By Karen Scanlon
Few people living today claim the distinction of being a ‘lighthouse brat’. These are the children of lighthouse keepers. But one such East County resident, and CNM volunteer, Patricia Dudley Goulart, makes this very assertion.
Patricia grew up at the lower Point Loma Light Station. Her father, James Eliot Dudley, was assistant keeper at the time of her birth 90 years ago on August 11.
“Mom and Dad met over some chickens Dad kept at the station,” Patricia says. “My grandmother took Violet to see the lighthouse, and Dad gave her a tour of his farmyard.” The two were married not long after in October 1930.
Of particular note, the Dudley and next-door Johnson families were the last of the station’s residents that served under the U.S. Lighthouse Service. In 1939, U.S. Federal lighthouse administration was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard and keepers chose to take commissions or quit. Dudley and Johnson stayed on but fussed about the Coast Guard “monkey suits” they were now required to wear. Dudley retired as head keeper in 1952.
Patricia and younger sister, Joan, lived under strict regulations to remain on lighthouse grounds, especially during wartime. “Dad was all business, not a warm fuzzy,” Joan chuckles.
At the time, San Diego’s three lighthouses were located within the confines of a military reservation. Old Point Loma Lighthouse was used in various war efforts, i.e., a Post Exchange or signal station. When the U.S. entered World War II, Ballast Point Light Station, which served as a buoy depot and harbor light, were located just inside the mouth of the harbor where submarine nets were stretched across the entrance.
Point Loma’s operational tower was turned off and keepers were assigned other duties. “Everything was painted olive drab,” the kids remember, “the out buildings, sidewalks, fences, houses, and tower.”
In peacetime and war, Patricia knew only life at the light station. The lighthouse brats rode to school in vehicles from the motor pool. “We wore dog tags and had to taste malt tablets and learn to use gas masks. Dad kept the war supplies in a partial basement under the living room floor, it was our bomb shelter, too.”
Into her teen years, Patricia wished to go to a public beach where she could meet friends but her father scolded that she had her own beach. The keeper, perhaps, had little understanding of child development.
It’s hard to imagine that Patricia lived at Point Loma Light Station 90 years ago! Before electricity or piped in water. Outhouses! They burned kerosene lamps and baked in a coal stove. What Patricia has offered with her brilliant memories and family photographs are significant finds for maritime archives.
Here are a few more of her memories: “We roller skated on the catch basin.” (A large cement water catchment placed on a hillside. What rainwater fell rolled into a system to the water storage tanks.)
In January 1944 Patricia was home from school recovering from pneumonia. “I was reading on the sun porch and had just moved into the house when KABOOM!”
An incident involving harbor defenses had occurred when a defective fuse in a six-inch, high explosive projectile caused a premature detonation at nearby Battery Humphreys. “The shockwave blew out the front window and shards of glass stuck into the floor not far from where I had been lying,” Patricia says.
It was customary that the Army alerts the keepers when a gun would be fired, but this, of course, was a dreadful accident that killed five soldiers.
“One morning mother drove off to work at Navy Electronics and our coop and outside fence were covered in white feathers. As she drove up the hill, she saw a coyote with a chicken in its mouth. She told the guards and they came down with machine guns.”
When Pearl Harbor was bombed, it is believed the first U.S. mainland alert came into Point Loma Light Station radio room. Or was it through the HAM radio set Dudley had built and kept in the family dining room? The sisters remember some parental frenzies. A day later Patricia was standing outside counting airplanes overhead, ashamed to admit that she couldn’t count beyond 1000. Here was a child witnessing the mass of warplanes heading to meet carriers at sea.
Adult children of light keepers are a dying breed. Little did our birthday girl know then that her childhood narratives would be as valued. That she was eyewitness to Convair’s static test site for the Atlas missile, or that Navy sailors cutting the Point too soon would end up in her bathtub.