Captain Joshua K. Card here, minding the light and fog bell up in New Castle, New Hampshire. I started my career at Boon Island off the southern Maine coast. It was a brutal place to live, and especially dangerous in storms when the low lying island is sometimes awash in the waves. The keepers there, like so many isolated light stations, generally devoted themselves to keeping a good station in the great tradition of the Lighthouse Service and Coast Guard. Not everyone was suited to such a life, though, as this story will attest.
Stratford Shoal Lighthouse, looking a little stone castle, straddles the border between Connecticut and New York in Long Island Sound. For many years the station had a principal keeper and two assistants, and there was plenty of turnover as might be expected at a wave-swept location.
Gilbert L. Rulon became the principal keeper in September 1901. In August 1905, Rulon was ashore on vacation when the most bizzare drama in the lighthouse’s history played itself out. Left in charge was First Assistant Keeper Morrell Hulse, a 54-year-old Long Island native and former packet sailor who had just served two years as an assistant keeper at Rhode Island’s Whale Rock Light. Also at the lighthouse was Second Assistant Keeper Julius Koster of New York City, a newcomer to the Lighthouse Service.
According to newspaper reports, Hulse was taken by complete surprise when Koster charged at him with a weapon consisting of a razor lashed to the end of a long pole. Hulse fought off his assailant and Koster seemed to calm down for the moment. Several similar scenes took place over the next couple of days, forcing Hulse to stay awake night and day. He not only had to defend himself against the deranged Koster but also had to make sure the light continued to function properly.
One afternoon Hulse found Koster chopping at the walls of the lighthouse with a hammer and chisel. Later that night Hulse became aware that the light had stopped revolving. Rushing to the lantern room, he found Koster holding an axe, about to destroy the lens. It isn’t clear whether Hulse used brute force, gentle persuasion, or both, but he somehow dissuaded Koster from his violent intent.
According to the Washington Post, Hulse did not get a moment’s sleep or rest for the next five days as he protected himself and the light. Koster eventually turned his rage on himself and threatened suicide. When help finally arrived, Koster was found with self-inflicted gashes on his neck and was taken to a hospital. During the following year, Morrell Hulse was awarded a Diploma of Honor by an organization called La Societe des Sauveteurs for his courageous defense of the lighthouse. The French organization bestowed the honor because it was said that Hulse’s actions had prevented the possible loss of a French vessel in the vicinity.
Jeremy D’Entremont is the author of more than 20 books and hundreds of articles on lighthouses and maritime history. He is the president and historian for the American Lighthouse Foundation and founder of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, and he has lectured and narrated cruises throughout the Northeast and in other regions. He is also the producer and host of the U.S. Lighthouse Society podcast, “Light Hearted.” He can be emailed at Jeremy@uslhs.org