Keepers of the light

by Peter J. Teagle - Posted on Apr 11, 2018 - 02:42 PM

Photo: Descendants of Clarence and Fannie Mae Salter gathered after the ceremony honoring the lighthouse keeping couple. Fannie Mae replaced her husband at Turkey Point after his death and was selected at the behest of President Calvin Coolidge. In total, the couple combined for 53 years of service at six different lighthouses. Descendants are, front row from left, Nicola Barteau, Nahla Davis, Dale Hudgins Davis, Kaylee Barteau, Heidi Barteau, Tad Barteau, Patty Barteau; back row, Jason Leigh, Laurie Leigh, Lisa Sutton, Gill Barteau and Bradley Barteau. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

Descendants of Clarence and Fannie Mae Salter gathered after the ceremony honoring the lighthouse keeping couple. Fannie Mae replaced her husband at Turkey Point after his death and was selected at the behest of President Calvin Coolidge. In total, the couple combined for 53 years of service at six different lighthouses. Descendants are, front row from left, Nicola Barteau, Nahla Davis, Dale Hudgins Davis, Kaylee Barteau, Heidi Barteau, Tad Barteau, Patty Barteau; back row, Jason Leigh, Laurie Leigh, Lisa Sutton, Gill Barteau and Bradley Barteau. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

Photo: The grave of Charles L. Sadler, keeper of Cove Point Lighthouse in Maryland in the late 1920s. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

The grave of Charles L. Sadler, keeper of Cove Point Lighthouse in Maryland in the late 1920s. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

Photo: One of the markers used for the graves of lighthouse keepers in Mathews County. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

One of the markers used for the graves of lighthouse keepers in Mathews County. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

Freezing rain and gusting wind did not deter dozens of the descendants of six lighthouse keepers on Saturday as plaques were unveiled in Mathews County cemeteries honoring lifetimes of service.

Attendees came from as far away as Texas to commemorate decades of keeping the watch on the part of keepers Charles E. Respess, Floyd E. Crewe, Clarence and Fannie Mae Salter, Charles L. Sadler and John F. Hudgins.

Each ceremony began with a commencement by Greg Krawczyk, president of the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society. 

Following the presentation of colors by a Coast Guard Auxiliary honor guard, a brief biography of each keeper was read. 

Star-spangled red covers were then removed from each marker and U.S. flags were installed at the gravesites.

The Lighthouse Keepers Prayer preceded the playing of “Taps” and closing remarks at each site.

Color Corps members included Jim Gierlak, Don Connolly and John Bonner of Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 66. Tom Edwards, a distant relative of keeper Respess, was the bugler.

The first honoree was Charles Edwin Respess, who is buried at Gwynn’s Island Cemetery. Respess was born on the island off Barn Creek in 1862. By 1890, he had become a mate on Cape Charles Light Vessel #46.

Light Vessels were ships that acted as lighthouses. These vessels were in service in areas where water depth or environmental conditions prevented the construction of free-standing structures.

Respess would work on two Light Vessels, eventually moving to Old Plantation Flats Lighthouse in 1893. In total, Respess would serve at six lighthouses including York Spit, Smith Point, Deep Water Shoals, Cherrystone Bar and Windmill Point.

The life of a keeper was filled with dangers, as weather, fires or a fall could all claim one’s life. Respess spent more than two decades protecting mariners from the dangers of the waters that would claim him.

On March 5, 1915, Re-pess drowned while on a yawl boat heading home from his lighthouse during a storm. The National Archives list him as having “25 years of exemplary service.”

Floyd Earl Crewe, who rests at Milford Haven Cemetery, was the second honoree. He was born in 1908 in Mathews and, like Respess, began his service on a Lightship.