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USLHE Cleaning Coat/Apron
Cleaning was a constant job at the lighthouse. Keeper's were required to keep everything polished and in top notch shape. District inspectors would stop by the station to do inspections and see how things were running at each station. Keeper's could also earn an efficiency star from the district inspector for keeping a lighthouse in top condition and having no problems. This star was awarded to the keeper even though many family members helped in these chores.
If a keeper kept a top notch lighthouse for consecutive years they could also be awarded a commissioner's efficiency star which was a real prize. You can view an efficiency star under the uniform section of this web site. These were prestigious awards for the keeper's.
Cleaning coats or aprons were necessary so keeper's would not get their uniforms dirty. They needed something that paint and polish would get on, but not matter because it was not personal clothing or their unifrom. The regulations stated that no watches, jewelry, belt buckles or sharp objects be on your person while cleaning and polishing the lens for instance. The glass was the heart of the lighthouse and as such if it were scratched or chipped it would lose its effectiveness. As you will notice on this coat, no medal buttons or sharp objects exist. It was all cloth with buttons and covered below the waist line to protect against anyone wearing a belt buckle underneath the coat.
As with all objects in the lighthouse service, even the coat was marked with a US Lighthouse Establishment die as seen below in the last photograph. This coat came from the White River Lighthouse on Lake Michigan. Nobody that we know of has ever seen another one of these coats in existence. As it was used for cleaning, it was readily discarded in the trash, making this a truly remarkable find.
The following is excepted from Jim Claflin's recent article in Lighthouse Digest Magazine.
This extremely rare piece may be one of a kind today, as most surely were lost or discarded years ago. Cleaning was a constant job at the lighthouse. Keepers were required to keep everything polished and clean at all times, while still maintaining their uniforms clean as well. For this reason, the Service provided cleaning coats or aprons to protect their uniforms.
Cleaning coats or aprons were necessary so keepers would not get their uniforms dirty. Such coats could be used while performing lens cleaning duties, aprons while painting and performing other chores. In addition, the coat or apron protected the expensive lens from being scratched as the keeper worked around it cleaning or refilling the lamps, etc. The Lighthouse Service required that no watches, jewelry, belt buckles or sharp objects be on one’s person while cleaning and polishing the lens. The glass was the heart of the lighthouse and as such if it were scratched or chipped it would lose its effectiveness.
The 1902 Instructions to Light-Keepers noted that “When the light is extinguished in the morning the keeper must hang the lantern curtains and immediately begin to put the apparatus in order for relighting. While doing this the linen aprons provided for the keeper’s use must be worn, that the lens may not suffer from contact with the wearing apparel.” The lens glass was extremely delicate and daily cleaning was required. However, it was important that it be done in just the right manner. Indeed, even wiping the dust improperly could scratch the lens. The regulations continued: “Before beginning to clean the lens it must be brushed with the feather brush to remove all dust. It must then be wiped with a soft linen cloth, and finally polished with a buff-skin. If there is oil or grease on any part it must be taken off with a linen cloth, moistened with spirits of wine, and then polished off with a buff-skin. Under no circumstances must a skin which has been wet or damp be used, as this will scratch the lens.”
The coat is made of a fine patterned linen, without metal buttons. Its construction was of all cloth with two buttons, and hung well below the waist line to protect against a belt buckle or button underneath the coat. As with all objects in the Lighthouse Service, even the coat was marked, bearing a large circular “U. S. Lighthouse Establishment” marking as seen in the photographs. Indeed, even the linen cleaning rags were marked with a similar marking, to insure that they were not removed and used for other purposes.
Jim Claflin is a recognized authority on antiques of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, Life-Saving Service, Revenue Cutter Service and early Coast Guard. In addition to authoring and publishing a number of books on the subject, Jim is the owner of Kenrick A Claflin & Son Nautical Antiques. In business since 1956, he has specialized in antiques of this specialty since the early 1990’s. He may be contacted by writing to him at 1227 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA 01602, or by calling 508-792-6627. You may also contact him by email: email@example.com or visit his web site at www.lighthouseantiques.net
Rear view of the cleaning coat.
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