Keeper’s Log, September 21

Outer Island Light Station, September 21, 1946:

General duties around Station. Boat returned from Bayfield with Munn, Eugene W., 232‑364, BM1C, for assignment to duty as Officer in Charge, replacing Barningham, Vernon T., 213‑716, BM1C, in accordance with District Order # 090976. Mrs. Barningham returned to pack personal belongings. Light S. W. wind, cloudy.

Thus departs the last civilian keeper of the Outer Island lighthouse: though identified here as Boatswain’s Mate First Class, Vern Barningham had originally tended the beacon as an employee of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. With the absorption of the Lighthouse Service into the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939, Barningham accepted the offer to enlist in the Coast Guard at a commensurate rank. The amalgamation of agencies resulted in a drastic change in the lighthouse environment: what had once been family homes gradually took on the aspect of military posts. Mrs. Barningham returned the next day to pack up her personal belongings; in a few years, wives and children would no longer be allowed at the lighthouses.

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2 Responses to Keeper’s Log, September 21

  1. lisahgolden says:

    I wonder if this change was a good thing or not?

  2. Ranger Bob says:

    Well, to a lot of lighthouse enthusiasts, it was the end of the world, taking away much of the romance from the lighthouse tradition. You went, so the story goes, from having dedicated keepers who spent years leading solitary but romantic lives, proud of their spotless and well-maintained stations, accompanied by stalwart wives and happy children, to a bunch of bored young guys who couldn’t wait for the end of their hitches.

    This perception is aggravated by the deferred maintenance characteristic of the later Coast Guard era- the top brass gives a distinct impression that they consider lighthouses virtually obsolete, and prefers not to “waste” their finite budget on such frivolity. There is a good deal of truth to this aspect of the perception: the agency has made public statements to the effect that, “Our mission is maritime safety and enforcement, not historic preservation. That is the responsibility of other agencies.”

    On the other hand, having gotten to know several Coast Guard lighthouse veterans– and active personnel on the aids to navigation maintenance teams– I can say with certainty that some of them carried out their duties with as much pride and dedication as any USLHS keeper that ever trimmed a lamp.

    And really, if the USLHS had survived as an agency into the era of automation, radar, and GPS, would it be any more eager to spend money on maintaining these 19th century facilities than the Coast Guard?

    So the answer ain’t simple.

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