For many years, according to various web sites and other written sources, it was widely believed that Nathaniel S. Alley was an assistant keeper at Maine’s Lubec Channel Lighthouse, when he died as a result of being overcome by fumes from a coal stove at the lighthouse.
However, when Donnell W. Alley recently met with Tim Harrison, editor of Lighthouse Digest at the Lubec Historical Society, in Lubec, Maine, he showed Harrison the letter “K” that had been saved from the jacket lapel of his grandfather’s uniform. Harrison was surprised when he saw this, because he, as well as others, had always been under the assumption that Nathaniel S. Ally was the assistant keeper at the Lubec Channel Lighthouse at the time of his death.
It is important to understand that over the years a large portion of lighthouse history has been derived from many different sources such as personal memories, personal written journals, stories passed down from generation to generation, old newspaper stories, and, of course, official government documents. But sometimes government records have been lost, misfiled, damaged, or not located until they were found at a later date. Also, many lighthouses that did not, or do not, have a large public appeal, may never have been researched thoroughly because of the expense involved.
So Lighthouse Digest contacted Candace Clifford, a noted lighthouse researcher, and hired her to research the records of the Lubec Channel Lighthouse at the National Archives. After a lengthy search, she discovered that Nathaniel S. Alley was indeed a head keeper at Lubec Channel Lighthouse. Government records stated that Alley was appointed as the assistant keeper at Lubec Channel Lighthouse on October 20, 1924 and he served in that position until January 22, 1929 when he was promoted to head keeper, a position that he held until his death on March 7, 1934.
In a letter dated April 14, 1934 from Lighthouse Superintendent Charles Brush to the Commissioner of Lighthouses, Brush wrote:
“1. Herewith for direct settlement is district voucher No. 6013 covering amount due Nathaniel S. Alley, former keeper, Lubec Chanel Lighthouse, Maine, from March 1 to March 7, 1934, the date of his death.
“2. Standard form No. 1055 is attached to voucher. Mrs. Alley has made claim for payment of burial expenses in her claim for compensation on account of Mr. Alley’s death, which occurred as a result of his being asphyxiated from coal gas at the station.”
At the bottom of this letter was a note typed by W.P. Harman, an administrative assistant for the Commissioner of Lighthouses, that stated, “Forwarded to Division of Accounts, Commerce, there being enclosed Voucher No. 50271 certified by the Superintendent of Lighthouses, Portland, Maine, in the amount of $31.49 covering salary due Nathaniel S. Alley, deceased, for settlement by the General Accounting Office, Washington D.C.” This would indicate that Nathaniel S. Alley was being paid approximately $4.50 per day for the position of head lighthouse keeper.
It seems that Alley was on duty by himself when a he failed to respond to the customary hail of a passing ferry. Concerned for his safety, a launch was sent to the lighthouse where Alley was discovered unconscious, caused by fumes. He was removed from the lighthouse for medical attention, but it was too late and he died shortly thereafter.
Immediately following Nathaniel S. Alley’s death, the government promoted assistant keeper Earle B. Ashby to the position of head keeper of the Lubec Channel Lighthouse. But, it is unclear if the government ever paid for Nathaniel S. Alley’s burial expense. Earle Ashby then served as the keeper of the Lubec Channel Lighthouse until it was automated in 1939.
In 2007, under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, after no other government entity or nonprofit wanted ownership of the lighthouse for free, the lighthouse was auctioned off to the highest bidder. It was purchased by New York businessman Gary Zaremba, who, since then, has apparently done nothing to restore the lighthouse.
Later this spring, Lighthouse Digest intends to place a U.S. Lighthouse Service historical keeper marker at the gravesite of Nathaniel S. Alley, a lighthouse keeper who died in the line of duty. If you would like to contribute our efforts to place historical markers at the gravesites of lighthouse keepers, you can make an on-line donation at www.GoFundMe.com/USLHSGraves or by mail to Lighthouse Digest, Grave Marker Fund, P.O. Box 250, East Machias, ME 04630.
This story appeared in the
Jan/Feb 2016 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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