Lighthouse - Post Office
Quoting from an 1850s writer, "Speaking of the lighthouse grounds and lightkeeper’s house, in the same garden is the village post office, a snug little cottage nestling under its walls. The postmaster is a lady, and the daughter of Captain Hiern, Sr. who, in the last war, beat off a British vessel that was coming in to fire the town, or did some equally brave act. A son of the sea fighter (Roger Hiern, Jr., brother of Sarah) commanded the superb steamer “Cuba”, in which we came from New Orleans."
My father was the Keeper of the Cat Island Light --
And he slept with a mermaid on one fine night.
From this union there came to be --
A porpoise, a porgy, — the other was me!
The words most often used to describe life as a lighthouse keeper are lonely and monotonous. Keepers and their families lived in a life of isolation, boredom, and monotony that is difficult for modern Americans to comprehend.
At the secluded Horn Island Lighthouse, one Coast Guard Chief Boatswain’s Mate commented,
“Only a few people even remotely realize what isolation means to the men living under restricted conditions, such as prevail on these Lighthouse Stations. Unless adequate measures are taken to neutralize the ill effects it has on the men — rancor, hostility and even enmity of the most serious nature may result. The record of the Lighthouse Service over a period of years reveals cases of friction, violence, and insanity among keepers who have inadvertently been too long isolated.” He recommended that the Coast Guard service guard against “voidable idleness of minds and hands.”
The Role of Keepers
In the United States, lighthouse keepers, at first, were not usually qualified as the best tenders, since they were primarily political appointees. But, once the U.S. Light-House Board came into existence in the 1850s, a better recruitment program was placed in effect with routine supervision and inspection. Eventually, America’s keepers became a professional group that ranked among the best.
People have tended lighthouses so that others could safely reach their destination. They did their work day in and day out with very little, if any notice from fellow citizens. Lighthouse keepers were ordinary men and women who stayed by their light posts and did the best job they could under trying circumstances – some nobly – and others not so nobly.
Many lighthouses were family stations which, while alleviating loneliness for the keeper, did little to aid the wife. At least the menfolk were able to visit civilization every month or so, to pick up supplies. Because of the nature of their work, they also faced great peril. At least two whole families were wiped out in Gulf Coast hurricanes. The number of keepers, or their families, who suffered from a lack of medical attention is not documented.
And Their Duties
Lighthouse keeper duties were varied, however, with the primary task of keeping a good light for the mariner. This deceptive task required many hours attending to the light, both day and night – usually 365 days – year in – year out.
Keeping wicks lighted and trimmed. (Keepers were sometimes called “Wickies.”)
Keeping oil reserves full.
Keeping glass panes cleaned from soot
Keeping reflectors and brass polished, as well as utensils, walls, floors, galleries, stairways, landings, passageways, doorways, windows and recesses, and all storage facilities.
Oh, what is the bane of a Lightkeeper’s life?
That causes him worry and struggle and strife?
That makes him use cuss words and beat up his wife?
- - - It’s brass-work —