COBWEB CORNERS: Can you see the light(s)?
By Mel McFarland
This is a question I hear regularly up on the top of Pike's Peak: “Where is that big light?” Well, there is more than one, and most are small lights over doors, much like the one you have on your house. The lights go back to the first regular military post in the Pike's Peak Region, a US Army weather station on top of the mountain. On Oct. 11, 1873, the station opened, manned by three men - Sergeant Seyboth of Wilmington, N.C., in command, assisted by L. A. Lemman, of Indianapolis, Ind., and J. H. Smith of Philadelphia. The station, a single-room, stone building with walls some two feet thick, sat at the southern end of the east edge of the summit.Wood was used for heat, as well as cooking, done on the same enormous stove. Small stoves were used in the sleeping area. Wood was brought from timber line. Stocking of the wood pile was a summer job.
When the station opened in 1873, the temperature did not rise higher than 34 degrees before the next spring. In the middle of January, the snow around the building averaged six feet deep, but snow does not spend much time at the summit; it swirls right off. The snow provided the only source of water. The first season's recording of temperatures saw 28 below zero and winds of nearly 90 miles an hour. They later recorded cold at 100 degrees below, but as their thermometer only went that low, they never noticed anything lower!
Sergeant John O'Keefe became famous while in command of the Pike's Peak signal station in the 1880s. A visit with the men was popular for the hundreds who hiked up during the summer. O'Keefe concocted many stories about the peak that he published all over the country. His best known was his rat story. It told of his fictional wife and child who lived at the summit. He wrote that the child was eaten on a cold winter night by the rats, and his wife abandoned him. For many years the fictional grave of "Erin O'Keefe" could be seen near the Summit House.
In the early days, the railroad put a big searchlight up there. Today one small light is aimed toward Colorado Springs on the Observation Deck. If you go to the summit, you can still see a portion of one wall of the old Army weather station. Maybe you can find one or more of the lights! Most people do not think to look over the doors.