Monday, June 28, 2010

In the Limelight

South Foreland light, from Simplon Postcards.

From the 1895 edition of Harper's Book of Facts: A Classified History of the World Embracing Science, Literature, and Art:
Lime-light, produced by burning hydrogen or carburetted hydrogen with oxygen on a surface of lime, evolving little heat and not vitiating the air. It is also called Drummond light, after lieut. Thomas Drummond, who successfully produced it in 1826, and employed it on the British Ordnance survey. It is said to have been seen 112 miles. It was tried at the South Foreland light-house in 1861. Lieut. Drummond was born 1797, died 15 Apr. 1840. To him is attributed the maxim that “property has its duties as well as its rights.”
According to the National Trust, South Foreland, which sits atop the White Cliffs of Dover, was also "the first lighthouse powered by electricity and the site of the first international radio transmission."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Romance of Being a Lighthouse Keeper

Lighthouse and attached keeper's quarters that stood in Cleveland, OH.

The text below and illustration above are from “The Light-Houses of the United States” in Harper's New Monthly Magazine (Vol. 48, Dec. 1873 to May 1874):

Most of our light-houses are on barren, desolate, and exposed points of the coast. In some of them the keepers can not communicate at all with the shore during the winter months, and in such cases supplies of all kinds for the lights and the keepers must be accumulated beforehand. In many freshwater for the keeper and his family has to be caught in cisterns; and there is an official circular to light-keepers, telling them how to avoid the poisonous effect of the water dripping from the leads of the lighthouses by putting powdered chalk into the cistern, and occasionally stirring it. In many places it has been found that cattle, attracted to the light at night, destroyed the strong-rooted grass which holds down sand dunes, and thus exposed the light-house itself to destruction; and in such cases a considerable area of land must be fenced in to exclude these beasts. On stormy nights sea-fowl are apt to dash themselves against the lantern glasses, blinded probably by the glare of the lights, and all light-keepers are specially warned in their printed instructions to be on the watch for such an accident, and extra panes of glass, fixed in frames, are always in readiness in every light-house, to substitute for those which may thus be broken.

In fact, the Light-house Board carries on and provides for an infinite number of details, many of them petty, but none unimportant. It must provide oil for the lamps, and oil butts must be ingeniously contrived so as to exclude air from their contents. It must keep a store of wicks, and of lamp scissors to trim the wicks; it must provide the most durable and economical paint for the iron of the lanterns; it has to send on supplies of food; and for the more complicated lights of the higher orders it has not only to provide expensive machinery, but must also keep on hand delicate yet simple tests by the help of which the light-keeper may be able daily to see that his lamp is set in the exact plane, and his wicks are trimmed precisely high enough. It must provide such seemingly trifling articles as dusting and feather brushes, linen aprons, rouge powder, prepared whiting, spirits of wine, buff or chamois skins, and linen cleaning cloths, and what will appeal to the sensibilities of most country housekeepers, the Light-house Board must keep on hand at each light-house a sufficient supply of glass chimneys for the lamps. No doubt the board possesses the invaluable secret of making chimneys last a long time, and no doubt many an excellent housekeeper who reads this would like to ask Professor Henry [head of the board] what kind of lamp chimneys he has found to be the most lasting and least liable to crack.

There is a printed book of one hundred and fifty-two pages specially devoted to “instructions and directions to light-keepers,” and in this they receive explicit commands not only for their daily duties, but for all possible or imaginable accidents and emergencies. The first article of these instructions announces the fundamental duty of the light-keeper: “The light-house and light-vessel lamps shall be lighted, and the lights exhibited for the benefit of mariners, punctually at sunset daily. Light-house and light-vessel lights are to be kept burning brightly, free from smoke, and at their greatest attainable heights, during each entire night, from sunset to sunrise;” and it is added that “the height of the flame must be frequently measured during each watch at night, by the scale graduated by inches and tenths of an inch, with which keepers are provided.” Finally, “All light-house and light-vessel lights shall be extinguished punctually at sunrise, and every thing put in order for lighting in the evening by ten o’clock A.M. daily.”

It would be tedious and take more space than we have to spare, to give even a bald list of all the tools and materials required in a first-class light-house. A glance over the index of the volume of directions shows that it contains instructions for cleaning, placing, removing, and preserving the lamp chimneys; for cleaning the lamps; for keeping the lantern free from ice and snow; for preserving the whiting, rouge powder, etc.; for using two or three dozen tools; for preserving and economically using the oil, filling the lamp, using the damper; for precautions against fire; “hot to trim the wicks;” and for dozens of other details of the light-keeper’s daily duties.

The keeper is required to enter in a journal (daily) all events of importance occurring in and near his tower, and also to keep a table of the expenditure of oil and other stores. Besides the officer who is district light-house inspector, and who may make his examinations at any time, there are experts called “lampists,” who pass from light to light, making needed repairs, and also taking care that the machinery of the light is in order, and that it is properly attended to by the keepers.

Friday, June 25, 2010

In a Fog

From “The Light-Houses of the United States” in Harper's New Monthly Magazine (Vol. 48, Dec. 1873 to May 1874):

Fog-signals, many of which are required at different points on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, are of several kinds. Some are steam-whistles, the sound of which is made deeper or louder by being sent through a trumpet; but the most effective is probably the Siren. This ingenious machine consists of a long trumpet and a steam-boiler. The sound is produced by the rapid revolution past each other of two flat disks pierced with a great number of small holes; a jet of steam under high pressure is projected against the disks, which revolve past each other more than a thousand times a minute; as the rows of small holes in the two disks come opposite each other, the steam vehemently rushes through and makes the singular and piercing noise which a Siren gives out. One of these machines, of which a drawing is given [above]; costs about $3500 complete, with its trumpet, boiler, etc.

Daboll’s trumpet is worked by an Ericsson engine, and requires no water for steam.

From the 1893 Light-House Board Annual Report (note the vast quantities of fuel):

Fog Signals Operated by Steam or Hot-Air Engines
913. Tillamook Rock, Oregon.—The first-class siren, in duplicate, was in operation some 316 hours and consumed about 16 tons of coal.
914. Columbia River light-vessel No. 50, Washington.—The 12-inch steam whistle was in operation some 802 hours and consumed about 71 tons of coal.
969. Destruction Island, Washington.—The first-class steam siren, in duplicate, was in operation some 825 hours and consumed about 49 tons of coal.
970. Cape Flattery, Washington.—The 12-inch steam whistle, in duplicate, was in operation some 520 hours and consumed about 32 tons of coal and about 100 feet of wood.
974. Point Wilson, Washington.—The 12-inch steam whistle was in operation some 157 hours and consumed about 16 tons of coal.
980. West Point, Washington.—The Daboll trumpet was in operation some 195 hours and consumed about 2 tons of coal and about 76 feet of wood.
982. Robinson Point, Washington.—The 12-inch steam whistle was in operation some 56 hours and consumed about 5 tons of coal.
1011. Turn Point, Washington.—The Daboll trumpet was in operation some 54 hours and consumed about 1 ton of coal.
1012. Patos Islands, Washington.—The Daboll trumpet was in operation some 90 hours and consumed about 1 ton of coal.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Keepers of the Song

From the June 13 Metropolitan Diary in the New York Times

After showing an apartment to a prospective buyer, I walked east on 11th Street to return to my office. Two men were walking toward me, engaged in conversation, and as we passed each other, I heard these words:

“My father was the keeper of the Eddystone Light.”

Slowly the words began to register, and when I was a few paces past them, I turned and said, loud enough to make sure they could hear,

“And he married a mermaid one fine night.”

The men slowed. One of them turned, looked at me with a cautious expression and responded,

“From this union there came three.”

To which I replied, with the last line of the first verse of this old sea chantey,

“A porpoise, a porgy and the other was me!”

We both started laughing, introduced ourselves and compared notes on our introduction to this song.

Mine was from my old folk music days and his, more appropriately, sung on the ships he tended in the merchant marine.--Michael Raab
The Eddystone Light
Yo ho, Here's a tale
That's fair and dear to the hearts of those that sail
'Bout a lighthouse keeper and his bare faced wife
Who joined together for a different life
Yo ho, The winds and water tell the tale

My father was the keeper of the Eddystone light
He married a mermaid one fine night
From this union there came three
A porpoise and a porgy and the other one me!

Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh, for the life on the rolling sea!

Late one night, I was a-trimming of the glim
While singing a verse from the evening hymn
A voice on the starboard shouted "Ahoy!"
And there was my mother, a-sitting on a buoy.

Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh, for the life on the rolling sea!

"Tell me what has become of my children three?"
My mother she did asked of me.
One was exhibited as a talking fish
The other was served on a chafing dish.

Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh, for the life on the rolling sea!

Then the phosphorous flashed in her seaweed hair.
I looked again, and me mother wasn't there
A voice came echoing out from the night
"To Hell with the keeper of the Eddystone Light!"

The below video has the song as done by The Weavers, and scrolling lyrics rife with errant homonyms.

Friday, June 11, 2010

New Lighthouse Maps Cover the Southeast Coast from North Carolina to Florida

We're pleased to announce our latest maps and guides to Lighthouses: Florida and Southeast. The Southeast map covers North Carolina, including the Outer Banks, South Carolina and Georgia.

Between them, the two maps locate and describe all the standing and lost lighthouses along about 2000 miles of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

In addition to the detailed cartography, each map features original watercolor illustrations, descriptions and history of every lighthouse, along with directions to the lighthouses or the best viewing spots.

The maps include directories of lighthouse and maritime museums, ferries, sightseeing cruises and flights.

They are available as folded maps to guide you in your travels, and as laminated posters.

Ask for them at book stores, gift and museum shops in the region. They are also available online from (search Bella Terra Maps).