The story of H. William Prior Seeing The Light

The tragic story of Big Bay's first Head Keeper - in his own words Back

H. William Prior was the first Head Keeper at Big Bay Point. He had been stationed at Stannard's Rock Light 25 miles out in Lake Superior prior to receiving the Big Bay commission. As was required of all Head Keepers, Prior kept meticulous records of the daily happenings at the light station. Prior's story is both fascinating and tragic. follow his story below, as it unfolds in his own words as recorded in the Big Bay log books:

August 15, 1896
Arrived at station last night at 10.30pm from Stannard's Rock, Mr. Heater left here for Stannard's Rock at 4am as it was raining and could not examine supplies.

June 7, 1897
First Inspection - Commander Folger arrived on Marigold. "Station is efficient."

November 11, 1897
Keeper left station 11pm to go to Marquette on foot being called by message to the death of his only sister and remaining until after the funeral.

November 18, 1897
Keeper returned from Marquette at 2pm yesterday and kept watch last night. Fire banked in signal to keep pipes from freezing.

I can not see that the assistant has done any work around the station since I left. He has not the energy to carry him down the hill and if I speak to him about it he makes no answer, but goes on just as if he did not hear me, he is so much under the control of his wife he has not the hart (sic) to do anything. She has annoyed me during the season by hanging around him and hindering him from working, and she is altogether a person totally unfit to be in a place like this as she id discontented and jealous and has succeeded in making life miserable for everyone at this station. Signed H. William Prior.

Twelve days later a letter on the transfer of Assistant Heater to Granite Island was received, and the second assistant Mr. Beamer arrived with his family on April 21, 1898.

December 27, 1897
As my assistant objects to working during the closed season, I have written to the inspector to get his opinion on the matter.

January 1, 1898
My assistant claims now that he is unable to work as he has a lame back.

February 14, 1898
Mr. Heater arrived from Marquette at 6pm and walked the entire distance 33 miles in 12 hours including two rest stops over an hour each.. pretty good gait for a lame man.

February 27, 1898
Mr. Heater came across the ice to the other side of Big Bay with his wife. It is Sunday, so his back is not lame today.

March 5, 1898
Arrived station at 3.30pm today and found that Mr. Heater had not finished the laddfers, but had been fishing again.

March 7, 1898
Received a letter from the Office informing me that my Asst. would be transferred to Granite Island, for which I have every reason to be thankful.

May 11, 1889
Received letter from inspector to Mr. George Beamer that any employee that wished to volunteer for the Army of Navy during the war would have his position held for him for twelve months.

Mr. Beamer left at once for Detroit - his wife Jennie Beamer was appointed acting assistant. She is the only women to ever serve at Big Bay, May 12, 1898 to August 26, 1898. When George Beamer returned from the war he did not fair much better than Assistant Heater. Beamer often complained he could not work because of a bad back. He claimed some logs rolled over him when he was young, of course this never kept him from going fishing.

September 19, 1898
Asst. Beamer does not take hold of his work as he should. He evidently expects me to work with him whenever he is at work, and if I do not, he leaves the work and does nothing until I get back to him.

October 1, 1898
As Mr. Beamer always objects to my questions and resents my interference, and I have passed over his dereliction before and not caring to be constantly making reports unfavorable to him, I have written this for future reference when the Inspector arrives.

October 7, 1898
When will I get an assistant who will fit the place?

October 27, 1898
Asst. Beamer complains of being sick and talks of leaving the station to go home to Detroit. He is too high strung for a light keeper's asst, between himself and his wife this season I imagine that I am keeping a Home for the Helpless Poor instead of a U.S. Lighthouse. I an my family having to do the greater part of the work while they receive the pay.

November 1, 1898
Put Mr. Beamer on board the steamer to go home. Hired my son George E. Prior as Laborer. This Beamer .... is without exception the most ungrateful and the meanest man I ever met.

April 11, 1899
Received letter from inspector informing me of the appointment of Mr. William Crisp as assistant, as I need help I requested the inspector to send him as soon as possible.

April 23, 1899
Sunday, Mr. William B. Crisp arrived at the station at noon today.

July 11, 18990
Enclosed a letter from Mr. Crisp, he has decided to resign and wishes to leave at once and will go to Marquette at first opportunity if he has to walk.

Three days later, Priors' son George was acting assistant and on Jan 18, 1900 he took the oath of office. At last, Will had an assistant he could work with.

April 16, 1901
George E. Prior is very lame today. I will take him to Marquette tomorrow.

April 18, 1901
…He will have to remain in hospital for treatment having been hurt by falling on steps on crib.

June 13, 1901
1.30pm Keeper summoned to Marquette to bury his son who died this morning.

The last entry in what appears to be Prior's writing appears on June 27, 1901 and simply reads "general work." Prior was despondent after the death of his son, & on June 28th he disappeared into the woods with his gun and some strychnine. It was feared he had gone off to kill himself. A long search failed to find him.

October 22, 1901
Mrs. Prior and family left on Longyear's launch at 4pm …to live in Marquette. This entry was made by Mr. James Bergan, Big Bay's second keeper.

November 14, 1902
Mr. Fred Babcock came to the station 12.30pm. While hunting in the woods one and a half mile south of the station this noon he found a skeleton of a man hanging in a tree. We went to the place and found that the clothing and everything tally with the former keeper of this station who has been missing seventeen months.


The remains of Harry W. Prior, the light keeper of the 
lighthouse at Big Bay, who disappeared last June
were found by a "land looker" Monday in the woods.
The find was a gruesome one."

The Mining Journal November 27, 1902

This page last updated 12/07/2003