Friday, May 2, 2008

Emily Fish & Juliet Nichols - Lighthouse Keepers

[Photo by Michael Colbruno]

Emily Fish (1844-1931) Plot 33,
Juliet Nichols (1859-1947) Plot 33,

Emily Fish and Juliet Nichols are remembered as the most celebrated “mother-daughter” lighthouse keepers in the United States. Actually, Juliet was the daughter of Emily’s late sister. When Emily Maitland was just seventeen, she and her widowed brother-in-law, Dr. Melancthon Fish, were married in China where he served as U. S. vice consul in Shanghai for six years, and Emily raised Juliet.

After their marriage, Dr. and Mrs. Fish and Juliet returned to the U.S. where he served for the Union in the Civil War, and Emily and Juliet accompanied him during General Sherman’s campaign through Georgia.

Juliet married Henry Nichols who became a naval officer and inspector in the Lighthouse Service’s 12th District. When Melancthon Fish died in 1893, Henry Nichols suggested to Emily the idea of her becoming the lighthouse keeper at Pt. Pinos on the Monterey Peninsula – a position that was about to become available. Emily won the appointment and in 1893 moved into the lighthouse along with a Chinese manservant named Que who had come from China with the family. From her home in Oakland she brought fine antique furniture, paintings, china, and silver. Determined to have a garden, with Que’s help she brought topsoil to the sandy grounds and planted grass, trees and hedges. Her 92-acre “estate” featured Holstein cows, thoroughbred horses, chickens and French poodles. Over the years she listed in her log more than thirty male workers, most of whom she noted she fired for incompetence. Emily Fish was an active member of Monterey society, entertaining widely, chairing local committees and helping to organize the Monterey-Pacific Grove American Red Cross.

After Henry Nichols died in the Spanish-American War in 1899 leaving Juliet without support, it was arranged for her to be the keeper of the light at Angel Island, a post she filled ably from 1903 to 1914. In the summer of 1906 Juliet gained fame when the automatic bell failed in heavy fog and she manually rang the bell twice every fifteen seconds for a period of 20 hours, 35 minutes. Earlier that year both women were at their posts when the April 18 earthquake struck; Emily’s lighthouse suffered some rather severe damage, while Juliet’s experience included watching the destruction by temblor and flame of San Francisco.

Both women retired in 1914. Emily spent the rest of her life in Pacific Grove, Juliet in Oakland.

[Some of this information came from the article “Women of the Light” by Jeremy D’Entremont published in The Lighthouse Digest, July 2004 - compiled by docent Barbara Smith]

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Michael: I recently came across your blog while trying to help someone else do a bit of research on their family genealogy. They believed one of their family members may have been buried at Mountain View. As it would turn out, their family member was buried elsewhere but in perusing your blog, I happened to come across this post and recognized a name that was familiar to me in my own family genealogy, ultimately discovering an ancestor of mine I knew little about!

I'd ultimately stumbled upon this particular entry because I found myself clicking through to read one entry after the next as I very much appreciate how you help stitch together history and personal narratives to breathe a bit of life into the names and dates etched on these stones.

Living in Oakland, Mountain View has become one of my favorite places to walk and explore. Thanks to you and the wealth of information you offer here, my visits there will now take on a whole new dimension!!

In particular, thanks to your post, I now know that I've been walking by some family members of mine on a regular basis, unbeknownst to me! When I'd first read this post, I recognized the name "Dr. Melancthon Fish." Something told me I should pull up the records I'd helped my dad and grandpa record over the years. Based on our family records and the information we've gathered in our genealogy research, I was able to confirm that the Dr. Melancthon W. Fish you write about here is my third grand uncle! I knew he'd moved to the Bay Area but didn't really know much about his life once he left the rest of the family to move out west...and I therefor new even less about his wives or daughter. Imagine my surprise and delight to have stumbled upon this info here on your blog!

Dr. Melancthon W. Fish was the brother of Mary Ann (Townsend) Fish (1819-1891) who is my third great-grandmother. Interestingly, Mary Ann would name one of her sons - my second great grandfather - Melancthon too. (I'm not sure if she named him after her brother or if this was already a family name when it was given to Dr. Fish.)

I look forward to sharing this post with some other family members as I update them about this branch of the family and wanted to reach out to thank you for the time and effort you've put into compiling this info and helping to tell the stories of these lives.

With gratitude,

p.s. I noticed your post doesn't mention the other person buried in the family plot - Jane (Galloway) Monroe. I believe that is Emily's aunt though I'm still trying to confirm that with other records.