The Point Lookout Lighthouse

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An Interview With Catharine Marie Ardeeser Hessler

Granddaughter of Lighthouse Keeper William Yeatman
 

At the time of this interview in 1988, Catharine was 98 years old and quite hard of hearing.  This article will attempt to summarize the conversation with only a few quotes as Catharine sometimes misunderstood the questions.  Also, a minor electrical problem with a lamp interfered with the interview.  The tape recording was made by Catharines granddaughter, Kathleen Howe Handiboe.  The tape recorder was hidden from Catharines view although Kathleen felt that her grandmother was aware she was being taped. 

Catharine Marie, known as Maree by family members, was one of Virginia Jackson Yeatman Ardeesers four children.  The children from oldest to youngest were:

Rose Jeannette Nettie, Catharine Marie Maree, William John Willie, and Henry Christian, Jr. Harry.  Virginia, nicknamed Jennie, was the oldest child of lighthouse keeper William M. Yeatman and his wife Anna Maria (pronounced Mariah) Lamb.

William Yeatman was lighthouse keeper at Point Lookout from 1871 until his death in 1908.  At Point Lookout he was known as Captain Yeatman.  Catharine said her grandfather was short and stumpy and humped back, not really humped, just leaned over.   His wife, Anna Maria was tall, thin, and feeble like and didnt do much with food.  The Yeatmans had 12 children, Virginia, Elizabeth, Alice Cora, Eliza Cornelia, Olive Jane, William M., Jr., Amy Mable, Samuel Percival, Emma Sanner, Edna Viola, Clara May, Herbert Able.  Since Anna Maria was so feeble, her daughter Cora worked around the house doing such chores as canning.  Aunt Cora was big and fat, she fished and sold the catch wholesale, Catharine said with a chuckle.

Catharine visited the lighthouse quite often and recalled many fond memories, such as her Aunt Coras big garden of one acre which included fig trees around the outside.  The garden was so productive that the family never had to buy things.  There was a pump for water. Catharine mentions that they had a cow that she milked.   She even had to milk the horse! The horse had a new colt and the horses milk got hard so Catharine milked her rather than let the poor thing go in misery. There were other animals, pets, at the lighthouse, among them dogs, big and little, and they were allowed in the house.  When asked, Catharine could not recall cats being around.

Catharines grandmothers name, Anna Maria, was pronounced Mariah which rhymed with fire.  Anna Maria would get upset when the children teased and taunted her with Anna Maria, spit in the fire.  She got mad at first, then didnt pay any attention according to Catharine. 

There were cottages everywhere with the best cottages on the bay side but there were also cottages on the river side too.  Cora, Amy, and Alice had a house on the main road until a daughter-in-law upset a lamp and the house burned down.  Everything was lost in the fire but no one was hurt.

Uncle Herbert Yeatman would play tricks on his mother, Anna Maria.  While she was cooking in the summer kitchen which was attached to the back of the house, he would climb up on the roof and place his hat on top of the chimney causing smoke to come into the house.  Catharine laughs and giggles at this antic of her Uncle Herbert and comments we had a lot of fun, I liked it down there. 

Back then the road to the lighthouse was not paved, it was a sand road, and the family had to help the horses with wagons to get through.  In the early 1900s there was much more land on the Bay side of the lighthouse than there is now.  A good part of Aunt Coras garden would now be under water.

Even as a child Catharine helped with chores at the lighthouse.  She helped to shine the brass as the Lighthouse Service would come unexpectedly for surprise inspections. The children got to know the men on the lighthouse ships and one Christmas the men brought all of us toys, doll babies for the girls and I forget what the boys got. These men were the ones who brought the buoys to the lighthouse. The children were always excited to see them. 

There was a boat that used to run from Washington, D.C. around the point and up to Baltimore.  The kids always saluted the boat since they knew the people onboard.  Many visitors would request the fog bell to be rung when their boat went around the point.  Catharine said It was nice and fun, all enjoyed it.  . 

William Yeatman would take in people when ships wrecked.  According to Catharine there were lots of ship wrecks at Point Lookout, awful lot, terribly many. If a storm was coming, sometimes the boats would go into the harbor (river side). Everyone in the family had to take turns ringing the fog bell during bad weather.  She also mentioned that Grandmother always had a houseful when the boats were running. 

There were two sheds, one that had a water system and another that contained coal and wood.  The coal was provided by the government for heat in the winter and there was a flat bed truck that they used to haul the coal to the lighthouse.  The smokehouse was built by Catharines father, Henry Christian Ardeeser, who was a bricklayer from Washington, D.C..  Catharine sat and watched her father build the smokehouse.  The boys (her uncles) finished the inside of the smokehouse.  The brick was red back then but it has since been painted white. 

William Yeatman hired a private teacher for his sons.  When his sons showed little or no interest in schooling, the grandchildren received the benefits of having Mr. George Butler Pearson Taylor as their teacher.  They were taught different things while living at Point Lookout.  At this time, Catharines entire family was living at the lighthouse with her grandparents and the children had been placed in the correct grades for their ages.  Mr. Taylor also lived in the lighthouse while he was the childrens teacher.  He took his meals with the family.   The children liked to play tricks on the elderly Mr. Taylor such as hiding under his bed (Kathleen recalls her grandmother telling her that Mr. Taylor fostered her life long fondness for poetry.)

At the time of this interview Catharines son, Larry Hessler, was living down near the lighthouse at Point Lookin on the bay side.  Catharine mentioned this during the interview. . 

Catharine visited the lighthouse in the mid-1980s.  She was in the area to visit relatives who lived near the Confederate monument.  The wharf where she and the Yeatmans used to play and swim off of was gone. Catharine mentioned that her mother told us to be careful of the water.  She talked about how she used to jump off the wharf into the water.  She laughed and said she was afraid of the water, but when questioned, she admitted the water was only one foot deep where she would jump off.  Her brothers and uncles jumped in where the water was deeper.  

Catharine Marie Ardeeser Hessler passed away on November 9, 1989, at her home in Hyattsville, Maryland.  She was exactly 98 years old on the day of her death. Her daughter, Catharine Virginia Howe, was with her. Many of Mrs. Hesslers 30 grandchildren enjoyed listening to these stories of her childhood years. 

 

Robert's Notes:   Special thanks to Kathleen Handiboe for proof reading and correcting parts of the preceding interview.   I had some difficulty understanding the conversation, partly due to the proximity of the recorder to the speaker!


Additional Notes By Kathleen Howe Handiboe

 

Virginia Jackson Yeatman

 

In about 1995 my mother, Catharine Virginia Hessler Howe, mentioned to me that shed always heard her grandmother, Virginia Jackson Yeatman, was named for Stonewall Jackson.  I was living in an area of Maryland that was almost surrounded by Civil War battlefields and had become quite interested in the history of the area.  So, with that information about my great-grandmother I started doing some reading on Stonewall Jackson.  Sure enough, the reason was there.  Virginia Jackson Yeatman was born just a couple of days after Stonewall Jackson was shot and lost his arm which led to his death.  Virginias father, William Yeatman, the lighthouse keeper, was from Westmoreland Co., Va. and most certainly had southern loyalties.  Stonewall Jackson was the big war hero at that time.  So, I was easily able to tie that story together. 

During the Civil War some Yeatmans were held prisoners at Point Lookout.  I often wonder if that is why William M. Yeatman left his home in Virginia and moved to Point Lookout.  I know he was there prior to be lighthouse keeper but do not know what he was doing then. 

Virginia Yeatman met Henry Christian Ardeeser when he was doing brickwork at Point Lookout or at least down in that area.  They married and lived in Washington, D.C.. My grandmother told me that her father was out of work for awhile and that is when Virginia and Henry moved the family down to the lighthouse with Virginias parents. 

 

Anna Maria Lamb Yeatman

Granny mentions that her grandmother Anna Maria was quite tall.  I believe that I have seen a medical report (death report) that stated that she was 6 feet tall.  Ill have to verify that when I can get at my genealogy papers.