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Lighthouse Keeper


While I was in high school my dad subscribed to the Wall Street Journal. Having a lot of time on his hands at the gas station, he dabbled in mutual funds; unlike most people who simply invest in them and sit back to enjoy the return on their investment, Roy chose to buy and sell, making a few cents profit here and there. It was then that I learned a bit about the market from dad’s broker Mr William A. Simmons, an immaculately tailored older gentleman—in three-piece tweed suits even in August and never looking the least bit uncomfortable—who hung out at the station even after he’d retired from the brokerage business. I was privileged to call him Willie but was never comfortable with that familiarity.

I recall one issue of the WSJ which included a curious advertisement in their real estate section: an island with non-functioning lighthouse was for sale. It was in Lake Michigan, somewhere in the north near Charlevoix, a resort town on Michigan’s lower peninsula. The asking price I don’t recall. But the very idea of living in splendid isolation on an island seemed very much in sync with my worldview. “Just because,” I did a little bit of research on lighthouses in the 19th century, their construction and staffing. I found this advertisement for the lighthouse at Two Harbors, Minnesota from 1890:


Requirements: Age 18 to 50. Be able to read, write, keep simple accounts, sail a boat, perform manual labor and have enough mechanical skills to maintain the equipment and do minor repairs. May leave the station only to draw pay or attend public worship.

Cause for Dismissal: Intoxication or failure to keep the lights burning, regardless of circumstances.

Salary: $200 a year.

Duties: Daily and monthly routines for cleaning, maintaining and repairing all equipment. Lamp is lighted at sunset, extinguished at sunrise and watched continuously through the night. Keep a daily log of the light, the passage of ships in the area, the weather and the consumption of supplies, particularly lamp oil.

Extra money: Encouraged to garden, make shoes, tailor, fish or serve as preacher or schoolteacher, if close to the lighthouse.

Mail service: Usually once a month.

What, you may ask, do the duties of a lighthouse keeper have to do with Agincourt? Good question. The postcard above reminded me of that splendid isolation I’d sought in 1960. Perhaps my back-up should have been “Watertower Keeper”?

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