Christmas at Hereford Lighthouse
by Steve Murray
George Baker was Coast Guard Keeper of the Hereford Lighthouse from approximately 1938-39 –1955. He and his wife Alice raised their four children in the beautiful Victorian building that served as half lighthouse and half home. The first two floors were the family’s living quarters. The three story tower was the actual “lighthouse”.
George would have to make sure the Fresnel Lens at the top was lit by 6pm every night. He would make the climb to the top and crank up the weights that would then slowly descend to make the grandfather clock-like mechanism rotate the light. George would have to wind this up again before bedtime at 10pm and wake up at 2am for the last cranking. He would arise at 6am and turn off the light by 7am.
Although he lived with his family in the Lighthouse, he would still have to do duty next door at the Coast Guard Station. He worked 9 days straight with 2 days off. George did everything from patrol boat duty to cooking, besides his job as lighthouse keeper.
George and his family did not stay at the Lighthouse for free just because he tended the light. 90¢ per day was deducted from his pay for rent. The front door always had to remain unlocked for inspections. These facts reminded the Bakers they were in a building owned by the U.S. Government.
At the end of the day when the family gathered together, however, they were “home” and lived and interacted with each other just like every other family, even during the Christmas Holidays. George and Alice had 3 daughters, Georgia, Betty and Winnie and 1 son, Jack. Jack still lives and works locally and related some of his Christmas memories to me.
Jack’s first Christmas at the Lighthouse was in 1938 when he was 3 years old. One of his earliest memories is that a few days before Christmas every year, the North Wildwood Fire Department would escort Santa down the street distributing stockings filled with fruits and nuts. I think he is very happy this tradition still continues after all these years.
He remembers his dad taking him in a Coast Guard truck along with some other Coasties to Indian Trail Road (Rt. 147) to cut down cedar trees. They would take just enough for the married men, one tree for the Coast Guard Station and one for the Lighthouse. Jack said their Christmas tree was always set up in the first floor parlor where we now have our Fresnel Lens on display. The tree would be set up and decorated after dinner on Christmas Eve. The children would all take part in decorating it with the oldest girl, Georgia, constantly reminding the others to put the tinsel on neatly.
After the decorating was done, Jack said they would all have an ice cream treat and sent off to bed at their regular time. Parents George and Alice would then have their adult friends over to celebrate Christmas Eve.
The kids would wake up early like all children do on Christmas morning, about 5am! They would all race downstairs to find out what surprises Santa left them. After their presents were opened, older sister Georgia would tease the others that she knew where their presents had been hidden all along. Some of the bigger ones were in the Coast Guard Station.
There was sharing and comradarie amongst the Coast Guard and the married men at the station would pass down toys from their children to other younger ones and when these toys were outgrown they would be passed down again.
One of Jack’s favorite gifts was a 28” bicycle with new “skinny” wheels. This was a little bit too much bike for a 6 year old. In order to ride this he had to reach up over his head to the handlebars and put a foot through the frame to get to the other pedal and ride the bike in a stand up position.
When Jack was about 12, he and his sister Winnie received new Schwinn Bikes with a light on the front fender and mud flaps. What a surprise this was!
Another gift he fondly remembers was a BB gun (he never shot his eye out.) Jack had been fascinated with the large 1000 watt bulb in the Fresnel Lens and started collecting all sorts of light bulbs. He discovered one day how much fun it would be to toss them into the inlet and target practice with his Red Ryder Rifle.
The Baker family always had a big traditional Christmas dinner. Some of George’s Coast Guard buddies would be invited if they had nowhere else to go. The dinner would feature turkey, mashed potatoes, assorted vegetables and pies.
Jack’s last Christmas at the Lighthouse was in 1954. He was in the Air Force by this time and came back to North Wildwood on leave. His father George left his position as Hereford’s Lighthouse Keeper the following year.