If people don’t believe that miracles can happen today, they should try doing research for Lighthouse Digest and they would soon become firm believers! For the past eight years, over the thousands of hours of tracking down keepers, descendants, stories and photos, I have come to know for certain that there are miracles in our world – and for some reason, God wants lighthouse history to be rediscovered and preserved.
Our editor, Tim Harrison, and I used to joke about these special “coincidences” being sent via the “Lighthouse Twilight Zone” because they were so unbelievable and other-worldly, but they came with such frequency that we became convinced that there was some divine hand in our work. Among the most incredible were two that happened in the spring of 2018.
The Miracle of Morgan City
The first concerned two keepers that had served in Louisiana together at several lights in the 1920s and 30s. Tim had purchased a press photo of former keeper Godfrey C. Kiff, taken in 1974, holding a model of the Sabine Bank Lighthouse that he had just recently created to mark the 10th year of his retirement.
The photo caption said that Godfrey had served for over 42 years at four different lights, but when Tim looked him up in our keeper records, there was only one mention of him at Ship Shoal Light for a year. So, he asked me to find out all I could on him, besides photos of him when he was a keeper.
The search led me to the Morgan City Library where Kiff had donated his lighthouse papers, artifacts and a model of the Ship Shoal Lighthouse he had also built. The head librarian was also in charge of the city archives and confirmed that while all the donations were there, she was short-staffed and it would take several weeks for her to get over there to look for them. We also had to fill out a formal research request form that had to be approved by the city commissioners before any information could be shared with us. It sounded like a daunting process, but we went ahead and did it anyway.
About a month later, we finally got a wealth of information from her, and while there were no photos, there was a 20-page document transcribed from a taped interview with Godfrey Kiff in the 1970s, recounting memories of his lighthouse career and some stories.
In the interview, Godfrey kept mentioning his good friend Leo Guidry, who had served with him at several lighthouses. We had absolutely no listing for Leo as a keeper, yet he had served for 30 years according to the interview transcript and his census records when I looked him up.
Leo had never married, had no children, and had lived with his sister whenever he had leave from the offshore lighthouses where he was stationed. Tim wanted me to track down his family and see if anyone had a photo of him for our article. He thought there might possibly be more information at the Morgan City archives about Leo and wanted me to check that out again as well.
I was really reticent to do that because the librarian had been so busy and was disinterested in spending her time to go look for these things for a lighthouse magazine published out of Maine. So, I was not looking forward to another phone call with her to bug her about looking for someone else.
However, Tim insisted I try, so I took a deep breath and called her. As expected, she said she had absolutely no time to go looking again and it would take months if we wanted to fill out another research request. We were nearing our deadline for the article now, so that would be useless for us to wait that long. I asked her if, perchance, she knew any Guidry’s in Morgan City since she had lived there her whole life. She said no, they had all either died or moved away years ago so she had nothing more to tell me- no names or possible locations and that was it, so goodbye.
So, I went back to work and tracked down Leo Guidry’s sister’s family. I had to go through five generations to get to anyone who might still be alive because everyone had married and had children by the time they were 20. There were a billion Guidry’s after five generations – 100s of descendants from Leo’s multiple siblings and particularly his sister.
I just chose one randomly but when I called her, she told me she had never even heard of the name Guidry before and hadn’t a clue how she would be related; however, she had an “ancient aunt” who might know about him. She said she’d have her call me if she knew anything. I thought I was at a dead end there.
The next day, to my amazement, the aunt called. She lived in Morgan City and YES, she knew about Leo Guidry and even remembered meeting him once when she was a child. But no, she didn’t have any photos of him or know anyone else in the family who might. But had I tried the Morgan City archives? I told her I wasn’t able to get the librarian to look for us because she didn’t have time, whereupon this lady then said, “Oh, leave that to me. She’s my best friend and I can get her to do anything for me.” That was miracle #1 – that in all the bazillion descendants in that family, I chose the one to call who knew this aunt and that the aunt was the librarian’s best friend!
The next day, I was absolutely shocked to get a phone call from the librarian. It was like she was a totally different person from the one I had been dealing with for the whole month before. Of course! She would be happy to go to the archives to look for information on Leo Guidry for us . . . tomorrow! And how on earth did I find her best friend? She didn’t even know her friend was a Guidry after knowing her for all those years! How did I find that out? That was miracle #2, that the disinterested librarian did a 180 and was going to give us immediate help!
It was only the next afternoon that I got the most incredible phone call of all- it was the librarian, reporting on her visit to the archives again. She related that she went back to the same files where she had looked and pulled the Godfrey Kiff information from. She had gone through it already once before, but thought she’d try again, specifically looking for the name Leo Guidry this time. She said while she was flipping through files and papers, a small brown envelope dropped to the floor that she hadn’t seen before. When she picked it up, she was surprised to see the names “Godfrey Kiff and Leo Guidry” on the outside of the envelope and inside were large 3” photo negatives! She held them up to the light and saw that they were of two men wearing lighthouse uniforms. That was miracle #3!
She then told me on the phone, “You know, it will be another couple of weeks before the city commissioner can come by to sign any more release forms or paperwork, so I won’t tell them about this. I don’t have any way to scan photo negatives, so I will just mail these to you if you promise to mail them right back!” I about dropped dead. She was going to actually send original negatives out of the archives to me without any paperwork being signed? That was miracle #4.
I got them just a few days later in time to scan them to meet our article deadline. The one photo of Godfrey and Leo was in perfect condition, crisp and clear and had been taken on the deck of the no-longer-standing Oyster Bay Lighthouse. It was the perfect image for our article as it showed Godfrey Kiff as a young man when he was more towards the beginning of his career along with his good friend and fellow keeper Leo Guidry who was his head keeper at the time. You can read about Godfrey and Leo in the September-October 2018 edition of Lighthouse Digest in the online archives.
The Miracle of Raymond Bay
The second incredible miracle that same year happened while getting our Tillamook Rock Lighthouse book ready for publication. On April 20th, after several weeks of delay, I had received the first set of page proofs with the editor’s notes of things to fix before it could be sent to the press for printing; and one of the notes mentioned an image of keeper Raymond Bay that was cropped down to a head shot from another photo we were also using in the book.
Duplication of photos is strictly against Arcadia Press policies, so they said it had to be substituted with something else. Unfortunately, in all the 500 or so images from the Bay and Hayward family archives I had access to, there wasn’t another close-up photo of Raymond in the lot that was useable; and there had to be a photo of him with the other three keeper portrait photos in chapter two showcasing the “fearless foursome” that had served on Tilly in 1920. I remember feeling quite at a loss of what to do and in somewhat of a panic when I read the email.
Ever since we had stumbled across the Hayward archive of Tillamook Rock photos two years earlier, Jean Hayward Wilkinson, daughter of keeper Orlo Hayward, had been regularly sending me groups of photos as she uncovered them in her boxes of family photos. Because this had gone on for such a long time, she couldn’t remember exactly which ones she had sent before and which ones she hadn’t, so I frequently got emails saying, “Have I sent this to you already?”
It had been several months since she had sent me the last batch, because she knew the book had already been submitted to the press as complete and no new material could be added. I had received the email with the page proof notes requesting a new photo for Raymond Bay at 10:30 that particular morning. I spent the next few hours going through all 500 photos yet again to see if there were anything that would even remotely work, and came up empty-handed. The panic was getting real at that point.
At 5PM, I received an email from Jean with an attachment on it. The subject line read, “Young asst. or keeper” along with the familiar question, “I may have sent this photo to you before?” I opened the attachment and found myself staring directly into the crystal-clear eyes of a portrait shot of Raymond Bay! I almost fell out of my chair! I think I may have even screamed.
His eyes were so startling in the photo that took up my full computer screen and bored right into me; it was like he was saying to me, “OK, HERE I AM!” I just couldn’t believe that in two years and maybe 1000 photos altogether, that Jean had never sent me this one before until the very afternoon of that particular day, barely six hours after Arcadia’s photo removal request email.
Some people may say these things are still just a coincidence. But I know better, because they have been happening so regularly throughout the years in doing this research for our articles. We may have joked on and off about it being from the Lighthouse Twilight Zone, but as I wrote in an email to Tim about receiving Raymond’s photo, “It’s truly a miracle and showing, yet again, that God really does care about what we are doing!” To which he replied, “Yes, I still believe that.”
The Miracle of Family
There is one more miracle that should be mentioned at the last as a result of what we do at Lighthouse Digest. That of the family unity that occurs when descendants work together to find and share information and photos with one another of their keeper ancestors and also come together in attending the grave marker ceremonies to honor them. We have been thanked numerous times for uniting families in our quest to preserve this history; and in a world where the family has become more distant and fractured, and ties loosened to the point of estrangement, perhaps this is the greatest miracle of all – to find the common bonds once again, for the benefit not only of keeper research and archiving, but for a future of family caring and sharing that can be passed down to the next generation as well!
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 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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