Digest>Archives> Mar/Apr 2018

In Memoriam

The Missing Keepers of Eldred Rock Lighthouse: John Currie and John Silander

By Debra Baldwin

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On Saturday, March 26, 1910, first assistant John Currie and second assistant John Silander left Eldred Rock Lighthouse, located in the Lynn Canal of southeast Alaska, for a short visit to Point Sherman Light some eight miles distant. Departing at 5 A.M. in the station rowboat, they promised to be back by that evening or the next day at the latest.

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In this circa 1909 photo, head keeper Nils P. ...

When they still had not returned by March 29th, head keeper Nils P. Adamson decided to take action. In his report to Commander J. M. Ellicott, inspector of the 13th Lighthouse District, Adamson wrote, “I pulled out in my boat and spoke with the Launch “Justina Gray” with natives aboard and requested them to keep a good look out along the beach, and also to notify any boat they should meet, with the result that they spoke to the Launch “Thelma” going north who later picked up the boat at the north trap about 2 1/2 miles N.E. from the Station with all gear gone excepting mast sail and anchor (lower board) mast thwart broken.”

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Eldred Rock with three keepers (same photo as ...

The keeper of Sherman Point, presumably David H. Somerville in 1910, having been notified of the situation by the Justina Gray, arrived on March 30th at Eldred Rock to help out as a temporary assistant. He informed Adamson that the two missing keepers had left his station at 12.30 P.M. on Sunday the 27th to visit at the small village of Comet that was between the two light stations on their way back. They had then left Comet about 4 P.M. the same day, the weather being “fine with a moderate Southerly wind.” However, at about 9 P.M. that evening, it started to snow and kept snowing for the next three hours.

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John “Scotty” Currie served for three years at ...

Adamson remarked that, in his opinion, they should have reached Eldred Rock by 8 P.M., even though there was an ebb tide. On the 31st, Adamson investigated further and went to the mainland to see the place where the boat had been found, washed ashore full of water and entangled in a tree. He reported, “I found it to be an almost submerged tree, with long limbs under water, and, it is now my opinion that the boat sailed partly over and was capsized by this tree, the tree washed in ashore ahead of the boat thus saving the boat from being smashed.” It was thought that the keepers had run into the tree in the dark unawares. Though Adamson continued to search in coming days, the bodies of the two men were never found.

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This photo, taken at the boathouse at Eldred Rock ...

Nils P. Adamson was deeply affected by the loss. According to his grandson, Stephen Dow Beckham, “He had nightmares for the rest of his life. My grandmother would sometimes find him standing in his sleep at the window shouting their names, an event that was a reprise from his days and nights alone on the rock tending the light and hoping they would be found.”

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John Silander served from 1908 until his death in ...

John “Scotty” Currie, from Scotland, had been serving at Eldred Rock since March 29, 1907. He was reported to be 39 at the time of the accident. The only other record that exists for him shows that he was admitted into a naval hospital in Sitka, Alaska for at least eight weeks between November, 1906 to February, 1907 due to a severe case of influenza.

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This circa 1908 photo of Point Sherman Lighthouse ...

John Silander, born in Finland, served at Eldred Rock Lighthouse from March of 1908 until the time of his death. He used to carve model sailing ships, some of which remain with Adamson family descendants. Nils P. Adamson helped in settling Silander’s affairs in connection with the United Finnish Brotherhood Lodge in Aberdeen, Washington. All John Silander’s personal effects fit in two suitcases, except for a large dictionary and a blanket.

Lighthouse keepers were not known for having a lot of personal possessions or wealth. Their lives were spent in diligent service, protecting others, which was of far greater value. It was truly a double tragedy to lose two such men from Eldred Rock Lighthouse.

This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2018 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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