By the time George Washington Warrington II was appointed the 2nd assistant keeper at the 1796 Montauk Point Lighthouse on Long Island, New York, he was very familiar with all aspects of the sea.
Born on November 6, 1901 in Selbyville, Delaware, George W. Warrington II joined the U.S. Navy on June 24, 1920. Changing military branches, he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard on August 25, 1925 and served as a surfman at two different New York life-boat stations.
Because of his marriage to Esther Hoffeister, he must have decided that a married man with children should have a safer career than that of a surfman. When his two-year stint was up in the Coast Guard, he was discharged on August 24, 1927. He then applied for a job with the United States Lighthouse Service, and on December 24, 1928 he officially became the 2nd assistant keeper at Montauk Point Lighthouse. He reported for duty the day after Christmas.
For most of his years at Montauk Point Lighthouse, George W. Warrington served under head keeper Thomas A. Buckridge. Other than a slight rift between the two men in 1933 as to how much time George Warrington could get off for the Christmas holiday, Warrington got along well with head keeper Buckridge, as well as with 1st assistant John A. Miller.
The only thing that was furnished by the government for the Warrington family’s living quarters was the kitchen stove; everything else was up to them. Before the government installed radiators, that kitchen stove was the main supply of heat. Keeper Warrington’s son, George III, recalled, “Whenever the coal truck came to fill the cellar with coal they would have to wet the coal to try and keep the dust down. The ugly black dust would creep into the kitchen because the entrance to the coal bin was right under the kitchen windows. During the winter we would get the stove red hot and keep the living room door closed so that the heat would reach the bedrooms. Later they installed electricity and running water, and even modern bathrooms. We really had it good then!”
In the summer months. Montauk Point Lighthouse was popular with tourists and the keepers often complained that it was hard to get their work done while giving so many tours of the tower, a job that required two keepers, one at the base of the tower to limit the number of people going up, and one in the lantern to make sure people didn’t touch the lens. And, to make it even more inconvenient for the keepers, when giving tours, they always had to be in uniform; never their work clothes. George Warrington III recalled, “More than once we’d look up from our dining table to see faces at our windows looking in . . . That got kind of old after a while, but it goes with living at a lighthouse.” One major rule for all family members was to never touch the walls in the keeper’s quarters; they didn’t want the lighthouse inspector to see fingerprints or marks on them.
Other than the constant barrage of tourists, life was somewhat routine at the lighthouse. A few exceptions were the excitement of when the lighthouse tender would bring supplies, when a hurricane would strike the area, or when the tower had to be painted.
George Warrington III recounted, “To us kids those big Coastguardsmen seemed sort of like pirates. If they arrived during the fog it really looked eerie to see a big boat pull up off shore, a bunch of men being lowered into a small boat, then start heading for us at the light! That’s when they really looked like pirates.”
In those days, there were no outside contractors hired to paint the tower each year; it was the job of the keepers. George Warrington III said, “Dad and another keeper climbed into the cradle and painted the tall tower including the rounded top. Not too often did they spill very much paint, or have a major accident because they knew their lives depended on the ropes and pulleys that held the cradle or wooden box they rode in.”
Over the years, the family watched sailboats competing in the races from Connecticut to Virginia, large oceangoing liners, and lots of aircraft, including dirigibles as well as witnessing the Hindenburg as it was on its way to its fateful ending at Lakehurst, New Jersey.
In January of 1938, 2nd assistant keeper Warrington did get a brief moment of notoriety and fame when blonde bombshell Kathryn Cravens (1898-1991), Columbia Radio’s “Flying Commentator,” paid a surprise visit to Montauk Point Lighthouse for her nationally syndicated radio talk show, News Through a Woman’s Eyes. He and 1st assistant keeper John A. Miller hosted her visit. Head keeper Thomas A. Buckridge was off duty that day and not present for the visit. She told her audience that “the men are proud of their work, knowing its necessity that the light must not fail.” However, she was surprised that the keepers still lived without the modern conveniences such as electricity or running water, and they only had three battery-powered radios.
One time, shortly after the United States entered World War II, 2nd assistant keeper Warrington witnessed a German submarine that had surfaced a few hundred feet off the beach from the lighthouse. But as the fog suddenly lifted, the submarine dove beneath the waters. It was assumed, and highly likely, that the German submarine had intended to drop off saboteurs. Because of the war, the government felt that it was no longer safe for lighthouse families to live at the lighthouse, and the lighthouse families had to move out, leaving just men to be stationed there.
In 1939, the Lighthouse Service was dissolved and its duties were taken over by the United States Coast Guard. Some keepers stayed on as civilian keepers, while others joined the Coast Guard. George Warrington II stayed on as a civilian keeper; however in August of 1942 he joined the Coast Guard and was given the rank of Boatswain’s Mate 2nd class, a position he held until his retirement in 1943 when he moved to East Hampton, New York to operate an auto repair service.
After being afflicted with a heart ailment, George Washington II died at the young age of 53 on February 9, 1955 at his home in East Hampton, New York. He was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Bishopville, Maryland. He had served his country well, in three different branches of our government, all with little or no fanfare as one of the unsung heroes of the bygone era of the lighthouse keepers who silently saved the lives of those at sea. Hopefully the day will come when his gravesite is marked with a U.S. Lighthouse Service memorial plaque to honor his memory.
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2020 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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