Holland Island, on Maryland's Eastern Shore, was once
a fishing community. Today, the fishermen are gone, and the
160-acre island has been reduced to 80 acres by erosion.
In 1889 a hexagonal screwpile light was built at Holland
Island Bar to mark the approach to the Kedges Straits,
which pass between South Marsh Island and Smith Island.
The light was completed for $35,000, and housed a fixed
fourth-order lens (with a red panel to indicate the straits)
and fog bell. The light was constructed at the
at the same time as the
Great Wicomico light.
In 1905, the Lighthouse Board considered converting the
Holland Island Bar light into a front range light
to guide ships through the straits, with a new
51-foot caisson light as the rear range. Ultimately
the Solomons Lump
light was deemed sufficient for marking the strait,
and the rear range was never built.
Holland Island Bar was located in the center of the bay.
Its relative isolation made it a more difficult assignment
than some of the other bay lights. From 1896-1897, the
logs record that the keeper visited shore to see his
dying wife. Upon her death, the keeper noted his absence,
but stated pointedly that "I had a substitute in my place."
In 1898, the assistant keeper visited shore several times to
see sick family members, and became sick himself on one occasion.
In the winter of 1917-1918, assistant keeper W. F. McDorican
struggled alone for a month to keep the light operational,
despite terrible snowstorms and ice. Head keeper C. C. Tyler had gone
ashore just prior to the storms, and was unable to return
once the weather turned foul. An exhausted McDorican finally conceded
and walked from the lighthouse across the frozen bay to Holland Island.
Holland Island Bar's isolation also contributed to the mystery
surrounding the death of keeper Ullman Owens in 1931. Keeper
Owens, who had served since 1911, was last seen alive on March 11,
1931. Shortly afterwards, keeper Henry Sterling of
Solomons Lump light observed that
Holland Island Bar was not lit. Sterling's light was not equipped
with a radio, so Sterling had to wait until a vessel came within
hailing distance to communicate his concerns. Sterling finally
was able to flag down the Winnie and Estelle, whose
first mate, H. J. Garner, agreed to check on the keeper. On the
way, Garner was joined by oyster boat captain John Tawes Tyler of
Garner and Tyler arrived at the Holland Island Bar light to find
a horrific and bizarre scene. Keeper Ullman
was dead in the kitchen. The kitchen was in disarray, as if there
had been an altercation. There were blood stains throughout the station,
and a bloody butcher's knife near Ullman's body. Despite the blood,
there was no visible sign of any gunshots or stab wounds on Ullman's body -
only scrapes and bruises.
Ullman had been unwell recently, and an inquest ruled that Ullman
had suffered a fit related to an illness, and died of the fit.
The Ullman family was not satisfied with this ruling.
At the time Ullman died, a local captain observed a vessel underway
without running lights - presumably a rum runner - whose wake
led directly back to the lighthouse. A later autopsy revealed
that Ullman suffered a cracked skull - a far more severe injury
than identified in the initial examination. On May 12, federal
agent C. J. Callahan testified that he overheard Guy Parkhurst,
arrested for rum running, say "There go the rats that turned
us in. Well, the lighthouse keeper got in the headlines.
We did that. What these rats get will be worse."
Further complicating matters was that Ullman had several girlfriends -
two of whom left their husbands. Some surmised that one of the
ex-husbands was responsible for the keeper's demise. Ultimately,
however, the investigation was closed as the autopsy revealed
an enlarged heart - symptomatic of heart disease. The ruling that
Ullman died of natural causes stood, and the case was closed.
Not all visitors to the lighthouse were hostile. Keeper Lewis Carman
was visited by Franklin Roosevelt's son James when the president's son's
yacht broke down. The lighthouse signalled the presidential yacht
Potomac which was nearby. Keeper Carman also gave
radio personality Arthur Godfrey a tour of the light.
Keeper Carman did have at least one unwelcome visitor -
a Japanese freighter which collided with the lighthouse
on a particularly foggy day. Fortunately, the freighter
did not hit the lighthouse squarely - the freighter rolled
off and continued on course.
Further misfortune befell the lighthouse on the night of
February 19, 1957. Nearby, an old grounded hull of the
Hannibal was frequently used as target practice
by pilots at the nearby Navy stations. One night, three
pilots confused the lighthouse for the hulk. Flares
were dropped at the "target" site, and three
ADSN Skyraiders fired seven five-inch rockets - three of
which hit the lighthouse. Fortunately, the practice
rockets did not carry explosives, but they still managed
to tear holes in the walls and cut several of the cast-iron
legs. The keepers radioed the Coast Guard, and the lighthouse
was evacuated. The next day, shaken but unhurt, the
four Coastguardsmen returned to the station to begin
After surviving the elements, collisions, and a rocket attack,
Holland Island Bar finally met its demise in 1960, when
it was dismantled by the Coast Guard. An automated beacon was
placed on the screwpile foundation.
Forgotten Beacons, Hornberger and Turbyville p. 83
The Lighthouses of the Chesapeake, de Gast p. 166
Lighting the Bay: Tales of Chesapeake Lighthouses, Vojtech pp. 61, 83, 90-91, 111-114, 131, 175-176