On Saturday, July 28th, 2018, the community of South Haven, Michigan honored its first two lighthouse keepers with the placement of U.S. Lighthouse Memorial Grave Markers on the grave sites of Captain William P. Bryan, who served from 1872-1873, and Captain James Donahue, who served from 1874-1909.
From a program that started several years ago by Lighthouse Digest placing markers at lighthouse keeper gravesites, the idea of honoring the South Haven keepers and marking the graves began with members of the Historical Association of South Haven. It was quickly discovered that William Bryan and his wife Ann had never been provided with a grave stone. Immediately, a member of the Historical Association reached out to a local funeral home, and a beautiful new stone was donated and installed. Then, as planning began in earnest, the Michigan Maritime Museum was invited to partner, along with the Garden Club of South Haven. Once the three organizations got going and tasks were shared by all, the date was set, and “the rest is history.”
On a beautiful day nearly 50 participants took place in the ceremony at the Lakeview Cemetery in South Haven where speakers included members of the Coast Guard and a representative from the City of South Haven who provided some background information about the importance of our lighthouse keepers in the early development of our country. “This is a unique opportunity for several organizations here in South Haven to collaborate together and celebrate these remarkable men and share the stories with the public,” said Michigan Maritime Museum Collections & Archives Manager Emily Stap.
The emcee of the day was Roger Horton, Vice President of the Historical Association, who introduced the three speakers: Keinyn Hudson, Technician Second Class, U.S. Coast Guard, St. Joseph, Michigan; Robert Kent, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Division Staff officer for Public Affairs; and George Sleeper, City Council Member. Each person had a unique and interesting perspective about the keepers and their duties, and their importance in the growth of this area of the country, and West Michigan in particular.
After the presentations, the group walked to the grave site of Captain Bryan. Roger Horton provided some interesting facts about keeper Bryan. A letter from Timothy Harrison, Editor and Publisher of Lighthouse Digest magazine, was read detailing some history of U.S. lighthouses and the importance of preserving lighthouse history for generations to come. The U.S. Lighthouse Service Memorial Marker was then placed next to the new stone, and Pastor Bobby Walker provided a blessing.
The group then walked to the grave site of Captain Donahue, and Mr. Horton provided some interesting facts about him. He served for 35 years, the longest of any of the South Haven Lighthouse keepers. Donahue, who lost a leg in 1864 during the Civil War, made daily trips to and from the lighthouse with the use of crutches. Sometimes, during icy conditions he would have to crawl out to the lighthouse to light the lamp. Following the reading of information about keeper Donahue, the U.S. Lighthouse Service Memorial Marker was placed next to his grave stone, and Pastor Bobby Walker provided a final blessing. The ending piece of this solemn occasion was the playing of Taps by Carston Ansinn from South Haven High School.
The second part of the gathering took place at the Lighthouse Keeper’s House, which overlooks the South Haven Lighthouse and catwalk, and is now the Maritime Museum’s Great Lakes Research Library. An old-fashioned ice cream social took place, and about 300 folks came by. Floral centerpieces and decorations, inspired by the late 19th century, were donated and created by the South Haven Garden Club. Music was provided, including the song “Captain Donahue” written by local singer/songwriter Pamela Chappell. The setting was perfect, and the view of the lighthouse and lake from the side yard of the Keeper’s House was spectacular. The Keeper’s House was open to all, and inside was an informative exhibit provided by the museum staff about the extraordinary lives of lighthouse keepers.
Amanda Creeden, Board President of the Historical Association, stated, “The Historical Association would like to thank Joe Foster, a member of both organizations [and Lighthouse Digest Copy Editor], for presenting us with this idea. These striking markers are a fantastic and dignified way to draw attention to the service of South Haven’s lighthouse keepers and to honor their role in ensuring the safety of the mariners on Lake Michigan.”
The South Haven Lighthouse is under the care of the Historical Association of South Haven. In 2015, a major restoration of the lighthouse was undertaken. For additional information, contact the Historical Association of South Haven at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like a copy of the “Captain Donahue” song, go to pamelachappell.com.
This story appeared in the
Sep/Oct 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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