Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2023

Bolivar’s Keeper Presided at International Exposition


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Bolivar Point Lighthouse keeper Harry C. ...

Harry C. Claiborne had been the head keeper at Bolivar Point Lighthouse for less than a year when the 8th Lighthouse District Inspector picked him to take charge of the Treasury Department’s U.S. Light-House Establishment exhibit at the Cotton States and International Exposition, which was a World’s Fair held in Atlanta, Georgia in 1895. Before being appointed keeper at Bolivar Point on December 15, 1894, he had served since 1887 at the Pass a L’Outre Lighthouse near Venice, Louisiana.

Harry Claiborne was the shead keeper of Bolivar Point Lighthouse during two epic storms: the Great Galveston Hurricane of September 8, 1900 that killed thousands, and another hurricane that struck the area on August 16 and 17 in 1915.

During the 1900 hurricane, Claiborne let over 100 people seek refuge in the tower. During the storm, he had enough provisions in the tower to feed all the refugees, but ran short on fresh water. As the storm waters went down, and he and the others finally exited the tower, they found the area strewn with dozens of bodies of those who never made it to the lighthouse for protection.

Fifteen years later, another hurricane struck the area and keeper Claiborne and others again sought refuge in the tower. And, similar to the 1900 hurricane, the survivors again found dead humans and animals littering the grounds around the lighthouse when the storm was over. For the second time in 15 years, Claiborne and his wife lost all their provisions and belongings. Although the government built new keeper’s homes, Claiborne and his wife were not reimbursed for their losses, at least not in keeper Claiborne’s lifetime.

On October 21, 1918, at the age of 59, keeper Harry C. Claiborne died at the lighthouse from a gall bladder ailment believed to have been contracted from the corpses of the dead animals that he had to cart away from the hurricane three years earlier. He was buried in the Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Galveston, Texas. Hopefully, the day will come when a U.S. Lighthouse Service Memorial Marker will be placed at his gravesite.

Finally, in 1921, Congress paid keeper Claiborne’s widow, Virginia, compensation for the couple’s losses suffered from the 1900 and 1915 hurricanes.

In 1999, the United States Coast Guard honored keeper Claiborne’s memory by naming a 175-foot Keeper-Class buoy tender, the Harry Claiborne WLM-561, after him for his years of dedicated service.

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2023 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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