Digest>Archives> Sep/Oct 2017

Lighthouse Keeper Braves Dangers of Storm Swept Sea

At Great Risk He Sails Six Miles for Father John’s Medicine


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Although David W. Collison had a distinguished career in the U.S. Lighthouse Service, it was something he did at the beginning of his career that made him famous. And he only became famous because of a letter he wrote to a drug company about his efforts to secure one of their products, a letter that the company used over and over to promote Father John’s Medicine.

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David W. Collison started his lighthouse career in 1907 as an assistant lighthouse keeper at the 1856 Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse that was located in the Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore, Maryland. He explained in his own words the risks he experienced to secure a supply of Father John’s Medicine in the following letter that he wrote to the company.

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“I was taken with a very severe cold and felt that I was on the verge of grip. The head keeper of the lighthouse told me that Father John’s Medicine did more permanent good for his daughter than all other medicines she had ever used and so heartedly recommended Father John’s Medicine that I got him to buy two large bottles in Baltimore. I used it according to directions and to my satisfaction found relief directly. I had decided to take a through course of treatment to fortify my system against La Grippe and try to have my body in good physical condition in the early spring preparatory to the arduous labor involved in the spring renovation of the lighthouse.

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“Owing to the inclement weather, I could not leave the station to go to Baltimore to renew my supply of Father John’s Medicine, so I started early this morning amid the risks and dangers of drifting ice, and sailed six miles to Sparrow Point, the nearest place where I could secure another bottle of Father John’s Medicine. I have every confidence in the medicine and so was willing to undertake the great risk involved in the journey to Sparrows Point after it.”

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Naturally this was a great endorsement for the folks at Father John’s Medicine, and they immediately sent out a representative to get a photo of assistant keeper Collison. Printed up stories with his photo that included flamboyant headlines that the newspapers published to read and look like real news stories, but they were in fact paid advertisements. It worked so well that the company continued to use the combination story/advertisement for years after David W. Collison left Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse in 1909. He then secured a transfer and pay raise to become an assistant keeper at Cove Point Lighthouse, a land-based lighthouse in Lusby, Maryland.

He later went on to serve at Thomas Point Lighthouse as an assistant keeper, and then at Greenbury Point Shoal Lighthouse where he became the head keeper, and finally at Baltimore Lighthouse, where he also served as the head keeper.

After a lingering illness, David W. Collison passed away at the age of 77 on August 13, 1950. He was buried at the Annes Cedar Bluff Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland. His family made sure that an image of a lighthouse was affixed to his tombstone.

This story appeared in the Sep/Oct 2017 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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