Digest>Archives> Mar/Apr 2021

Behind the Waterfront – Samuel E. Crozier

By Bertram B. Lewis


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Samuel E. Crozier served as a lighthouse keeper ...

Editor’s Note: This story appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on January 9, 1949. Because of its historical significance, we have published it in its entirety with several very slight alterations for clarity to our readers.

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The Cleveland West Breakwater Lighthouse as it ...
Photo by: John S. Karliak

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Vintage image of the Cleveland West Breakwater ...

One reason Chief Boatswain’s Mate Samuel E. Crozier likes his job as a lighthouse keeper at the main light, just outside Cleveland Harbor, is that while he is at work “there is no chance of getting hit by an automobile.”

He might have mentioned, however, that there was danger of being hit by a ship, for one November election night years ago, Crozier had to row like blazes to keep from being run down by a freighter while carrying out his duties near the lighthouse.

It happened this way. The night was dark, snowy and cold, and a strong northwest wind was blowing, turning what usually were itsy bitsy waves into real man-sized killer-dillers.

A Bad Night

This was the kind of a night on which you and I probably would be scared silly just being out there in the lighthouse.

Well, Crozier and his assistant were just settled comfy for a night of keeping the ships on the beam when the latter happened to glance across the channel and noticed that the light marking the east end of the harbor entrance had gone out.

This called for action, because a navigator might easily pile his vessel onto the breakwater on which the unfaithful light stood unless another beacon was placed there.

So, Crozier hauled out the rowboat, kept at the light for such emergencies, put a lantern in it and set out on his short but difficult voyage. It was bad enough trying to make headway behind the breakwall on a night like this, but out in the channel, where there was no protection from the seas, the going was really tough.

But Crozier, an old hand with a rowboat, made it. He jumped out on the breakwall, secured his boat, and hung a lantern near the extinguished electric lamp. He said a blue static flame, sometimes known as St. Elmo’s fire, was leaping six inches from the top of the light at the time.


Just as he was stepping into the boat for the return journey, a wall of water poured over the breakwater, drenching him to his waist. Then came the most strenuous bit of row-boating Crozier has experienced in his 32-year career at the lighthouse. Back in the channel and headed toward the comfort of the main light, Crozier, looking over his shoulder through the almost blinding snow, saw an outbound freighter bearing down on him not more than 100 feet away.

The next few minutes he will never forget. With the wind, the waves, the snow and a 600-foot vessel pitted against him, the situation looked bad.

But he bore down on the oars. His back and his muscles stood by him, and, in the end, with the reluctant assistance of the wind, which finally had decided to help him, he managed to make the life-boat station at the river mouth, several hundred yards from his destination. It was impossible to get back to the lighthouse, so he holed up for the night in the life-boat station.

The 1948 Gale

Also, Crozier will never forget the northwest gale of March 25, 1948 when terrific seas moved even the huge boulders placed as protection around the crib upon which the lighthouse rests.

This was the same gale, which Clevelanders will remember, that practically sent them sailing through the air when they tried to walk the downtown streets.

The lighthouse took a beating in that storm, the waves loosening some of the stone filler inside the concrete crib and causing thousands of dollars in damage.

The Job Never Stops

His title sometimes brings embarrassment to a lighthouse keeper. Crozier was being questioned once by an attorney as a prospective juror in Common Pleas Court. When asked his occupation, he replied: “I’m a lighthouse keeper.”

A look of utter amazement crossed the face of a prospective juror, seated nearby. She inspected Crozier carefully from head to toe. Then, turning to the lawyer, she asked, with a sneer: “Why don’t you put an apron on him and send him back to work?”

It never occurs to Crozier, as it occurs to some people, to call up the office and say, “I won’t be down today, I’m sick,” and then stay at home and put a new roof on the garage or weed the parsnips. His boss, Commodore J.A. Hirschfield, Chief of the Coast Guard activities on the entire Great Lakes area, lives next door.

This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2021 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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