I came across a profound statement from a Greek lighthouse keeper when I was researching and translating materials for the book The Lighthouses of Greece. Nikolaos Filosofof, a former Russian Admiral who later became a Senior Chief Petty Officer in the military service of another country when he became a lighthouse keeper of the Elafonisos Lighthouse, said and wrote in December, 1924, “Where I saved so many shipwreck victims, I am also being saved from the shipwreck of life.” Research would soon shed on his profound statement.
In early 1908, a winter storm shipwrecked the transatlantic steamer Imperatriche, which was bound from Trieste to Bombay. As soon as the distress message was received, Captain Nikolaos Filosofof, skipper of the Russian cruiser Hivendis, who was stationed on Crete Island as the head of the Russian Naval Force, rushed to the scene of the disaster. The Imperatriche had struck a shoal near Elafonisos (Deer) Islet, in western Crete. Although thirty-eight people perished in the disaster, Captain Filosofof was successful in rescuing 108 souls. The captain was subsequently honored by the Greek government and was decorated with a medal at a ceremony where he met Stilianos Lykoudis, Director of the Greek (Hellenic) Lighthouse Service.
Later, after his return to St. Petersburg, Russia, he came to the attention of Tsar Nicholas II, the Emperor of Russia, and rose in rank to Admiral. However, his loyalty to the Tsar during the Russian Revolution was his downfall after the monarchy fell. He lost one son in the violence of the Revolution and his only other son committed suicide. Tragedy struck again when his wife literally died from grief. With no family left and an uncertain future in the political turmoil around him, he escaped from Russia, leaving from the town of Odessa, and walked across Siberia to Turkey. Forced to travel lightly, he only carried three books with him: the Bible, the List of Lights for the Black Sea, and the genealogy of his family. Inside a book he also carried a few photos.
At the age of 52, he arrived in Athens, Greece where he became a guest of the King Constantine I, of Greece. Eventually, he learned to speak fluent Greek, and gained Greek citizenship. During this time he met another refugee, Maria Ivanova Tsoukalo, and he believed there was again hope for his life. The couple was married in July, 1923. However, the marriage was short-lived. Tragically, after only a few months of marriage, his wife died of a sudden illness. He then compared his life to that of a shipwreck.
After so many losses in his life, Filosofof sought to cloister himself, believing that the job of a lighthouse keeper at some isolated outpost would be a suitable way to spend his remaining working years. He turned to Stilianos Lykoudis, who was still the Director of Lighthouses in Greece and was the man who had befriended him years earlier when he received his medal for bravery in 1908. Lykoudis obliged him and appointed him as the keeper of Greece’s newest lighthouse that had been built on Elafonisos (Deer) Islet, on Crete Island, where he had, so many years earlier, bravely rescued the shipwreck victims of the Impreratriche. Was this a coincidence or did the hand of fate play some role?
When Filosofof took the lighthouse keeper’s oath in 1924, and was given the rank of Senior Chief Petty Officer, he stated at the ceremony, “Where I saved so many shipwreck victims, I am also being saved from the shipwreck of life.”
Filosofof’s wish had been granted, and for many years he lived comfortably in the isolation of the Elafonisos Lighthouse. Interestingly, Filosofof’s story doesn’t end there; it has a happy ending with Greek love.
To learn more, you can read about the ending in book The Lighthouses of Greece that was coauthored by the Dolores Reyes-Pergioudakis and Elinor DeWire published by Pineapple Press.
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 2013 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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