunter) were organizing the local WWI Liberty Bond Movement.  Very little information is known to exist about the lives of the women who were married to lighthouse keepers.  Unless after the death of their husband they were appointed head Lighthouse Keeper, wives remain the silent background within the package.  If information is available it often only tells their stories while they were living at the lighthouse.  Even for many of those women who went on to succeed their husbands as keepers their life stories have been lost forever.  No record exists beyond their duties at the lighthouse.  In some cases, no record exists at all, not even while serving as lighthouse keepers.  It is the one generation away from extinction that ultimately became extinct.  Since no one thought to save or share their stories they are lost to us forever. 

I knew very little about Margaret.  I was determined not to let her fade away into obscurity.  There must be some information tucked away somewhere.  But aside from the few family stories there was scant information to come by about her life.  Even the addresses on the early postcards to Edward when she was still Margaret King had changed.  Again a mountain with a landscape dramatically altered over time.  The earliest address for her was on a postcard sent by Edward to a “Miss Margaret King, 17 Pine Street, Detroit”.  The wonders of Google earth enabled me to visually walk down the very same street and rest at 17 Pine Street.  A vacant lot and convenience store were all that remained to tell the story of the people who once resided there.  Another chance encounter with a seller on eBay led me to a book about the women of Lakeside, Ohio.  Lakeside was a very active Methodist “Chautauqua” community.  This community, still active today, was in the 1800-1900’s rich with women’s groups dedicated to education, the arts, and social reform.  Numerous women suffragettes as well as Eleanor Roosevelt were guest speakers at the many social events held each year.  The community also played host to Marion Anderson, an African American singer denied the right to perform at some of the country’s major music halls.   Several books were written by Sally Sue Witten on the Lakeside community and the surrounding area.  Sadly, she died shortly before I discovered her books.  However, I did learn there was a Lakeside Heritage Society very much alive and still very active.  Margaret and Edward had retired to Lakeside.  If Margaret had been involved in the Liberty Bond Movement, there was a possibility she was involved in another social or political group that flourished there during the 1900’s.  Perhaps the Heritage Society might even have information on the Liberty Bond Movement and her participation.  I sent off an email and waited for a response.

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The letter that slipped from the pages of the Marblehead Lighthouse log books had been written by Edward as the Head Lighthouse Keeper.  Standing there that day in The National Archives, I was holding a letter whose subject, penned by a man dedicated to saving lives would prove to be a profound statement of things to come.  Edward was distressed that the early log books recorded by those first lighthouse keepers had vanished, gone long before he began as an assistant keeper.  Emphatically the letter stated he would make every possible effort to make sure they were located.  The tone of the letter was clear, this was extremely important to him.    Other information within the pages of the log books indicated Edward was assembling a history of Marblehead in honor of the descendents of the earlier keepers.  History’s image is like the unfolding of an origami crane.  The simple image belies the tiny little folds this way and that essential to construct the final delicacy which rests in the hand of the beholder. The recordings of historical events are written down as a witness to the final image of our existence.  The hand on a pen becomes history’s folds.   Without the deliberate action of the recorder, like the crane folded incorrectly, it will not be recognizable.  The art of origami must be passed on from one generation to the next, or the fold of the crane will not be remembered. Now, Edward’s letter addressed the art of origami lost.  The fold could no longer be remembered, the art had been lost. History is cruel to its own generation sometimes.  And so, while Edward commiserated over one lost history his was slipping away forever.  Soon I, would despair, desperately wishing to see the face of another crane.  It would become my one generation and one story lost and I would never, ever find it.

Once again, my mountain was to offer up a surprise only this time the path would be in full bloom.   It came in an email from the Lakeside Heritage Society.  “I have located in our archives some information about Margaret”.  Included in the email there was a small list and the possibility they might have more.  Was I interested?   Perhaps there was a pot of gold at the rainbow’s end.  Emails traveled back and forth.  If there was enough material I might plan a research trip to the archives.  “Please send a detailed list of everything you have and I will decide if it is worth my while to come to Ohio”, my email requested.   I was about to be led not only to the pot of gold, but to the rainbow’s very end!

Archivists are very dedicated people whether they work preserving national treasures or the tiniest Historical Society memorabilia.  Some are paid, many are simply volunteers.  Without them little histories might never have the opportunity to become part of larger histories.  Kept safely in their hands, many documents have survived unknown to historians.  By accident, by purposeful research or by chances and odds, many a serious student of history has unearthed a previously unknown piece of important history.  This happens all because a dedicated archivist has carefully preserved it and kept it safe for the finding.  I was about to meet one such archivist. 

It happened the morning I opened my homepage to find the following email.  “Perhaps there is other information that might interest you”, the email read.  “The archives contain quite a few materials on Keeper Herman including personal items, letters and documents. If you are interested a detailed list will follow.”   

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The list to follow was only the first chamber in Pharaoh’s tomb.  It was also the other half of Captain Edward M. Herman’s collection.  In fact, there was so much it couldn’t all be put in an email.  What I saw before me was enough to know I was close to the top of my mountain.  I knew I was going to make the journey to Marblehead.  It was fifty years after I first sat on that stool and I was going to meet him again.  My childhood pursuit with letters and valentines was being replaced with log books and documents.  And, I was being acknowledged it seemed for the first time.  Edward was calling me.  I was answering.  Soon I would be handed another gilded plate when once again Southwest Airlines offered an unbelievable fair to certain cities.  One of those cities was Detroit and the other one was Chicago. 

My joy at finding the other half of the collection would be dampened rather quickly.  The National Archives has regional centers to house many of their historical documents and records.  Chicago is one of those centers housing the Great Lakes' Maritime collection.  Doing a search for the lighthouse log books for the Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse located in Buffalo, NY directed me to the Chicago archives.  This was perplexing because they housed only the log books for the Great Lakes' Life Saving Stations.  After contacting the archivist in Chicago I was informed they only had the books for the Buffalo Life Saving Station, not the lighthouses.  This was correct since the Washington D.C. archives should have only the books for the lighthouses.  This I knew from previous research.  Searching their archives yielded nothing.  They must be there, I was sure of it, but where?  I needed to find out especially now when it was all coming together.  If the log books were in D.C., I would go back the following summer.  If they were however, in Chicago the trip to Ohio could be combined with a day spent at the regional archives.  Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse had after all been Edward’s very first lighthouse.  It was important to have the pages from the log books when he had been an assistant keeper in Buffalo, NY.   Emails were sent back and forth to both institutions.  Both staff were kindly searching.  Chicago replied back they did not have the Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse log books.  They had to be in Washington D.C. in the National Archives.  I waited for an answer before completing plans for my trip to Marblehead.  After several weeks and much digging by the dedicated archival staff came an answer.  There were no log books for the Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse located anywhere in the National Archives.  Period.  Gone.  Forever.  Men had risked their lives to keep mariners and civilians safe.  They had withstood the brutal winters and storms often being stranded for weeks on this lighthouse.  They had dutifully recorded day after day the events surrounding their work and the rescues they had conducted.  Snippets of their exploits remained only through the few letters, newspaper articles and personal recollections and these were precious few.  I slowly came to realize the only records left to survive may be in Edward’s collection.  The painful realization that history is only one generation and one story away from extinction began to carve a path to my own soul.  Certainly not the fault of the National Archives, they are only able to preserve what they are given.  Certainly not the fault of the keepers, they were busy saving lives.  Did they remain in someone’s basement, pilfered when the Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse was closed?  Or were they stashed away in a private collection of no use to anyone except they “added” to the collector’s prestige?  Another irony of history’s fate was the fact the lighthouse the log books were missing from was left to die a slow, painful death at the foot of the harbor to Buffalo, NY.  No one had ever really liked it, even during its lifetime.  It was considered to be aesthetically unappealing and a dangerous place to work.  Indeed, early prints of the Buffalo harbor show clearly the Buffalo Main Light.  However, Horseshoe Reef the older of the two remains an enigma.  Even the artists had decided it’s fate 150 years ago.  But a group of men, lighthouse keepers had ignored all this because there was a greater good at stake, the lives of drowning sailors.  Only now, too late to save, the keepers and their history was lost.  It was gone forever, like those who rest beneath the waters of the Great Lakes, drowned in the ship wrecks of the inland seas.  I wept for this history because its loss was my despair.  Their history had become my history, their story, my story.  But it can no longer be told because it is extinct.  Forever.   

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Since the log books for Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse were lost the next course of action was to record those of the Buffalo Life Saving Station.  I could document at least for some of the years when Edward was stationed there and they would give a glimpse into the life of the people who lived in and around the government complex.  Plans were made firm and the trip was now very much a reality.  The archivist from the Lakeside Heritage Society would open the archives even though they were closed for the season. Members of the Marblehead Lighthouse Historical Society had even arranged for the keeper’s residence to be opened for me.  The weather they hoped would be nice for my visit.  This was just the tip of the magnificent iceberg I was soon to ride.  I wondered what I would see, thirty five years after my last visit.  I felt I was returning to something, as if I had been away for a long, long time.  It was a sensation that would stay with me throughout my trip.

I breathed in the smell of the lake.  The plane had landed in Detroit with our luggage.  The rental car was waiting and we were ready for the two hour drive to Sandusky, Ohio.  There is no other smell save that of the mountains and the coastal waters that is so identifiable.  The Great Lakes, although often referred to as inland seas are not salt water.  They have retained an environment all their own ever since the last ice age carved them into existence.  Locked for ever into place, they change and reform according to whatever dictates their lives, whether it be nature or humans.  Nature is responsible for their shape and depth, humans for their purity and pollutants.  

Freeze dried bouquets lined the highways as if to greet us.  Cattails, grasses, flowers gone now to seed would put any hobby store out of business in a moment’s notice.  Why had I never noticed all this bounty before?  It is the same mystery facing our species every time we leave our place of origin and make our return back.  It is the reason why we ever needed light from fires to guide us.  We need to find our way home.  And when we do, we are often surprised to see what before our return had passed our eyes, now fills within us a bounty so richly presented we cannot help but notice. 

Now, my journey thirty-five years later would be much different.  I was no longer a graduate student, I was married, my parents both deceased were buried in the cemetery beside the home on Grand Island where I first met Edward, and like Edward, my world had been shaped by new technologies that moved faster than the seconds and minutes on the clock face.   And, this time I cared.   I cared deeply.  I cared deeply because my journey into the contents of that box had led me to walk a path rich in discovery.  I had learned about a family and in doing so learned about a history rich and extraordinary.  I had learned about the lives of two people and the world they lived in long before my birth.  I had learned about the joys and tragedies of a family who were once just faces on picture cards and photographs.  And because of this I had learned about a history far beyond their personal lives.  I had learned about lighthouses and keepers. 

I also wondered if anyone else cared.  What would we find in Marblehead?  The images from that first visit were still very vivid in my mind.  They were as clear as if I had been to the lighthouse yesterday.  The road to the Marblehead Lighthouse drew us nearer to my answers.  And when we rounded the bend I was not prepared for what I would see. 

The sun was bright, the air crisp, not a cloud passed by and a gentle breeze blew in from the lake.  The whiteness from the tower broke through the trees and greeted us with color.  The white tower, the red top against the blue sky seemed to mimic the colors of the flag which motioned us forward.   The freshly painted keeper’s residence graced the yard and filled the moment with its beautiful 19th century architecture.  The lovely picket fence winding around the house and trees stood firmly to guard its beloved prize.  And, there were people.  People from California, people from Michigan and most important, there were people from Ohio.  And with them were their children, many generations away from those who had once lovingly tended the grounds and kept a watchful eye on the inland sea before us.  They didn’t just hurry through, no; they walked slowly, breathing in the history before them.  They stopped, they read, they looked and they took pictures.  Not to document decay and death, but because the beauty of the place made them want to preserve it.   The stone had been removed and I was witness to a resurrection. 

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The lighthouse and keeper’s residence had been left to die.  It wasn’t that people hadn’t cared.  In fact, they did care.  There just wasn’t one cataclysmic event to shake their earth.  Until an event occurred and when it did an entire mountain was moved.  The landscape changed forever the face of the mountain.  But it would take a community and a Congressman to clear the debris from the mountain moved.  When this happened they paved a way for a resurrection to occur. 

Marblehead Lighthouse was slated to be changed.  The government’s plan was to remove it and replace it with a metal tower and a small flashing light.  The keeper’s residence was to be torn down and removed from the property.  Nothing would be left, except an empty landscape and a vacant lot.  It would be replaced by only memories and scrapbooks filled with pictures.  These would neither fill the vacant property or the void in a community left to ponder its previous existence.  When the plans were announced a ground swelling reaction occurred among the local people.  It was unthinkable and unforgivable to tear down a structure which had stood in the same place for more than one hundred years.  The lighthouse was saved from the burning stake, but the keeper’s residence would not.  Until that is, a descendant of one of the early keepers born of the soul that jumps into the raging waters to save the drowning, did just that.  The night before the destruction of the residence was to begin (kerosene had been poured throughout the structure and straw spread over the floors) he enlisted the help of a Congressman.  The Congressman intervened and obtained an injunction to stop the dismantling ( official accounts refer to the destruction as dismantling, however, the actual destruction was to take place by burning the residence).  The keeper’s residence was saved from the same fate as the lighthouse.  Now the resurrection could take place.  Not only was it a resurrection, but it became a symbol of what they in the community stood for and what it stood for them.  It was a reflection of their own image and that image had been in existence ever since the first lighthouse keeper Benjamin Wolcott had tended the light and lives had been saved.

Now, on this trip I was made a part of that image. I was very humbled.  I had done nothing-saved no lives, rescued no boats and certainly had not been involved in the community.  That did not matter.  I was the great niece of the last lighthouse keeper.  I walked with Edward and the lighthouse was mine too.  It was so evident in the way the community opened their hearts, history, homes, and shared their stories with me.  I had returned.  I had come home.

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I was richly rewarded from the archives of the Lakeside Heritage Society.  The materials within held much information and filled in some of the gaps in the collection.  When we began sorting through the letters we noticed one addressed to Edward Herman from the captain of the U.S.S. Morrill.  Opening it up we read these words, penned in the scroll of Victorian elegance.

U.S.S. Morrill
Detroit Mich
Jan 3-1908

                                 Mr. E. Herman,
“Dear friend I want to inform you the Master - of - Arms job will probably
be vacant.  Captain Landry has ordered me to write & inquire if you
would like to accept the job.
The pay is now $45.00 per month.  Shaws time is up the 14TH .  Let me
know at once whether you want to accept the job or not.”

Yes, Edward had been the Master-At-Arms.  He had served in that position well enough to be considered a “friend” of the ship’s new captain.  His response was not among the papers in the archives at Lakeside.  It didn’t matter.  His response for history was well documented by the years he served as a lighthouse keeper.  He never returned to the ships of the inland seas.

I did not find my answer to the bi-plane mystery.  Another well informed archivist from the Sandusky Public Library couldn’t identify the plane and no one had ever seen the photograph in any other records or archives.  Though I did not learn the identity of the plane I did learn much more.  I learned how much the lighthouse meant to so many people and how excited they were to learn about this project. 

The final night of our visit we went to dinner at Mon Ami, a restaurant and winery on Catawba Island.  An old structure with an equally old and rich history, having once housed Confederate prisoners, it had withstood many changes in history’s mountain.  As we finished our dinner our server brought to our table the head chef for the restaurant and winery.  He had been told about my project and my great uncle by the server.  He offered to give us a tour of the wine cellar.  Then he proceeded to tell us how much the Marblehead Lighthouse meant to him.  When he wasn’t being a chef he was sailing ships.  He still used the light for navigation.  It was a symbol for him that he was near to his final destination.  His return to home.

When we went down into the wine cellar there stood a huge wine barrel, large enough for a person to stand inside.  It was old, dating back to the 1800’s.  It still smelled of the wine once held within its staves.  The history of the barrel was a story long and rich in detail.  They do not make them like this anymore the chef said.  The wood was from the white oak tree.  He did not know where it had been obtained.  Silently I stood there in the presence of my own past and knew that I did.  I knew because I had grown up on an island, ravaged by the hunters of this wood.  And now, I was standing before the very tree I never knew, because it had been extinct, wiped out and forever gone on that island of my childhood.  But though it did not live, it’s history was not lost.  It had been saved deep in the darkness of an ancient wine cellar.   And, there on an island in the inland sea because someone had thought to save this one barrel, I was able to breathe not only the sweet smell of a past, but also my own history as well. 

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The day of recording the materials in the Lakeside Heritage archives had been long and now we were finished.  It was time to say our goodbyes and return to Texas.  I felt complete and content.  I had walked on the path of lighthouse keepers and had met Edward hand in hand.  Our lives had come full circle after that first meeting fifty years before.  I no longer sat on a stool at his feet.  Instead, I stood with him and he had walked with me on this journey.  He had become my soul mate of antiquity.  As we opened the door to leave the archives I noticed something to the east.  A huge, brilliant rainbow shinned down over the lake and ended at the Marblehead Lighthouse.  I knew then that my childhood letters had been answered.  And that Edward was very, very pleased with his great niece.

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History’s story is never finished.  Indeed, the best chapter is the one not yet written.  That day in August when I opened the Marblehead Lighthouse log book for the first time there was recorded all the names of the keepers and the dates they began and ended.  Edward M. Herman’s name was the last listed.  The date he began at Marblehead was filled in, however, the date he ended was left blank.  Perhaps it is a fitting testament to both a lighthouse and one man’s history.  There will never be a final chapter and the best one has not yet been written. 



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