PRATT, Clayton and Frank

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Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland


PRATT, Clayton A. (1857-1883) and Frank L. Pratt (1859-1883) were two brothers who drowned in a skiff accident while trying to leave Año Nuevo Island on April 8, 1883. Clayton died 2 days after his 26th birthday. Frank Pratt was 24 years old. The brothers are buried in Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland, Alameda County.

Also killed in the skiff accident were lighthouse keeper, Henry W. Colburn, and assistant keeper, Bernard A. Ashley.

Keeper Henry Colburn, his assistant Bernard A. Ashley, and two brothers from a nearby farm, Clayton and Frank Pratt, attempted to make the crossing in rough seas on April 8, 1883. Their boat was soon swamped and drifted out into the open sea where they all drowned after a breaker completely submerged them. Stranded on the island, the wives of the keepers started the fog signal and flew the station’s flag upside down at half-mast to attract the attention of passing vessels. Noticing the distress signals, the steamer Los Angeles dispatched a small vessel to the island and carried word regarding the tragedy to maritime officials. John Ryan, who was serving as first assistant keeper at Pigeon Point, was sent to the island to take charge of the station and assist the widows in leaving the island.


Poet, Kathleen McClung, wrote of the tragedy: Whistle Keepers, 1883



In the News~

April 10, 1883 [SDU]: “Terrible sight for wives. San Francisco, April 9th—The steamer Los Angeles arrived today with the intelligence of the loss of Henry W. Baum [Colburn] and Bernard A. Ashley, lighthouse keepers at Point New Year [Año Nuevo], in San Mateo County, yesterday afternoon. The two keepers left the lighthouse in a boat with two farmer friends to take them to the mainland. The boat was swamped in the breakers, and the four men were drowned. Both the keepers left their wives at the lighthouse, and they attracted the steamer's attention by blowing a fog horn and lowering the flag, Union down, at half mast. The names of the farmers with the keepers are unknown. A boat was sent ashore by the steamer, but nothing was discovered. The two women witnessed the catastrophe, and are nearly crazed with grief.”


April 19, 1883 [Marin Journal]: “Bolinas in mourning. Bolinas, April 10, 1883. Ed. Journal — The terrible accident at Point Año Nuevo Station, by which four men were drowned, will bring sadness to many hearts in this vicinity. Mr. Colburn and Mr. Ashley were well known in our county, particularly by Point Reyes people, as they were residents at Point Reyes Lighthouse for quite a length of time; and I know of no one among the many faithful ones who have been at this station for years past who were more respected than they were, and who when on duty kept a better lookout. Mr. Ashley was the son of the late Captain Ashley, who for may years was the superintending engineer at Fort Point. He was a brother of Mrs. Marcus M. Baldwin and of the wife of Assessor Holtz of San Francisco. He leaves several children. I am not aware that Mr. Colburn had any. The widows, children and sisters have the heartfelt sympathy of their numerous friends. May they all be finally welcomed at that heavenly station where there is no alarm signal, and where the light is never obscured.”


April 12, 1883 [Weekly Hawk-Eye and Telegraph from Burlington, Iowa]: “Four men drowned. San Francisco, April 10.—Henry Colburn and Bernary Ashley, keepers of the fog signal at Point New Year's, attempted to run ashore in a skiff, with two friends, named Clayton and Frank Pratt, yesterday, when their boat capsized and all were drowned. The wives of the keepers were eye-witnesses of the accident. They signalled a passenger steamer, which made search without result.”