Marooned On Oak Island!
by Bob Mackreth
The Raspberry Island lighthouse, around 1900.
An Apostle Islands lighthouse keeper was a busy man. Tending the light at night and maintaining the station during the day demanded long hours of work. Records from 1915 show that one lighthouse keeper was expected to put in 105 hours of work each week!
Though some light stations were staffed by a keeper and one or more assistants, at others the keeper was expected to handle it all by himself. In such cases, days off were out of the question.
Family members often pitched in to help. Many keepers' wives learned to light and tend the lamps, enabling their husbands to leave the station for one or more days. Occasionally the Lighthouse Service acknowledged this contribution by officially appointing the keeper's wife as assistant keeper, and paying her a commensurate salary. Ella Luick at Sand Island, Mary Snow at Raspberry Island, and Matilda Rumrill at Michigan Island were several Apostle Islands keepers' wives who received this recognition.
Francis Jacker was keeper at Raspberry Island from 1885 through 1892. Though the Raspberry station had once been allotted an assistant keeper, the position was abolished in 1882, presumably for reasons of economy. Keeping the station without help proved a challenging job, as one of his log entries attests in the best bureaucratic manner:
The reinstitution of an assistant keeper for this station is deemed necessary by the present writer for reasons submitted by letter to the inspector. In case of an emergency, no assistance is available on the island, and the proper surveillance of the revolving apparatus during the long nights of the fall when frequent windings are required, is exhausting.
Though Jacker was married, he apparently chose not to bring his family to the lighthouse. Sometimes the logbooks give evidence of his loneliness, as on one Independence Day:
Rain on the Fourth. No celebration within twelve miles of the station. The day passed in quiet solitude as usual.
That year he had no visitors until mid-August:
August 8, 1887. Tug Daisy brought an excursion party who visited the station and expressed their delight over the rural attractions of the place. They were the first visitors of the season.
Little more than a month later, Jacker's worst fears came true. His solitary situation put him into some real trouble. The keeper's log for September 1887 tells the tale:
Early in the morning of the 13th, a westerly gale sprang up, all of a sudden, endangering the sailboat of the station which that night had been anchored near the dock. Jumping out of bed, I hurried to move it to a place of safety at the eastern extremity of the island--- the dilapidated condition of the ways rendering it impossible, for the moment, to have it hauled up to the boathouse.
But the storm's fury was too much for the lighthouse keeper in his little boat:
In the dark, I missed the point of landing, sailing beyond it, and the impetuosity of the storm made it impossible either to row or beat up against it, gravel having entered and lodged in the centerboard box, prevented the use of the latter; consequently tacking could not be resorted to. I could do nothing but to sail, under reefed canvas, with the current of the wind and waves, thus drifting over to Oak Island.
The storm did not abate until noon of the third day, by which time the boat had received such damage that there would have been no escape for me from my prison, were it not for a passing Indian who noticed my signal of distress and rescued me. I had spent nearly three days on the desolated island, without food, without fire, and being but scantily dressed.
By coincidence, while Jacker was marooned on Oak Island, his wife and family arrived at Raspberry Island for a visit. Finding her husband missing, Mrs. Jacker did what she could to tend the beacon. She was able to light the lamp, but could not operate the clockwork mechanism that rotated the lens to produce its characteristic flash. In Jacker's words,
In consequence of the above occurrence, the light of this station was not extinguished in the morning of the 13th, and not exhibited the night following. It was relighted, however, in the night of the 14th and 15th by my family who happened to come on a visit, but owing to their inability to get the revolving machinery into motion, the apparatus did not revolve.
This harrowing experience brought Jacker an unexpected benefit. On September 22, 1887, J.C. Thompson, master of the steamer Horace A. Tuttle, wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury with a complaint. Thompson reported that he had passed Raspberry Island several days before, and found that the light was out. He demanded an explanation, noting that Raspberry Island was "important because it is the leading light between Duluth, Bayfield, and Ashland."
Letting the light go out was reason for a stiff reprimand or even dismissal, and the District Inspector ordered Jacker to explain himself. The story of his ordeal must have made an impression on Jacker's bosses- before the year was over, Edward Jacker, Francis's son, was appointed assistant keeper at Raspberry Island light.
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