A lighthouse keeper's most important responsibility was to
keep the light operational and lit during the night and through
storms and fog. To do this, a keeper would have to make many
trips up the stairs of the tower every day, carrying a number
of heavy supplies and tools. Once the keeper reached the lantern
room, the lamp would have to be filled with oil and the wicks
trimmed to provide the most light and prevent excessive smoking.
The following list names just a few of daily responsibilities
performed by lighthouse keepers:
- Fill lamps with oil
- Trim wicks
- Wind mechanisms for turning the lamps
- Clean the lens
- Polish brass fittings
- Clean lantern room windows
- Clear windows and gallery of debris, including snow, ice,
and even birds
- Keep grounds clean and orderly
- Keep all buildings and facilities in good repair
- Paint the lighthouse tower and buildings
Occasionally, keepers would be required to perform tasks
that were less common but of great importance nonetheless.
When automated fog signals failed, keepers would manually
ring a bell, sometimes for hours on end until the fog cleared.
Lighthouse keepers also coordinated rescue efforts when necessary,
sometimes single-handedly and almost always at the risk of
their own lives.
However, most of the time the life of a lighthouse
keeper is said to have been quite monotonous and repetitive.
Frederic W. Morong, Jr., a machinist in the U.S. lighthouse
service, wrote a poem titled "Brasswork: The
Light-Keepers Lament" which was inspired by the
complaints he often heard from lighthouse keepers
while performing his duties. The 14-stanza poem humorously
describes the ever-present chores of a lighthouse
keeper and later earned him the title of the lighthouse
keeper's "unofficial poet laureate."
In addition to performing these and other tasks, a keeper
was required to document their activities in a log. Any significant
task that was performed or event that occurred would be recorded
in the keeper's log, as well as accounts of the weather, passing
ships, and supply usage. Today, these logs from years past
provide a wealth of information about the lives of keepers
and the history of the lighthouses where they served.
© 2002 Lights of the Coast