Point Lookout Lighthouse
by Robert Hall
Charlie Kidd was stationed at Point Lookout lighthouse from April 1958 until July of 1959. Prior to Point Lookout, Charlie was stationed at Wolf Trap Light (a caisson in Virginia, click here for pictures) and in Baltimore. Charlie came to Point Lookout as a replacement for Tommy Petty, a Second Class Engineman. Charlie began at Point Lookout as a Third Class Engineman and was promoted to Second Class Engineman during his Point Lookout tour of duty.
At the time Charlie was in the lighthouse there were two other personnel on the complex: George Gatton, who lived in the south side of the lighthouse and an assistant who lived in the buoy shed in an enclosed apartment at the west end of the building. The assistant, Jim Bronico was married and his wife's name was Bev. Charlie was only in the apartment one time. Charlie lived in the north side of the lighthouse. Charlie was not familiar with the primary and assistant keeper terminology. These terms were not used in the real world of the Coast Guard in the 1950s. However, Charlie was the next senior person at the facility and was in charge when the keeper, George Gatton, was not present on the lighthouse. Charlie only saw Point No Point lighthouse one time, but he never saw the inside of the caisson lighthouse. George Gatton used to quote the old sailors saying about the area: Point Lookout, Point Lookin, Point No Point and Point Again.
Charlie was married in 1957 and his first child lived on the lighthouse with him and his wife. During his tour, Charlie's wife had a medical emergency and he had to rush her to the hospital at the Navy base- 20 miles in less than 20 minutes in a 1957 Ford. Charlie did not remember any water quality problems, and he had a portable apartment size washing machine in the corner of the kitchen that they used to wash a lot of cloth diapers. Later he purchased a Maytag automatic washing machine at Raley's Appliances to replace the portable washer. It made his wife's laundry efforts much easier.
Charlie enjoyed his commute to work as he could get up at 5 minutes before eight, jump in his dungarees and chambray shirt and dash across the yard to the radio shack to meet the keeper at 8 o'clock for the daily muster. The radio shack was on the westerly part of buoy shed. Point Lookout was a monitoring station for all Coast Guard radio beacons in the bay and one of the duties was to verify that lighthouses were sending out the correct signals . Certain lighthouses put out a specific signal on a certain frequency at a certain time and PLO was in charge of monitoring that. If the signal was not in accordance with the specifications, Charlie's job was to send them a message to take corrective actions. Charlie learned about the radio beacons from being at Wolf Trap light where he sent the signal for ships to receive. The radio beacons were a predecessor to Loran and GPS.
Back in the 50s when the Russians or iron curtain country's ships would go up and down the bay, the Coast Guard would put a riding party on the ship, two or three enlisted men with a radio and a blinker light. Every time they passed a lighthouse they were supposed to maintain contact and say that everything was all secure. Those personnel didn't carry guns and the riding parties weren't really secure. But it was a good trip to ride on the ship, get food and coffee, and then ride back to base on the Old Bay Line passenger boats. One of the main duties at the lighthouse was painting. They had to put up scaffolding and paint paint paint paint. Another duty was to make sure the fire pump, generator and compressor ran. The lighthouse was powered by shore power (aka commercial power), but had a generator for emergency service. The windmill was removed from the lighthouse prior to 1957.
There were no neighbors and not much to do, but George had his special fisherman friends that he let in. Technically, he wasn't supposed to do that. Charlie fished off of the pier (the pier was dismantled in 1962, and was on the Potomac side; it was used to transport the buoys from the buoy tenders (Coast Guard Cutters) to the buoy shed). There were a few jetties around the lighthouse, but now several pictures show crushed rock jetties. The bell tower was located at the east end of the buoy shed; the bell was air driven with a wind up mechanism as a backup.
During his tour of duty at Point Lookout, there was a snowstorm that covered the point, and the land went right out into the water as sharp as a needle. A Coast Guard 40 footer got beached during the winter of 1958. The boat was full of ice and the Navy cranes had to come and haul it away on a flat bed trailer truck. Charlie has photos of the boat squeezing through the gate by bending the post outward.
Point Lookout was the only Coast Guard Light House with no boat, but Charlie found a work boat (punt) on the beach one day and used that a few times to get around. One time, during a flooding nor'easter, he used the workboat to cross the lake in the front yard to check the mail!
During nor'easters, the bay would climb over the dune, and Charlie would have to go down in the basement, take the oil burner apart, and carry the burner unit up to the dining room until the basement could be pumped out. The retaining wall around the furnace did not exist in the 1950s. Rising water during a storm would chase the mice upstairs. Bugs were a terrible problem and spraying would just chase the bugs between the north and south sides.
Charlie never saw any ghosts and didn't know of the lighthouse's haunted reputation until he saw a book in St Augustine about ten years ago that proclaimed the lighthouse the most haunted lighthouse in America. His family included a baby and the small bedroom smelled terrible, but that was thought to be caused by the diaper bucket. The windows weren't tight and curtains would move because the wind would blow through the cracks. Creaking sounds were thought to be caused by temperature changes and the poor fit of the windows.
Charlie left Point Lookout to go on a Coast Guard Cutter. After a 30-year career, Charlie was forced to retire by the 30 year rule. He currently lives in Florida with his wife and works as a Realtor.
The last time that Charlie was at PLO was a few years ago, when he was camping with friends at the State Park. He did not get in the lighthouse on that trip and has not seen the interior since he left the point in 1959. During an earlier visit to the campground, Charlie looked up Alma Gatton, the widow of George Gatton. Alma Gatton was the grand-daughter of William Yeatman, as well as being the wife of George Gatton. Alma Gatton passed away a few years later (September 25, 1998).
Many thanks to Charlie Kidd for sharing his story and his pictures with us. Please see the Charlie Kidd Album under the Pictures link to view the pictures.