Reflections from a Mukilteo lighthouse keeper

By Sara Bruestle | Oct 16, 2013
Photo by: Sara Bruestle Gail Moore

Thirty years ago, Gail Moore called the Mukilteo lighthouse “home.”

Many in Mukilteo know that Peter Christiansen was Mukilteo’s first keeper of the lighthouse – Moore was the 17th.

She served in the U.S. Coast Guard as the keeper of the Mukilteo Light Station from 1983-1986. She was Mukilteo’s only female keeper.

Moore, 55, shared her experiences living and working at the lighthouse at the Mukilteo Historical Society meeting on Oct. 10.

“Hearing firsthand from someone who actually lived at the Light Station, about her daily life... was a treat,” said MHS President Lisa Romo. “I was happy to hear... how our historical grounds were protected and maintained years ago.”

For three years, Moore essentially had three jobs: wife, mother and lighthouse keeper. When she moved in, her son was 5 months old. She took her child to work every day. It wasn’t easy.

“Most men who were the lighthouse keepers, their wives were at home doing the cooking and cleaning inside of the lighthouse,” said Moore, who didn’t have an assistant lighthouse keeper. “I was all of that. ”

Before she was the keeper, Moore was a ship mechanic for the Coast Guard. After the birth of her son, she was assigned to the Light Station.

As a mechanic, she had also been part of the Coast Guard’s Lighthouse Team that did maintenance and repairs on Puget Sound’s stations. “Higher ups” thought she’d make a good keeper.

“I would have gone back to the ships and said, ‘Here Honey, you take care of him,’ and gone back out to sea, but they didn’t like doing that to us women,” Moore said. “They thought we were fragile.”

As a “one-woman show,” Moore cleaned the lighthouse, took care of her son, gave tours, cooked dinner, mowed the lawn, painted the fence and repaired all the station’s equipment.

“They had to teach me how to paint, because I didn’t know how to paint,” she said. “I could tear an engine down and rebuild it, but not paint.”

Moore didn’t have to trim the lamp wick or check the oil, as Peter Christensen did, but she still had to polish fingerprints off of the brass work – every day. When it needed it, she’d also change the lightbulb in the lens.

“I polished it all up, and then people would come in and put their little hands over it,” she said. “The next day I’d do the same thing.”

(Moore made thousands of trips up the lighthouse tower –as many as 15 per day.)

Back then, the Light Station was open every day but Sunday and Monday. Those were Moore’s days off – though, mothers and housewives don’t get days off.

“There was always something that had to be done,” she said.

Visitors could come in, look around and go up and down the tower as they pleased. They could also ask Moore for a tour. (She still has cards from schoolchildren thanking her.)

She also served as an unofficial park ranger: Visitors came to her to make a phone call or for first aid. (A man once severed his leg on the rocky shore, trying to save his boat. Moore called 911 and came to his aid with baby blankets.)

Moore managed OK when her son Allen was a baby, but by the time he was 2 years old, he could open the fence and would get into trouble. He liked to ride his bike to the ferry and get on.

“Luckily it’s a small community, so everybody knew who we were, so they would just bring him back home,” Moore said.

Her joys as lighthouse keeper included the beautiful view, seeing all of her son’s “firsts,” since he wasn’t in daycare but at home with her – and mechanical repairs.

“My greatest joy was tearing down a weedwacker and rebuilding it so it would run again,” Moore said. “Because that’s what I did, I was a mechanic.”

However, some visitors didn’t respect that the Light Station was also her home. (She lived in Quarters B; another Coast Guard family lived in Quarters A.) Some thought her husband was in charge.

Not on her list of duties – but part of the job and the times – was dealing with intruding picnickers, arguing couples, bomb threats, fraud, an internal investigation, and men who thought she was at the lighthouse alone. Those men didn’t know she owned a gun.

“There were times I had to say, ‘Hold on a minute,’ and had to go get it because I was sometimes threatened,” she said. “Being a female, they thought I was open game.”

In 1986, a month before Nicholas, her second son, was born, Moore and her family moved out. Allen was 3 1/2 years old. (Allen wants to get married at the Light Station because he spent his childhood there.)

After nine years in the Coast Guard, Moore’s tour was over. Just two more keepers were stationed at the lighthouse after her. In 1996, the last Coast Guard family moved out.

“They don’t even need lighthouses anymore, with all of the electronic equipment that’s out there,” she said. “I’m sure they were pretty much obsolete. They were at that time I was there, too. They don’t man a lot of them anymore.”

From 1906-1991,19 lighthouse keepers were assigned to the Light Station.

Quarters A and B, once houses for the keeper and his assistant, are now an unofficial Mukilteo museum with the archive, exhibits and a gift shop run by MHS volunteers.

Moore, of Edmonds, occasionally takes her four grandkids to tour the lighthouse and to see where Grandma used to live and work.

“They’ve got a legacy to see,” Moore said. “When they get older, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, that was my Grandma. She wore Army boots.”

She is proud to have served as lighthouse keeper, and looks back on her time there fondly. After all, she still got to play mechanic and “get greasy” – and it was home.

“When I was there, it was not quite isolated duty, but it felt isolated, because I wasn’t doing what I was trained to do,” she said. “I wasn’t trained to mow the lawn and paint fences.

“I felt like a fish out of water when I lived there, and I felt like a fish out of water when I left.”

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