2014 Copyright ASCE Hawaii Section

September 2003:  Bishop's Ring
By: C. S. Papacostas

As I was researching the life and times of Sereno Edward Bishop (1827-1909) whom I quoted last month in connection with the process of producing adobe bricks in 19th century Hawai`i, I kept finding references to the "Bishop's Ring."

My initial assumption was that the term referred to one of the symbolic regalia of authority worn by certain clerics.

It turns out, however, that "Bishop's Ring" is a meteorological term describing a large diffraction ring of light that appears around the sun following a volcanic eruption. This color effect is caused by the presence of fine ash particles that are ejected in the
atmosphere by the eruption.

It is called the "Bishop's Ring" because it was first described by none other than Sereno Edward Bishop who observed the phenomenon in Honolulu following the August 1883 eruption at Krakatoa, an island between Java and Sumatra.

According to a German web site (http://www.meteoros.de/bishop/bishope.htm), the first observation of the phenomenon was published in the Japan Gazette on August 30, 1883. But the following exact description, dated September 5, 1883, is attributed to Sereno: 

"Let me draw your special attention to the very strange corona or halo that extends about 20 to 30 degrees away from the sun. It could be seen here every day, and the whole day long. A whitish veil with a shade of pink and violet or purple shadow in front of the blue background. I don't know any other report on such a corona. It is a hardly remarkable object."

Sereno was the privileged son of Artemas and Elizabeth (Edwards) Bishop of the second missionary party that arrived in Hawai`i in 1823. The Centennial Edition (1821-1921) of the Amherst College Biographical Record lists him in the class of 1846.

​In addition to the milestones I mentioned last month, his career included editorship of the newspaper "The Friend" and an enormous volume of writings. According to his friend and "revolutionary" ally Lorrin A. Thurston,

"[H]e it was who, in an article contributed to a mainland magazine, coined the phrase descriptive of Hawaii, since universally used, 'The Cross Roads of the Pacific.'"

The following entries in his autobiography ("Reminiscenses of Old Hawaii") could possibly explain his and other missionary
descendants' perception of the kanaka maoli. First:

"We children were not permitted to learn any of the native tongue until later years. The reason for this was to prevent mental contamination."

And later on, "I have long regarded the most serious error of the missionary work as pursued in these islands as being the failure to begin by establishing, as fast as possible, training schools for the thorough civilizing and Christianizing of youth to become leaders of their people in all good things."

He ended up being one of the strongest supporters of annexation.

August 2003:  Adobe "Concretion"

By: C. S. Papacostas

In my September 2000 article in this series, I discussed the major construction materials that were in common use in Hawaii during the 19th century.

Among them was "adobe" or sun-dried brick that found extensive use throughout the country.

Sereno Edwards Bishop, born on the Big Island in 1827 to missionary parents, tells us how these bricks were manufactured, at least in the
'Ewa district on the island of O'ahu, where his family subsequently moved.

In his "Reminiscenses of Old Hawaii," published in 1916 by the Hawaiian Gazette Co., Ltd., he says:

"Adobes furnished an excellent material for cheap building. The rich soil was very clayey. A species of bunch grass called makuikui, thickly covered the lower uplands. This very tough fibre was gathered in great quantities and trodden by the natives into the wet clay.  This fibrous mortar after standing overnight, was retrodden and moulded into huge bricks to be dried in the sun. So tough was the resulting concretion, that it was nearly impossible to drive a nail into a well made adobe."

​Sereno had a multifaceted career that included advanced studies in America. In Lorrin A. Thurston's brief biography of Sereno,

"[O]wing to the then lack of advanced schools in Hawaii, the earlier mission children were all 'sent home' around Cape Horn, to be 'educated'."

According to Thurston's account, Sereno "[I]n 1865 ... became principal of the Lahainaluna industrial school, then the only one of high school grade available to Hawaiians ..."

He also worked for the Government Survey Department and also bought, subdivided and sold lots on Liliha Street.

In fact, "Kuakini street was opened and named by Mr. Bishop at this time; that being the name that he was known among the Hawaiians in his youth, it being derived from the Governor of Hawaii who lived at Kailua when Mr. Bishop was a boy there."

July 2003: Kalakaua's Study Abroad Program

By: C. S. Papacostas

Robert William Kalanihiapo Wilcox, whose statue adorns Honolulu's Fort Street Mall, is a well-known figure in the history of Hawaii.

Known for leading several insurrections, he also led the Home Rule Party and became the first elected Hawaii delegate to the U.S. Congress.

The 1893 Report of U. S. Commissioner James H. Blount to U.S. Secretary of State Walter Q. Gresham says that part-Hawaiian Wilcox "who led the Hawaiian revolt in 1889, which came so near being successful, is now for annexation. He was educated in Italy at a military school..."

The often-cited brief reference to his education had caught my attention some time ago, particularly because "military" engineering preceeded the modern profession of "civil" engineering.

According to the memoirs of courtier Curtis Pi'ehu Iaukea, King Kalakaua favored "a bill, considered extravagant by conservatives, to cover the cost of educating several Hawaiian youths abroad."

It turns out that Wilcox was one of the first three of 18 young Hawaiians (17 males and one female) that participated in a little known "Study Abroad Program" sponsored by King David Kalakaua between 1880 and 1887. Program participants were sent to Italy (5), Scotland (3), England (3), United States (4), Japan (2) and China (1). This was part of the King's "Hawaii for Hawaiians" initiative that was admired by his supporters and scorned by his enemies.

A 1988 article in the "Hawaiian Journal of History" by Agnes Quigg traces the progress of all 18 students and points out that upon the imposition of the "Bayonet Constitution" that curtailed Kalakaua's power in 1887, the so called "Reformed Cabinet" recalled most of the students home. Wilcox came back with his Italian wife, left for San Francisco where he practiced surveying for a year and then returned to resume his auspicious career.

Quigg explains that the 1890 Hawaii Legislature passed a new program that established geographic quotas by island and provided for candidate selection based on test scores (rather than by the King).

Among the professions eligible under the program were Surveying and Civil Engineering.

May 2003:  Fighting Men on A Flying Trapeze

By: C. S. Papacostas

About a week ago, I found a note in my mailbox asking:  "What was so special about the original Naval Radio Station antenna in Ha'iku Valley?"  Unfortunately, the signature on the note was not legible. Nevertheless, I'd like to thank the writer for the opportunity to expand a bit on last month's (April 2003) article.

By the way, most of the information included in that and this articles mainly came from two sources: The first is a book by David O. Woodbury entitled "Builders for Battle" that was published in 1946 by E. P. Dutton and Company. Inc. The second was a December 1997 report by Dot Barton of Edward K. Noda and Associates, Inc. entitled "Historic Preservation Survey and Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places of the U.S. Coast Guard Omega Station Located at Haiku, Kaneohe, O`ahu Island, Hawai`i."

Woodbury's book was a basic reference for the later report. But the latter also includes details that appear to have been unclassified since then and, as the title makes clear, it extends the time coverage to the later OMEGA Station in the valley.

This is how the Barton report introduces the original station that was needed to allow wireless communication with navy vessels all the way to Tokyo Bay: "The construction of the Naval Radio Station at Haiku Valley was one of the most complex and perplexing jobs of the Pacific offensive. The facility was classified top secret and there was no discussion with the Army or the operating committee of the Navy. There was no real model to follow for engineering construction, the terrain was extremely rugged and often dangerous to work in, and they were working under the pressures and trials of the war-racked island."

Woodbury describes the original conception of the idea as follows:  "The plan was proposed in the early spring of 1942, under the aegis of Commander Hord, Radio Materials Officer at CINCPAC. BuDocks ["Bureau of Yards and Docks"] immediately delegated a group of its civil engineers to the problem, including Lieutenant Commander R. M. Belt and lieutenants Butsine and Thatcher. As in the case of Red Hill, the Navy proposed to obtain the advice of every possible expert for this untried experiment. Engineers of the Radio Corporation of American were therefore engaged and the New York designing firm of Gibbs and Hill retained. When the idea of a superpower radio station with pan-Pacific range was presented to them, the engineers said they thought it might be built provided that the antenna could be raised high enough above the ground. The greater the power to be radiated by long wave, the higher and larger must be the antenna system and the network of ground wires under it. The Navy wanted to work with hundreds of kilowatts and hundreds of thousands of volts. When the radio engineers understood the full impact of the problem, they began to think it could not be solved. No steel tower that would stand up would be high enough. Those at Lualualei were over six hundred feet, mere flagpoles in this argument., The Eiffel Tower itself would not suffice, even if it were available. The aerials, said the engineers, must be some two thousand feet above the ground."

The solution to this problem was to find a topographic feature that would act like the "unbuildable" tall tower. Haiku Valley with its perfect horseshoe shape and sheer side-walls filled the prescription perfectly, except for the logistical nightmare of constructing in an all but inaccessible area. It is appropriate that Woodbury's title of the Chapter dealing with this phase was "Fighting Men on A Flying Trapeze." Among them were Bill Adams and Louis Otto, "Boulder Dam high-scalers" and Oahu's Red Hill tunnel construction veterans.

Included in the many firms and individuals that became involved in the project was "[a] party of surveyors under a local engineer named Towill [who] went in over this trail, to begin the work of locating the anchor stations, gathering the distance and altitude data needed to design the final radio spans."

I had not noticed before that Robert M. Belt and Roswel M. Towill, founders of two of Hawaii's major engineering firms, shared the same first and middle initials!

April 2003:  The Stairway to Heaven

By: C. S. Papacostas

My last three articles in this series shared a common theme, the early and heavy involvement of Hawai`i in the area of global wireless communications.

Many more developments in this area took place than those that I could cover in a few short articles. But, before moving on to presenting historical vignettes in other engineering subjects, I feel obligated to describe another major accomplishment connected to wireless communication in Hawai`i:  The prorotype top-secret antenna system for a Naval Radio Station in Ha`iku Valley on the windward side of O'ahu.

According to several reports, the construction of this difficult, cutting-edge, very low frequency system began in 1942 and the antenna was put in operation in December 1943 during World War II. A wooden stairway ascending to an elevation of 2,800 feet to the top of a Koolau Mountain ridge (Pu`u Keahiakahoe) was also constructed to access transmission facilities at the mountain's summit. The wooden Ha'iku Ladder (or Stairway to Heaven) was replaced in 1955 by a 3,922-step galvanized steel ladder and railings.

The original naval antenna was decommissioned two years later and the site was turned over to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1971 when design began for the eight-station global Omega Radionavigation System that had been approved in 1968.

The no longer needed Ha`iku (or Pali) Ladder was closed in 1977 due to safety concerns and, interestingly, in the late 1990s a Faraday Shield was installed over a section of the then being built nearby H-3 Interstate Highway to protect travelers from electric shocks caused by OMSTA. Possible Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) contamination resulting from defoliation activities in the valley is another possible negative environmental impact of the Omega Station.

Having outlived its economic justification, the Omega system was shut off on September 30, 1997. This was primarily due to the availability of the Global Positioning System (GPS) which, by the way, operates one of its five ground control facilities in Hawaii.

An ad in the July 21, 1998 issue of Commercial Business Daily by the U.S. Department of Transportation sought bidders to "[p]rovide materials, equipment, labor, and transportation required to provide security for Coast Guard property, the former OMEGA Station, Haiku Valley, Kaneohe, Hawaii. Work includes providing security seven days a week during the daylight hours at the entrance to the valley, making three daily drive-by rounds and one round of physical checks to all buildings (3 each)."

Since that time, the valley has come to the possession of the State Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the City and County of Honolulu has repaired the stairway with the help of several organizations including the Friends of Haiku Stairs.

As of March 2003, the ladder remains closed to the public, pending clearance of liability concerns.

History & Heritage 2003