There hasn’t been much written about screw-pile lighthouses. Seems they never had a leg to stand on when it comes to daily routine. These style lighthouses that guided shipping away from rocks and shoals were shunned by the media, as was the one on which I served.
The goings on at some of these cottage-type temporary homes, from ghostly specters and unsolved murders to famous visitors, didn’t seem adventuresome to some of those who served as keepers or assistants. I was a lad of 18 years of age when I served at Holland Island Bar Light just south of Holland Island, Maryland. The two years I spent as a seaman at this lighthouse was an adventure - and then some. I experienced the ghost (or something that scared me out of my wits) of a 1930s keeper who was supposedly murdered during prohibition. Many years later I met the grandson of the keeper who gave me the documentation that aided me in writing a summary of events leading up to his granddad’s demise. Another time was when I and another crewman were attacked by Navy fighter bombers. The planes dropped dummy bombs which landed in the nearby Chesapeake Bay waters and sprayed sand and mud on the 25-foot lighthouse boat that we had just painted. Today we would call it “friendly fire.” I still think I should have gotten some type of combat pay for my ordeal.
The mystery is still unsolved. Or maybe unclear.
I knew of two very distinguished visitors who visited the Holland Island Bar Lighthouse One time was when lighthouse keeper Lewis Carmen hosted Franklin D. Roosevelt’s son, James, when the president’s son’s yacht broke down. The lighthouse signaled the president’s yacht Potomac which was nearby in nine feet of water. Popular radio and television personality Arthur Godfrey was the other noteworthy person who was given a tour of the lighthouse by keeper Carmen. Godfrey was a dual veteran, having served in the U.S. Navy from 1920 to 1924, and in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1927 to 1930. When World War II broke out, President Roosevelt issued a special Presidential Commission for Godfrey to serve in the Coast Guard Reserves.
I departed the lighthouse a few month’s early to take an assignment aboard the icebreaker Westwind which had just been reclaimed from the Russian navy by the Coast Guard after it had been on loan for the duration of World War II. After a cruise in 1953 to the northern domain of Aurora Borealis, mythical ruler of snow and ice and the far reaching outposts of the DEWLINE. Those places were called Alert, Eureka, and a few others that I forgot.
After the trip north in the spring and summer, we returned to our homeport at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York. I was a log-room yeoman and had published a ship’s scandal sheet, The Big Wind, which was noticed by a chief journalist whose name was Alex Haley. Yes, he’s the same Alex Haley of Roots fame. He also made note of a few articles I wrote for the now defunct U.S. Coast Guard Magazine which was published at Annapolis, Maryland. Chief Haley came aboard to interview me and offered to send me to the Navy’s journalism class at a military training school at Great Lakes, Illinois. I jumped at the chance. I knew that I would learn more from three months of this school than I did from reading reams of comic book pages. I had read comics until they came out of my ears. They (along with some credit to grade school and high school) helped me learn to spell, punctuate, and to write. The school also taught me radio and TV broadcasting.
All this brings me to the job as illustrator and proofreader at the U. S. Coast Guard Institute in Groton, Connecticut. While assigned to that billet, I never noticed that there was a lighthouse behind the Institute. It wasn’t until I read a story in Lighthouse Digest about the restoration of Avery Point Light that I noticed a photo for which I posed in 1957, that there was, indeed, a lighthouse there all the time. I believe that the lighthouse was operational at the time, but was too small to be manned. I later learned that it had been built as a memorial lighthouse to the lighthouse keepers of the past.
This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 2012 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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