A number of extremely rare documents pertaining to Eugene C. Ingalls, who served as an assistant lighthouse keeper at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse from 1907 to 1912, that were found in the rafters of Maine’s Monhegan Island Lighthouse, were recently donated to the West Quoddy Head Light Keepers Association. The documents were donated to the association because there are no lighthouse groups or museums associated with the other lighthouses where he once served.
After Eugene Ingalls’ tragic death by drowning in 1916, his widow Inez and their two children, Alison and Reta Frances, went to live with Inez’s father Herbert Robinson and his wife Mary Estelle at Moose Peak Lighthouse where he was the lighthouse keeper. When Herbert Robinson was transferred to Monhegan Island Lighthouse in 1919, Inez Ingalls and the two grandchildren went with him. It is speculated that in 1922 when Herbert Robinson was transferred to Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, the Ingalls family left these family documents behind at Monhegan Island Lighthouse and they were forgotten. Or, perhaps, they were left there on purpose, hopefully to be found by future generations.
Because of moisture, some of the documents were no longer legible; others were in a severe state of deterioration while others were brittle and disintegrating from age. However, a few of them were still in good enough shape to be of important historical significance, especially because of the strong family ties that Eugene Ingalls and his wife Inez had to West Quoddy Head Lighthouse and other lighthouses and lighthouse families who served and lived in Downeast Maine. They are also valuable because of Eugene Ingalls’ heartbreakingly short-lived lighthouse career.
One of the earliest documents was a hand-written letter of recommendation for Eugene Ingalls from the Chief Engineer of the U.S. Lighthouse Service lighthouse tender Geranium, dated May 20, 1902, to the district lighthouse inspector at a time when Ingalls, then a crewman on board the lighthouse tender, was trying to get a job as a lighthouse keeper. But with no openings available, it took another five years for him to get the lighthouse job he wanted.
A letter dated September 17, 1907 from Lighthouse Inspector McDonald asked if Ingalls was immediately available to accept the position to fill the job of 1st assistant lighthouse keeper of West Quoddy at a salary of $480 per year. He accepted the position. Eugene Ingalls was very familiar with West Quoddy Head Light. On July 27, 1904, he had married Inez Robinson, the daughter of West Quoddy Head Light 1st assistant keeper Herbert Robinson, who in 1907, was promoted to be head keeper at Moose Peak Lighthouse. Eugene Ingalls and his wife Inez would now be living in the same assistant keeper’s quarters where his wife’s parents had previously lived.
Interestingly, Eugene Ingalls’ mother-in-law Mary Estelle Robinson was the sister of Loring Myers, who was the long-time lighthouse keeper of the Lubec Channel Lighthouse, where Myers served from 1890 to 1923.
Perhaps the most valuable of the documents is a highly complementary hand-written letter of recommendation, dated April 12, 1912, for Eugene Ingalls by West Quoddy Head Light head keeper Ephraim N. Johnson. Apparently Eugene Ingalls wanted to be transferred to Moose Peak Lighthouse, not only because his father-in-law was the head keeper there, but also because the rate of pay was higher. The letter of recommendation must have worked. A few days later, a letter dated April 15, 1912 arrived from the Lighthouse Inspector in Portland informing him that Mr. Leo Allen was to relieve him from duty as assistant keeper at West Quoddy Head Light on the morning of April 16, and he was to report immediately as the new assistant keeper under his father-in-law and head keeper Herbert Robinson at the Moose Peak Lighthouse.
A series of other legible documents in the group dealt with Eugene Ingalls’ promotion to become the head keeper at Petit Manan Lighthouse off the coast of Milbridge, Maine. The last of the series of letters, dated January 17, 1914, informed Ingalls that a lighthouse tender would arrive at Moose Peak Lighthouse within a week or ten days to transport him and his family to their new home at Petit Manan Lighthouse. He was instructed to have all his household items, as were feasibly possible, down on the beach in readiness for the tender.
Among the other documents belonging to Eugene Ingalls were his membership and paid dues stamps for the American Federation of Labor, the Washington Lodge in Lubec, and the Lobster Fisherman’s Protective Association. Other items included envelopes addressed to him from the Department of Commerce Lighthouse Service, a personal letter addressed to his wife, and various government circulars including one from the Relief Association of the Lighthouse Service, which would pay death benefits that were based on how many members the organization would have at the time of a keeper’s death. Hopefully those dues were paid up.
On December 29, 1916, Eugene Ingalls left Petit Manan in the station’s power boat with a tender in tow to meet his wife on the mainland in Milbridge, Maine where she had been since Christmas visiting her parents, Herbert and Mary Robinson, who were stationed at the Moose Peak Lighthouse. Suddenly an unexpected gale developed, and Ingalls’ boat was last seen in a swell in the distance by the assistant keeper at Petit Manan Lighthouse and by Ingalls’ daughter Alison Jean who was watching from land. However, when the gale developed it was unclear and unknown to both if Ingalls had proceeded to reach the mainland or turned around and gone back to the lighthouse. Since there was no telephone at Petit Manan Lighthouse, and no way other way to communicate, it was not until January 2, 1917 that it was realized that Eugene Ingalls had perished at sea.
When Eugene Ingalls’ brother Herman Ingalls, who was the captain of the lighthouse tender Zizania, heard of his brother’s disappearance, he launched a search. The lighthouse tender Hibiscus also joined the search. Several days later, the sides of the Swamscott dory power boat from Petit Manan Lighthouse were found in the water near Libby Island Lighthouse. Records indicate that the keepers of Petit Manan had complained about the condition of the power boat to the government, but the government insisted that repairs be made to the powerboat, rather than purchase a new boat.
A story in the Lubec Herald newspaper on January 8, 1917 stated, “From the appearance of the wreckage picked up at Libby Island it appears that these repairs were insufficient to stand the buffeting of the seas and that the entire bottom may have dropped out of the boat giving the occupant no time to get out into the tender before the craft would fill with water and sink.”
The body of lighthouse keeper Eugene C. Ingalls was never found. Later, his family erected a memorial monument to him at the Hillside Cemetery in Machiasport, Maine. On June 2, 2016, in a Lighthouse Digest ceremony that was sponsored in-part by the West Quoddy Head Light Keepers Association, a U.S. Lighthouse Service Memorial Marker was placed at his monument.
In the near future, the West Quoddy Head Light Keepers Association hopes to create an exhibit about the documents and keeper Eugene Ingalls at the museum in the Visitor’s Center at the lighthouse. In the meantime, the documents have been properly stored in protective archival sleeves to be saved for future generations.
Click here to view the Eugene C. Ingalls Family Photo Album
This story appeared in the
Sep/Oct 2019 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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