By BMC Peter E. Jones (USCG Ret.)
During the 1970s I was assigned to the Coast Guard Base located on Park Point in Duluth, Minnesota. Because I was going to be sent to take charge of the Coast Guard Station in Bayfield, Wisconsin in the fall, I was sent to the Major Aids to Navigation School at Governors Island, New York. This was because the Bayfield Station was responsible for five automated lighthouses in the Apostle Islands. At that time, one light, Devils Island, was still a manned station.
After completion of the school, I returned to Duluth. At that time, the lighthouses at the entrance to Superior Harbor (Superior Entry Light, Wisconsin) had been automated, and the crews from the Duluth Coast Guard Station were in the process of removing unneeded equipment from the lighthouse.
Once everything had been removed, problems with the light began occurring. The light was reported out, so I and another Coastie were sent over to correct the problem. We went over by boat. Because of the roughness of the lake, we tied up at the dock in front of the old keeper’s house. From there it was a short walk to the beach and a long walk out on the breakwater to the lighthouse.
At that time, the steps and front door to the lighthouse had been covered with barbed wire to prevent vandals from entry, and we had to obtain access into the light through a small locked door that led into a very dark basement area.
Two of us made our way up the lighthouse to the lens room. We looked at the light and it was operating perfectly, even though it been out when we had walked down the breakwater to the lighthouse. I checked the spare bulbs that change automatically when one fails, and they all tested perfectly. Unable to find anything amiss, we made our way out of the tower. Upon reaching the keeper’s house, we both turned to look back at the light, which was cheerfully flashing away. My partner looked at me and said, “You know, I had the strangest feeling that someone was in the tower with us.” I laughed and told him not to watch so much TV.
Four days later, the light was again reported out. I thought I must have missed some trouble spot and would have to spend more time diagnosing the problems. Therefore, I drove a truck over to the light.. This meant driving from Park Point through Duluth, behind both the Duluth Harbor and the Superior Harbor, and then down some back roads to the old keeper’s house.
This time I was alone. As I was walking down the breakwater, strangely, the light began flashing again. I entered the light and, in a slightly annoyed mood, climbed to the lantern room. Once again, after checking everything possible, I could find nothing wrong.
As left, I inspected the entire lighthouse, both inside and out, for any signs of forced entry, and could find none.
A week later I was called into the Group Commander’s office. He grinned at me and said, “Guess what light is out.” He asked just exactly what was going on over there anyway. I told him that there was absolutely no reason for the light to be malfunctioning. He told me to go and have another look.
Again I drove to the light and again I made the walk on the breakwater to the light. It remained out.
This time I made an even more complete inspection of the front doors, the barbed wire, and the lock on the metal door; nothing had been tampered with. I entered the structure and climbed to the lantern room. Then I just leaned against one of the windows and looked at the light, trying to think what might be wrong. I stood there for about five minutes or so, and then, presto, the light suddenly came on. I waited a few moments and I finally spoke up, saying, “I don’t know if you’re an old keeper or assistant keeper, but please stop doing this. A crew will not be coming back, no matter what you do or how lonely you are; you’ll just be stuck with me each time something happens. If you are one of the old keepers, it’s your job to help me keep the light running and I’d appreciate your assistance in doing so.”
I was happy that no one was with me to witness my ‘going over the edge,’ and I did feel foolish. Yet as I continued to stand there, I got the distinct impression that I had connected with someone -- or something.
I never told anyone what happened that day in the tower, but in the several months before being transferred to Bayfield, Wisconsin, the light never again malfunctioned.
This story appeared in the
August 2010 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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