Theresa Graham of Oakland, Tennessee collects older lighthouse postcards as a hobby. She recently added a new postcard to her collection, a “real photo” card of Michigan’s Eagle Harbor Lighthouse, postmarked from Houghton, Michigan in 1939. After she got it, Theresa discovered that it had an interesting message on the back: “Keith - Keep this as a reminder of your Grandfather’s early life - (signed) Mother.”
The card had been sent to Mr. Keith Bird in Milford, Michigan. After some detective work and help from a Bird family descendant, Tom Morris, Theresa learned that Keith Bird’s grandfather was Peter Carroll Bird, keeper at Eagle Harbor Light. She even found biographical information and a picture of Keeper Bird on a web site. Theresa then contacted Lighthouse Digest and alerted us to the fascinating career of Keeper Peter C. Bird.
It turns out that Bird led quite a varied life. Jerry Lenz chronicled much of that life in an article in the May 2002 issue of the Superior Signal, the newsletter of the Keweenaw County Historical Society.
Peter Carrol Bird was born in 1841 in Romulus, Michigan. He entered the Civil War as a 21-year old farmer, and was wounded in the thigh at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. According to family history, it was four days before his brother Robert, under cover of darkness, carried him off the field. A civilian saw Peter Bird after the battle and reported, “Alas, the doctors say he is doomed.” The doctors were wrong. Peter recovered but he walked with a limp for the rest of his life.
The heroic act of Robert Bird was immortalized in a 360-foot painting of Pickett’s Charge, now on display in the Gettysburg Cyclorama Center. In the painting you can see Robert, his arm in a sling (he was also wounded early in the battle), helping Peter with his bandaged thigh.
After recovering, Peter Bird married Mary Jane Morris and became keeper of the Eagle Harbor Light on the Keweenaw Peninsula in 1865, a post he held until 1874. It was a common practice at the time to award wounded veterans with lighthouse keeper posts. Bird would be the last keeper of the original Eagle Harbor Lighthouse (established 1851) and the first keeper of the new one, which went into service in 1871. His relatively short career as a lighthouse keeper probably had a great deal to do with his Civil War injury, which undoubtedly made daily trips up the 44-foot tower difficult.
Peter and Mary had nine children. He also taught school and worked as a store clerk during the winter, and even served as Justice of the Peace for a while. He also served for a decade as the Deputy Register of Deeds for Wayne County, was Romulus Township Supervisor for five years, and founded the Romulus Bank and the New Boston Bank.
Bird eventually purchased a large farm in Romulus. He built a brick home in 1878, and the building still stands near the Detroit Metro Airport. Peter C. Bird died on October 10, 1910 at the age of 69. The Wayne Historical Museum has preserved his 1862-1863 diary.
The Keweenaw County Historical Society took over the care of the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse in 1982. They also manage three museums on the lighthouse site: a maritime museum in the former fog signal building, the Keweenaw Mining Museum, and the Keweenaw Commercial Fishing Museum.
The light station site is open all year, and the museums are open from mid-June to early October. For more information contact the Keweenaw County Historical Society, HC-1, Box 265L, Eagle Harbor, Michigan 49950. Phone: 906-296-2561. Or you can visit their web site at www.keweenawhistory.org
Some of the material on Peter C. Bird is from Rob Richardson’s website at www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Lab/1419/pbird.html. There’s also more related material on the site including some of Bird’s wartime correspondence.
This story appeared in the
September 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.
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