She called Split Rock her homeSplit Rock Lighthouse wasn’t a tourist destination for Beulah Covell-Myers – it was home for much of her childhood.
By: Jana Hollingsworth and Mike Creger, Forum Newspapers, Lake County News Chronicle
Split Rock Lighthouse wasn’t a tourist destination for Beulah Covell-Myers – it was home for much of her childhood.
The daughter of Franklin Covell, one of only two head Split Rock lighthouse keepers, died New Year’s Day, leaving behind stories and photos of what life was like perched high above Lake Superior.
Covell-Myers, 94, lived most recently in Virginia Beach, Va., but had planned to attend the lighthouse’s centennial celebration this summer along with her younger sister, C. Ileana Covell-Myers.
“She really cared about the development of Minnesota and the light, and that they preserved these things,” said Marceille Myers, Beulah’s daughter-in-law. “She talked to me a lot about it, saying, ‘They mustn’t forget.’ ”
Longtime Split Rock volunteers Winston Norby, of Two Harbors, and Ed Maki, of Silver Bay, met the sisters when they would visit. The last time Beulah was there was about four years ago, Norby said. Maki kept in contact with her through letters. He said the last one he received was typewritten because Parkinson’s disease, or what Beulah called her “essential tremors,” kept her from writing longhand.
She lived in the keeper’s house off and on from 1915 to 1934 with her three siblings, father, Franklin, and mother, Edith. The family lived for a time in Two Harbors to be closer to an ailing relative, Maki said.
Beulah later moved away to attend college. She and her sister married the Myers brothers, who came from a commercial fishing family near the lighthouse.
In journals left to a granddaughter, Covell-Myers wrote of traveling by steamship, seeing immense waves and playing with the other keepers’ children. Her son, Roger Myers, said he remembers her talking about the isolated area before the highway was built, and watching the storms come quickly over the lake.
“They were very cognizant of the weather,” he said. “They would have to watch for signs and weather changes. Those things were passed on to us as kids.”
Franklin Covell worked as a lighthouse keeper from 1913 to 1944, with time spent as a keeper in Two Harbors and the Superior Entry. He became head keeper of Split Rock in 1928.
Children of lighthouse keepers had to play outside during the day so their fathers wouldn’t be awakened, said Lee Radzak, historic site manager at Split Rock, who now lives in the same house the Covell family lived in.
The kids were forbidden from crossing the lakeside sidewalk, which was close to the edge of the cliff. Back then, there was no fence, Radzak said. And while housework was part of daily life, the children didn’t help with lighthouse work, as they generally were kept away from it.
Before the 1930s, the families moved to town during the winter and the shipping season hiatus. The Covells went to school in Beaver Bay. Maki said he found a classmate of Beulah’s and arranged for them to talk on the phone. It had been more than 60 years since they had been students at the two-room, grade 1-8 school but they spoke “like it was yesterday,” he said.
Maki likes to tell a story about Beulah when he gives tours at Split Rock. She said it was important to sit near the front of the school bus because the driver chewed tobacco. When he spit out the window, those farther back would get a little sprayed on them through the rear window.
They were allowed to stay year-round at Split Rock by 1931 when a reliable highway was in place. Covell-Myers once told Radzak: “It was a red-letter day” when they learned they didn’t have to move for the winter. Maki was told the family spent two winters in Beaver Bay in a drafty cabin next to today’s Agate Shop. “She said it was so cold, even with a fire going all day, and they could see the snow outside through cracks in the walls,” Maki said.
There was still a trek to get to the school bus in the winter. Norby said the girls would ski to the road with their father and he would take their gear back home. In the afternoon, he met them at the bus and they skied home.
The families of the North Shore were very close, said Marceille Myers, and they helped each other. Covell-Myers told stories of how the children were very aware of the lighthouse inspector, and it was an anxious time when he visited because the women were always giving homey touches to the three houses inhabited by keepers’ families — touches they weren’t sure the inspector would appreciate, Myers said.
Since the 1970s, Covell-Myers and her sister have been invaluable in offering photos and memories to the Minnesota Historical Society of their family’s time there, Radzak said.
“She was one of the lighthouse children,” Marceille Myers said of her mother-in-law. “Anytime they’d go near Split Rock [staff], they turn their tape recorders on.”
Covell-Myers had a strong connection to Split Rock, Radzak said, and she spoke with respect of her father and his work. Maki said the two sisters were very attached to their father.
“The buildings tell part of the story, but without the human factor, what the keepers and their families did here, it’s an incomplete story,” Radzak said. “And you can’t tell how important the lighthouse keeper’s job was to Lake Superior [without them].”
Services for Covell-Myers begin at 11 a.m. Saturday at Faith Baptist Church in Hermantown.
Split Rock kick-off
Split Rock Lighthouse is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2010 with special events and activities. It begins today (Friday) at 2 p.m.with the unveiling of an original commemorative watercolor painting by Minnesota artist Jim Povich. The first Friday evening of each month will have special programs and performances.