Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2016

Problem Solving – The Lighthouse Keeper Way


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The 1856 Cape Disappointment Lighthouse as it ...

In recalling her life at Washington State’s Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, where her father Joel W. Munson was the lighthouse keeper from 1865 to 1877, his daughter Clara wrote the following.

“My father could think of a lot of queer ways to do things. He went to Cape Disappointment Lighthouse station, as the station was then called, in 1865. The fort was then called Hancock and changed to Canby in honor of General Canby who was killed by the Modocs in southern Oregon. In the earliest days the station was supplied by a little sailboat.

“After the establishment of the fort the schooner Margaret with Captain George Washington Harris at the helm, supplied the needs of both, as she was owned by the Government. The Bell captained by John Babbidge tended Fort Stevens. Later this work was let by contract and the first little steamer, the U.S. Grant owned by Captain J.H.D. Gray was put into service between Astoria and the Fort

“About this time Portland people began to come to the coast during the summer, stopping at Astoria or a few going to Skipanon, where there were two boarding places kept by Mrs. S.M. Wirt and Mrs. D.E. Pease.

“The fort and the lighthouse were the only places of interest and almost every Sunday in addition to daily trips, an excursion would be advertised and especially on Sunday the crowds would come and it meant someone at the lighthouse all day to show people through, for they would not all come at once, and as wild flowers would be gathered by the wayside and scattered carelessly about the tower, it meant a thorough cleaning from top to bottom on Monday. It was also no little work to polish brass and glass to remove finger marks of children and grownups too.

“The boat service was paid for by the War Department and the lighthouse establishment was under the Treasury Department, so all lighthouse keepers had to pay fare on the boat. My father suggested to Capt. Gray that they be carried free in return for courtesies to his excursions to the lighthouse but was firmly told that “that was the duty of the keepers.”

“Yes” my father said, “Regulations include being courtesies to visitors when not interfering with work of the station.”

“Shortly after that another big excursion was advertised for a Sunday picnic to the lighthouse and fort. The Saturday evening before, a threshold or two and the bottom step were painted. When the people came the next day the sign, “No Admittance, fresh paint” was muchly in evidence at the entrance door. In a few days Capt. Gray came in on the warpath.’ What do you mean by keeping the lighthouse closed? I’ll report you to headquarters, etc. etc.’

“My father quietly answered, ‘My instructions are to admit visitors when not interfering with work of the station. The stairs are long and if I find it necessary, I can paint a step every Saturday night, or any other time.’

“It was not many days after that all the keepers and their families were granted “free transportation” on the steamer.

Keeper’s Daughter First Mayor

Clara Cynthia Munson (1861 -1938), who wrote about her life growing up at Cape Disappointment Lighthouse where her father was the keeper, was elected Mayor of Warrenton, Oregon on December 18, 1913, thereby becoming the first elected woman mayor of a town west of the Rockies.

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2016 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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