That’s the word that immediately comes to mind to best describe it. It is like going on a grand scavenger hunt all across the country to gather individual pieces that belong to a 50,000-piece puzzle that will take you the rest of your life to put together.
Case in point is this photo that we recently came across while looking through a collection for something else. The archive had it mixed in with a couple of hundred old unpublished press photos from the Pacific International Livestock Exhibition held in Portland, Oregon in 1935.
Amidst images of smiling cows and wooly sheep, we immediately recognized the lighthouse exhibit as being a match to the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse lens exhibition photo we published over two years ago in the 2017 November/December issue of Lighthouse Digest. But who were the keepers? There was nothing written on the photo and they could have come from any of the 40 lighthouses in District 13 at that time.
The only rough clues were their ages that looked to be near retirement and their lapel insignia designating them as a head keeper and first assistant. We focused on the head keeper first and looked up every lighthouse appointment list for 1935, including ghost lights that have since been destroyed. We could eliminate those keepers we already knew or had photos of that didn’t match. That left about 30 names.
Now the fun began of going into Ancestry.com and looking up information for each individual keeper by name, sifting through 100s of census records until we found the right one. The census gave us a rough date of birth. We could eliminate anyone who was less than 65. After many long hours, we came up with a short list of possibilities.
Next were many more hours spent in searching and contacting other local archives, lighthouse groups, and family members to see if anyone had another image of those keepers to use for a comparison. We were fortunate in finding such a photo from the Turn Point Lighthouse Preservation Society of head keeper William Auld, who appeared to be a match, but the photo was taken about 10 years prior and was a very small image of him in a group shot.
So, armed with a single likely candidate, we turned to hunting local specialized newspaper archives to see if that name was mentioned in connection with the livestock exhibition. We lucked out! There was an article confirming that Washington lighthouse keeper William Auld had been assigned by the lighthouse district office to be a docent at the exhibition.
Thankfully, the article also provided the name of the first assistant keeper as well - Henry Hill from Oregon. We had another photo of Henry we had recently stumbled across at Yaquina Head Lighthouse that could be used to confirm it. He was even wearing the same agate tie clasp in both photos!
Further in the newspaper article it was mentioned that the smaller lens on display had come from Oregon’s Desdemona Sands Lighthouse, which had been upgraded recently. That lighthouse would be destroyed seven years hence in 1942.
As often happens to us, one thing leads to another. While doing the local newspaper search, we also discovered an article that mentioned that lighthouse keeper Andrew P.C. Hald had been sent to the Pan Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. For years, there have been two National Archives photos circulating of the Lighthouse Service’s display at that exhibition that showed an unidentified keeper in them. Again, by using other photos we had found of keeper Hald from various sources, we were able to confirm that it was indeed him in the National Archives photos!
Just like any successful scavenger hunt, when the clue is finally solved or puzzle piece found that fits, there is an immense satisfaction in knowing that the knowledge that had been lost for decades, even centuries, can now be preserved, intact, for future generations.
That is what drives us – the passion we have for discovery and preservation of the past. But it takes an enormous amount of time and resources. That is why we continually ask for your support in donating to our Lighthouse History Research Institute. It isn’t cheap to purchase photos, publication rights, subscriptions to newspaper archives, or to reimburse families for registered postage when they send their precious photos for us to scan.
It is through your generous donations to the Lighthouse History Research Institute that we have the financial resources to be able to accomplish this great work. We thank you for your help thus far, and pray that it will continue. Please know that each of the donations that you send are deeply appreciated and are being judiciously applied to the best possible use in archiving and publishing the history preserved in every issue of Lighthouse Digest.
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 2020 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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