Allen went up to the lantern to tend the light and turned around to see Nygren rushing at him with a knife. According to the Times, after Nygren slashed Allen’s coat, the two men ended up wrestling on the floor for possession of the weapon. Nygren was the bigger man, but Allen managed to kick the knife down the stairs.
As Nygren rushed down the stairs to regain the knife, Allen grabbed a rope and used it to make an escape over the side of the lighthouse. Nygren threatened to cut the rope, but Allen quickly reached the rocks below. As Allen pushed off onto the moonlit sea in a rowboat, Nygren appeared with a shotgun and fired two shots at the principal keeper.
His hands bleeding from his descent on the rope, Allen rowed for his life as the assistant hotly pursued him in a second boat. According to the Globe, Nygren continued to threaten Allen, yelling, “Oh, I’ll murder you! I’m after you!” Allen reached shore, commandeered a horse, and galloped to the next farmhouse he saw. Nygren abandoned pursuit and retreated to the lighthouse.
Two men from a local lifesaving station went out to the lighthouse on the following evening. They waited in the shadows while Nygren “smashed crockery, threw the utensils for housekeeping overboard and danced wildly,” according to the Globe. The men decided—understandably—not to risk entering the lighthouse. Nygren was finally apprehended and brought ashore in irons the next day. Officials of the Lighthouse Board soon dismissed him from government service.
According to a 1971 article by Richard L. Champlin in the journal of the Newport Historical Society, young Earl Caswell of Jamestown arrived fresh out of school in 1918 to spend a year as an assistant keeper. Caswell said he was told that it would be easy to stay out of trouble at such an isolated spot, but things weren’t that simple.
Caswell’s troubles began the day the head keeper’s daughter arrived while her father was painting the tower’s interior. The young woman and Caswell got into an argument, leading to the pitching of a tomato at Caswell’s head. Caswell dodged the juicy missile, but his boss wasn’t amused when it splatted against a freshly painted wall.
Caswell related many details of life at Whale Rock to Champlin. One of his duties was to crank up the clockwork mechanism that rang the fog bell; it would sound for four-and-a-half hours per winding. He bartered government paint for a lobster trap from a Portuguese lobsterman, but later got into trouble when another lobsterman reported his illegal trap.
Caswell recalled that the inside of the lighthouse was very cold in winter, despite the closed shutters on the windows. He also remembered photos of German vessels that were posted in the lighthouse in case of enemy attack, but wondered what good it would do if they had recognized such a vessel—there was no radio or telephone to communicate with anyone on shore.
During Caswell’s stay, the principal keeper told him that he felt the superstructure of the lighthouse was not adequately secured to the caisson. This observation would prove to be astute.
It was a long, anxious night for the Eberles. At about 5:30 in the morning, Keeper Sullivan phoned the family. His words were simple and to the point: “The light is gone.” Many days passed before the seas calmed down enough to get a boat out to Whale Rock. The lighthouse and 40-year-old Walter Eberle were gone. Eberle was 40 years old and had been in the Lighthouse Service for one year.
From these findings it would appear that the top two stories, watch room and lantern, broke loose from the lower two stories and went overboard. Most keepers at other similar stations who were on duty during the storm stated that they took refuge in the top story. . . . The deceased keeper of Whale Rock was undoubtedly in the same place when the top portion of the tower went. . . . With the top gone and brick lining weakened, the remaining two floors dropped down, probably, distorting the shell plates sufficiently to collapse them.
You can view what's left of the base of Whale Rock Light from the area around Beavertail Lighthouse. During their lighthouse cruises (May - October), Rhode Island Bay Cruises passes near the ruins of the base.
Keepers: (This list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at email@example.com. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)
Nathaniel S. Dodge (1882-1885), John W. Dodge (1st Assistant, 1882-1884), Elam P. Littlefield (1st Assistant 1884-1885, Keeper 1885-1891), Joseph B. Eddy (1st Assistant 1886), Charles Wright (1st Assistant 1886-1887), Eugene R. Milliken (1st Assistant 1887-1888), William Roman (1st Assistant 1888-1890), Edward Andrews (1st Assistant 1890-1891, Keeper 1891-1893), Henricus DeVries (1st Assistant 1891), Nelson Sprague (1st Assistant 1891-1892 and 1900, Keeper 1900-1901), Herbert R. Kenyon (1st Assistant 1892), Charles E. Smith (1st Assistant 1892-1893, Keeper 1893-1895), Frank Tardiff (1st Assistant 1893-1894), Sylvester Allen (1st Assistant 1894-1895, Keeper 1895), Judson G. Allen (1895), Isaac G. Hoard, (1st Assistant 1895-1896), Henry Nygren (1st Assistant 1896-1897), Joshua A. Overton (1st Assistant 1897-1899, Keeper 1899-1900), Charles W. Oliver (1st Assistant 1897-1899), John G. Skipworth (1st Assistant 1898-1899), B. A. Francisco (1st Assistant 1898-1899), Silas E. Stanton (Staton?) (assistant 1900-1901, Keeper 1901), Joseph D. Meade (1901-1902), Peter M. Peterson (1902-1908), Marten W. Ekman (1st Assistant 1901-1902), Willis A. Green (1st Assistant 1902-1903), Morell E. Hulse (1st Assistant 1903-1905), Edward R. Curtis (1st Assistant 1905-1906), John A. Burke (1st Assistant 1906), Ernest Bloom (1st Assistant 1906-1908), Haus. Anderson (1st Assistant 1908, Keeper 1908-1910), John S, Sheridan (1910), John C. W. Porter (1910-1912), Theodore De Shong (1911-1913), William F. Aichels (1908), Robert G. Lamer (1st Assistant 1911), J. O. Browley (Joseph O. Bouley ?) (1st Assistant 1911-1914), Simon Sivounich (1st Assistant 1908-1911), Robert G. Lamer (1st Assistant 1908-1911), Hans C. Anderson (1908-1911), John (Jack) Larsen (1914-1915), Arthur E. Larkin (1st Assistant 1914-1915), Edward Grime (1915-1916), Otis L. Barstow (1st Assistant 1915-1916, Keeper 1916-1918), George H. Tooker (1st Assistant 1916-1918, Keeper 1918-1925), George T. Gardiner (1st Assistant 1921-1925), George A. Scheer (2nd Assistant 1921-1923), Thomas H. Winn (2nd Assistant 1923-1925), Fred B. White (1925-1927), Daniel A. Sullivan (1st Assistant 1925-1927, Keeper 1927-1938), Alfred Auger (2nd Assistant 1925-1927), Willam O. Chapel (1st Assistant 1927-1931), Robert H. Lyons (2nd Assistant 1927-1929), Joseph G. Hindley (2nd Assistant 1929-1931, 1st Assistant 1931), Harold E. Davis (2nd Assistant 1931), Peter Roudeau (1st Assistant 1931-1937), Ernest Stacey (2nd Assistant, Feb. 12, 1931 - Feb. 12, 1937), Joseph H. Dubois (1st Assistant,1937-1938), Walter Eberle (2nd Assistant, 1937-1938, died in service).