History of the US Life-Saving Service Grave Markers

Originally Dick Ryder while on a Memorial Day visit to his grandfather's grave on Cape Cod noticed that a man who had served with him in the U.S. Life-Saving Service had no marker to denote his meritorious service in what was a dangerous government occupation.

Dick combined some simple elements of the service to offer an appropriate marker for the many thousands of men who served in the United States Life-Saving Service.

The shield background is the shape of brass Surfmans' Patrol Check. The crossed oar and boathook logo is that of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. The dates are the period when the USLSS existed with paid crews, before being merged with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service in 1915, and thereafter known as the U.S. Coast Guard.

Jeff Shook has now taken over the business in 2024. Jeff's family history with his (5th) Great Grandparents (Peter and Catherine Shook) being the first lighthouse keepers at Point Aux Barques Lighthouse on Lake Huron and his involvement with the US Life-Saving Service Heritage Association make him a perfect fit to carry on this program to provide recognition for those that served and even risked their lives for their fellow humans.

Although lighthouse keeping was generally a male dominated occupation with wives or daughters filling in for them when they were sick or away and because lighthouses at the time required constant care and maintenance, women were often a primary assistant at the stations and knew the job from top to bottom being there all the time. Lighthouse keeping was a physically demanding occupation and the men and women who kept the lights faced the danger the harsh elements, trying conditions, storms and remote living in the wilderness as our early nation developed through commerce on the waterways, without roads at the time, the waterways were the highways of our past.

Catherine Doyle Shook took over for her husband, Captain Peter Loren Shook, who died in a shipwreck on his way to get supplies for the Point Aux Barques Lighthouse, located near Port Hope, Michigan. On March 31, 1849 Peter Shook, Dr. John S. Heath and his son Henry, only 12 years old at the time, and one hired man set sail from Dr. Heath’s lumber interests at Point Aux Barques for Port Huron, Michigan while Peter would continue on to Detroit for lighthouse supplies. They left the lighthouse favored by a gentle breeze from the north, but in the course of the succeeding night, it blew a tremendous gale from the north and east, which caused their friends and family to fear for their safety and set out to search for them. Finding their boat washed ashore near or at Port Sanilac Michigan with one of the masts carried away and with holes cut through/into the bottom of the overturned hull with a pocket knife, indicating that they were cut to enable the unfortunate passengers to cling to the boat hull after she capsized. No signs of life were ever found.

With the only body reportedly found of Dr. Heath and no sign of others after a few weeks, they were declared officially dead, having met a watery grave. Catherine went on to be appointed official keeper of the Point Aux Barques lighthouse several weeks later on May 15, 1849, making her Michigan’s first female lighthouse keeper. Catherine endured as light keeper, keeping the light lite, surviving a fire, providing for her family while living in a very remote section of wilderness at the time until finally resigning from the service in 1853 and settling in New Baltimore, where she is now buried.

A US Lighthouse Service grave marker has been placed next to the grave stone to commemorate and honor Peter's death as well as Catherine's continued perseverance after the death of her husband making sure the lighthouse was shining brightly to avoid any loss of life on the rocky shoals extending out from shore.