Rondout Creek Lighthouse, NY, courtesy

Rondout Creek Lighthouse, NY, courtesy

Hudson River, NY, 1857

When George Murdock, the keeper at Rondout Creek lighthouse, didn’t return with the supplies, his wife Catherine knew something had happened. Her worries were confirmed when officials from the mainland arrived to tell her he had drowned on his way back to the lighthouse. With a new baby and two small children, Catherine’s life was turned upside down. There was no time to mourn – her children’s survival was her priority.

As Catherine said later, “It was a sore time for me – no one to help, but the light – taking care of that as I had to—did help me bear up. I kept on for a month after the funeral cleaning and tending the lights, and in the winter, after navigation had stopped, some good friends gave me letters and on I went to Washington with this big boy here (pointing to her son James) just a baby in my arms. I wanted to be made lighthouse keeper of Rondout. At first the gentlemen at Washington told me it was impossible, the board didn’t employ women, and besides there was my infant. But I said, ‘Gentlemen, I’m a-going to bring him up to be a lighthouse keeper, and where could he learn it so well as in a lighthouse, and who could teach him better, d’ya think, than his own mother who knows well how to care for the light.’”

Rondout Creek Lighthouse, 1943, photo courtesy USCG

Rondout Creek Lighthouse, 1943, photo courtesy USCG

Her persuasive logic won her the post, and she became the lighthouse keeper. Not only did she gain the position, she received a new kitchen range because she told the men in Washington that she needed one.

The wooden lighthouse situated on the Hudson River at the entrance to Rondout Creek, a busy harbor for the export of coal, weathered many severe storms and spring flooding. One storm was so fierce that Catherine said “the house rocked to and fro like a church steeple.” She told of a terrifying night in 1878 when a heavy snowstorm turned to rain, and friends urged her to abandon the lighthouse and go to the mainland, but Catherine wouldn’t leave. “The safety of the lives of many boatmen depend upon the lights being lit in the tower. I will never desert my post of duty.”

Rondout Lighthouse

Rondout Creek Lighthouse

When the Eddyville dam ruptured upstream, the resulting flood carried away houses, barns, barges, and boats. In the darkness, Catherine heard the sound of rushing water and crash of debris as it went downriver, but she continued to keep the light beaming all night. The next morning she surveyed the disastrous scene, amazed that the lighthouse had sustained little damage. The local newspaper called her home a “waterborne castle,” and so it was, withstanding the onslaught of the flood.

Catherine kept the Rondout Creek Light, both the old wooden one and its stone replacement, for fifty years, the only female keeper at the light. True to her word, her son James became assistant keeper, then principle keeper when she retired.

Who, indeed, could teach him better than his own mother?

Catherine taught her children by her example of hard work and commitment. Instead of giving up, she pursued her position. Instead of accepting the status quo and “no” for an answer, she persuaded the lighthouse authorities to see her value. And instead of permitting fear to weaken her resolve, she persisted in her duty.

Her life illustrated Proverbs 22:6 in the Bible: “Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV)

She also lived Proverbs 31: 27-28: “She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed;” (NKJV)

May God shower His blessings on our mothers.


For more on this story, see