Light Hearted

Light Hearted ep 265 – Whale Rock, RI, and the Hurricane of 1938

Whale Rock Lighthouse (U.S. Coast Guard)
Walter Eberle with his wife Agnes

Whale Rock Light, a typical cast-iron “spark plug” type lighthouse, was constructed at the entrance to the west passage of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay in 1882 to help mariners past a treacherous reef. Isolated Whale Rock was not a desirable location for keepers, and 16 different men served as head keeper between 1882 and 1909. A 1924 storm sent waves over the top of the tower and did some damage to the structure, but that storm was nothing compared to what was to come in 1938.

Walter Barge Eberle, assistant keeper at Whale Rock Light in 1938, was the father of six children. On September 21, 1938, with practically no advance warning, a devastating hurricane was bearing down on New England’s south facing coast. At about 5:30 the next morning, Keeper Daniel Sullivan phoned the Eberle family in Newport. His words were to the point: “The light is gone.” The lighthouse tower was completely gone, and Walter Eberle was never found. He was 40 years old.

The base of Whale Rock Lighthouse after the hurricane of1938
David Robinson examining the remains of Whale Rock Lighthouse in 2005. Courtesy of David Robinson.

There are two interviews in this episode. The first, recorded in 2001, is with the surviving children of Walter Eberle. The woman who did most of the talking in the interview was Dorothy Roach, Eberle’s oldest daughter. Also featured is David Robinson, the State Underwater Archaeologist for the state of Massachusetts and Director of the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources. When he was based in Rhode Island, he was the first person to study the underwater remains of Whale Rock Lighthouse.

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