Family trees involve ancestral names branching out in all directions, with dates of birth and death charted as well. Informative, but lacking personalities. Even faded photographs fail to reveal human characteristics behind solemn faces. Only stories passed down among generations bring life to one’s lineage.
Few are fortunate to have written accounts of forebears. For Catherine Carroll, her maternal grandfather John Eddy was a lighthouse keeper in Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands during the late 1890s. His unique occupation and lifestyle – now obsolete – was documented in logbooks and letters now stored at the National Archives Repository in Maryland. These records, along with a helpful historian, gave her the chance to finally know a man she never met.
The desire to dig deeper into her past developed after the death of her mother Mabel in 1969. Though familiar with a few family facts, old photo albums made her realize how little she knew of her history. “Sadly, there was so much Mother could have told me, but I didn’t have the good sense to listen,” Carroll said. Wanting more background to her own youthful memories, Carroll embarked on an Eddy expedition, taking 15 years to complete.
The search for her Raspberry Island roots started in 1980. Traveling by boat, her maiden voyage to Raspberry Island Lighthouse revealed nothing personal about her grandfather, but was emotionally rewarding in recollections. “When I was 14, my mother took me to Devils and Madeline, two other islands in the Apostles,” Carroll said. “There wasn’t public access to Raspberry so I just saw it in passing. Finally stepping onto this island for the first time was magical.”
Considered the crown jewel in the Apostle archipelago, Raspberry Island is 300 acres of emerald green forest, surrounded by sapphire blue Lake Superior.
The lighthouse, built in 1863 during the Civil War, provided a scenic summer residence for John Eddy, his wife Kate, and two young daughters. Mabel was four when she arrived with her older sister Beatrice in the mid-1890s. “One of mother’s memories at the time was the exciting boat ride to the island. She was allowed to hold onto the prow’s railing the entire journey.”
Life at the lighthouse lasted only four years. John Eddy suffered a fatal heart attack in 1900 at the age of 41. Carroll’s grandmother moved Mabel and Beatrice back to the mainland, opening their winter home in Bayfield, Wisconsin to boarders. A year later, Kate Eddy married William Bell.
Though Catherine Carroll – Kate Eddy Bell’s namesake but with a “C” – grew up with the grandfatherly guidance of William Bell, she was still an Eddy descendant. Remembering her mother’s remarks ”concerning correspondence with Auntie Norris” (John Eddy’s sister) in Porthleven, England, Carroll sought information while touring Britain with her husband Al in 1984. This fact-finding foray also ended unsuccessfully.
Then in 1989, Dave Synder, former historian for Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Bayfield, contacted Carroll about copies of family photographs relating to John and Kate Eddy. A living logbook of lighthouse lore, Synder gave her the sought-after glimpse into her grandfather’s life. Materials passed to Carroll included transcriptions of the keeper’s log in Eddy’s handwriting, photocopies of letters between Eddy and the district lighthouse inspector, which included his promotion to head keeper and report of death, and Eddy’s obituary from Bayfield’s local newspaper.
Born in England in 1858, John Eddy became a sailor at the age of 14. Marrying Katherine Clark in Dublin in 1882 – Carroll didn’t know her grandmother’s maiden name or that the marriage took place in Ireland – the couple immigrated to America four years later.
After working at Superior Mine in Ishpeming, Michigan, then a machine shop in Marquette, Eddy entered lighthouse service in 1893 as first assistant at Menagerie Island Lighthouse on Michigan’s Isle Royale. In 1895, he was appointed Raspberry’s head keeper, earning $400 a year.
Always arriving on Raspberry during spring thaw, usually April, Eddy manned the station until winter closed the shipping lanes. His family would join him in early June.
Duties included cultivating a large vegetable garden and chopping wood, daily recordings of weather and number of boats landing or passing by, painting living quarters plus repairing the boathouse and dock and maintaining the light.
Raspberry’s light was similar in operation to a grandfather clock. Heavy weights, dropping down two stories, had to be wound every three to four hours. The Fresnel lens was kept spotlessly clean, a challenge due to oil providing the light source. Eddy’s reputation for being meticulous was known among lighthouse inspectors.
However, inspectors had a reputation for surprise visits. “My grandmother once told me that an inspector arrived unexpectedly after grandfather had gone to the mainland. She realized the flag hadn’t been raised that morning and, in her haste, accidentally ran it up upside-down. Luckily, the man had a sense of humor and said ‘Mrs. Eddy, I know it’s some concern when an inspector calls, but is it necessary to fly the distress signal?” Kate Eddy also related how inspectors would lean nonchalantly against doorjambs and place a white-gloved hand on the frame to check for dust.
After John Eddy’s death, the final two logbook entries about his family, penned by the new keeper and dated April 23, 1900 and April 25, 1900 respectively, states, “Mrs. John Eddy arrived at the station this morning in steamer Barker.” and “Mrs. John Eddy left here with all her furniture for Bayfield.”
In the following years, Kate had two sons, Clark and Everett with William Bell, Mabel married Edward Prien in 1917 and Catherine Carroll was born into a lighthouse legacy.
With Raspberry roots firmly implanted at last, Carroll traveled again with two friends to the island in 1994. Dave Synder personally conducted the tour, making her feel she had come home. And as he reintroduced Bayfield to her as well, one friend remarked, “Is there anywhere you can go around this town without being John Eddy’s grand daughter?”
Catherine Carroll also has mementos to share. Rings made of greenstones taken from Isle Royale (the only place that has them), and purple bead necklaces as a reminder of Kate’s eye for beauty and smell of lavender perfume. One of Mabel’s paintings of Raspberry Island Lighthouse is displayed next to the original Fresnel lens at Madeline Island State Historical Society Museum. The association to a Bayfield house still standing across from the old courthouse, now park headquarters for Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. And two glass inkwells with red and black ink undisturbed, plus black binoculars used by a hardworking, dedicated head lightkeeper.
“I would have liked to have known my grandfather. I had the opportunity to ask about John Eddy when I was a child, but I didn’t. At the same time, my grandmother and mother belonged to an era where they didn’t confide in children either.” Knowing what she does now, Catherine Carroll will pass on her Raspberry reminiscences to her own offspring.
This story appeared in the
May 2005 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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