Digest>Archives> May/Jun 2019

In Memoriam - John Andersen (1849 – 1910)

By Debra Baldwin


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The newspaper headlines during the first week of October, 1910 were very sensational in announcing the grisly death of Hawaiian veteran lighthouse keeper John Andersen. On October 5th, Andersen’s wife, Koleka, and her sister were collecting shellfish and opihis at the base of the rocky cliffs along the trail between Makena Point and Cape Kinau on the island of Maui. John Andersen was on the top of a rock ledge and reportedly leaned over too far while watching them and thereby toppled off the cliff onto the rocks in the ocean below, either being killed outright or being knocked unconscious.

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His wife, Koleka, made an attempt to run out into the surf to catch him before the waves carried him away, but she was unable to get to him in time. According to a newspaper account in the San Francisco Call, “a swirl in the deep waters just off the shore warned that the sharks were already at hand. Makena Point is one of the worst shark infested bits of sea in Hawaiian waters, and so well is the reputation of the place established that no search was made for the body. Everyone on Maui knew it was useless.”

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The first Kanahena Light, established around ...

John Andersen, born in Norway in November of 1849, had spent the last 25 years of his life tending the Kanahena Lighthouse located on Cape Kinau some three miles distant from his home in Makena. Every day, in any weather, he would traverse the “rough” trail through the lava fields and along the cliffs to get to the light to fulfill his responsibilities. It is assumed he was on the trail going to or from the light when he fell off the ledge.

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Veteran Kanahena Light keeper John Andersen fell ...

John spent his early years in Norway as a sailor until he came to Hawaii in 1879 and worked on the Spreckelsville sugarcane plantation. He then raised hogs in Makena for the next few years until, due to several wrecks off of Cape Kinau, a light was erected there and John Andersen was officially appointed to be its keeper by the Hawaiian government around 1884.

When Hawaii was annexed to the United States in 1898, and, subsequently, the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment took over the administration of all the Hawaiian lighthouses and keepers in 1904, John stayed on at that post until the day of his accidental death in 1910.

While some newspapers dramatically reported that his wife witnessed him being eaten by sharks, this was unsubstantiated by other accounts, though his body was never recovered. It is unknown if he had any children, and actually the 1910 census taken earlier in the year stated that he was divorced though his wife filed a petition with the probate court seven months later to receive his estate. John Andersen was 60 years old at the time of his death.

This story appeared in the May/Jun 2019 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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