He Literally Froze His Pants Off
Joseph Napiezinski served as a lighthouse keeper on the Great Lakes from 1893 to 1941, an amazing 48 years. Born on March 18, 1876 in Utica, New York, at the age of 17 he entered into employment with the United States Lighthouse Service. He served at Wisconsin’s Rawley Point Lighthouse, Milwaukee North Pierhead Lighthouse, and Chambers Island Lighthouse before becoming the head keeper at the Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse in Manitowoc, Wisconsin in 1911.Joseph Napiezinski married Lucy LaFond on June 14, 1898 and the couple went on to have nine children; three boys, and six girls. In the wintertime, while stationed at Chambers Island Lighthouse, keeper Napiezinski had an ingenious method to get to the mainland and back. When the slush ice was thick enough, he would travel by sled with a boat strapped to his back. When he hit open water, he would travel by rowboat and pull the sled behind him, and he would reverse the process as needed. On one such journey, from the mainland and back to the lighthouse, the wind picked up and the cold waves splashed onto him in the rowboat. By the time he reached the island lighthouse, he was frozen to the seat of the boat. Fortunately, his wife was nearby and came with an ax to chop him free. It was a story that was told many-a-time around the pot belly stove on those cold winter nights.Joseph Napiezinski died on May 15, 1966 and was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Hopefully, the day will come when someone, or some organization, will place a U. S. Lighthouse Service Memorial Marker at his gravesite.
Visiting an Island Lighthouse
Before he passed, the late Brad Wetherell, Jr., and his wife, Frances (“Frankie”), donated a number of photographs to us of their visits to many of Maine’s island lighthouses in the 1960s and 70s. Many of those photos show the lighthouse stations in different conditions while they were still staffed or had recently been abandoned. Thankfully, those photos are now preserved for future generations. This photo, taken on July 13, 1967, shows Frankie Wetherell and her dog Lady, on a visit to Maine’s 1872 Burnt Coat Harbor Lighthouse on Swans Island. The photo was taken by Brad during a time that the lighthouse was still staffed by Coast Guard personnel.
Travelling Over Dangerous Ice in the 1930s
It is believed by many that this photo of a U.S. Lighthouse Service panel truck at Michigan’s Poe Reef Lighthouse was taken in 1937. The Poe Reef Lighthouse, built in 1929, is on Lake Huron, about six miles east of Cheboygan. But, why would someone drive out over the dangerous ice to the lighthouse? Surely the keepers must have been removed before the ice engulfed the station for the winter. Or was it time to open the station for the spring shipping season and there was no other way to get the keepers there? These are questions that we pondered. However, in doing further research, we found a letter dated February 14, 1937, written by Donald M. Cozzens to Charles A. Park, the Deputy Commissioner of Lighthouses. Mr. Cozzens was an electrician for the U.S. Lighthouse Service, who worked as a specialist on wireless radios. He wrote: “I am sending you this picture of Poe Reef Light Station, not as an excellent source of photography, but to show ice conditions in this district. “Although this station is but seven miles from Cheboygan, we were forced to go twenty miles on account of rough ice and open water. There was approximately 27 inches of ice where the car is; open water can be seen not far from the station. “I think this is a rare picture and believe it would be of interest to the personnel of the other districts where ice conditions are not like ours.”In 1929, Poe Reef Lighthouse and Cape Henry Lighthouse in Virginia became the first lighthouses in the United States to be equipped with synchronized radio-beacons and fog signal. And, by 1935, the last keeper was removed from Fourteen Foot Shoal Lighthouse, which then become operated remotely by radio-beacon, by the lighthouse keepers at the Poe Reef Light Station.This additionally proves that Donald Cozzens had travelled over the ice, by the panel truck, shown in this image, most likely to do maintenance on the radio-beacon at Poe Reef Lighthouse before the opening of the 1937 spring shipping season.
Keeper’s Wife Was Postmaster
Irish-born veteran lighthouse keeper Edward Scannell (1842-1921), who along with his wife Mary, shown here with their family dog, took over at Admiralty Head Lighthouse in 1914 and served there until his retirement in 1919. They were previously stationed at Point No Point Lighthouse for 26 years, and for 21 of those years, from 1893 to 1914, Mary served as the local postmaster. After Edward Scannell retired in 1919, the couple moved to Seattle, Washington, where Edward died on January 26, 1921, only a few years after his retirement. (Courtesy Images of America)
Through the Years
Shown here are various and different Coast Guard uniforms that were worn throughout the years, starting with the Revenue Cutter Service and then through the 1990s. The current operational dress uniform is slated for change starting at the end of 2023. (U.S. Coast Guard, 1990 photo)
Before the Black Band
This vintage photograph of the 1856 Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, at the entrance to the Columbia River near Ilwaco, Washington, shows the lighthouse as a solid white tower before the black band was painted in the middle of the tower. On October 25, 1858 the second assistant keeper was crossing the river to Astoria in the station’s boat, when it capsized. A man on the far shore saw the assistant keeper climb onto the bottom of the upset boat and sent three Native Americans in a canoe to rescue him. However, before they could reach him, the boat drifted into the breakers, and the assistant keeper drowned and his body was never recovered. The outbuildings shown, in this vintage photo, no longer stand. Automated in the late 1960s the lighthouse, with no maintenance, has been deteriorating for many years. (William M. McCarthy collection)
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2023 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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