Sunday tours of Sea Girt Lighthouse are conducted Sundays from 2-4 p.m., except holiday weekends through mid-November.
Tours have been expanded with the recent discovery of historic details not previously known and new displays of artifacts donated in recent months and rare documents uncovered in the archives.
In preparation for the new season of tours, docents shifted through stored archive boxes and filing cabinets of correspondence and other documents going back more than a century and found buried treasure.
Among the discoveries are fascinating details about John L. Hawkey, keeper at Sea Girt from 1910-17, who was until now the least known keeper but may emerge as the most interesting keeper, a 1928 keeper’s manual of procedures for everything from trimming the wick to responding to shipwrecks, and President Roosevelt’s 1941 Proclamation of National Emergency as Europe becomes engulfed in World War II.
Knowledgeable docents conduct tours Sundays through November 18.
Note: There will be no tours on these holiday Sundays: Mother’s Day (May 13), Memorial Day weekend (Sunday: May 27), Father’s Day (June 17), Independence Day/Fourth of July (Sunday before: July 1), and Labor Day weekend (Sunday: September 2).
Visitors have access to every room, from the keeper’s office, throughout the living quarters and up to the top of the tower. On display are a Fresnel lens, keepers’ letters and a 1903 lighthouse log book and other artifacts that capture the history of the lighthouse and the keepers and later Coast Guardsmen who operated the landmark.
Bygone Sea Girt is recalled in rare photos and documents. There are many artifacts from the Morro Castle, the cruise ship that burned offshore in 1934 and prompted a heroic rescue effort.
Of special note are the following items added to the displays.
Bravest Woman in America
The U.S. Lighthouse Service commander kept in touch with keepers at all light stations through frequent bulletins sent by mail. They often contained vital information about operations, changes and improvements in procedures, announcements of commendations and Lighthouse Service news.
Uncovered is the urgent bulletin once displayed at Sea Girt Lighthouse and on display again, announcing with “regrets” the death October 25, 1911 of light keeper Ida Lewis, once called the “bravest woman in America.” She was a legend, Lighthouse Service pioneer and an inspiration to fellow keepers.
Idawalley Lewis, known as Ida, was the daughter of the keeper at Lime Rock Lighthouse, off Newport, R.I. She helped her mother operate Lime Rock after her father fell ill in 1854. Four years later, Ida made her first rescue at age 16, rowing to four people whose sailboat capsized. She was a strong rower from rowing her siblings to school every day. She took on more lighthouse duties as her mother became ill. Ida was finally named keeper at Lime Rock in 1879. She was tending the light when she died at 69.
The Lighthouse Service credited Ida Lewis with 13 rescues “requiring the highest courage.” Other sources credit her with as many as 36 saves. Out of respect, this notice of her death was posted at Sea Girt Lighthouse and all other light stations for 5 days. In 1924, Lime Rock was renamed Ida Lewis Rock. And the lighthouse was renamed Ida Lewis Lighthouse, the only U.S. lighthouse named for a keeper.
The Lighthouse Service notice has been framed and displayed again at Sea Girt Lighthouse beside a studio portrait of Ida Lewis as a young woman in a long Victorian dress and hat holding at her side a rowboat oar.
Inventive John Hawkey
After years of searching, docents have yet to unearth a photo of keeper John L. Hawkey. The search continues. However, Sea Girt resident Dan Herzog, who learned of our interest in tracking down Mr. Hawkey, undertook his own genealogical detective work that yielded intriguing details. (See related news story at the top of the home page).
All that was previously known about Hawkey was that he entered the predecessor organization of the Lighthouse Service in 1872. He served aboard Five Fathoms Lightship and then Northeast End Light Vessel, No. 44 before becoming keeper at Sea Girt in 1910. It had been assumed by Sea Girt docents that he was a bachelor because of his offshore postings, which proved an erroneous assumption.
Dan, who is familiar with census records from having done genealogical research on his own family, discovered in the census files of 1880-1910 that Hawkey was married, although he and his wife Viola had no children. They lived in a house they owned in Cape May. He listed his job as engineer and his workplace as lightship.
A check of Lighthouse Service procedures for lightship crews revealed Hawkey’s schedule would have been three weeks aboard ship and 10 days liberty. So he would have been a commuter.
Dan also discovered a fleeting reference in an online edition of the journal American Architect and Architecture, Volume 13, (1883) to United States Patent 274,765 issued that year to John L. Hawkey, of Cape May, New Jersey for an “Automatically-Operating Door.”
By the Book
Light keepers and their families and the men aboard lightships had many daily duties to attend to and had to be prepared to act quickly and correctly in emergencies because the lives of mariners and their passengers depended on their vigilance. And those assigned to light stations throughout America depended on Instructions To Employees of the United States Lighthouse Service, published annually by the Service.
A near fine 1927 edition of the book, which belonged to one of Sea Girt’s keepers, was found tucked away on a top bookcase shelf. Running to 124 pages, the indispensable manual of orders and procedures covers everything from trimming wicks to responding to shipwrecks and what to do in dense fog.
Also uncovered is Regulations for Uniforms (a 14-page pamphlet published in 1928 by the USLHS and issued to all personnel), which provides descriptions and illustrations of the dress uniforms and work uniforms and who should wear which and when.
Both historic documents are now on display in the northeast cabinet on the first floor of the lighthouse.
Lighthouse Mistaken for Oil Plant
At the conclusion of a 1926 voyage, an officer aboard the Dutch merchant ship S.S. Hillegom included in his route report a suggestion for Sea Girt Lighthouse that reached the Department of the Navy in Washington, D.C.
Unearthed by docents is a copy of the letter the Navy sent to the Commissioner of Lighthouses, relaying the Dutch sailor’s suggestion: “I would also politely suggest that Sea Girt Lighthouse be painted another more striking colour; because in hazy and snowy weather like we encountered as we passed it, this lighthouse is extremely difficult to make out, owing to its similarity to chimneys of oil plants or factories which abound in that vicinity.”
The Dutchman’s suggestion was rejected by the Lighthouse Commissioner who wrote on the letter from the Navy: “Sea Girt does not look like a chimney.” An official National Archives copy of the typed letter from the Navy’s Hydrographic Office, with the Lighthouse Commissioner’s cryptic response, is included in a lighthouse binder titled Sea Girt Lighthouse 1910-1930: Years of Modernization.
The lighthouse remained its original red brick throughout its years of active service and during World War II. It was painted white at some point in the late 1950s or early 1960s. The paint was eventually removed and by 1977 the lighthouse was again returned to its historic red brick appearance.
Morro Castle Survivor
A typewritten letter by Morro Castle survivor Agnes M. Prince to John Bogan Sr., of the fishing boat Paramount, has recently been donated to the lighthouse collection. The letter expresses gratitude and thanks to Mr. Bogan and the other rescuers on the Paramount.
Responding to reports of fire aboard the cruise ship Morro Castle in the early morning hours of September 8, 1934, John Bogan Sr., his sons John Jr. and Jim, and other volunteers braved a Nor’easter and put out to sea in the 60-foot Paramount, rescuing 67 people. In all, more than 400 people survived the disaster, which claimed 137 lives.
The letter reads in part: “One month has passed since your boat pulled my sister and myself on board your fishing schooner, the Paramount. In that month we have mentioned you and your men many, many times, commending you beyond words for your wonderful work that day. And believe me, we shall never forget you for saving our lives.
“Such action on your part, unsolicited, deserves more, much more, than the mere thanks which we and no doubt others you have rescued, have offered. But maybe the thanks will recompense you in a very small measure for the good you have done. … ”
The Prince letter was donated by the great-grandson of John Bogan Sr., Greg Bogan, on behalf of the Bogan family. It has been added to the lighthouse’s significant Morro Castle collection and displayed prominently with other artifacts that include two Morro Castle life jackets, a lifeboat oar, photos and news clippings. Also donated by Jim Bogan Jr. is a color photo of his father reunited with Agnes Prince at Sea Girt Lighthouse in 1994 at the 60th anniversary Morro Castle memorial program.
Safe but unseen for many years in a binder of classified bulletins from the Intelligence Office of the U.S. Coast Guard are numerous alerts to all stations, including Sea Girt, regarding the spreading war in Europe and America’s military buildup. The Coast Guard took command of Sea Girt and all U.S. lighthouses July 1, 1939 by executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The order is on display.
Newly added to the Coast Guard exhibit:
· Advisory to Lighthouse Service employees transferred to Coast Guard, detailing Coast Guard structure, ranks, uniforms, and the new insignia for Coasties assigned to lighthouse duty.
· Intelligence Office alert April 17, 1941 regarding the “Proclamation of a state of war between Germany and Italy, on the one hand, and Yugoslavia, on the other.”
· Intelligence Office alert of Presidential Proclamation No. 2487, May 27, 1941, declaring Unlimited National Emergency requiring heightened vigilance and military readiness in response to the spreading war in Europe.
These documents hang beside the Intelligence Office alert dated December 8, 1941 that announces: “Effective this date, a state of war between the United States of America and Japan now existing. … ”
The Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, which is responsible for maintaining and operating the historic landmark and preserving its history, invites newcomers to join the fun, accept the challenge and experience the satisfaction of helping to preserve local history.
There are numerous ways to get involved at the lighthouse, for example, researching the lighthouse history, giving talks and slide presentations, organizing group visits, donating artifacts, volunteering at special events such as the Lighthouse Challenge in October.
Being a tour guide is another opportunity. You don’t need to be an historian, just enthusiastic. You’d be joined on any given Sunday by several other volunteers. Each guide is assigned a room or two, such as the keeper’s office, the parlor or the lantern room. As visitors enter a room, the guide greets them, discusses the history of the room and points out the artifacts on display.
Pick your own room where you will be welcoming and chatting with people from down the block, across America and around the world. There’s a script for quick reference. But after giving a tour or two, most guides know the lighthouse story so well they don’t need the script.
Volunteers of any age are welcome, from students to retirees. For students, the experience can fulfill community service requirements and makes for an impressive activity on college applications.
During Sunday tours, volunteers are also needed to staff the merchandise desk, where lighthouse scale models, prints, postcards, caps, shirts and other souvenirs are sold. All sales proceeds go to help maintain and operate the lighthouse.
In addition to Sunday tours through mid-November, group tours can be arranged year round.
To volunteer or to request a group tour, call the lighthouse at 732-974-0514, or write Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, P.O. Box 83, Sea Girt 08750, or write us at this website’s Contact page.
Also visit the website for more history, rare photographs and the latest news of the Sea Girt Lighthouse.