A peek into the traveling libraries of light house keepers
February 22, 2016 8:55 AM   Subscribe

In 1885, there were 15 lighthouse districts in the US, and over each served an inspector, who visits every light-station quarterly, and his duties include maintenance of all those aids to navigation in it, the discipline of its personnel and pay to each keeper. When he visits a lighthouse that has a library he takes it away and replaces it (Google books preview). Those traveling lighthouse libraries were carried in heavy-duty, dual-purpose boxes that doubled as small book cases.

From the Milwaukee County Historical Society:
The lighthouse library offered the keeper and his family a wide selection of fictional and non-fictional literature, such as Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island and The Last Days of Pompeii. With over twenty books, the library provided a needed break from the routine of running a lighthouse. Today, it serves as a fascinating time capsule of a by-gone era in America’s maritime history.
A longer list of titles from the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy:
Ripley, M. M., CAPTAIN FRACASSE FROM THE FRENCH OF THEOPHILE GAUTIER. New York. 1880. 411 p. A light, readable translation from the original.

Ainsworth, William Harrison. OVINGDEAN GRANGE. London. nd. c.1870. 310p. A tale of 17th Century English Cavalier.

Willert, P. F., THE REIGN OF LEWIS XI. New Yord. nd. c.1880. 300 p. Provides a connected, clear and full account of the events and the nature of the reign which left France a consolidated and powerful nation, fully prepared for the part she was destined to play in the great struggle of the next century.

Lamont, James. SEASONS WITH THE SEA-HORSES; OR, SPORTING ADVENTURES IN THE NORTHERN SEAS. New York. 1861. 282p. Describes sailing and sporting adventures in the northern latitudes. Illustrated.

Taylor, Bayard. AT HOME AND ABROAD – A SKETCH-BOOK OF LIFE, SCENERY AND MEN. New York. 1893. 500 p. Decorated cloth. With black-and-white engravings, etc.

Torpelius, Z., THE SURGEON’S STORIES – TIMES OF CHARLES XII. Chicago. 1884. 349 p. Third in a series of six Swedish historical romances, translated from the Swedish.

Frazer, R. W., BRITISH INDIA. New York. 1897. 399 p. Green decorated cloth. Part of The Story of the Nations Series, in which the story of each nation’s life is related, and its picturesque and noteworthy periods and episodes presented....

Chaillu, Paul Du. MY APINGI KINGDOM: WITH LIFE IN THE GREAT SAHARA, AND SKETCHES OF THE CHASE OF THE OSTRICH, HYENA, &c. New York. 1870. 254p. Beautiful brown decorated cloth. With black-and-white engravings, etc.

Duffy, Bella. THE TUSCAN REPUBLICS (FLORENCE, SIENA, PISA, AND LUCCA) WITH GENOA. New York. 1893. 456 p. Green decorated cloth. Part of The Story of the Nations Series, in which the story of each nation’s life is related, and its picturesque and noteworthy periods and episodes presented...

Mahan, A. T., THE GULF AND INLAND WATERS. [Volume III of the Three volume set of The Navy In The Civil War. New York. 1883. 267 p. Blue leather with embossed decoration and gold lettering. This is the third in a three volume set of The Navy In The Civil War: Volume one "The Blockade and the Cruisers" by James Russell Soley, Professor U.S. Navy. Volume two "The Atlantic Coast" by Daniel Ammen, Rear Admiral U.S. Navy. Volume three "The Gulf and Inland Waters" by A.T. Mahan, Commander, U.S. Navy. This is the story of the navy and its engagements during the Civil War. An attractive volume in very good condition with all maps present.
The titles linked above are Archive.org scans, and a small selection of the U.S. Lighthouse Board's collection of almost 4,000 titles circa 1900 (Google books preview, referencing the collection but not any specific titles).
posted by filthy light thief (25 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fun fact: the final link is to Traveling Libraries: Field and Future of Traveling Libraries, by Melvil Dewey published in 1901, 25 years after he first published the Dewey Decimal System.

Previously: hurf durf book eater, a round-up of various traveling libraries from around the world.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:59 AM on February 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yes, more of this please. Love this stuff.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:03 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]




carried in heavy-duty, dual-purpose boxes that doubled as small book cases.

I would like about 15 of these beauties, but until then, thanks for this super interesting post.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:10 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


In case anyone was wondering what a 'lightship' was, or glossed over the ship in the Lighthouse Establishment bookplate as being a ship saved by the lighthouses (rather than a confederate of them), I'd note that lightships are exactly what they sound like: boats serving as lighthouses, in areas where no lighthouse could be safely built or maintained. There aren't many left -- only seven remain open to the public, among them, notably, the Overfalls, which was designated a historic landmark (somewhat ironically, given that it's not, you know, on land) in 2011.

This is a great post, thanks!
posted by cjelli at 9:12 AM on February 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


I would like about 15 of these beauties

I think they would be fairly easy to make - the design has some nice details (the doors have over-lapping lips to improve water-tightness, and the doors are paneled), but they appear to basically be sturdy boxes with two shelves and nice brass fixtures and features. I wouldn't be surprised to find something like these on Etsy, but shipping such stout wooden boxes could be rather expensive.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:20 AM on February 22, 2016


Nowadays they swap kindles, right? Heavy duty, dual purpose wooden kindles, that also double as repositories of porno. Really hard-core stuff too - like, the really extreme stuff. Vampire stuff, set in Washington State, and one guy's a werewolf. Gross! I haven't read them all yet, but I hear it's pretty full on. Just the thing for when the sun goes down but there's still a bit of light in the sky - whatever they call that time in the evening. No but the werewolf guy is always taking his shirt off, it's really intense.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:22 AM on February 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


Follow-up to cjelli - For those in NYC Lightship #115 Frying Pan is docked permanently at pier 66 (27th and 12th) and open to the public from May-October weather permitting. The website I linked has some historical reminiscences from officers and crew - trying to sleep in foggy weather when the huge foghorns went off every 50 seconds doesn't sound too fun.
There's a floating restaurant there too. It's fun, if a bit crowded on nice days.

The Lightships Ambrose (No. 87), Barnegat (LV 79 / WAL 506), and Liberty (Originally Cape Lookout Shoals) (LV-107 / WAL-529), are also docked in or near NYC, if you really want to go exploring.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:26 AM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


A plague of lighthouse keepers.
posted by parki at 9:40 AM on February 22, 2016


Those are terrible books. A little Swedenborg or something like that is what I'd want if I lived in a lighthouse.
posted by thelonius at 10:08 AM on February 22, 2016


Is there a way to like, sleep in a lighthouse for a night or so?
posted by gucci mane at 10:46 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


7 Lighthouses You Can Sleep In
posted by Etrigan at 11:04 AM on February 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


And more via Google search - in short, there are lots of opportunities to sleep in a lighthouse (and not as a light house keeper or their family or guest).
posted by filthy light thief at 11:06 AM on February 22, 2016


Is there a way to like, sleep in a lighthouse for a night or so?

Nice try, buddy - "ooh I saw a big light, can I come in for the night?" I guess we all now know who here is actually a moth!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 11:11 AM on February 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


Funny that Robinson Crusoe was in the library due to the factoid related in my previous comment on the subject of lighthouse history over here:

Did you know Robert Louis Stevenson came from a family of prominent lighthouse builders?

If that sounds interesting to you then I'd say you should pick up The Lighthouse Stevensons. I really enjoyed it when I stumbled upon it at the local library.

posted by RolandOfEld at 11:14 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Atlas Obscura is sure bringing it lately. I wonder what the backstory is on that (budget/staff)?
posted by notyou at 11:15 AM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Is there a way to like, sleep in a lighthouse for a night or so?

Better yet, you can get one for yourself. Well, when one comes up, you can be notified.
posted by BWA at 11:35 AM on February 22, 2016


I love the locking mechanism on that Pottawattami lighthouse box.

Chris Schwarz has put out a book on campaign furniture (travelling furniture used by the British army). He's included plans for a cool, clamshell bookcase with glass inner doors, posted to his blog.

He's also Jessamyn's cousin.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:02 PM on February 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


I enjoy a little light housekeeping from time to time.

I don't need much of a library, though. Just one book and one CD
posted by etherist at 12:23 PM on February 22, 2016


thelonius
Those are terrible books. A little Swedenborg or something like that is what I'd want if I lived in a lighthouse.
I must respectfully disagree—on its very first page, OVINGDEAN GRANGE contains the expression “a series of soft bosomy eminences”.
I can only wonder at the further greatness that must lie within that tome.
posted by bouvin at 2:13 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I wanna marry a lighthouse keeper. (Interesting how they just assumed that a man would have a family to help him, all uncompensated, of course).
posted by yesster at 3:42 PM on February 22, 2016


as it was found that light-keepers were made more contented and better satisfied with their lot

Surely they mean "blessing" rather than "lot".
posted by sourwookie at 6:13 PM on February 22, 2016


Thanks for this! My dad was a keeper's assistant for a short time and loves lighthouse history. He's gonna freak.
posted by qbject at 8:56 PM on February 22, 2016


Lighthouse Keepers Sketch (Alas Smith and Jones) (warning: extreme scottish accents and facial hair)
posted by memebake at 3:31 AM on February 23, 2016


For me, the gold is in the Bella Terra link, describing how the system came about:

This system of peripatetic libraries is a growth rather than a creation. One of the lighthouse officers, seeing the avidity with which light-keepers seized on any reading matter that came in their way, sent to individual keepers such spare books and odd magazines as he himself had, and then he pillaged the shelves of his friends for the same purpose. Finally the Lighthouse Board, which had no funds under its control from which it could buy books, found that book-cases could be properly paid for as furniture, and twenty-five of the pattern now used were supplied, it being understood that the books to fill them were to be provided by private funds. Then a systematic raid was made through the press, on everyone within reach, for books, odd numbers of magazines, and paper-covered novels, it having been found that they could be bound at the Government bindery. The friends of seamen responded readily, especially as the Lighthouse Establishment paid the expressage on packages of reading matter received. All was fish which came into the net, and the first twenty-five cases were filled with a mixture of theology, science, mathematics, novels, and odd magazines, and each case was sent to a lighthouse as soon as it was filled.

After awhile the aid of Congress was invoked, as it was found that light-keepers were made more contented and better satisfied with their lot by having reading matter supplied them ; and so it has come to pass that now, each year, the words, "books for light-keepers' reading " find their place among the "oil, wicks, chimneys," and other lighthouse supplies in the Sundry Civil Appropriation Act, which provides for the purpose some $300,000 en bloc, and though no amount is specifically named for books, it is understood that not more than $1000 per year is to be spent for them from this appropriation, and not that much unless it can be spared after every other requisite has been supplied.


Which could be taken as an informative example of the wonders possible if public funding sources, instead of being slavishly cut at every opportunity, are allowed to slightly grow over time, and be applied to new uses. New, novel, interesting and useful new customs, instead of everyone eternally getting by with only the absolute barest minimum.
posted by JHarris at 3:35 AM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


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