Digest>Archives> May 2002

Light Reflections

The Box

By Sharma Krauskopf


You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<

I love estate sales and auctions. Every one I have attended since living at Eshaness has turned out to be a Shetland history lesson as well as helping me get the little items needed for the house. Recently I saw one advertised in the local newspaper and convinced Tom, our caretaker, to take me. When we arrived at the sale Tom immediately recognized it as the house of the last Eshaness keeper, Willie Gifford. I got extremely excited thinking I might find something that came from Eshaness Lighthouse.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<

My predicament was I had no idea what I was looking for. The lighthouse was automated in 1974, which ruled out anything modern. I looked through furniture, pictures, and tools but did not see anything that looked like it came from the lighthouse. I finally decided the best choice would be a wooden chest commonly used to store clothing in Shetland. This would not be a lighthouse antique but probably had been in the lighthouse.

While I was waiting for the wooden chest to come up for sale a large metal box with handles was brought forward and set on the floor. As I looked at it I thought I had seen a similar box at one or two of the lighthouses we considered before we bought Eshaness so I knew it was something lighthouse keepers used. I tried to contain my enthusiasm so no one around me would know what a treasure the box might be and decided no price was to high to pay for this beaten up, metal box.

After what seemed like hours the auctioneer put the box up for sale. I waited to see if there was any other interest but no one made an offer so I bid £5.00. I must not have been keeping my excitement hidden because a local antique dealer started bidding against me. I do not think he really knew what he was bidding on but seeing my reaction knew it must be valuable. He eventually dropped out and I got my box for £14.00.

After the sale I talked to a member of Willie’s family about the box. She was touched the box was going back to the lighthouse. They thought I was probably right about it coming from the lighthouse but did not know exactly what it had been used for. I examined it carefully looking for a mark or some type of clue. It had been important enough to its owner that he painted it many

times and I was afraid removing the paint might damage the box itself.

Curious about the box’s history, I called the Scottish Lighthouse Museum and talked to one of their staff. The staff member had been a lighthouse keeper for 32 years and as we talked I found out he had been trained by Willie Gifford, the owner of my box. I started to give him the measurements of the box and he immediately stopped me and described it down to its black matte interior. He explained it was a dry stores box that was used to keep the lighthouse’s ‘high value’ tools and other items. The box was kept locked and the key was the principle keeper’s responsibility.

One of my assumptions had been my box had probably moved from lighthouse to lighthouse with Willie because of the handles but in fact a dry stores box was kept in the generator house of each Scottish lighthouse. Willie must have taken the Eshaness box after the lighthouse was automated, as there would no longer be a need for it. So instead of getting something that belonged to Eshaness’s last keeper I had in fact gotten Eshaness lighthouse’s dry stores box. It could have been at the lighthouse since it was commissioned in 1929.

I am pleased that the box has come back to its home and now proudly sits once again in the generator house. My biggest dilemma is what to do with it in the future. It is a historic item and should be given to the local museum or the Scottish Lighthouse Museum but for now I think I will keep it at Eshaness inside the house where it is dry and protected. Once a year I will put it in the tower on display when we have our open house. I am putting a note in it with a description of what it is and if anything should happen to me it should be given to the local museum.

The best part of this whole story is not knowing what I was doing I brought something that was a part of this lighthouse’s history back to where it belonged. Preserving the things that were a part of lighthouse life is as important as preserving the buildings themselves.

This story appeared in the May 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.

to Lighthouse Digest

USLHS Marker Fund

Lighthouse History
Research Institute

Shop Online

Subscribe   Contact Us   About Us   Copyright Foghorn Publishing, 1994- 2024   Lighthouse Facts     Lighthouse History