Incidents at Sisters & Ballenas Islands c. 1920s

– Elizabeth Kate (Stannard) Smithman (Wife of Henry Herbert Smithman who was Senior Keeper at Sisters Island 1927 – 1929). Story donated by her grandson Allen Smithman. 

Sisters Island c. 1927 - photo Allen Smithman

A Near Miss at Sisters Island c. 1928 

One evening while I was taking the night watch till 2:30 a.m. I was sitting writing a letter and all at once I heard a lot of noise like a big engine and lots of music playing. I jumped up and went outside and I was struck nearly speechless for there was a big Alaska liner so close to the lighthouse, just over the highest reef in the rocks that was there. 

The music and singing sounded so close. I stood there waiting every second to hear it crash. I thought of the Titanic instantly and I was afraid to even move. My first thought was of course was that the light had gone out but just then I saw a flash go over the liner and I knew the light was OK. It gave me such a scare, I was shaking all over and I went and called Bert to look at the big liner that had just gone right over the top of the reef. He said “My God”! If those people had only known just how close they had come to disaster they wouldn’t be singing like that – of course they would have sung “Nearer My God to Thee” like the people on the Titanic did. (Strange he should think of that disaster too). It was really a pretty sight. (The liner itself I mean) for it was all lit up and it looked like a big long tall Christmas tree. 

Bert and I just could not figure how it was so much off course. The only thing we could pin it down to was “They must have all been drinking”.

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Lots of Firewood at Ballenas c. 1922

Another morning as I came downstairs at Ballenas after just getting up I saw big logs all over the rocks. The first thing I thought was that Bert had dropped off to sleep and the light has stopped or had gone out. When I asked him what happened he said “The tide had carried them [the tugboat] off course and the boom of logs had stuck the rocks and it broke”. The logs went all over the rocks and they had to hurry to disconnect the boom from the tug as it was hugging pretty close to the rocks too.

There were generally three tugs with booms that used to travel down the inside passage together but the tide was so strong that one tug was just below the lighthouse rocks and it had struck the rocks and the other was above the lighthouse rocks. Bert said he had been watching them for hours and they kept drifting closer and closer to the lighthouse all the time. He was sure one of them could not help crashing over the rocks which it finally did. The next big windstorm washed them all off again and I guess they would be salvaged off of some beach somewhere sometime.

Strange part about this thing was when we moved to the mainland. Teddie and the rest of the boys started school there. Teddie was chummy with a boy whose Grandad was a captain of a tug and he started to tell Teddie about a boom of logs his Grandad lost off the lighthouse station and Teddie laughed and said, “Yes we were there and saw it”.

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Boat Aground at Sisters c. 1922

Another night I was taking hot coffee out to Bert at the fog alarm building (as he had been running it for hours) and as I walked along with my lantern and the coffee what should loom right up near me but the mast of a ship.

I thought I had seen a ghost at first and I hurried the rest of the way to the engine room and Bert looked at me and said “Whatever is the matter with you dear? Have you seen a ghost?” I said “Yes, I have! Come and look!”

When he saw it he did not know what to think about it and there was nothing we could do. The front of the boat was wedged into the rocks. It was too foggy, but when daylight came and the fog lifted it was gone.

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If you wish to read more about the life of Elizabeth on the lighthouses in her own words,
please go to Life on a Lighthouse

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