By Eric Detweiler, Communications Specialist
Each year, Jack and Rose Messick welcome their four sons and their families back home to Reliance, Md., a few days after Christmas. It’s become a much-anticipated get-together for an Eastern Shore family whose roots have spread beyond the region.
This time around, the Messicks’ holiday celebration included a field trip to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum for an opportunity to connect with a unique chapter in family history.
The group–13 in all hailing from three different states and ranging in age from 2 to 84–made the journey to CBMM on Dec. 30 to see the 1879 Hooper Strait Lighthouse, the historic screwpile lighthouse on which Jack’s father, Harold, served as the assistant keeper from 1939–1942.
“It kind of came up out of the blue,” said Scott Messick, the second-oldest son and a longtime CBMM member. “We got to talking about the lighthouse, and my sister-in-law from Cincinnati was saying she’d never been. We said, ‘Alright, let’s go.’”
Harold Messick is featured on the wall of keepers spanning from the lighthouse’s origin in 1879 until it was automated in 1954.
The display features a photo from the early 1950s of Harold with his wife Alice, daughter Annalee, and young Jack, donated by the family to CBMM’s collection along with some of Harold’s personal items, including pieces of a uniform, from his career working on the Hooper Strait Lighthouse as well as the Hoopers Island and Choptank River lighthouses. There’s also a quote from Harold about how much he enjoyed spending time in that light with Annalee.
Jack’s sons Stu, Scott, Chris, and Jason never knew their grandfather, but through the years, they’ve relished the chance to learn his story and share it with others. It was a proud moment for the family to see his service recognized as part of the exhibition in the lighthouse that was relocated to CBMM’s Navy Point in 1966.
“The cool part for me is my kids are both born in Ohio, so they’ve never seen anything like this,” said Chris Messick, who made the trip from Cincinnati with his wife Caroline and children Julian (age 13) and Clarissa (10). “To have them see their great-grandfather and my dad in that picture and start to understand the history a little bit was really special.”
Jack Messick was just a toddler while his father was stationed on the Hooper Strait Lighthouse, but he’s got a slew of fascinating memories of the Choptank River Lighthouse.
The recent CBMM visit served as a spark for Jack to recount his summer stays with his father on the light.
Starting at age 10, Jack enjoyed unforgettable days filled with fishing, swimming, and playing with the resident pup Chop, and he also found pleasure in helping with the daily work, including swabbing the decks, polishing, painting, and helping his father with trimming the wick of the light’s kerosene lantern and recharging the smaller, unattended beacons down the river.
“I’m very proud of my father’s service,” said Jack Messick, a former Marine officer who retired after a long career as a Dorchester County educator. “He was very diligent in what he did. He worked on the water most of his life, and I just know how important his sense of duty was. I like to think I picked that up from him. He had that sense that he was going to do his job the best he could for as long as he could.”
“My father was not unique in that sense,” Messick added. “All the lighthouse keepers that he ever knew or worked with had that same work ethic. Even in the worst conditions, you’d stay with your light as long as you could.”
With his family, Jack Messick told a story that particularly illustrated that point. He recalled being on the light when his father sprang into action to help a family whose boat was stranded near the light.
After towing the boat to safe port in Oxford, the man offered his father $10 as thanks. Young Jack was surprised at his father’s polite refusal of the tip for his service.
“I think that was a lifetime lesson for me,” Jack remembered. “At the time, I thought, ‘Well, that’s two Red Ryder BB guns.’ That $10 would’ve bought me two, but he wouldn’t take it. To me, that says a lot about who he was.”
For the rest of the family, hearing that tale for the first time offered a window into the world that shaped Jack.
“It stuck with him,” Scott Messick said. “He’s taught that lesson. Not the same way. Because I’d never heard it that way before, but he’s taught that lesson to us.
“Do your job. Do unto others. That’s how we’ve always lived. I never thought it would’ve come from my grandfather.”
That’s not the only family connection the Messicks discovered on this trip to CBMM.
In the Oystering on the Chesapeake exhibition, there are oyster tongs emblazoned with “Messick Bros” on the shaft that were handcrafted by relatives in a shop in Harold Messick’s hometown of Bivalve, Md., that has been producing them for generations.
Scott Messick has been supporting CBMM for years. He’s made regular visits for member events and hands-on workshops, and his son Andrew once completed an internship with CBMM’s curatorial team.
Strolling campus with four generations of Messicks, including two of his sons and his grandson Thomas, Scott noticed the tongs that bore his family name for the first time. That fun find only added to a day to remember at CBMM for the group.
“It’s a joy to me to be part of it and feel like I’m part of it,” Scott Messick said. “I enjoy being a member. I enjoy taking people there. I tell people they should go see it, and I say, ‘While you’re there, look for my dad.’”