Many of the world’s lighthouses were built because of nearby shipwrecks. A ship runs aground in the dark and, only later, authorities think of building a lighthouse to prevent it from happening again.
That’s the case at Makapuu, where it took two maritime mishaps to get a lighthouse built. One involved the S.N. Castle in 1888. After it grounded near Makapuu, a petition drive was launched to build a lighthouse.
The more significant accident occurred in 1906 when the liner S.S. Manchuria got stuck on the reef near Rabbit Island. Fortunately, none of her 1,000 passengers were hurt.
The ship carried 806 Chinese passengers who were returning to China after the April 18, 1906, San Francisco earthquake destroyed much of the city. It was a double-whammy for them. Bad luck, many of them felt.
The Manchuria ran aground at high tide during a rain storm at 4:10 a.m. Aug. 20, 1906. The 16,000-ton liner was 15 miles off course. It “gently buried its bow in the coral reef 1,500 feet off Waimanalo,” wrote Gwenfread Allen in the Honolulu Advertiser in 1956. The $2.5 million ship was one of the largest ships built in the U.S. at the time and was just 3 years old.
Some of its 12,000 tons of cargo, and coal was thrown overboard and, to this day, occasionally washes up on the beach. With the tide going out, the ship would not budge.
“By 9 a.m., ships began arriving around Koko Head, and stagecoaches, buggies, hacks, tallyhos and automobiles were streaming over the Nuuanu Pali Road.
Gov. George Carter arrived in his chauffeur-driven automobile, one of the finest in the islands. He had come to meet one of the passengers — the governor of the Philippines.
A small steamer came to transfer passengers through the reef to shore. Reports say it took several hours each time. From the beach, passengers were loaded onto rail flat cars for a short trip through sugar cane fields to the mill, where Waimanalo Sugar Co. manager George Chalmers waited with refreshments and Hawaiian entertainment.
Getting to Honolulu was another story. A road around Koko Head did not exist. Cars drove through Maunawili to the Pali Road, which was dotted with lights, the Advertiser wrote. A few autos refused to take the hills, requiring some passengers to get out and walk.
The Pacific Mail Steamship company provided $3.50 (about $100 in today’s dollars) a day for food and lodging at the Alexander Young or the Royal Hawaiian hotels downtown for first-class passengers.
One young man found he could spend 50 cents a day for a room and 75 cents for meals, and pocket the remaining $2.25. He said he had never made so much money in his life, and would stay forever, if he could.
It took a few days for their luggage to catch up with them, and when a ball was thrown for the passengers at the Alexander Young three days later, some had to attend wearing the clothes they had been rescued in.
Honolulu residents found the idea of a ship stuck on the Waimanalo reef to be fascinating and made pilgrimages to see it. It was front-page news for a month. Artists Howard Hitchcock and Kimo Wilder camped for a week on the shore to paint pictures of the ship.
Nearly a month later, the Manchuria was pulled from the reef. It took two more months to repair. By then, the passengers had found alternative travel arrangements.
Students of Blanche Pope Elementary School in Waimanalo might be interested to know that the school’s namesake was aboard the Manchuria.
Della Blanche Romick Pope had fallen in love with her husband, Willis Pope, while teaching in Hawaii. She was a Department of Education teacher and he was an administrator and later superintendent of public instruction.
They wed in her native Kansas on July 12, 1906, and returned to the Hawaiian Islands on the Manchuria. After the shipwreck, they bought a home in Waimanalo.
Blanche Pope helped found the McKinley High School PTA. and later the Hawaii State PTA.
Hawaii and Washington officials expedited building a lighthouse in the area, which they had thought about for two decades. Two sites were considered: Rabbit Island and Makapuu Point.
Makapuu would require a smaller lighthouse, since it was already elevated, but there were concerns that it might be obscured during inclement weather.
The giant 12-foot tall, 12-ton French Fresnel lens cost more than $15,000. The Makapuu lighthouse lens is the largest in the U.S. It was cast in 1887 and exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair before being shipped to Hawaii.
On Oct. 1, 1909, the Makapuu Lighthouse was illuminated for the first time. Light from it can be seen 20 miles away.
Over 300,000 people hike to see it each year and it’s been used by local TV productions “Hawaii Five-0” and “Magnum P.I.”
The name Makapuu comes from Hawaiian legend, which said that a female supernatural creature lived in the area soon after she arrived from Tahiti.
She had eight bright eyes, the legend says. Makapuu means “bulging eye.”
Bob Sigall, author of the “Companies We Keep” books, looks through his collection of old photos to tell stories of Hawaii people, places and companies. Email him at Sigall@yahoo.com.