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Bygones of Monroe:

THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER

"Uncle" Peter Gussenbauer keeps the government lighthouse at Monroe Piers. For fifteen years he has tended the great light that has served as a beacon to incoming yachts and steam craft, or as a guide to the merchant boats passing up and down Lake Erie between Toledo and the upper lake regions. One expects to find the average seafaring man gruff in his manners, and little inclined to the companionship of land-lubbers. But not so with "Uncle" Peter, for he has become famous for his genial hospitality and his courteous bearing toward the hundreds who visit the lighthouse during the summer months. When he was called to take charge of the trim little lighthouse "Uncle" Peter was the head of a happy family, consisting of himself, his wife and three children. But the angel of death entered his household seven years ago, removing the companion of his life, and now the children are all married and in homes of their own.

"But I don't often get lonesome," said Uncle Peter to the Blade. "I find companionship in the sea, the breakers, the clouds and the storms, and then I have lots of visitors, whom I am always glad to welcome to this end of the pier.

"Have I had any thrilling experiences? Well, no. My life here has been quite uneventful. Never but once has there been a storm of which I might have been afraid. That was about eleven years ago, and I guess I'd been scared if I had not been asleep. That night I was tired and so I left my wife and one of my sons to tend the light. Some time toward morning I was awakened by my wife, who said I had better get up, as things were in bad shape. I found that an awful sea was on, and even while I was getting out of bed, I heard the crashing of the timbers as they were torn from the side of the wooden structure, on which this house stood. You will understand that the storm was something fearful when I tell you that the water was running right through the house, and then, to add to the gravity of our predicament, I discovered that three sections of the pier between us and the shore had been washed away. But we weathered that storm all right, and there's never been anything like it since. It lasted 24 hours, and J. N. Dewey will tell you that it was the worst storm ever known by the people now living in this vicinity."

"Uncle" Peter Gussenbauer was born at Monroe in 1842, being now in his sixty-first year. He is hale and hearty, and apparently care-free.

"Of course you know a lighthouse keeper has a grave responsibility on his shoulders. I have never been off duty during the navigation season except twice, and that was on account of sickness and death. In the winter, of course, I am comparatively free, and occasionally go away to visit my friends. But even in the winter time I have considerable company down here for the men come to cut ice and the young people to skate, so time doesn't drag on my hands. No, I never made any sensational rescues. Of course I've pulled some people out of the river in the vicinity of the piers, but that wasn't much trouble. However they were mostly women. I remember in particular the case of one very large woman, the wife of a prominent Toledo business man. She dropped into the water between a couple of boats. She was the coolest creature under the circumstances I ever saw. She didn't scream or flounder, but, although she could not swim, she employed every [indecipherable] at hand for helping herself. Of course I went to her rescue, but she was so heavy that I couldn't lift her onto the pier until I had help. Her husband, when he discovered that I had her safe, treated the matter as a joke, and called me to squeeze her tight.

"See that white light way down the lake? That light's on Turtle Island. I have to watch that and the Detroit river light; that is, I have to note whether they are burning all right, and report it daily to the government inspector as well as whether it is cloudy or clear weather, the direction of the wind and a few other things. I send my report on to the department once a month.

"This old lighthouse was built nineteen years ago and this fine concrete pier on the south and east sides took the place of the wooden foundation a little over a year since. The protecting wall on the east side extends 20 feet above the ordinary water level, but the sea dashes over it sometimes, and I've seen many a visitor wet to the skin." -Toledo Blade

(Petersburg Sun, July 17, 1903.)


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