Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2023

Just Exactly What Is, or What Was, His Name?

By Timothy Harrison


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Lighthouse keeper Bernhard (Bernard) Pizzala ...

One of the problems that we sometimes run across when researching old files is the different spellings of people’s names, whether it be the first name, or the last name, or both. This can lead us down different paths while we attempt to learn about their lives.

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The headstone of lighthouse keeper Bernhard ...

Such is the case with a 36-year veteran lighthouse keeper whose name is spelled Bernhard Pizzalar on all official government lighthouse records, as well as his marriage certificate. However, it is spelled Bernhard Pizzala on his tombstone and birth record. Also, sometimes his first name is spelled Bernard, and then to confuse matters even more, his nickname reportedly was Ben.

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The 1905 St. Martin Island Lighthouse, shown here ...

So, we’ll just refer to him as Bernhard.

On Christmas Eve in 1878, ten years before he joined the Lighthouse Service, Bernhard married Alice S. Ansell in Sac Bay, Michigan. The couple went on to have at least nine children in their long marriage.

He started his lighthouse career in 1888 as the 2nd assistant keeper at the now-endangered Poverty Island Lighthouse near Fairport, Michigan. After working himself up to be the 1st assistant keeper in 1892, he left Poverty Island in 1903 to assume the position as keeper of the now-headless Sheboygan Breakwater Lighthouse in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

In 1904, he was appointed as the head keeper at the St. Martin Island Lighthouse in northwestern Lake Michigan. Although he would serve at St. Martin Island Lighthouse for 23 years and be awarded the superintendents and commissions stars for excellency, something happened in 1917 that caused him to be demoted to 1st assistant keeper and replaced as head keeper by his assistant, Nels Engberg for the next three years.

In 1920, when Nels Engberg accepted the job as head keeper of the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Lighthouse for substantially more money than he was being paid at St. Martin Island, Bernhard again was given the position as head keeper of St. Martin Island Lighthouse. He continued to serve there until he retired in 1924 to his hometown of Sac Bay, in Fairbanks Township, Michigan, where he died on January 29, 1931.

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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