WANTED: Lighthouse Keeper John L. Hawkey

Published by admin at 6:50 AM under



Have you seen John L Hawkey, keeper at Sea Girt Lighthouse from 1910-17? We haven’t.

In the Keepers Gallery proudly displayed at Sea Girt Lighthouse are the photo portraits of the men and one woman who kept the beacon burning bright.

A popular exhibit with visitors touring the lighthouse, the gallery includes photos of Major Abraham Wolf (1896-1903), Abram Yates (1903-May 29, 1910), Harriet Yates (May 29-July 23, 1910), William H.H. Lake (1917-31) and George J. Thomas (1931-41), the last keeper assigned by the U.S. Lighthouse Service. There are also photos displayed of the Coast Guardsmen stationed at Sea Girt during and after World War II.

But missing from the wall of honor is a photo of Mr. Hawkey. He has eluded persistent efforts over many years by trustees of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee to unearth photos of him. Letters and phone calls to the National Archives, the U.S. Commerce Department and the U.S. Coast Guard as well as searches everywhere at Sea Girt Lighthouse turned up nary a snapshot.

Photo Puzzle

This is puzzling given that Mr. Hawkey had a long career with the U.S. Lighthouse Service and the propensity of keepers to be photographed – formally and informally.

It was common for a keeper to sit for a formal photo, dressed in the navy blue dress uniform of the U.S. Lighthouse Service with the double-breasted jacket with three rows of brass buttons and on the lapels the gold-threaded embroidered “K” insignia of rank.

The most photographed Sea Girt keeper was the bearded Abram Yates, who can be seen in a posed studio portrait of him standing in his USLHS dress uniform, then a casual shot of him in lighthouse overcoat and visored cap with the embroidered crest of a silver lighthouse enclosed by a gold wreath holding onto his bicycle with his trusty terrier beside him at the train station, and finally in a snapshot of him and Mrs. Yates on the lighthouse porch.

Mrs. Yates became acting keeper for two months upon the death of her husband. And Mr. Hawkey succeeded Mrs. Yates.

No Photo Studios Offshore

Perhaps the lack of photographic evidence of Mr. Hawkey is the result of where he spent most of his career – at sea. He joined the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1872.

He served many years aboard the Five Fathoms Lightship, anchored in Delaware Bay off Cape May, New Jersey. And before his assignment to Sea Girt, he was aboard Northeast End Light Vessel, No. 44, also off the Jersey shore.

The Lighthouse Service tended to assign unattached men to offshore stations. There is no evidence in the Sea Girt Lighthouse archives that Mr. Hawkey ever married. If he were single, that probably decreased the chances of his being photographed because there would have been no wife or children to take his picture.


While we do not yet know what Mr. Hawkey looked like, thankfully there is in the lighthouse archives official correspondence between him and the District Office of the U.S. Lighthouse Service that provides detail on his time at Sea Girt Lighthouse.

In a letter dated September 1, 1910 from the Office of the Inspector, Mr. Hawkey was advised he was “indebted to this office in the sum of $1.72.” That was his daily pay. In a payroll mix-up, he was paid twice on his last day at his old post, which was also the day he arrived at Sea Girt.

“The amount referred to above is payable to Mrs. Harriet W. Yates for services rendered on July 23, the date of transferring the station,” wrote the Chief Clerk in Office of the Inspector.

Hen House

In his seven-year tour of duty at Sea Girt, Mr. Hawkey instituted numerous changes and improvements. For example, in 1912, on orders from headquarters, he changed the light source for the fourth order Fresnel lens from a kerosene wick lamp and a red chimney projecting a red beacon to a 35mm incandescent oil vapor lamp with a clear glass chimney that produced a brighter, white light.

That summer, Mr. Hawkey sought to build a hen house on the north lawn to insure a steady supply of breakfast eggs. We know this because there is in the lighthouse archives a letter from the Office of the Inspector, dated September 13, 1912, advising the keeper to “take this matter up with the Inspecting Officer when the station is next inspected.”

The hen house correspondence ends there. Apparently permission was never granted.

After his retirement in 1917, Mr. Hawkey took up residence in the Sea Girt area. He died later that year.



Search Continues

Undaunted and determined as ever, trustees of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee continue their search for a photo of John Hawkey so that he may join his fellow keepers in his rightful place alongside them in the Keepers Gallery at the lighthouse.

Maybe a neighbor, a newspaper or a fellow member of the U.S. Lighthouse Service took a photo or two of him, now forgotten in an attic, photo album or newspaper library somewhere on the Jersey shore.

If you have a photo of Mr. Hawkey or know someone who does, please let us hear from you. You can contact us by email from the website’s Contact Us page, or by phone (732-974-0514), or by writing Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, P.O. Box 83, Sea Girt, NJ 08750.

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