It was nearing Christmas Day in 1935 at California’s Southampton Shoal Lighthouse. Keeper Albert H. Joost and his wife Evelyn thought that listening to some Christmas music would be a pleasant way to celebrate the season. Unfortunately, the radio antenna was not working, so keeper Joost set about repairing it with a soldering iron. Reports vary on what happened next. Either there was gas in the air from a blowtorch that ignited or a can of gasoline nearby that exploded, but in either case, keeper Joost became a fireball. His clothes and part of the lighthouse were on fire. His wife came running to assist him, and between the two of them, the fire was extinguished, but not before keeper Joost was severely burned.
Some accounts say that keeper Joost ordered his wife to remain at the lighthouse to attend the light that night while he rowed himself in the station rowboat to Angel Island, a mile and a half distant. Other newspapers maintain that it was Evelyn who did the rowing as keeper Joost was barely conscious. One particularly dramatic article stated, “Minutes that seemed like hours passed as Mrs. Joost, pulling with all her might, steered for the fort. The injured man, lying in the bottom of the boat, moaned almost constantly, and the torture he was undergoing spurred her to increased effort. Heavy seas at times threatened to swamp the little rowboat, but she finally reached the shore.”
Once at the east garrison of Fort McDowell, Evelyn Joost contacted the Coast Guard, which immediately sent a replacement keeper out to tend the light. Assistant keeper James E. Simonson was on leave at the time, and statements from him upon his return paint a grim picture of encountering burnt pieces of keeper Joost’s clothing in multiple areas of the light station as the Joosts sought a way to put the fire out.
After giving what emergency aid they could, the garrison then dispatched a military boat to transfer keeper Joost to the Marine Hospital in San Francisco. Tragically, his burns were too severe, and lighthouse keeper Albert Henry Joost passed away on Christmas Day of 1945 with his wife by his side. He was 57 years old. He had served at Point Reyes Lighthouse, East Brother Light Station, and Yerba Buena Lighthouse before going to Southampton Shoal Lighthouse for at least ten years before his death.
This story appeared in the
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