My Road Less Traveled
The day in August of 2009 when I walked past the white stone statue with the words, “Study The Past” chiseled into the base and through the entrance for researchers at the National Archives, Washington D.C., I never imagined the incredible journey I was about to embark upon. Opening up a dusty grey box eventually lead me to the National Archives, Chicago, designing a website, documenting a slice of forgotten history, a magazine article and travel across an ocean. It would also lead me to meet four senators, a United States ambassador and a Vice Admiral, the head of NATO, Europe. And, after almost one hundred years, I would meet the ancestor who inspired my “Road Less Traveled” and changed my life.
In 1996, I inherited a box of images, postcards and ephemera and a yellowing envelope marked, “old film”. The film was actually film negatives, over one hundred of them and told a story. They belonged to my great uncle, Captain Edward M. Herman. At the beginning of the 20th century he served in the United States Revenue Cutter Service, and then entered the United States Lighthouse Service. He was a keeper at Buffalo Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse, NY and Marblehead Lighthouse, OH. Research indicated he was the last U.S.L.H.S. keeper at the Marblehead Lighthouse. The journals were located in the National Archives. It took a week to digitally photograph 30 years of Marblehead logbooks and quite a bit of mundane reading…
One winter evening I came upon an entry dated May, 1919. The assistant was planting a walnut tree in memory of his cousin who was killed in the war. It was The Great War, a war most Americans know very little about. The cousin’s name was not recorded. Researching the cousin’s name took a year. Then, August, 2010, I learned Louis J. Herman was buried in Flanders Field American Cemetery, Belgium.
This led me to write an article for the Lighthouse Digest Magazine, scheduled for the October/November 2011 issue. In May I traveled to Belgium to attend Memorial Day services and was introduced to Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vice Admiral, Head of NATO and the Ambassador to Belgium.
And, Louis’ story and a walnut from the tree at the Marblehead Lighthouse are now part of the Flanders Field American Cemetery archives. Documents preserved make history stories come alive!
by Rebecca Lawrence-Weden