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Lewes, Delaware
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January 3, 1997     Cape Gazette
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January 3, 1997
 

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14 - CAPE GAZETTE, Friday, January 3 - January 9, 1997 CAPE LIFE Lighthouse keepers reunion revives a bit of the past v By Michael Short The lighthouse keepers have long since left their posts. The keepers, victims of automation, are no longer needed on Delaware Bay's lighthouses. But the lighthouses remain as reminders of the nautical past. One area resident is among those helping to keep the light of both the keepers and lighthouses burn- ing brightly. Warren Walls of Lewes, a Coast Guard reservist, still helps main- tain the lighthouses in Delaware Bay. He is among the keepers who gathered last fall in New Jersey for a reunion of lighthouse keepers. The memories flowed quickly about everything from vicious storms to Checkoslavakian sub- marines. The Delaware Bay Lighthouse Keepers Association hopes to gather regularly for reunions. A newsletter has been formed and old memories revived. Friendships have been renewed and old acquaintances have met again. Members, some of whom have not seen each other for a quarter cen- tury, say the reunion helps to keep their way of life alive. Life on the lighthouses was often described as boring. The men stood watch, cleaned and ate. Walls made models to help pass the hours. Others fished. There was often little to distract them during their days at sea, but there were exceptions. And the exceptions could make the keepers hunger for days of boredom when the only entertain- ment were three day monopoly games. It was not unheard of for ships to strike the lighthouses and keep- ers could be marooned for days or weeks by ice and bad weather. Lighthouses were known to shud- der from the impact of the thick pack ice. Walls especially remem- bers the 1962 storm that devastat- ed the coast and sent 40 foot waves against the lighthouse wails. On October 12 in Fortescue, N.J., the group held its second annual reunion. Wails said he had not seen one man for 35 years. The group shared memories and had a nice dinner, he said. Carol Reilly, a photographer with an interest in lighthouses, is credited with being the force behind the reunion. "It all started several years ago when I started to do a post card series on the lighthouses," she said. "It just started to kind of bal- loon...They are literally a dying breed and they have such great stories. I have had so much fun talking to them." Reilly is known as "The Light- house Lady" because of her efforts. There were seven lighthouses in Delaware Bay. None are now manned by people and all date back to the 1800's. They were built to last, often being built on immense cylinders of concrete or on artificial islands and all remain intact. But while the structure is intact, the lack of maintenance since the lighthouses were automated per- haps a quarter century ago, has begun to show. But the Coast Guard Reserve unit which includes Walls has begun to main- tain the old lighthouses. It's a good feeling, he said, to restore the old lighthouses. They were stripped of fixtures and equipment when they were auto- From left to right, Chuck Lane of Lewes, Warren Walls of Lewes and Tom Cunningham attended a recent reunion of former Delaware Bay Hghthouse keepers. The lighthouses are no longer manned, but they remain a reminder of our nautical history. mated. Walls is the only former keeper who now still works on the light- houses. More than 30 people attended the Oct. 12 event in Fortescue and the stories flowed like water. Walls remembered one light- house keeper, miles from shore, who decided to quit smoking and did not bring cigarettes to the lighthouse. The man became so desperate, that "he was trying to smoke rope," Walls said. Walls remembered a three-day monopoly game when thinks were slow. When people went bankrupt, they were loaned money to keep the game alive. The television usually didn't work and when it did, it was interrupted by the fog horn. Some people fished or made guns to hunt waterfowl. Walls made models, but the life was not always boring. Ice flowing down Delaware Bay could leave the keepers marooned. One lighthouse keeper (there were usually four people assigned to each light) found that the ice had caused his bed to slowly move all the way across the room. "He got up and bumped into the wall." During the Cuban Missile Cri- sis, Walls and his fellow keepers on Fourteen Foot Light spotted a submarine flying the hammer and sickle flag. With peace hanging by a thread, the sight of a Russian (really Cbeckoslavakian) subma- rine "sure got the adrenaline flow- ing," he said. Uncertain what to do, they were afraid to do anything for fear of starting an international incident. They worried about the Philadel- phia ship yards, but then reasoned that any submarine planning a sneak attack would not be travel- ing on the surface in plain sight. Walls remembered when the darkness was suddenly lit up like mid-day by Navy anti-submarine Continued on page 15 I Coast Guard Reservist War- ren Walls of Lewes holds a model of 14-Foot Light, the lighthouse he once served upon. The former Delaware Bay lighthouse keepers held a reunion recently and exchanged stories and memo- ries of their time on the water. The family pet can get revenge for holiday oversight Over the holidays, I spent a major portion of my time watch- ing a video called "Benji" with my two-year-old grandson. The movie is about a dog that has no life, no friends and spends about 10 hours in video time running along a path or just plain doing nothing to the most annoying country music since the song "Hello Walls" became popular in the 50s. Because the video closely resem- bled my own life, I realized that pets are some of the most forgot- ten creatures at this time of year. Take my daughter's yellow lab, Abbey, and I wish someone would come forward just for that pur- pose. Anyway, the dog lumbered into the house, looking like a pet version of Kate Smith, who not only made popular the song "When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain", but began to look like the Alps after awhile It was obvious, since I last saw Abbey, that she no longer gave a whit about fat grams. Of course, being the insensitive family that we are, it didn't help that someone was always saying things like: "Holy Toledo, what a porker, " and "Look at those Bill Clinton AROUND TOWN thighs. The dog must be a Demo- crat after all." And the holiday got worse for Abbey. After all the presents were opened, being the insensitive fam- ily that we are, we split our sides laughing about the fact that we forgot to buy the dog a present. And it didn't help Abbey that about every five minutes someone would say "Can you believe we forgot to buy her a present?" And then someone would go up to her, take her face in their hands and say in baby talk, "Did Mama for- get to get her precious, silly kisses, special pie pooch something spe- cial for Christmas?" And then we would all chuckle and blame each other. Now normally Abbey doesn't really give a whit about the holi- days either. But this constant teas- ing and the continuous reminders that she had been left out, plus the fact that she thinks our whole fam- ily is on crack, predictably gave rise to very un- Benji like behav- ior. Now the first thing a dog will do, when spending the holidays with an insensitive family, is to flop down and occupy every couch, sofa or bed in the house. To the untrained eye, it may appear as if the dog is just taking a nap. But what the dog is really doing is shedding every ounce of hair on their body. They are capable of shedding so much hair that it looks like a beard is stuck to the sleeve of the next adult that occupies the couch. And when you cross your legs, people are saying stuff like, "What, are you going for the Euro- pean look now or are you growing a goatee on your ankle?" When this option is used up, a dog spending the holidays with an insensitive family will then stick its head in the open door of a dish- washer. At first glance, you may assume the dog is trying to kill itself and has mistaken the dish- washer for the oven. But upon closer examination, you will note that the clean dishes are covered with a disgusting slime-like drool. At this point, the adults who have been seated at the table for hours waiting for their dinner on clean plates will begin pounding their silverware and arguing about who is going to call for take-out so they can use paper plates. Yes, this is the time of year to pay special attention to animals. I'm very grateful to Benji for bringing this to my attention. When I last saw Abbey, she was doing a John Travolta stroll to the car, snapping her paws and singing "Chain, Chain, Chain." Nancy Katz