Digest>Archives> August 2007

Collecting Nautical Antiques

U.S. Lighthouse Service Bulletins

By Jim Claflin


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We recently obtained some rare issues of the U.S. Bureau of Light-houses, Lighthouse Service Bulletins from 1912. Lighthouse Service Bulletins were issued monthly, updating keepers and personnel on new technology and equipment, new construction, changes in personnel, fires and other disasters, punishments to keepers and personnel, lightships damages or driven off station, lives saved, and much more. Long sought after, these are the first that I have ever been able to find. They were typically four pages, 5 1/2” x

8 1/2” format and were found “hiding” among a lot of light lists.

The accounts included are of great interest and include such items as Fire on Light Vessel No. 74 while undergoing repairs at the Staten Island Depot, explosion of gas buoy, a disastrous fire at Tortugas Light Station, accounts of keepers saving lives and property, changes in personnel, device to awaken light keepers when the light is burning too low, and much more.

While most keepers by far were hard working, efficient and kept a good light and station, occasionally a few personnel were found who may not have been cut out for such duty. I found of great interest the following accounts of punishments to Lighthouse Service personnel, included within the Bulletins:

“A lighthouse keeper has been reprimanded for accepting a fee from visitors at his station, contrary to Instructions to Light Keepers, 1911.

A deduction has been made from the salary of the master of a light vessel to cover an expenditure for provisions which exceeded the subsistence allowance provided by the Regulations.

The engineer of a light vessel has been reprimanded for not keeping the engine-room clean and for neglect of certain parts of the machinery.

A second assistant lighthouse keeper has been dismissed from the service for tendering his resignation and leaving his station without giving due notice, much to the embarrassment of the service.

An officer has been warned on account of lack of energy and efficiency.

A lighthouse keeper has been reduced to the grade of assistant keeper for not keeping his station in proper condition, and on account of his slovenly appearance.

A lighthouse keeper has been transferred from a four-keeper station to a single-keeper station for incompetency in maintaining his station and its discipline in the proper manner.

A lighthouse keeper has been reprimanded for misstatement of facts in connection with charges, and for nagging of assistants.

A first assistant lighthouse keeper has been dismissed for threatening the keeper and for fomenting trouble between the keeper and others.”

On the plus side, a number of keepers were lauded of their courageous efforts in saving lives including Keeper William A. Henderson, keeper of the Point Arguello light station in California. He was commended “for courageous work done by him in connection with the saving of lives of many passengers from the stranded steamer Santa Rosa on July 11, 1911.”

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Jim Claflin is a recognized authority on antiques of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, Life-Saving Service, Revenue Cutter Service and early Coast Guard. In addition to authoring and publishing a number of books on the subject, Jim is the owner of Kenrick A Claflin & Son Nautical Antiques. In business since 1956, he has specialized in antiques of this type since the early 1990s. He may be contacted by writing to him at 1227 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA 01602, or by calling (508) 792-6627. You may also contact him by email: jclaflin@lighthouseantiques.net or visit his web site at www.lighthouseantiques.net

This story appeared in the August 2007 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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