Digest>Archives> May/Jun 2013

Manana Island’s Giant Fog Bell

By Timothy Harrison


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It was realized early on in lighthouse history that lighthouse stations also needed a fog signal to warn or help guide vessels in the dense fog that often shrouds the coast. Although a canon was once used at Boston Light, it was soon obvious that the gong from a bell would be the best and most effective use, and fog bells were installed at nearly every light station.

However, there were a few places in the United States that were originally constructed only as fog signal stations, such as Point Knox on Angel Island in California’s San Francisco Bay; Cuckold’s Fog Signal Station in Boothbay Harbor, Maine; and Manana Island Fog Signal Station in Miscongus Bay very near Monhegan Island in Maine. Over time, most fog bells were replaced by steam powered fog whistles or fog horns.

Eventually, lighted beacons were also added to Point Knox and Cuckold’s, but such was never the case at Maine’s Manana Island Fog Signal Station, which always remained only a fog signal station that was staffed by keepers from 1855 until 1988 when it was automated.

Manana Island Fog Signal Station originally had a 2,500 pound fog bell, as is shown here in the photograph that was taken in 1898 by Eric Hudson (1862-1932). Although Manana Island Fog Signal Station had a 10” Daboll fog trumpet installed in 1870, followed by a 6” steam fog whistle in 1872, then an 8” steam whistle in 1876, and finally in 1877 a First Class Daboll trumpet, it appears from this photograph that the fog bell was still being used as late as 1898 when this photo was taken. It was probably used when the coal-fueled steam engine that powered the fog horn failed, as was often the case.

The caption with the photo read, “Dressed in oilskins, the keeper of the U.S. Lighthouse Service’s Fog Signal Station looks out to sea from his elevated vantage point on the west side of Manana Island.” Because Daniel Stevens was the keeper at Manana Island from 1890 to 1902, it could be assumed that he is the person shown in the image. However, photographs of Stevens at his next assignment as the keeper of Monhegan Island Lighthouse show him as a heavier set man than the image shown in this photo.

Looking closely at the photo, you will notice a rope from the bell that leads all the way to the keeper’s house, which allowed the keeper to remain indoors during inclement weather. But it would have taken a lot of tiring work and strong muscles to pull the rope from that distance to make the bell ring, something that would have to be done at very short intervals until the fog lifted, which literally could have been hours on end.

If you look closely you will also see a small creature sitting under the fog bell. Whether it was a dog or a cat, hopefully it knew when the bell was about to be rung. Otherwise the sound of the thundering clang might have scared the poor creature to death!

Today a modern automated electric fog horn sounds a blast every two seconds from the Manana Island Fog Signal Station. Recently the government declared Manana Island Fog Signal Station as excess property, and in the near future it will be privately owned. However, the new owner will have to contend with the fog horn, which will still be operated and maintained as an automatic fog signal by the United States Coast Guard.

This story appeared in the May/Jun 2013 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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