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
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
June 7, 1897
First Inspection - Commander Folger arrived on Marigold. "Station
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
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
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.
As my assistant objects to working during the closed season, I have
written to the inspector to get his opinion on the matter.
My assistant claims now that he is unable to work as he has a lame back.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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
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
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.