The Keepers New Suit
Twin Lights in 100 Artifacts #10- Keepers Photos & A New Uniform
While visiting the Twin Lights, one can't help but wonder what it was like to keep this lighthouse running. Historic photos offer a glimpse into the life of the Keepers at the Navesink Light Station. Some of these photos show the Keepers at work, but most show them about their daily lives.
Ole Anderson on the South Tower balcony shows the Keeper at rest, having completed his nightly duties.
Lighthouses across the United States were ushered into a new era of standardization with the rise of the Lighthouse Board. This agency of the federal government was created to maintain the lighthouses across the country. The Lighthouse Board issued new regulations starting in 1883 with the hopes to improve efficiency, maintain discipline, and foster pride in their work.
The new uniforms, which could cost as much as three weeks pay, were required to be worn while on duty. The uniforms showed rank insignia on the jacket, such as “K” for Keeper or numbers for ranked assistants. Later regulations added new types of brass buttons, colorful efficiency pins to acknowledge good work, and stripes for every five years in service.
Murphy Rockette, Keeper at the Navesink Light Station for 31 years, wears his official uniform for a photo shoot for Fortune Magazine.
In practice however, the keepers did not always wear their regulation uniforms. They were permitted to wear overalls or aprons during messy work. Some candid pictures, like the one below, show the keepers out of uniform. This suggests that the stifling heat and constraints of the work often made the uniforms impractical.
Third from the left is Ole Anderson who served in the Lighthouse Service for 35 years, twenty-four years of that time at the Navesink Light Station.
In preparation for a new exhibit, the State commissioned a new uniform for display and occasional use. Pati Githens and Patricia Kennedy, local seamstresses with a passion for authenticity, agreed to sign on for the project. They worked with site historian, Nicholas Wood, to review the period documents that might reconstruct the uniforms worn here. Their research included photographs, bulletins, regulation, sales brochures, and existing garments from the time. After a couple of months of work, they produced a reproduction uniform nearly identical to those worn by the keepers here in the 1920s and 1930s. The final product will be featured in the upcoming exhibit planned for fall of 2022.
Site Historian, Nicholas Wood, posing in the new uniform. Photo by Pati Githens.