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USLHE Depot Watchman's Rattle


The whole rattle is shown here.

U. S. Light-House Establishment Night Watchman’s Rattle. A Night watchman’s rattle was an instrument having at the end of a handle a revolving arm, which, by the action of a strong spring upon two wooden cogs, produces when rotated in motion, a loud, harsh, rattling sound. In this case the rattle is almost entirely constructed of hardwood - maybe maple or walnut. Connected to the wooden handle are two wooden cogs, which beat against two wooden reeds. When the watchman needed to gain attention he would grasp the handle and rotate his hand briskly, causing the rotating cogs to strike the reeds, making a loud noise. The sound created was quite distinctive and would summon aid from the area.

The body of the rattle is clearly marked with the distinctive oval stamp, still quite easy to read after years of use: “U. S. L. H. DEPOT, 3 DIST., LAMP SHOP, STATEN ISLAND , N.Y. ” Such rattles were relatively common to watchman and fire wardens of the day, as well as used as ship’s battle rattles. [Colonel Robert Rankin in Small Arms of the Sea Services, 1972, notes that "All hands were called to repel boarders by a sounding gong and by battle rattles and verbal commands. Sounding the gong alone summoned pikemen only to repel boarders. The battle rattle was often used to call back boarding parties. Navy regulations required that hand rattles be made of white oak "or some other similar wood." The spring was to be one inch wide and of sufficient thickness "to produce the requisite sound." Enough weight was to be given to the butt to cause it to revolve about the handle with ease."]

This is one of the few that has survived today used by the U.S. Light House Establishment. Each depot might have one or two rattles available for the watchman to carry. As you can imagine, watchmen in the Lighthouse Establishment were relatively few and to find such an item, which we can attribute directly to them is most unusual. This one remains unusually clean and is in excellent condition, still operational.

A close up of the Depot stamp, slightly hard to see in the grain of the wood without altering the photo somewhat.


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Revised: 10/18/05