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Lighthouses on the Chesapeake Bay
Life of a Lighthouse Keeper
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Life of a Lighthouse Keeper

Life in a lighthouse could be dangerous, but it could also be lonely and monotonous. Each keeper kept a logbook of daily events and accomplishments; entries about dusting, scrubbing, and painting are common. Before electricity, the oil lamps that provided the light needed constant attention. The keeper had to carry heavy oil cans up the steep and narrow steps to the lamp. The lamp's wicks had to be trimmed so that the light was clear with a minimum of smoke. The lenses that magnified the light had to be polished and the entire lighthouse structure had to be kept painted and in good repair. The government required detailed recordkeeping, and unannounced inspections were routine. The light had to be kept burning at all times, regardless of the weather. The job of lighthouse keeper was not always easy.

Many Chesapeake Bay lighthouses are on islands or offshore, surrounded by water and away from civilization. For the keepers of those lighthouses, the occasional trip to town or a visit from the lighthouse tender was a major event. Reading was a popular pastime; some keepers kept small livestock like chickens and pigs or tended vegetable gardens. Often the keeper's family lived in the lighthouse with him, and every family member helped with the responsibilities of keeping the lights burning. While most lighthouse keepers enjoyed their jobs, the loneliness and hard work were too much for some. Oscar Daniels, keeper of Cherrystone Lighthouse, wrote,"a man had just as well die and be done with the world at once as to spend his days here."


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