Largest Gathering of Keepers’ Families Ever
Keepers’ Stones Unveiled,
The largest gathering ever of keepers’ descendants took place on the grounds of the Cape Hatteras Light Station May 4, 5, 6, 2001. Over 1,100 Hatteras Lighthouse keepers’ direct descendants gathered for the Hatteras Keepers Descendants Homecoming. A gleaming white tent at the base of the lighthouse held all the families for a weekend of special programs about the lighthouse, U.S. Lighthouse Service history, and family life on Hatteras Island.
Highlights of the weekend included: the unveiling of the engraved stones from the original lighthouse foundation with names of the 83 identified keepers of Cape Hatteras Lighthouses, including the 1803 and 1870 towers and the Cape Hatteras Beacon Light at Cape Point (1855- c. 1904); heritage programs for descendants; the National Park Service rededication ceremony; a panel discussion with local residents and others who grew up near the lighthouse on Hatteras Island; and a lifesaving drill demonstration by volunteer surfmen of the Chicamacomico Historical Association.
"For the first time since I’ve been visiting Cape Hatteras, it was a true park and a place for people.” Joe Jakubik, project manager for the relocation of the Cape Hatteras Light Station commented on his attendance at the Hatteras Keepers Descendants Homecoming.
And it’s true. It was a place for people, family. The atmosphere at the park and around the lighthouse was the friendliest I’d ever felt. Each time I looked into the eyes of the descendants, I could see the eyes of the keepers. They were there with us in spirit and it was an overwhelming feeling that we all felt.
There were countless smiles on people’s faces when they met after having not seen one another for ten, twenty, thirty, forty years! The glint in their eyes, the warm hugs, the slaps on the back, the huddles to exchange funny stories- all said “family.” At times, the gatherings at the Angler’s Club, Hatteras Civic Center, and the tent looked like scenes at an old general store: men sat with their chairs turned backyards, gesturing strongly to embellish the stories; sisters drew closer for private chats and photographs; grandparents with grandchildren beamed with pride as keepers’ descendants. Recognition at last, home at last.
Before the event and behind the scenes…
We finally see the tent…
The Unveiling of the Keepers Circle of Stones Friday, May 4, 2001
No one could have predicted the impact of the engraved original granite plinth stones with the keepers’ names. Already there have been funerals and weddings in the circle. It’s a special place. As one views the engraved names and the eye slowly looks up, up along the move track and there she is–the striped beauty stands back, giving way to the upcoming blasts of Atlantic storms. One descendant told us that she was not ready for the emotional experience awaiting her at the stones. “I cried,” she said. “And I don’t cry! My children ran around and around and we counted the names and found how many had the same last names. I want to go back again and again.”
A barbecue at the Hatteras Civic Center Friday night and later at the Angler’s Club…
Saturday at the tent…
It was a banner group assembled from the lighthouse community from all over the country. Speakers included: Tim Harrison of the American Lighthouse Foundation who spoke on what a great event was taking place; Henry Gonzalez of the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society expressed his respect for lighthouses, keepers, and families who worked hard, long days to serve their country. Henry is a descendant of two European lighthouse keepers; Rick Lohr of International Chimney, Inc. defined what a great event it was to have the families present, a part of the lighthouse’s history as valuable as the relocation project; Dr. Margaret Harker delivered fascinating facts on the medical resources of keepers’ families based on a year of research; Cullen Chambers, who has overseen the restoration of the Key West, St. Augustine, and Tybee Island Lighthouses, spoke on the importance of lighthouse preservation; Sandra MacLean Clunies wowed the crowd with her family history information, and there were others! These speakers also met informally with families after lunch, which was served expertly by Kelly’s Restaurant of Nags Head.
It was a fine heritage program day for the keepers’ families. And this is the amazing thing- the Homecoming Committee, volunteers, nor speakers received compensation, royalties, or fees. This Homecoming is what the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society is all about.
The National Park Service (NPS) rededication ceremony was held Saturday evening May 5…
What a day. What a memory.
And on that quiet Sunday morning…
On stage in the big tent were some of the “old people” as the islanders call them, who shared memories of growing up on Hatteras Island in the early twentieth century. What wonderful stories! Descendant Truly Clark videotaped the entire session. Included in the group were: Beatie McArthur, cofounder of the Hatteras Island Genealogical and Historical Society and relative of seven keepers; Jack Goodwin, library curator of the Carteret County Historical Society and grandson of Keeper James Casey; Reese Folb, son of “Doc” Folb who was Chief Pharmacist Mate for the U.S. Navy; Sybil Austin Skakle, writer and former island resident; Drew Pullen, panel coordinator and expert on Hatteras Island during the Civil War; Stockton Midgett; and Eaf O’Neal.
Dr. Margaret Harker, one of the Saturday speakers on early island medicine, took advantage of the opportunity to ask the panel about medical treatments when they were growing up. You’d be amazed at some of the great “cures” that were used. One of the common sense remedies for a bad cut, or other wounds, was to tie a biscuit or other bread to the injured area for days or longer. “What an odor!” panelist Jack Goodwin frowned! But it was the forerunner to use of antibiotics made of mold such as penicillin. As Dr. Harker stated in her chapter in HATTERAS KEEPERS ORAL AND FAMILY HISTORIES, we would do well today to be a resourceful and to use common sense as did the keepers and their families during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who had scarce access to a medical doctor and lived in a time when antibiotics were nonexistent.
The wind began to blow…
As we packed our car…
© 2006 Cheryl Shelton-Roberts for the Lighthouse News
This page last updated on Friday, February 10, 2006 7:44 PM