Commander shares Eldred Rock lighthouse stories, memories

 

July 5, 2019

Cindy Schultz

Coast Guard Commander Roger Beving, right, shares stories from when he was in charge of Eldred Rock lighthouse during a presentation on Saturday at Haines Sheldon Museum The event was standing room only with about 75 attendees and sponsored by the museum and Eldred Rock Lighthouse Preservation Association.

Before his talk Saturday evening at the Haines Sheldon Museum, Roger Beving warned listeners, "My wife says I sound like a foghorn."

 His audience, a standing-room-only crowd, didn't care. The event, co-sponsored by the Eldred Rock Lighthouse Preservation Association and Haines Sheldon museum, attracted an audience ready to soak up Beving's stories of Eldred Rock.

 A former U.S. Coast Guard group commander, Beving, now 77 years old, was the last officer in charge of the Eldred Rock installation before it was automated. Beving was responsible for four Alaska lighthouses: Five Finger Islands light, Point Retreat lighthouse, Cape Spencer, and Eldred Rock. Also under his command were two patrol boats and a buoy tender.

 Duty at Eldred Rock was isolated. The lighthouse was manned by four men, who spent a year on the isolated rock about midway between Haines and Juneau. Beving, who spent one night a year at each of the lighthouses under his command, remembers the feeling of loneliness.


 "A lot of these people thought they were banished," he said.

Electricity for the lighthouse was provided by three diesel generators, with one running at all times and the other two as backups. Food was delivered two to three times a year, and there was no garden, so fresh fruits and vegetables were scarce. Rainwater was chlorinated to make it safe for drinking.

"The water tasted absolutely horrible," Beving remembered.

 There was plumbing for the toilet, but there was no waste treatment and the pipes led into Lynn Canal to "let Mother Nature get rid of it," he said.

Alcohol was not permitted at the lighthouse, though "there (were) probably some things I was better off not knowing," Beving said. "I never micromanaged."

The lighthouse keepers found ways to cope with the loneliness. They kept a dog mascot and watched movies that were delivered with supplies.  

On the second day of his command, Beving encountered an incident he may have been better off not knowing. When he answered a phone call in his Juneau office, he recalled, someone said, "'This is such and such charter company, when are we supposed to pick up the girls from Eldred Rock?'"

The lighthouse keepers under his command were not allowed to host guests. "We went out there, picked up the girls," Beving said. As he was leaving the island, "I told the guys, 'You're in trouble, I will come back and deal with you later.'"

"I will not get into how I dealt with them."

Beving completed his duty in 1972. The next year, the Coast Guard removed personnel from Eldred Rock and left the lighthouse empty. The building has since fallen into disrepair, but Haines-based Eldred Rock Lighthouse Preservation Association is working with the Coast Guard to gain custody of the historical site. The association ultimately hopes to renovate the building and open it to the public.


When the lighthouse was abandoned in 1973, The Chilkat Valley News took note: "Haines has been made more isolated than ever before from its nearest neighbor to the south," an editorial in the June 11, 1973 edition read. "A cold, lifeless lighthouse stands guard amidst the whims of wind and weather in Lynn Canal. The most important facet of this facility is gone: the human observer.

 
 

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