Keeper’s Log, September 23

Ashland Breakwater Light Station, September 23, 1922

Warm and windy- Did necessary routine duties. Navigation light. All lights vis. Keeper, J.H. Bergan, passed away at St. Joseph’s hospital at 11:30 P.M. from heart failure. Work to be carried on by his family until new keeper arrives.

James Bergan, first Keeper at the Ashland Breakwater light (1915-1922) had begun his Apostle Islands career some two decades earlier as Second Assistant at Outer Island. His time there appears less than happy; in one of those dramas typical of that snake-bit lighthouse, the Keeper and assistants were at war with one another. According to an inspector’s report:

…I find at Outer Island Light Station, a regrettable condition of affairs as regards an efficient performance of the duties demanded, which is, in a great measure, in my opinion, due to a lack of character, or perhaps interest in his work, in the Keeper, Mr. John Leonard. A state of discontent and controversy with probable cases of insubordination has apparently existed for the past two years, the Keeper stating to me, among other things, that his instructions as to leaves of absence are disregarded by his assistants. He further accuses them of selling provisions, but in this regard he does not appear to me to make out a very strong case.

His second assistant Mr. J.H. Bergan denies this last charge and presents reasonable proof of his allegations. The 1st Assistant was not present.

Certain of the usual rules and precautions in the care of the light appear not to be observed, and the dwellings, living rooms, and out houses were in discreditable conditions as regards cleanliness, neatness, and order. The Keeper and his Assts. do not speak with each other in other than official matters.

As a result of the investigation, the Keeper was busted down to a job as seaman on a lighthouse tender, the First Assistant was transferred, with no reduction in pay, to Devils Island, and Bergan was allowed to remain in his job at Outer.

Following his death, Bergan’s wife tended the light for nearly a month, until his replacement arrived and she had to vacate the Keeper’s house. (NB: Living in government quarters is a bad deal in many respects. One of them is that if you die, your family becomes homeless. I’ve seen it happen in the Park Service.)

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