Sunday, March 28, 2010


(A Chef, A Lighthouse and A Winery)
(another serendipity moment)

I was richly rewarded from the archives of the Lakeside Heritage Society. The materials within held much information and filled in some of the gaps in the collection. When we began sorting through the letters we noticed one addressed to Edward Herman from the Captain of the U.S.S. Morrill. Opening it up we read these words, penned in the scroll of Victorian elegance.

"U.S.S. Morrill
Detroit Mich
Jan 3-1908

Mr. E. Herman,
Dear friend I want to inform you the Master - of - Arms job will probably
Be vacant. Captain Landry has ordered me to write & inquire if you
Would Like to accept the job.
The pay is now $45.00 per month. Shaws time is up the 14TH . Let me
Know at once whether you want to accept the job or not.”

Yes, Edward had been the Master-At-Arms. He had served in that position well enough to be considered a “friend” of the ship’s captain. His response was not among the papers in the archives at Lakeside. It did not matter. His response for history was well documented by the 30 years he served as the Lighthouse Keeper. He never returned to the ships of the inland seas.
I did not find my answer to the bi-plane mystery. Another well informed archivist from the Sandusky Public Library could not identify the plane and no one had ever seen the photograph in any other records or archives. Though I did not learn the identity of the plane I did learn much more. I learned how much the lighthouse meant to so many people and how excited they were to learn about this project.

The final night of our visit we went to dinner at Mon Ami, a restaurant and winery on Catawba Island. An old structure with an equally old and rich history, having once housed Confederate prisoners, it had withstood many changes in history’s mountain. As we finished our dinner our server brought to our table the head chef for the restaurant and winery. He had been told about my project and my great uncle by the server. He offered to give us a tour of the wine cellar. Then he proceeded to tell us how much the Marblehead Lighthouse meant to him. When he was not being a chef he was sailing ships. He still used the light for navigation. It was a symbol for him that he was near to his final destination; his return to home.

When we went down into the wine cellar there stood a huge wine barrel, large enough for a person to stand inside. It was old, dating back to the 1800’s. It still smelled of the wine once held within its staves. The history of the barrel was a story long and rich in detail. They do not make them like this anymore the chef said. The wood was from the white oak tree. He did not know where it had been obtained. Silently, I stood there in the presence of my own past and knew that I did. I knew because I had grown up on an island, ravaged by the hunters of this wood. And now, I was standing before the very tree I never knew, because it had been extinct, wiped out and forever gone on that island of my childhood. But though it did not live, its history was not lost. It had been saved deep in the darkness of an ancient wine cellar. And, there on an island in the inland sea because someone had thought to save this one barrel, I was able to breathe not only the sweet smell of a past, but also my own history as well.


The day of recording the materials in the Lakeside Heritage archives had been long and now we were finished. It was time to say our goodbyes and return to Texas. I felt complete and content. I had walked on the path of lighthouse keepers and had met Edward hand in hand. Our lives had come full circle after that first meeting fifty years before. I no longer sat on a stool at his feet. Instead, I stood with him and he had walked with me on this journey. He had become my soul mate of antiquity. As we opened the door to leave the archives I noticed something to the east. A huge, brilliant rainbow shinned down over the lake and ended at the Marblehead lighthouse. I knew then that my childhood letters had been answered. And that Edward was very, very pleased with his great niece.


History’s story is never finished. Indeed, the best chapter is the one not yet written. That day in August when I opened the Marblehead Lighthouse log book for the first time there was recorded all the names of the keepers and the dates they began and ended. Edward M. Herman’s name was the last listed. The date he began at Marblehead was filled in; however, the date he ended was left blank. Perhaps it is a fitting testament to both a lighthouse and one man’s history. There will never be a final chapter and the best one has not yet been written.

This project is:
In memory of Captain Edward M. and Margaret King Herman.
In honor of Delbert Lawrence, Richard Lawrence, Delcia Ackerman.
In recognition of all Lighthouse Keepers and their spouses.
For Charles Herman and Alfred Herman
Thanks to all who thought to save the memorabilia in this collection and special thanks to Lois Derby, Edward’s niece who generously shared her own memories and photographs.
And, to Michael Lawrence-Weden who digitally photographed all the material for this project.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


The lighthouse and keeper’s residence had been left to die. It wasn’t that people hadn’t cared. In fact, they did care. There just wasn’t one cataclysmic event to shake their earth. Until that is, an event occurred and when it did an entire mountain was moved. The landscape changed forever the face of the mountain. But it would take a community and a Congressman to clear the debris from the mountain moved. When this happened they paved a way for a resurrection to occur.

Marblehead lighthouse was slated to be changed. The government’s plan was to remove it and replace it with a metal tower and a small flashing light. The keeper’s residence was to be torn down and removed from the property. Nothing would be left, except an empty landscape and a vacant lot. It would be replaced by only memories and scrapbooks filled with pictures. These would neither fill the vacant property or the void in a community left to ponder its previous existence.

When the plans were announced a ground swelling reaction occurred among the local people. It was unthinkable and unforgivable to tear down a structure which had stood in the same place for more then one hundred years. The lighthouse was saved from the burning stake, but the keeper’s residence would not. Until that is, a descendant of one of the early keepers born of the soul that jumps into the raging waters to save the drowning, did just that. The night before the destruction of the residence was to begin he enlisted the help of a Congressman. The Congressman intervened and obtained an injunction to stop the dismantling. The keeper’s residence was saved from the same fate as the lighthouse. Now the resurrection could take place. Not only was it a resurrection, but it became a symbol of what they in the community stood for and what it stood for them. It was a reflection of their own image and that image had been in existence ever since the first lighthouse keeper Benjamin Wolcott had tended the light and lives had been saved.

Now, on this trip I was made a part of that image. I was very humbled. I had done nothing-saved no lives, rescued no boats and certainly had not been involved in the community. That did not matter. I was the great niece of the last lighthouse keeper. I walked with Edward and the lighthouse was mine too. It was so evident in the way the community opened their hearts, history, and homes to share their stories with me. I had returned. I had come home.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Since the log books for Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse were lost for all of eternity the next course of action was to record those of the Buffalo Life Saving Station. At least there would be a record for some of the years when Edward was stationed there and they would give a glimpse into the life of the people who lived in and around the government complex.

Plans were made firm and the trip was now very much a reality. The archivist from the Lakeside Heritage Society would open the archives even though they were closed for the season. They had even arranged for the Keeper’s residence to be opened for me. The weather they hoped would be nice for my visit. This was just the tip of the magnificent iceberg I was soon to ride. I wondered what I would see, thirty five years after my last visit. I felt I was returning to something, as if I had been away for a long, long time. It was a sensation that would stay with me throughout my trip.

I breathed in the smell of the lake. The plane had landed in Detroit with our luggage. The rental car was waiting and we were ready for the two hour drive to Sandusky, Ohio. There is no other smell save that of the mountains and the coastal waters that is so identifiable. The Great Lakes, although often referred to as inland seas are not salt water. They have retained an environment all their own ever since the last ice age carved them into existence. Locked for ever into place, they change and reform according to whatever dictates their lives, whether it be nature or humans. Nature is responsible for their shape and depth, humans for their purity and pollutants.

Freeze dried bouquets lined the highways as if to greet us. Cattails, grasses, flowers gone now to seed would put any hobby store out of business in a moments notice. Why had I never noticed all this bounty before? It is the same mystery facing our species every time we leave our place of origin and make our return back. It is the reason why we ever needed light from fires to guide us. We need to find our way home. And when we do, we are often surprised to see what before our return had passed our eyes, now fills within us a bounty so richly presented we cannot help but notice.

Now, my journey thirty-five years later would be much different. I was no longer a graduate student, I was married, and my parents both deceased were buried in the cemetery beside the home on Grand Island where I first met Edward. Just like Edward, my world had been shaped by new technologies that moved faster then the seconds and minutes on the clock face. And, this time I cared. I cared deeply because my journey into the contents of that box had led me to walk a path rich in discovery. I had learned about a family and in doing so learned about a history rich and extraordinary. I had learned about the lives of two people and the world they lived in long before my birth. I had learned about the joys and tragedies of a family who were once just faces on picture cards and photographs. And because of this I had learned about a history far beyond their personal lives. I had learned about lighthouses and keepers.

I also wondered if anyone else cared. What would we find in Marblehead? The images from that first visit were still very vivid in my mind. They were as clear as if I had been to the lighthouse yesterday. The road to the Marblehead lighthouse drew us nearer to my answers. And when we rounded the bend I was not prepared for what I would see.

The sun was bright, the air crisp, not a cloud passed by and a gentle breeze blew in from the lake. The whiteness from the tower broke through the trees and greeted us with color. The white tower, the red top against the blue sky seemed to mimic the colors of the flag which motioned us forward.
The freshly painted keeper’s residence graced the yard and filled the moment with its beautiful 19TH century architecture. The lovely picket fence winding around the house and trees stood firmly to guard its beloved prize.

And, there were people! People from California, people from Michigan and most important, there were people from Ohio. And with them were their children, many generations away from those who had once lovingly tended the grounds and kept a watchful eye on the inland sea before us. They did not just hurry through, no; they walked slowly, breathing in the history before them. They stopped, they read, they looked and they took pictures. Not to document decay and death, but because the beauty of the place made them want to preserve it. The stone had been removed and I was witness to a resurrection!

Thursday, March 25, 2010


My joy at finding the other half of the collection would be dampened rather quickly. The National Archives has regional centers to house many of their historical documents and records.

Chicago is one of those centers housing the Great Lake’s Maritime collection. Doing a search for the lighthouse logbooks for the Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse located in Buffalo, NY directed me to the Chicago archives. This was perplexing because they housed only the logbooks for the Great Lakes Life Saving Stations. After contacting the archivist in Chicago I was informed they only had the books for the Buffalo Life Saving Station, not the lighthouses. This was correct since the Washington D.C. Archives should have only the books for the lighthouses. This I knew from previous research.

Searching their archives yielded nothing. They must be there, I was sure of it, but where? Especially now when It was all coming together. If the logbooks were in D.C., I would go back the following summer. If they were however, in Chicago the trip to Ohio could be combined with a day spent at the regional archives. Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse had after all been Edward’s very first lighthouse. It was important to have the pages from the logbooks when he had been an assistant keeper in Buffalo, NY. Emails were sent back and forth to both institutions. Both archival staff members were kindly searching. Chicago replied back they did not have the Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse logbooks. They had to be in Washington D.C. in the National Archives. I waited for an answer before completing plans for my trip to Marblehead.

After several weeks and much digging by the dedicated archival staff came an answer. There were no logbooks for the Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse located anywhere in the National Archives. Period! Gone! Forever!

Men had risked their lives to keep mariners and civilians safe. They had withstood the brutal winters and storms often being stranded for weeks on this lighthouse. They had dutifully recorded day after day the events surrounding their work and the rescues they had conducted. Snippets of their exploits remained only through the few letters, newspaper articles and personal recollections and these were precious few.

I slowly came to realize the only records left to survive may be in Edward’s collection. The painful realization that history is only one generation and one story away from extinction began to carve a path to my own soul. Certainly not the fault of the National Archives, they are only able to preserve what they are given. Certainly not the fault of the Keepers, they were busy saving lives. Did they remain in someone’s basement, pilfered when the Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse was closed? Or were they stashed away in a private collection of no use to anyone except they “added” to the collector’s prestige?

Another irony of history’s fate was the fact the lighthouse the logbooks were missing from was left to die a slow, painful death at the foot of the harbor to Buffalo, NY. No one had ever really like it, even during its lifetime. It was considered to be aesthetically unappealing and a dangerous place to work. Indeed, early prints of the Buffalo harbor show clearly the Buffalo Main Light. However, Horseshoe Reef the older of the two remains an enigma. Even the artists had decided its fate 150 years ago.

But a group of men, Lighthouse Keepers had ignored all this because there was a greater good at stake, the lives of drowning sailors, men, women, children and even human smugglers. Only now, too late to save, the keepers and their history was lost. It was gone forever, like those who rest beneath the waters of the Great Lakes, drowned in the ship wrecks of the inland seas. I wept for this history because its loss was my despair. Their history had become my history, their story, my story. But it can no longer be told because it is extinct. Forever!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


The letter that slipped from the pages of the Marblehead Lighthouse logbooks had been written by Edward as the Head Lighthouse Keeper. Standing there that day in The National Archives, I was holding a letter whose subject, penned by a man dedicated to saving lives would prove to be a profound statement of things to come. Edward was distressed that the early logbooks recorded by those first Lighthouse Keepers had vanished, gone long before he began as an assistant keeper. Emphatically the letter stated he would make every possible effort to make sure they were located. The tone of the letter was clear, this was extremely important to him. Other information within the pages of the logbooks indicated Edward was assembling a history of Marblehead in honor of the descendants of the earlier keepers.

History’s image is like the unfolding of an origami crane. The simple image belies the tiny little folds this way and that essential to construct the final delicacy which rests in the hand of the beholder. Once a flat piece of paper, and now a crane, every fold must be deliberate and done in the correct order or the crane will not be recognizable. The recordings of historical events are written down as a witness to the final image of our existence. The hand on a pen becomes history’s folds. Without the deliberate action of the recorder, like the crane folded incorrectly, it will not be recognizable. The way the crane is folded is an essential art and must be passed on from one generation to the next. There will be no crane if the art of origami is lost. Edward’s letter addressed the art of origami history lost. The fold could no longer be remembered and the crane was no longer recognizable. History is cruel to its own generation sometimes. And so, while Edward commiserated over one lost history his was slipping away forever. Soon I would despair, desperately wishing to see the face of another crane. It would become my one generation and one story lost and I would never, ever find it.

Once again, my mountain was to offer up a surprise only this time the path would be in full bloom. It came in an email from the Lakeside Heritage Society. “I have located in our archives some information about Margaret”. Included in the email was a small list and the possibility they might have more. Was I interested? Perhaps there really was a pot of gold at the rainbow’s end! Emails traveled back and forth. If there was enough material I might plan a research trip to the archives. “Please send a detailed list of everything you have and I will decide if it is worth my while to come to Ohio." my email requested. I was about to be led not only to the pot of gold, but to the rainbow’s very end (Literally)!

Archivists are very dedicated people whether they work preserving national treasures or the tiniest Historical Society memorabilia. Some are paid, many are simply volunteers. Without them little histories might never have the opportunity to become part of larger histories. Kept safely in their hands, many documents have survived unknown to historians. By accident, by purposeful research or by chances and odds, many a serious student of history has unearthed a previously unknown piece of important history. This happens because a dedicated archivist has carefully preserved it and kept it safe for the finding. I was about to meet one such archivist.

It happened the morning I opened my homepage to find the following email. “Perhaps there is other information that might interest you”, the email read. “The archives contain quite a few materials on Keeper Herman including personal items, letters and documents. If you are interested a detailed list will follow.”

The list to follow was only the first chamber in Pharaoh’s tomb. It was also the other half of Captain Edward M. Herman’s collection. In fact, there was so much it could not all be put in an email. What I saw before me was enough to know I was close to the top of my mountain. I knew I was going to make the journey to Marblehead. It was fifty years after I first sat on that stool and I was going to meet him again. My childhood pursuit with letters and valentines was being replaced with logbooks and documents. And, I was being acknowledged it seemed for the first time. Edward's history was calling me. I was answering. Soon I would be handed another gilded plate when once again Southwest Airlines offered an unbelievable fair to certain cities. One of those cities was Detroit and the other one was Chicago.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


One of the entries in the Marblehead Lighthouse log book intrigued me. Keeper Hunter, a man not given to writing much detail had recorded that Mrs. Herman and Keeper Hunter were organizing the local WWI Liberty Bond Movement. Very little information is known to exist about the lives of the women who were married to Lighthouse Keepers. Unless after the death of their husband they were appointed head Lighthouse Keeper, wives remain the silent background within the package. If information is available it often only tells their stories while they were living at the lighthouse. Even for many of those women who went on to succeed their husbands as Keepers their life stories have been lost forever. No record exists beyond their duties at the lighthouse. In some cases, no record exists at all, not even while serving as Lighthouse Keepers. It is the one generation away from extinction that ultimately became extinct. Since no one bothered to save or share their stories they are lost to us forever.

I knew very little about Margaret. I was determined not to let her fade away into obscurity. There must be some information tucked away somewhere. But aside from the few family stories there was scant information to come by about her life. Even the addresses on the early postcards to Edward when she was still Margaret King had changed. Again a mountain with a landscape dramatically altered over time. The earliest address for her was on a postcard sent by Edward to a “Miss Margaret King, 17 Pine Street, Detroit”. The wonders of Google earth enabled me to visually walk down the very same street and rest at 17 Pine Street. A vacant lot and convenience store were all that remained to tell the story of the people who once resided there.

Another chance encounter with a seller on eBay led me to a book about the women of Lakeside, Ohio. Lakeside was a very active Methodist “Chautauqua “community. This community, still active today, was in the 1800-1900’s rich with women’s groups dedicated to education, the arts, and social reform. Numerous women suffragettes as well as Eleanor Roosevelt were guest speakers at the many social events held each year. The community also played host to Marion Anderson, an African American singer denied the right to perform at some of the country’s major music halls. Several books were written by Sally Sue Witten on the Lakeside community and the surrounding area. Sadly, she died shortly before I discovered her books. However, I did learn there was a Lakeside Heritage Society very much alive and still very active. Margaret and Edward had retired to Lakeside. If Margaret had been involved in the Liberty Bond Movement, there was a possibility she was involved in another social or political group that flourished there during the 1900’s. Perhaps the Heritage Society might even have information on the Liberty Bond Movement and her participation. I sent off an email and waited for a response.

Monday, March 22, 2010


The photograph fell from my hand. It was being placed in an envelope with other photographs to be returned to Edward's niece. So small was this photograph it might have gone completely unnoticed had it not briefly caught my eye while fluttering to the floor. When it landed upside down two names were visible on the backside. Charles and Alfred with a question mark and a line drawn through Charles' name. Originally, the photograph had been in the envelope marked Alfred. It was so small there seemed no room for information on the back, therefore it had never been turned over. Now looking at the face in the photograph, it was clear this was not Alfred, it was Charles! And, he was dressed in the Revenue Cutter Service uniform! He really had been in the Revenue Cutter Service, at least for one season.

There was no information indicating the name of the cutter, but it seemed likely it might have been the Morrill. Now for sure there had been three brothers in the Revenue Cutter Service. Alfred and Charles, following their older brother Edward, most likely aspired to become lighthouse keepers. However, life chose very different paths for Alfred and Charles. Charles was not able to continue in the Revenue Cutter Service the following navigational season because the United States had entered WWI. His journey took him to France fighting as one of O'Ryan's Roughnecks. A victim of the horrors the new warfare would bring, mustard gas, he returned home to a country changed forever. In an irony of twisted fate, his participation in a famous battle liberating the French resulted in a monument built by the people of France to honor the Roughnecks. In the years following the Great War, Charles' journey eventually led him to another city and another monument. This monument, built to honor our nation's first president, a general of the war fought for independence, stands taller then any other structure built to honor our nation's heroes. Charles Herman's path led him to Washington D.C. and the Washington National Monument. Charles became the Head Custodian for the monument, an important position within the National Parks Division. Created shortly after completion of the structure, the Head Custodian oversaw all aspects of the monument's operational activities.

Sadly, Alfred's journey had a different, very tragic outcome.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Safely tucked away in an envelope were the original photographs Edward's niece had photocopied for me. Given to me in Buffalo, I was to take them back to Texas, digitally photograph them and return them when finished. Little did I know inside this envelope a tiny photograph would be a giant piece of another puzzle.

The puzzle was a postcard written by Edward's brother Charles. It was dated 1911, never having been posted to Edward, it contained a reference to a cutter. It was common knowledge that Alfred had followed his older brother Edward into the Revenue Cutter Service. There were photographs of Alfred in his uniform standing on the deck of the U.S.S. Morrill. There were also postcards written by Alfred while sailing on the Morrill and sent to numerous family members including Edward.

Yet, Charles wrote on his postcard he was, "on a fine cutter". He detailed a rescue that took place saving five men from a boat that, "stove a hole". No one remembered Charles ever serving on a cutter. And, there were no other correspondences written by Charles that mentioned a cutter. Charles had written to his brother Alfred that he was bored and wanted to do something meaningful with his life in another postcard. But, he never indicated what that might entail. The few postcards in the collection were posted when he was leaving for France during WWI. My research turned up no evidence any other vessel was referred to as a cutter. It remained a mystery until this particular morning in Washington D.C.

We sat in the Untied States Coast Guards' archives surrounded by the documents and history of the one branch of the United States military solely dedicated to saving lives. The Coast Guard as we know it today was formed through a succession of mergers. The newly formed nation realized it needed an organization to patrol the waters of oceans and the inland seas to make sure our coastlines were safe and also to collect revenues and seize illegal vessels. The Revenue Cutter Service was designated that organization and it was first under the auspices of the Treasury Department. There followed the United States Lighthouse Service and the United States Life Saving Service. Eventually, by the first half of the 1900's these three organizations would be merged into the United States Coast Guard, that branch of the military charged with keeping the nation's coastline safe and performing those heroic and dangerous water rescues. Today's Coast Guard stands on the shoulders of a long and proud tradition dating back to the early beginnings of our nation.

Yet, for all the history of their various branches, the office of the historians for the Coast Guard is rather small and staffed by only a few. Their dedication and knowledge is first rate among historians of any subject.

While the lighthouse log books had yielded a rich source of material I was left disappointed that I had not found a reference to the bi-plane in the photograph. How could this be? The area surrounding Marblehead Lighthouse was filled with the builders of planes and aviation knocked at its doors. The head keeper had not even mentioned Glenn Curtiss' historic flight on July 4,1908. Only the most mundane activities were recorded and if you blinked, the fact that it was our nation's birthday would pass by in an instant. For keeper Hunter the day was uneventful. The Coast Guard historian would answer this question, but I was to be left with one still unanswered mystery. Who was flying past the lighthouse in a bi-plane?

The keepers were required to log the passing of ships. They also logged certain historical events such as holidays, the election of new presidents, the death of presidents and so forth. Aviation was new and its historical events still unfolding. Keepers were not required to log the passing of airplanes until much later. The fact that he did not record the event did not mean it didn't happen, it meant he was not required by the government to do so. And, Charles Hunter was not a man given to many words. He wrote in the books only what was necessary for government documentation. Oddly, though bypassing this one historic event, on the last day of July 1908 he made a strange reference in the log book. He mentions in the evening he observed a bright star northeast of the lighthouse, so bright he thought it might perhaps be an, "air ship" !

No one from the Coast Guard that day was able to identify the bi-plane. Yet, other interesting events would make up for this unanswered question. The photographs of Edward and Alfred on the U.S.S. Morrill were previously unknown to the Coast Guard. In fact, they had very little information on the enlisted men that made up the crews of the Revenue Cutter Service. And, they were interested to learn two brothers had served on the same ship.

Now, I was to learn something very interesting about Charles. I mentioned the postcard and the reference to the cutter. My observation proved correct, no other sailing vessels were referred to as cutters. I learned it could have been possible for Charles to serve in the Revenue Cutter Service, if only for a short period of time. The Revenue Cutter Service was a seasonal job for most of the men. When the Great Lakes froze over, the navigational season ended. The men signed off and could return to sign on again the next year when the navigational season re-opened. Only a small crew remained permanently signed on with the Revenue Cutter service. And, this information would lead to something else we learned about Edward.

The uniform confusion was soon solved by the Coast Guard historian. Edward had quickly risen in the ranks of the Revenue Cutter Service. His uniforms had changed with each picture. In one photograph I had previously identified as a lighthouse keeper uniform we learned it was a Revenue Cutter Service uniform. Edward was the Master-At-Arms on the Morrill. This was an important position on a ship. It would be confirmed later when we looked at the muster sheets for the Morrill. In fact, Edward eventually became a Warrant Petty Officer of the U.S.S. Revenue Cutter Service. Learning this was the impetus for my decision to later photograph the muster sheets.

When we left the Coast Guard later that morning it seemed as though many pieces of the puzzle were being constructed into one picture. I did not know flying back to Texas I would soon be on another journey. And, the journey would have at its end a piece of interesting history relating to Edward's Master-At-Arms rank. I also did not know when we returned home I would find something small, but very significant in the photographs from Edward's niece I now carried with me. It would tell me a great deal about Edward's brother Charles.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


There is a large statue outside the National Archives in Washington D. C. Chiseled into the stone are the words, "Study The Past". Spring had turned into summer, summer was nearing its end and we were in the nation's capitol. I was now standing at the doorway to the great house of archival records documenting all aspects of our nation's history.

Everywhere you turned white men in white stockings with the phrase, "We the People" written above their heads stared down at me. Indeed, I was now one " of the people" and going through the separate entrance for researchers propelled me into the National Archive Experience.

Many people are surprised to learn our national records belong to us all-free and clear. The assumption is often made you need special permission to do research in our National Archives. While you cannot wander through the building and suddenly decide, "Oh-bring me out a box of Lincoln documents", anyone has the right to do research. The staff are most accommodating and generous of their time. Our National Archives has regional centers so not all documents are stored in Washington D.C.

Conducting research the first time can be a daunting experience, especially in D.C. Security is very strict. There are rules about what researchers may or may not bring into the research rooms. All papers and documents carried into the archives must be stamped going in and accounted for. The list of rules is endless and everyone inadvertently breaks at least one.


"Pull" times for boxes with the requested documents are only certain times of the day. It usually takes a while for staff to locate the boxes and send them to the research room. The first morning I began my research journey I had not yet realized what it meant to be "researching lighthouses". What I did know was it seemed to take forever until I was told the boxes were ready.

The research room is large. It is very quiet with only the sounds of those intent on discovering their histories. Slipping hands across onion skin pages,newspaper clippings,thickly bound registers, and forgotten calligraphy mark the passage of time now only known through the written words left by the marker. It was when my curiosity got the better of me that I learned what it meant to be researching lighthouses. There were historians, authors and researchers from countries beyond our borders all doing the important work set before them. Yet, when they learned I was researching lighthouses and a particular lighthouse keeper, I was accorded the same stature as if the pages had been written in the hand of Washington or Lincoln. The depth of feeling toward those men and women who risked their lives everyday to save a life was a remarkable presence that stayed with me throughout my time in Washington D.C. A generation had passed yet, even at the morning hotel breakfast a guest would tell me about the lighthouse in their own community and how much it meant to them. My humbling experience was about to begin.

The gray box sat before me on the research desk. I felt like all the other explorers who had ever been at the entrance to something unknown. The quietness becomes an unspoken silence followed by a slight hesitation before the shinning of that first light down a tunnel, a tomb, or when unearthing a past. Taking a deep breath, I opened the box, removed the first log and opened the pages. Edward's letter slipped from those words.

Here I was directly across from the room that housed the document containing the words, "We hold these truths to be self evident" and I was holding a document written by my great uncle the lighthouse keeper almost one hundred years ago. This was my truth, my history, and my story. Until that one moment, I had not realized what it meant for a truth to be self evident. I was holding the gilded plate.

ARCHIVIST:( ark-vst, -k-) n.

A person who assesses, collects, organizes, preserves, maintains and provides access to information.

Just as new technology had changed Edward's world, so would new technology change my world. I had added a fourth category substantially widening and extending the path of my journey. I decided to design a web site providing public access to Edward's collection.

A new technological development was changing not only the mountain's landscape, but the view from the summit. Digital photography. Banned from research rooms, archives and museums, cameras were the scourge of those charged with maintaining and preserving historical documents. The constant flashing from camera lights would over time cause fading to occur on paper documents. There was no easy way to provide access to original documents beyond their acid free gray boxes unless you had very sophisticated equipment, hired a professional to scan the information, or you went to the original source in person.

Digital photography however, could be used inside and without flash. It opened up a whole new avenue for recording documents. With the right camera, documents and photographs could be reproduced and formatted for access on a web site. Now individuals would be able to "see" the document in its original form. With a computer, a camera and some high tech, but fairly inexpensive recording devices images could be captured and manipulated without having to utilize expensive laboratory equipment. This could even be done in situ.

The National Archives suddenly became very accessible and so did the lighthouse log books. I would be able to photograph the pages, stitch them together and let researchers and those interested in the information read the actual log books, not a facsimile. In fact, all the documents and photographs in the collection could be digitally reproduced for a web site. The only thing you couldn't produce was the smell of a new book and the feel of a bound cover.


We were sitting in a French restaurant in San Antonio with my cousin, Delbert's oldest son and his wife, here for her Oncology conference. We started to reminisce. We talked about Edward, the lighthouse and about some of the great uncles and aunts. It seemed there was much information I had learned from my research that was unknown to him. Some he knew that I did not know. We discovered there was a mystery aunt none of us knew existed. Not even my uncle. Yet, her death notice was among the papers in the box. Her name was Mary Wilhelmina Rosina and she died the same year Edward's younger brother Alfred died of a ruptured appendix. Their deaths occurred six months apart.

Alfred's death was well known family history. The circumstance a horrible reminder that we live only because of the century we are born into. Alfred was visiting at the family home after the USS Morrill made anchor in Buffalo. It was fall and the leaves in western New York turned brilliant colors of the rainbow-splashing over the country side. While Edward was tending the light at the Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse in the Buffalo harbor, his brother was dying.

The day of Alfred's visit began in pain. As the day wore on the pain increased. Finally, the family called for the doctor. By the time the doctor arrived there was no time to transport Alfred to the hospital. The dinning room table was cleared. Alfred was laid upon the hard wooden surface,the instruments for the operation set on the sideboard. The sisters held the light, handing the instruments to the doctor as he called for them. The doctor opened up Alfred trying desperately to save the young sailor's life. He was too late, the appendix had already ruptured spreading its deadly infection throughout his body. Alfred died that night on the family dinning table under the horrified eyes of his sisters. He was only 18 years old.

My cousin knew about our great uncle Charles who worked for the Parks Department in Washington D.C. He also was under the impression Charles simply operated the elevator at the Washington Monument for the tourists. I thought Charles had done much more then that based on what happened when we went to visit him once in Washington D.C. I mentioned he took us to all the sights, even arranged private tours of the Washington Monument. One living room wall was filled with photographs autographed by famous people. Scribbled across the glossy faces were inscribed personal messages such as, "Charlie, thank you for the wonderful tour of the Monument. You made history come alive for me". Some of the faces I did not know. But some I did. There was Lucille Ball and Shirley Temple. Heads of state and dignitaries stared back at me from that impressive jumble of photographs. I didn't think he just pressed an elevator button, although I didn't know exactly what his job entailed. What was his job?

In August, Richard's brother would turn 90 years old. A birthday celebration was being organized and I made plans to attend. I did not know that in addition to attending the celebration in Buffalo, I would be going to Washington D.C. And, while in Washington D.C. , I would learn something very interesting about Charles Herman.

That evening of reminiscing reminded me of the box, the unfinished research and the unidentified airplane. I was pulled off the mountain ledge I had been stranded on for two years. Although getting off the ledge was fairly easy, beginning the assent was a different matter. In two year's time a mountain can change and the path traveled completely altered. For all the Coast Guard historians knew I had just dropped off the face of the earth. The last email from their archivist was about the bi-plane with the museum curator's attached response discussing the possibility if it being Glenn Curtiss.

To begin the climb I sent off two emails and a letter. One email to the Coast Guard archivist, one email to the museum curator at the Glenn Curtiss Museum and a letter to Edward's niece. What happened next helped to plant the idea for a web site. The cultivation of that idea would occur soon after.

(And Some Disappointing News)

The curator answered my email. He was willing to look at the Ernest Neibergall photograph. Edward's niece answered my letter. She did have a few photographs of Edward and Alfred. Photocopies of them would arrive in the mail. And, the Coast Guard was still interested.

From the curator for the Glenn Curtiss Museum came disappointing news. He felt certain the photograph was not Glenn Curtiss or his airplane. To make matters worse, he emailed a picture from their archives of another early plane flying past the Marblehead Lighthouse. It was not identified or dated. Great! Now there were two mystery planes!

I sent an email to the Rutherford B. Hayes Center informing them the photograph in their collection may have been incorrectly identified. I asked how the information about the plane had been obtained. I was informed Neibergall had written the information on the back of the photograph. Then they pulled the image from the collection and the web site, obliterating any hope I had of learning its identity. The landscape of the mountain had now suddenly changed.

Their archivist was curious about the collection in my possession. Upon learning it was about a lighthouse keeper from Ohio, they were interested. They would like to include in the files on local history a copy of my email. I told them when I was done with the research they would be provided a disc with all the information.

The following week an email arrived to my inbox from Southwest Airlines offering an unbelievable discount on airfare to certain cities. Included in the list were Buffalo, NY and Baltimore, MD. Suddenly, things were all falling into place. Perhaps my childhood pursuit, fifty-three years ago was now being returned. There were three things I knew I had to do. Attend my uncle's 90Th birthday celebration, go to Washington D.C. to research the lighthouse log books at the National Archives, and meet with the historians for the U.S. Coast Guard. I needed to know if the keepers had recorded the bi-plane flying past Marblehead Lighthouse.

Southwest Airlines had just handed me an opportunity on a gilded plate. I was about to eat the feast that came with the plate.


We had all grown up with the stories. Contrary to the normal German mind set my father, my uncle and their sister had given us a rich legacy of story. The details were a banquet that nourished us at family holidays and sustained us at family funerals. Like all families we had skeletons locked away in closets. They did not matter as much as the stories with real flesh to the bones.

The earliest story was of my father, Richard and his brother Delbert. The family compound encompassed an area of several blocks. Surrounded by aunts and uncles
within a stones throw from the Niagara River, they had free roam of the streets of Tonawanda, New York.

My father idolized the Tom Mix cowboy character. Adorable, mischievous and the youngest, he had everyone of his aunts and uncles eating oatmeal so he could obtain an authentic Tom Mix outfit. Eat enough boxes of oatmeal and you could order an entire Tom Mix cowboy outfit for a few dollars. Perhaps an explanation as to why they all lived into their 80's and 90's and a tribute to the properties of oatmeal, he received his outfit.

Only young enough to ride their tricycles, they decided Tonawanda in the early 1930's was not wild enough. They would travel out west. But how? They did not have access to a map and even if they did they weren't old enough to read it. My father decided Tom Mix, the cowboy would help. Surely he would know the direction west. If they couldn't consult Tom then the next best thing was his hat. Believing it to be the real thing, they tossed it into the air. Wherever the tip of the hat landed would point them in the direction of the wild west. And, so they rode, on toward Buffalo. To make matters worse for my grandmother who frantically looked for them when they did not return home for dinner, they saw a matinee featuring Tom Mix. Located no less in Buffalo!

The story told is of my grandmother sobbing at the home of her sister while the police dredged the Niagara River, fully expecting a retrieval, not a rescue. Somehow after the evening newspaper ran an article the boys were found. Cold and hungry when the movie ended they decided Tom Mix didn't know worth beans about the west and they sought the comfort of their mother's loving arms.

Tonawanda, New York sat directly across from Grand Island which was in the middle of the Niagara River. The only way to get to the island was by ferry or swim. This island had a rich and varied history, belonging at times to the Iroquois, to Canada, and finally the United States (even at one time being designated a part of Tonawanda). Grand Island's west river looked over to a tranquil and pastoral Canada. The east river looked to Tonawanda. The west river was home to wealthy New Yorkers, presidents, authors, poets and actresses who would spend summers at their mansions. The rest of the island was rural farms. Grand Island was about the size of Manhattan Island. Situated between two Great Lakes of the inland seas, Erie and Ontario and up river from the mighty Niagara Falls, mist rising from those waters could often be seen from the island's northern most point.

Rivers and the Great Lakes were no strangers to our families. Indeed, the middle class families of western New York would take the expensive ferry across river to the island for weekend picnics and family gatherings during the summer. But the island also had a dark side to its history. It had been stripped and ravaged. All because of the white oak trees which grew in abundance and were in high demand for their wood. (This forgotten piece of island history would later tie a chef, a lighthouse and a winery to me in another serendipity moment.)

Edward's nephews would swim the mile across the river to Grand Island. In the remaining forests they would camp overnight. The stories told would be adventures to match those written by Mark Twain. Foggy summer nights were warmed by camp fires lighting the way to catch bull frogs whose tasty legs were grilled and eaten by hungry young boys.

And, there were other things to be interested in when you were a young boy. Airplane flying. It was a consuming passion for my father. By the time he was old enough to solo he could fly an airplane. The day he turned sixteen, the legal age one could obtain your pilot's license he soled. Perhaps that was why Edward had kept the photograph of the bi-plane. A souvenir for a nephew who loved to fly.


(Two Wars and A Child)

Yet, it was not to the skies my father headed when WWII swept across Europe and the Pacific. It was the Navy, the ships and the ocean's call that he answered. His brother joined the army and marched across Italy. Richard ignored the wings of the airplane for the decks of PT Boats. Borneo, Fiji, Australia and the Hawaiian Islands were his to call home the next several years. They also provided a backdrop for the stories told to a young daughter, not yet a reality, but who soon would be born. And, these stories would influence her decision twenty-four years later to major in anthropology and minor in museum studies.

Soon another war was being fought. The Korean War was now in full force and Richard was again on a ship in the ocean. He was sailing in the waters off Cuba and Haiti because after returning home from WWII he joined the inactive Navy reserves. When the Korean War began they were the first to be called into action.

His wife, who had been diagnosed with a rare life-threatening autoimmune disease followed him to New Port, Rhode Island because Richard had been told his unit would be stationed there for the duration of the war. Now Richard was out to sea and she learned to her dismay she was pregnant. She had already lost a set of twins and this was not good news. To complicate the matter was the RH factor and this was her second pregnancy. Alone and without any family, she felt her fate had been cast. The Navy doctors told her they did not think she would survive. They also did not think the baby would live. Her doctor, a three star general told Richard to prepare for the worse. He should request and it would be granted at least a month's leave or more for the birth, death and burial of his wife and baby.

Now Richard's commanding officer was not known for much and certainly not for his compassion. In fact, the only thing anyone knew about him was that everyone hated him. When a young sailor standing ahead of Richard requested a leave due him he was told no, and not given an explanation. Without looking up the officer said, "Son, I bet you'd like to spit on my grave right now, wouldn't you?" "No sir." came the reply, "I wouldn't want to stand in line that long".

Richard was not hopeful, but asked to be granted the month's leave and explained the circumstances. It would be granted on one condition. The ship which was now in dry dock would have to be completely over-hauled, cleaned, painted and ready for sailing in less then a week's time. It was an impossible task. Never-the-less, Richard assembled all the men of the ship. He was told not to worry, he would get his leave for they would all work 24 hours round the clock. The ship would be ready!

On the fifth day the ship stood freshly painted, cleaned and ready to sail. The men had made good their promise to my father. The commanding officer would not. Standing before the men on the deck of the ship he acknowledged that an impossible task had been accomplished. And, promptly rewarded Richard with a scant one week leave, barely enough time to get from the ship to New Port let alone be with a wife and unborn baby who were going to die and would need to be buried.

History's fate often has other stories to tell. Sometimes these stories have very different endings. My father's Himalaya was climbed and the ending of the story told over and over again. His wife lived, in fact she eventually out lived Richard. The baby lived. A girl, his daughter would be named after one of the characters in a Mark Twain novel-those same adventures that had inspired Richard's camping trips to Grand Island. In fact, one day they would all live in a house on that island, built by Richard and his father. The very same house where his daughter would meet Ed, the Lighthouse Keeper from Marblehead, Ohio.

This daughter however, was not to be born of the river or the inland Great Lakes. Instead, she would be born of the sea and rebellion. On his return from her birth, Richard assembled the men on the deck of the ship along with his commanding officer. He announced the good news to the applause of the men. Both the wife and the new daughter were alive and doing just fine. He then passed out very expensive cigars. As was the custom, the commanding officer would be given the best, most expensive cigar last. When all the cigars had been given out to the men assembled, Richard turned to his smiling commanding officer. He placed in his hand a small white cigarette. "What's this!", demanded the officer. To which Richard responded, "Well sir, Big leave, big smoke, little leave, little smoke!" Again, to the applause of the men assembled on the ship's deck.

Sometimes history's ending is most unexpected. And, its story told has far reaching influences. And, sometimes it might just take a whole generation to unfold.