Interview with Arthur Forster

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Interview with Arthur Forster
Forster, Arthur ( Interviewee )


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Escambia County Oral History Collection ( local )

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
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University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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A. E. Forster

Pensacola Lighthouse 1916 1917

Earlier I made note of the fact that I came to the Naval Air Station at

Pensacola and my supervisor was a Chief Warrant Officer by the name of R. H.

Lake and that he offered me a room in his home at the Big Bayou in a house

known as the Dorr House.

I also made note of a hurricane that came on the 5th of July, 1916 and

there was no great damage to the house at that time. The next Sunday, the Lake

family went to church in Pensacola and after church they met the Pou family

and they got talking. The Pou family let it be known that every year they

went to the Big Bayou for the summer but this year there was no place to go.

Mrs. Lake was going north for the summer and offered the Pou family the Dorr

House under certain conditions. That was for Mr. Lake and me to retain rooms

in the house, which was a large house, and the Pou family moved in.

We all became friends and Mr. Lake and I were invited to go down to the

Pensacola Lighthouse and meet the lighthouse keeper and his family. We went

there by taking the street car or dummy line as it was called by everybody.

Going over the long trussell we had to pass the Naval Air Station and the next

and last stop was at the Barrancas Station on the dummy line. We all got off

the car and had to walk in soft sand past Fort San Carlos and Fort Barrancas

to the lighthouse, in all about a half mile. We were loaded down with enough

food to eat to feed an army. We went early in the morning and stayed until

late in the evening.

I enjoyed every bit of this outing. I made a trip up the light tower about

175 feet, more or less, and I remember when I came down somebody said you should

have carried one of those five gallons of oil up to help the old man. Later, I

did take one of these five gallons of oil up to the top. That was the only way

to get the oil up there to feed the light.

Between bathing in Pensacola Bay from a nice white sandy beach and looking

over all the lighthouse property, being with the family and eating most of the

time, we had a fine outing that day and during the summer the family made several

trips to the lighthouse and members of the lighthouse would visit us at the Big


There were two families at the lighthouse the Clifford family and another
by the name of Whiting. I only met Mr. Whiting. Both he and Mr. Clifford were

old, too old to have to climb the stairs and work up there cleaning all day.

I think when the men were not able to climb up the stairs any longer, they were

replaced by younger men. Or in other words, when they were too old they were

fired, they did not get a pension. The Pension Law went into effect in 1920

or 1921.

I have something here I am going to copy from a book, "Pirates to Pilots."

It's supposed to be a pictorial history of the Pensacola Navy from 1528 to 1958.

Pensacola Lighthouse

Another structure aboard the Air Station which possesses
a colorful history is the Pensacola Lighthouse which dates

back to 1825. This sentry has beamed its guiding light for

ships navigating through Pensacola Bay and throughout the

years has withstood both weather and war.

An act of Congress in 1823 appropriated $6,000 for the
erection of the lighthouse. Jeremiah Ingraham was appoint-

ed keeper in 1824 and served until his death in 1840. He

was succeeded by his wife who served in this unusual posi-

tion for a woman until 1855.

The height of the tower was eighty feet above the sea. In

October 1853 the Commandant of the Navy Yard recommended that

either the Lighthouse be made twenty or twenty-five feet higher

or a new one built. He had reached the conclusion that points

at sea were concealed by the lofty pines on the coast. The

next year Congress appropriated $25,000 for rebuilding the

lighthouse and elevating the illuminating apparatus. Apparently

the sum was found inadequate and in 1856 an additional $30,000

was -voted. The lighthouse and new set of ranges were completed

and lighted January 1, 1859. The height of the .light above sea

level was now 210 feet.

During the Civil War rebellion the tower was struck many
times by solid shot. It was not until 1866 that the Lighthouse

Board reported that steps had been in progress for the re-

establishing of range beacons to mark the entrance into Pensacola.

The next year Congress appropriated $20,000 more for repairs and


During the 1870's the lighthouse endured several attacks
by the weather. Twice it was struck by lightning with con-

siderable damage being done to the brick masonry of the covered

way between the keepers dwelling and the tower. In 1877 a

tornado damaged the slate roof of the keeper's house and it

was replaced by a shingle roof. In 1878 it was discovered

that the tower was cracked inside beneath the lantern. During

the war the tower had been struck and it is possible that some

of the hurricanes since that time were beginning to make the

effects of the shots visible. The next year $5,000 more was

spent for repairs and in 1884 mineral oil lamps were installed.

Today the lighthouse stands 171 feet above the ground
and 191 feet above the water. The 400,000 candlepower electric

light, flashing white every twenty seconds for two seconds,

is visible for twenty miles.

Also, in March 1973 I did some research on' the Pensacola Lighthouse from
1824 to 1917. I received some of this information from members of the Clifford

family who survived the old people that we used to visit at the lighthouse in

1916-1917. This information will also be furnished and is as follows.


THE PEI'FJC^L,' LIGHT 1824 TO 1917 l-

Tho man in charge of the Pensacola Light House was known as the light
keeper. He had two assistant light keepers with him.

Maintaining the light was a three-man job around the clock, seven days a
:eek. When the light was lit at night, one of the men had to be up there with
the light at all times.

The oil used for the light and other supplies had to be carried up a round-
ing flight of iron stairs to the top of the light area. The oil used would
smoke up the place and the next day vas spent cleaning and polishing the reflec-
tors which were made of specially cut-to-shape glass. The building area had to
be kept in good order for inspection at all times.

Records show that Jeremiah Ingraham was appointed keeper of the Pensacola
light in 1824 and served until his death in 18/40 He was succeeded by his wife
who served in this unusual position for a woman until 1855.

The following list names the succeeding light keepers to April, 1917:

Robert H. Tatts

January 5, 1855
February 13, 1863
January 3, 1867
May 22; 1869
October 8, 1869
February 17, 1870
.;ay 10, 1870
}.ay 5, 1871
October 14, 1873
July 28, 1874
June 4, 1875
May 26, 1877
April 2, 1886
June 14, 1886

February 13, 1863
January 3, 1867
.Icay 22, 1869
October 8, 1869
Dec:.nber 8, 1869
May 10, 1870
May 5, 187 ,
April 4, 1873
July 28, 1874
June 4, 1875
May 26, 1877
October 30, 1885
June 14, 1886
April 1, 1917

A man by the name of Samuel Goodridge Clifford was born February 16, 1812,
in Edgecombe, Maine. He came south to Ft. Barrancas and on June 6, 1839, he
married Cornelia Fell (born May 21, 1822, in Louisiana) in Christ Church, Pen-
sacola, Florida. They had six children all born at Ft. Barrancas. The youngest
child was a son named George Thomas (Tucker) Clifford, who was born July 27,

Two oldr brothers enlisted in the Confederate Army, and when George was
16 or on fay, 1864, he also enlisted, at Selma, Alabamao After serving about a
year he was captured by the enemy on April 9, 1865, at Blakely, Alabama, and on
May 6, 1865, he was a prisoner exchange.

Some years after his return from the Army he worked at Ft. Barrancas and
then at the Pensacola Light House under the light keeper, Samuel V.. Lawrence.
On June 14, 1886, he became the light keeper. He married Ellen Naomi Frazier,
July 23, 1868. Ellen was born February 27, 1850, in Escambia County, Florida.

he died M!ay 5, K)63. George Thomas (Tucker) Clifford died June 29, 1919.
oth wore buried in St. John's Cemetery, Pensacola, Florida.

George and Ellen had two children, a daughter Ellen Cordelia Clifford,
orn October 30, 1881 -(married to Ernest Arthur ( ueller) Miller on June 17,
903. A child was born to them, named Naom.i Freda Miller, Ellen died January
0, 1905. Ellen Cordelia Clifford was born, married, gave birth to her child,
nd died, while living with her parents at the light House.

With consent of the child's father who was in the Army at the time, the
grandparents adopted the child and changed her name to haomi Freda Clifford,

Hisson Goodridge Frazier Clifford was born at the Light House on February
0, 1891. He married Lois I.ancill who was born at Evergreen, Alabama September
0, 1898. She died October 15, 1951. Hisson died October 18, 1954. Both
ere buried at St. John's Cemetery, Pensacola, Florida.

He was employed' in the old Navy Yard and the Naval Air Station as.:a
achinist and enlisted in the U. S. Navy during TWorld War I and returned to
he Naval Air Station after the War and was a supervisor there when he retired,
hey had one son, John Goodridge Clifford, born April 2, 1926, in Pensacola,
lorida. He is married to Miss Billy Elam Foley. They have two children and
ive in Virginia. He is a Naval Aviator, Lt. Cmdr. U.S.N. (ret.)

On April 1, 1917, when George Thomas (Tucker) Clifford retired from the
eight House service without pay, he had served many years with the Government,
f which over 31 years as Light House keeper. (The retirement Law went into
effect in 1920.) He moved to a house he built on Barrancas Avenue, a dirt
oad at the time from Pensacola to the Naval Air Station, now known as Warring-

At.that time his granddaughter was 13 years oldo She is now married, is a
randmother, and living in Pensacola with her husband, Lt. Cmdr. John R. Harris,
.S.C.G. (ret.) She has a daughter, Mrs. Freda Naomi Vhite, living in Connec-
icut with her husband and four children.

Also Light House keeper from May 26, 1877 to October 30, 1885, Samuel
illiam Lawrence and his wife Martha Enfinger Lawrence, had a daughter born
anuary 21, 1884, at the Light House, Tennessee Avander Lawrence. She married
nd had five sons: Theodore C. Peterson, Edward L. Bonifay, John B. Bonifay,
swald L. Bonifay, and Wallace Lee Bonifay. Mr. Lawrence was born in Bangor,
e. IIrs. Martha Enfinger Lawrence,. his wife, was born in Escambia Co., Florida.
rs. Bonifay died July 9, 1967 and was buried in St. John's Cemetery, Pensacola.

John Marshall Quarrier, born March 25, 1855, Greenock, Scotland, and his
ife, lela Llberta Fell Quarrier, born August 27, 1868, at what is now, known
s Lillian, Alabama, and one son, Fletcher Biggs Quarrier, were living atthe
eight House when a second son was born there. John Oliver Quarrier, on Febru-
ry 2, 1890. Mr. Quarrier was Asst. light keeper under .r. Clifford, at that

John Oliver Quarrier married Miss Callio Colvin and they had two children.
o died October 20, 1951, and was buried in Bayview Cemetery.

National Meter Company, Brooklyn, New York

Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida

At the Naval Air Station I had a supervisor, he was the O&R Officer, by the

name of Ralph Barnaby. He was a glider expert. He was a fine fellow and we got

along good. He was here I guess a year or probably a year and a half. While

making the rounds in the shop one day, I spoke to him about having a picture of

an old airplane and I thought probably he would be interested in it. He asked

where was the picture taken and I said in Brookl n. He said, in South Brooklyn?

I said yes, as a matter of fact, in Fort Hamilton. He said he had a brother who

was interested in an airplane down there by the name of Barnaby. He said I wonder

if it could be a coincidence that it would be the same airplane. I said I don't

know but I have my picture at home. He said somewhere at home I have some old

pictures in an old album thathe took years ago. He was quite a camera expert and

he said, I'll bring them down and we'll compare the pictures. He said it's quite

possible it might have been the same one. I said, well I worked for the National

Meter Company and he said so did he, he worked in the engine department.

Well, he brought his pictures down and I brought mine. It happened that my

picture had about 10 or 12, more or less, people in it. I knew most of them but

there was no Barnaby in the picture. I guess the reason there was no Barnaby in

the picture was that he took the picture! Anyhow, we had the pictures down and

looked them over and we decided that it was the sameairplane and I suggested that

we take them over and have some negatives made and have some pictures taken in the

photography lab on the station. He thought it was a good idea so he made out an

order and I took the order over and had the pictures made. They made me a set of

negatives and also 2 or 3 sets of pictures. I brought the pictures home. He didn't

want the negatives but he did want a set of the pictures so I have the negatives and,
of course, I have some of the pictures. Now that was 1936. These pictures were taken

nationall Meter Company, Brooklyn, New York #2

Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida

before I came to Pensacola. There were taken about 1909 or 1910, somewhere along

n that time. That was when I worked for the National Meter Company in Brooklyn,

lew York.

There was a shop in Pensacola by the name of Rox Cowley's Photography Shop or

somethingg like that, or in other words, he used to develop pictures for everybody,

ill comers and he was quite a photographer. He was way down on South Palafox Street

then he moved up near Palafox and Garden Streets, I think in the Masonic Temple

building on the ground floor in the store and he had what they called the Rox

stationary Company. He would sell photography equipment, that is anything pertaining

to taking pictures. I don't know what year he came to Pensacola, but I think he was

iere when I came in 1916 but I'm not sure. However, he died on 31 January 1952 and

his wife died on 17 December 1965. They are both buried in Pensacola. They have

one son by the name of William F. Cowley.

Now naturally when this Rox Cowley died, I guess the business died with him,

I'm not sure. However, all of these negatives and a lot of pictures eventually

got around to the Pensacola Historical Society Museum. I don't know how they got

possession of them and it's none of my business. I happened to be there one day

and Norman Simon, the Curator of the Museum, said, I have a lot of pictures here,

negatives, all the stuff that this fellow Rox Cowley had. There are a lot of

pictures in there of airplanes. He said I wonder if you can describe some of

them for us, can you tell us what they are. I said I don't know, but I would like

to look them over. Well, he brought out the pictures. There was quite a large

envelope full of them and he pushed them all over on the desk. I started looking

through them and what do you know I started picking out pictures that were taken

way back in 1909 by that fellow Barnaby.

National Meter Company, Brooklyn, New York #3

Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida

Now, of course, the Museum didn't know how they got there. I know how they got

there! I know that all photographers, like other tradesmen, or at least I guess

I know, they know each other and they will do a little bit of swapping back and

forth under certain conditions and I guess that's what happened in this case. I

believe some man from the Naval Air Station in the Photography Lab gave Rox Cowley

i set of negatives which were there in this pile and they looked just like the

negatives that I have. In fact, they were probably made at the same time and given

;o Rox Cowley. I believe that's the way he received them.

The one picture that had 10 or 12 men in it was the one picture that I had

ind I said before, the reason this fellow Barnaby wasn't in the picture was because

ie was taking the pictures and they were his pictures. All the other pictures of

he group came from this CDR Barnaby and they were the pictures that I took over

o the photo lab to have reproduced.

Radio Masts

This is a small story about.a set of radio masts at the Naval Air Station
and the story is in 1926. It is about some old employees.

The Public Works Department at the Naval Air Station did not have a paint
shop so all the painting for the Public Works Department was done on transfer

work orders issued to the A&R Officer. The A&R Office had a foreman and a

group of painters. A good many of these painters did most of the work for the

Public Works Department but the foreman could shift the men to suit himself.

The men worked for the foreman in the A&R Department. The Public Works Department

issued an drder to the A&R Department which went to this Mr. Willy Hanson, the

boss painter, and the job was to paint the radio masts and take care of all the

rigging, that is, put it all in first class condition. It was quite a big job,

the radio masts stood quite high. There were two of them.

Now he had ready to work on this job three painters and they were old men,

:hat is they were all-50 years old. They were all too old in my way of thinking

;o get up on staging, or go aloft to do that kind of work. However, they all

lid, the same group of men did that job in 1916. That was shortly after the

laval Air Station was opened as an air station. But here it was 1926, ten

'ears later. The men were all 10 years older. Well, there was a fellow by the

ame of Ollie Jacobson. He was some kind of a Scandanavian, I don't know what

e was, probably a Norwegian. He came to my house and he said, Mr. Forster,

came to your house because I wanted to have a private talk with you. He said

f my boss knew I came here, he would probably want to fire me. I said, Ollie,
f you have anything to say to me you don't want Mr. Hanson to hear, it all

depends on what it is, however, I'll go along with you. I promise you I won't

ay anything to Mr. Hanson about your coming to my house. What's on your mind,
)n't worry, get it off your mind. So he started telling me about the job they

Radio Masts #2

were going to do on these radio masts. Now I didn't see the work order come into

the department; that kind of work order would go right directly to the paint shop.

However, when I found out that Hanson was going to put all these old men up on

these radio masts, it naturally didn't set well jith me because I'm always trying
to look out for the safety of the men working in tie department. Now I told Ollie

Jacobson, I said, now you make sure that nobody knows that you came down to see me,

you forget about it now and tomorrow morning I'lltake care of things but you go

to work just the same as usual tomorrow morning. But I'll be there and I'll do

something .

A short time after the whistle blew to go to work, I left my office and I was
making my early morning rounds. I was going from shop to shop and about the first

lace I went was over to where Hanson had three of his men rigging out a lot of

,ackle, getting ready to take down some of the wiring, the rigging, off the masts

nd getting ready to paint the masts. It was going to be about a 2 or 3 weeks job

nd they were getting ready to do the job this morning. Well, I went there and saw

anson working on the job with the men, checking the rigging and I said to Hanson,

hat are you doing Willy. He said, oh we have a job order from Public Works to

aint the masts, take care of the rigging and so forth. I said oh, who are you
)ing to have to do the work? He said, you see these men here, this fellow and

lis fellow and this fellow and he mentioned the three men and I said well I'm

)ing to tell you something Willy. I said you're always looking out for safety

!cords and I said that's a fact isn't it. He said yes and I said well so am I

d I happen to be boss around here. I'm your boss and I'm going to give you an
,der, an order right now, it's verbal now but it will be written. The order is

ing to say that nobody over 50 years old can climb a ladder over 7 feet tall

d do any work aloft. He said, you can't do that, I have to get this job done,

Radio Masts #3

I'm doing this job for Public Works. I said I'm not worried about Public Works.

I don't care if you never do the job for Public Works. I said you work for me

and it won't be your responsibility if you don't do the job for Public Works,

it will be mine. I am giving you an order that you can't put anybody over 50

years old up on those radio masts. Now that is an order. He said, well I'll

have to do it myself. I said not if you are over 50 years old you don't have

to do it. That applies to you just like it does to the rest of them. Well, he

got in a huff and a puff and he called his men all together and told them to get

up their equipment and take it back to the shop and I left them.

Well I didn't hear anything from the Public Works Office and I didn't hear

anything from Hanson about the job but about 3 or 4 days later, Hanson came to me

and he said, Mr. Forster, I'm going to put Stubby Thorson, George Force and another

fellow, I forget his name but he was a young fellow, over on that job and we'll

get the job done that way. He said these men are not painters but they are riggers

and they can do the job. I said okay, that's fine. You get the job done for Public

Works, satisfy Public Works. So the job was done, Public Works, I guess, was satis-

fied. I didn't hear anymore from Hanson and I never remember seeing Jacobson again

and there was never anything said about Jacobson having to climb these radio masts.
Also, I never issued a written order.

Plane Hits Radio Mast

This is another small story about 1926. We had a hurricane and all this
part of the country was cut off from the rest of the country. That is, you

couldn't get in and you couldn't get out, you couldn't get a telephone or a

telegraph or anything. In other words, we were in pretty bad shape. The
Muldon Motor Company, that was an automobile company in Pensacola, still is

I believe, well they had one of the Muldon sons, he managed to get an Army

plane somewhere or another, and this Army plane took him to Montgomery on the

morning after the hurricane and later in the afternoon, after Muldon took care

of some business he had in Montgomery such as calling members of the family to

let them know how the people in Pensacola were faring, he got on the plane and
came back towards Pensacola with the intention of landing over on Chevalier

field. The plane was circling over the field and it hit one of these radio

nasts. It hit the one on the eastern end of the 2 masts. When it hit the masts,

:he plane got out of control and it went down and fell directly in front of the

:ommandant's house. Now it didn't hit the house, it didn't go in the yard, but

t did go in the street and on the sidewalk. Up to that time there was no water

actually running on the station, that is no fresh water. The pumps were out of

rder and there was no water to be pumped on the station so the Muldon Motor Company

on and the aviator were both burned up in that fire. The fire actually had to burn

itself out. There were a few C02's on the station, but they were all locked up in

he buildings because the buildings were closed and it was after working hours.

Flag Staff on Watch Tower

After the hurricane, we were doing work on the watch tower. That's this .24W
tower that we have on the station. There was a group of men, this same Stubby

Thorson and George Force and the other fellow, and they were sent over to this

tower to do a job on it. Their job was to reel a rope or a line into a pulley

at the end of the flag staff that was extending out into the air in a horizontal

position about, probably, between 15 and 20 feet. The mast, I believe, at the

tower part, that is inside, was probably 6 maybe 7 Fr& in diameter and it went

out to the end to where the end of it was probably about 2 inches. There was a

ball on the end of it that was painted, gold painted and the pulley underneath.

Well, it was their job to get that line in the pulley so that they could

have the line to run to the ground to put up the flags that they normally put

on this flag staff. Now personally, I didn't know which would be the best way

to do the job so I just left it up to these 3 fellows. I thought they would

unbolt it and lift off this heavy flag staff and reel it in toward the platform

somehow and get the pulley, that is get the line reeled into the pulley into

the platform. But they had different ideas.

They decided that the best way to do it was to get this little fellow,

Stubby Thorson I don't think he weighed a 100 pounds, to get him and to put

a line around his waist, that is one of these wide bands around his waist, and

one of the men went way up on the top of the tower, which was 0 feet high,

and with a rope, he fastened the rope up there and gave it enough slack so

he could follow the man with the slack on the rope and catch him if he fell.

Now this Stubby Thorson was a light fellow, he figured he could easily shinny

out on that flag pole. Like I said, at the end of that flag pole it was probably
about 2 inches so he had to go out there like a cat. He went out there barefooted.
He went on his knees and his toes, his hands, he carried a light rope in his

Flag Staff on Watch Tower #2

mouth and when he got to the end of it, he managed to put a lightline into the
pulley, got it back into his mouth and he backed back and he had the job finished.
I think that they were finished with it in probably 15 or 20 minutes. If they
did what I thought they were going to do, it would probably have taken them all
day. They might have had to replace some of the material. But they did the
job and did it in about 15 or 20 minutes.
When I noticed the job was finished, I called them down off the platform.
They were up 00 feet; I motioned for them to come down and they came down. I
told them that they were through for the day. This was about noon time. I told
them they were through for the day and they could go home, I would take care of
checkingg them in and checking them out. I gave them each a half a day off and
"hen I went up and told the Q&R officer what they did and about my giving them
lalf a day off and he approved the whole thing. I was fortunate in having P&R
officerss and structural 'officers in the department over the years that went
long with my way of thinking.
From the time when this tower was built, the department had the job every
nce in awhile of putting new line on this flag staff and we were always able
;o change this line before the old one broke and after this hurricane, this line
ras gone.