Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tales of Lighthouse Animals

I thought readers might enjoy some excerpts from my 2007 book, "The Lightkeepers' Menagerie." Of all my books (and I think there are 22 of them now), I get the most mail and comments on this one. I think it must be because people love animals so much. The stories range from heartwarming to frightening to fun.

That's Lucy on the cover at Lime Kiln Lighthouse in Washington. She passed away a few years after the book was published---a fine, sweet lighthouse dog for sure!


My scanner is unavailable this morning, so I snapped a few images of pages in the book. Click on the images to make them larger so you can read the print and see the photos. Let me know your favorite tale!


First up, some dog tails...er...uh...tales.






Here's a page that's slithery and dangerous!





A few hee-haws.








A recipe for a cold and rainy day.




The book is 328 pages with a glossy color cover and inside photos and illustrations. It was published for me by Pineapple Press of Sarasota, Florida. It's truly a good read, if I do say so myself!

Purchase "The Lightkeepers' Menagerie" here.







Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Cape Cod Entrepreneur

Photo from New York Public Library



Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
                                                Chinese Proverb

            Lighthouse construction and technology in the early 19th century was a growing science.  Advancements in illumination and engineering were largely made in Europe by the French and English lighthouse authorities, but in America inventors were at work too.  One of them, Winslow Lewis, left his mark at lighthouse sites from Maine to Florida.  Though his career is checkered by accusations of poor workmanship and self-interest, his contributions to the Lighthouse Service are undeniable.
            Lewis was born to a seafaring family in 1770 in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.  He went to sea as a youth and worked his way up the ranks to become master and owner of his own vessel.  In 1797 at the age of 27, he became a member of the prestigious Boston Marine Society, eventually becoming president, and he operated a successful maritime business as a cargo shipmaster until 1807 when the Embargo shut down trade with Europe.  Lewis then turned his talents to other pursuits in order to support his family.  Perhaps his reliance on lighthouses during his years at sea led him to consider ways to improve them. 
In 1807 he began experiments in Boston with a new illuminating apparatus and installed a patented version of his Lewis Reflecting and Magnifying Lantern in the famous Boston Light in 1810.  His design combined the clean-burning, hollow wick Argand lamp with the parabolic reflector, which had been invented in France nearly three decades earlier.  Lewis added a plano-convex lens to magnify the light.  Had he been better grounded in physics he would have recognized the problems with the poorly ground, misaligned lens and perhaps been able to improve the apparatus, but he was too anxious to sell it to the Lighthouse Service to do further refinements.
            Though Lewis’ new lighting system had imperfections, it was superior to the old pan and spider lamps then in use in American lighthouses.  Through his friendship with Henry Dearborn, the Collector of Customs in Boston, Lewis arranged a trial for his new design at the twin light station on Thacher Island south of Boston.  His system was installed in one of the towers and was observed by Henry Dearborn, who reported Lewis’ beacon appeared “as a large brilliant star” while the other beacon shone only as “a small common star.”

The Lewis Light from the U.S. Coast Guard

            At the suggestion of Dearborn, Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, asked Congress to authorize the purchase of Lewis’ patent and contract with him for a period of seven years to illuminate and maintain all 49 U.S. lighthouses then in existence.  It was a windfall for Lewis.  He was well paid, his employment was secure, and he had the trust of government officials. Gallatin purchased a schooner, refit it for lighthouse work, and hired a small crew.  By 1812 when war broke out, Lewis had modified 40 lighthouses with his new system.  He continued the task, but in March 1813, as Lewis was en route to Charleston Lighthouse, a British frigate captured the schooner, and stripped and burned it.  Lewis was taken prisoner for a short time, then released.  He was not able to return to and complete his lighthouse work until 1815.
            In the meantime, he had established several businesses in Boston, including a ropewalk and a textile mill, and become involved in politics.  His political connections were far-reaching and allowed him, once again, to contract with the Lighthouse Service. In 1816 the Commissioner of Revenue, in whose hands lighthouses had been placed after the war, suggested that the usual competitive bidding for a contractor to supply oil and maintain lighthouse beacons be waived.  He felt Lewis had done such excellent work installing his systems that he should be given the contract outright.  Apparently, the Treasury Department concurred, and Lewis was allotted $1700 per year for a 7-year contract.
            It was not only a lucrative arrangement, but a powerful one as well.  Lewis made all decisions regarding the lights and in 1817 published the first light list in the U.S. called Description of the Lighthouses, which he sold at a profit. Additionally, Lewis was paid for 24,731 gallons of oil annually to be distributed among all U.S. lighthouses, but if they used less he was free to take the surfeit for private use in his own businesses.
            In 1819, Rhode Island scientist, David Melville, attempted to introduce illuminating gas to the Lighthouse Service and received permission to test it at Beavertail Light at the entrance to the Narragansett Bay.  The test was a success, but when Melville asked for a contract with the government, he was denied. He claimed Lewis, in conspiracy with the whaling industry, had used his political connections to influence the decision. Though Lewis had helped finance Melville’s experiments with gas lighting of factories in 1813, he objected to Melville’s encroachment on his contract.  Nothing came of Melville’s accusation or his experimental light, and whale oil continued to be the fuel of choice.
            When Fifth Auditor of the Treasury, Stephen Pleasanton, took over administration of lighthouses in 1820, Lewis was at his side to provide guidance and support.  His contract was renewed in 1822, and though his allotment for oil was reduced, his pay was increased. By this time Lewis also had become a lighthouse builder.  His first tower was completed at Franks Island near the mouth of the Mississippi River in 1822, and he was soon outbidding everyone for building contracts.
Lewis devised customized plans for five different sizes of lighthouses, all conical shaped, of masonry construction, and ranging in height from 25 to 65 feet.  By the end of his career, he had built 80 lighthouses, refitted 90, and planned countless others.  His work is evident in the existing towers at Cove Point, Turkey Point, Piney Point, and Concord Point in the Chesapeake Bay and Robbins Reef in New York Harbor.

Florida's Amelia Island Lighthouse was one of many designed and built by Winslow Lewis. He was asked to rebuild it, however, when his workmanship was found faulty. The rebuild was a good one; the lighthouse still stands today.

Lewis was not without detractors.  E. & G.W. Blunt, who published books for navigators, repeatedly condemned Lewis’ illuminating systems as far inferior to those of Europe and accused him of shoddy workmanship in the construction of lighthouses.  They also hinted at scandalous friendships with certain men in government.  Surprisingly, Lewis’ biggest critic was his nephew, I.W. P. Lewis, a civil engineer from Boston.  The younger Lewis was hired to oversee lighthouse construction sites in the South and quickly discovered problems with many of the projects his uncle had done.
When expenditures for lighthouses rose sharply in 1837, an inspection of the nation’s lighthouses was ordered to determine the need for improvements.  Several Navy officers undertook the task and submitted negative appraisals of the existing system.  In 1842, I.W.P. Lewis was hired to make a survey of New England lighthouses to assess their needs.  His 302-page report was damning, especially for Winslow Lewis.  It revealed shoddy construction, stations in disrepair, inferior illumination systems, questionable management, and an unhappy corps of lightkeepers.  Worse, I.W.P. Lewis claimed his uncle’s patented lighting system had been copied from an English design.
The system desperately needed overhauling.  As the 1840s came to a close, Winslow Lewis found himself in disfavor, especially after a new Fresnel lens from France was tested at Navesink Twin Lights in New Jersey and found to be far superior to Lewis’ apparatus.  He furiously defended his work and denied accusations of abuse of his personal friendships with government officials, but change was on the horizon.  Nearing age eighty, Lewis faded into the background.  He died in 1850 just as plans were being laid to create a stronger and better-organized lighthouse administration. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Point Vicente Lighthouse




Point Vicente Lighthouse, eight miles north of Los Angeles Harbor, marks the prominent Palos Verdes Peninsula, a turning point for ships heading for San Pedro Channel and Long Beach. It's breezy and sunny there most days, and dry. The site on which the lighthouse is perched rises up from the sea in myriad colors--ocher, rust, saffron, and cream, punctuated by mounds of green scrub clinging to the precipitous cliff.

Merchants and sailors began lobbying for a lighthouse here in the late nineteenth century. Funding was a problem due to the bad state of the economy and laxity about spending on West Coast projects. The Klondike Gold Rush hanged all of that, as ships rushed rushed around Cape Horn to the Pacific and north to Alaska. 

Requests were made again for a lighthouse at Point Vicente. It took the opening of the Panama Canal to really convince Congress to mark the busy point north of Los Angeles. Plans for the lighthouse finally were approved in 1916. But then, a war-stressed economy put off the work for almost a decade.



The fog signal—a 10 inch chime whistle that gave two blasts a minute—went into operation first in June 1925. The Mission Revival-style, 67 foot, cylindrical concrete lighthouse first flashed its warnings seaward on April 14, 1926. At this time, the U.S. Lighthouse Board noted that 27-million tons of cargo annually passed the point, underscoring the lighthouse’s importance for navigation and justifying its $100,000 price tag.



The third order, revolving clamshell lens had been purchased from France in 1886 and used in an Alaskan lighthouse prior to its installation at Point Vicente. The focal plane of the beacon was 185 feet above the sea.  By now, electricity powered many lighthouses, and Point Vicente was equipped with an electric plant to run the beacon and fog signal. A 1000 watt lightbulb was intensified by the lens to produce a flashing light visible some 20 miles at sea. Electricity was not wired into the dwellings, however, so keepers still cooked on coal stoves and used kerosene lamps for light.







The entire station was electrified by World War II, but blackout curtains were hung in the lantern to prevent the light from aiding enemy ships. After the war the landward panes of lantern glass were painted white to prevent the light from disturbing the many homes that had been built on the peninsula.

The lighthouse was automated in 1971. The classical lens still flashes a warning to shipping, and the site is a popular tourist stop for whale watching. The grounds are open during daylight hours. A local Coast Guard Auxiliary offers tours of the station and has set up an exhibit in one of the buildings. Views of the lighthouse are also spectacular from the nearby Point Vicente Interpretive Center, which showcases the human and natural history of the peninsula.



One of the most fascinating stories I've discovered about Point Vicente Lighthouse came from the late author, Jim Gibbs of Yachats, Oregon. Jim was a great chronicler of West Coast lighthouses, with about a half dozen books on the topic to his credit. He knew about lighthouse and lightkeeping first-hand, having served a stint at Tillamook Rock Lighthouse in Oregon in the 1950s.

Jim related a story about a ghost at Point Vicente that appeared nightly, especially when the air was clear--no fog or ocean mists. The ghost made her debut the first night the lighthouse flashed on in April 1926. Lightkeepers returning to their bungalows after "lighting up" the tower noticed the image of a shapely woman dancing along the perimeter of the site, her skirt flaring as she passed each tree or building. She also appeared in the lantern itself, dancing over the blank white panels placed behind the lens to prevent the light from disturbing neighbors at night.

There was plenty of fodder to explain her appearance. The best-known (and most winsome) explanation involved a Victorian era woman, unrequited in love and dressed only in her white, flowing nightgown, who had thrown herself over the cliff at the point before the lighthouse was built. She drowned after crashing onto the rocks below the cliff.



Since suicide in the prevalent Catholic faith of the area places one in purgatory, awaiting God's forgiveness, it was decided the woman spent her nights in limbo, roaming the point penitently. The story persisted for years until a lampist visiting Point Vicente gave a more reasonable explanation.

Author Collection


It seems the great, third-order clamshell lens created a playful phenomenon on the grounds and in the lantern each night---an hourglass-shaped, faint reflection of light that moved along as the lens revolved. Each time light encountered the intersection of the diagonal astragals of the lantern windows, the phantom appeared to make a little hop. Thus, the womanly, dancing specter was explained.

My last visit to Point Vicente Lighthouse was fascinating. The Castroban family of Coast Guard auxiliarists gave a tour. My group saw the detailed exhibit inside the fog signal building and climbed the lighthouse. I took some amazing pictures, but I did not stay until night came on. Thus, I cannot vouch for or against the Lady of the Light, as the Point Vicente ghost has come to be known.


All b&w images, except where otherwise noted, are courtesy of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.


Monday, March 5, 2018

A Vanished Lighthouse on the Delaware River

Old Fort Mifflin on the Delaware River, Pennsylvania (Wikimedia Commons image)



Fort Mifflin Blockhouse Light

I should on this occasion vow to build a chapel to some saint, but as I am not…it should be to build a light-house.
Benjamin Franklin
Letter to his wife July 17, 1757 after almost being shipwrecked

Blueprint for the Fort Mifflin Blockhouse Light (Coast Guard Historian's Office)

The pacifist founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, refused to build any fortifications to protect the colony when it was established in 1681. But nearly a century later, after the American Colonies grew up and desired to sever the frail umbilicus with their motherland, the burgeoning port of Philadelphia felt it needed a defensive outpost, due partly to its vulnerability in the Delaware River Estuary but mostly because of rising tensions with England.
Benjamin Franklin and John Penn, grandson of William Penn and governor of Philadelphia, ordered a fort built in 1771-1776 on Mud Island near the western shore of the Delaware River where it encounters the mouth of the Schuylkill River. Fort Mercer was built opposite Mud Island on the New Jersey shore of the Delaware River. Philadelphia was, at this time, the largest British port in America and a wealthy one too. But claims to the rich city would soon change.
After the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Revolutionary War began, large spiked boxes called chevaux de frise were lowered to the riverbed between the two forts to prevent British ships from approaching Philadelphia. Guns at both Mud Island and Fort Mercer were trained on the river. Despite this effort, Philadelphia fell to the British after the Battle of Brandywine, and enemy forces assailed the fort on Mud Island from the north. It was heavily bombarded for six weeks. The 400 soldiers garrisoned there fought valiantly but were overwhelmed and captured by the British in November 1777.
After the war, in the late 1790s, the fort was reconstructed. At this time it was named Fort Mifflin to honor Thomas Mifflin, a Philadelphia merchant, politician, and Revolutionary War general. In 1848, the U.S. Lighthouse Service decided to build a lighthouse near the fort to aid the increasing ship traffic making a final approach to Philadelphia via the gradually narrowing Delaware River.
The firm of Samuel and Nathan Middleton was paid $4,868 to construct a six-room, two-story frame dwelling with a lantern rising from its roof. An alcove on the front of the dwelling facing the river held a fogbell. The lighthouse was situated on a dirt-filled, wooden pier that extended about 1,900-feet over a shoal in the river northeast of the fort. A white picket fence gave the station a homey appearance. It was accessed by boat either from the fort, a half-mile away, or from Girard Point about two miles to the north near the entrance to the Schuylkill River.
Perhaps in keeping with its martial role as a neighbor of the fort, it was named Fort Mifflin Blockhouse Light. It also was called the Fort Pier Light. (Authors of Guiding Lights of the Delaware River & Bay, Kim Ruth and the late Jim Gowdy, note that there are no known photographs of the Fort Pier Light. The image at the beginning of this profile, from the National Archives, shows what it looked like in a drawing.)
This light station began service with a sixth-order lens and later, in 1875 when the Old Reedy Island Lighthouse was decommissioned at Taylor’s Bridge, Delaware, Fort Mifflin Blockhouse Light was given the Reedy Island fourth-order lens. The beacon was exhibited from the lantern on top of the dwelling at a height of 45-feet above the river. The fogbell gonged eight times every two minutes and then was silent for 42-seconds before its cycle was repeated.
The lighthouse had only three keepers. William Edwards illuminated the light for the first time on December 22, 1848 and was granted a salary of $350 annually, but he remained at the station only until July. George Robinson, who replaced Edwards, was paid $400 a year. Possibly, this was a difficult assignment, for Robinson remained only until September 1853. Benjamin R. Handy, the station’s last keeper, must have found the place and the wage agreeable. He served until the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1881 and earned $550 that final year.
The lighthouse was in use for only thirty-two years. It was a troublesome site requiring many repairs, most due to erosion and ice floes that battered it every spring when the frozen river broke up and chunks of ice drifted south. The pier was damaged repeatedly by ice, water, and collisions from ships that wandered off course in the fog. Fenders and stone riprap failed to secure it. Rotted timbers frequently had to be replaced.
The light was discontinued in October 1881 after another set of range lights, called Fort Mifflin Bar Cut Range, were built in December 1880 on the New Jersey side of the river south of Billingsport to guide vessels between Ship John Shoal and League Island. Also providing coverage for this part of the river were the Horseshoe Shoal Range Lights that went into service just as the Fort Mifflin Blockhouse Light was discontinued. (See next profile.)
The fogbell from the old lighthouse and its striking apparatus were removed and taken to Fort Mifflin itself to serve as the Fort Mifflin Fog Signal. The lighthouse was then sold at auction into private hands in November 1881. It was dismantled and moved away, its whereabouts unknown. A daybeacon was placed on the old pier—a placard with markings to identify the spot in daylight hours. In 1907, the Annual Report of the U.S. Lighthouse Board said of the abandoned pier: “It is now a menace to navigation at night and in heavy weather, and its removal is necessary.” It was taken apart. Nothing remains on site today of either the pier or its lighthouse.

The pacifist founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, refused to build any fortifications to protect the colony when it was established in 1681. But nearly a century later, after the American Colonies grew up and desired to sever the frail umbilicus with their motherland, the burgeoning port of Philadelphia felt it needed a defensive outpost, due partly to its vulnerability in the Delaware River Estuary but mostly because of rising tensions with England.
Benjamin Franklin and John Penn, grandson of William Penn and governor of Philadelphia, ordered a fort built in 1771-1776 on Mud Island near the western shore of the Delaware River where it encounters the mouth of the Schuylkill River. Fort Mercer was built opposite Mud Island on the New Jersey shore of the Delaware River. Philadelphia was, at this time, the largest British port in America and a wealthy one too. But claims to the rich city would soon change.
After the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Revolutionary War began, large spiked boxes called chevaux de frise were lowered to the riverbed between the two forts to prevent British ships from approaching Philadelphia. Guns at both Mud Island and Fort Mercer were trained on the river. Despite this effort, Philadelphia fell to the British after the Battle of Brandywine, and enemy forces assailed the fort on Mud Island from the north. It was heavily bombarded for six weeks. The 400 soldiers garrisoned there fought valiantly but were overwhelmed and captured by the British in November 1777.
After the war, in the late 1790s, the fort was reconstructed. At this time it was named Fort Mifflin to honor Thomas Mifflin, a Philadelphia merchant, politician, and Revolutionary War general. In 1848, the U.S. Lighthouse Service decided to build a lighthouse near the fort to aid the increasing ship traffic making a final approach to Philadelphia via the gradually narrowing Delaware River.
The firm of Samuel and Nathan Middleton was paid $4,868 to construct a six-room, two-story frame dwelling with a lantern rising from its roof. An alcove on the front of the dwelling facing the river held a fogbell. The lighthouse was situated on a dirt-filled, wooden pier that extended about 1,900-feet over a shoal in the river northeast of the fort. A white picket fence gave the station a homey appearance. It was accessed by boat either from the fort, a half-mile away, or from Girard Point about two miles to the north near the entrance to the Schuylkill River.
Perhaps in keeping with its martial role as a neighbor of the fort, it was named Fort Mifflin Blockhouse Light. It also was called the Fort Pier Light. (Authors of Guiding Lights of the Delaware River & Bay, Kim Ruth and the late Jim Gowdy, note that there are no known photographs of the Fort Pier Light. The image at the beginning of this profile, from the National Archives, shows what it looked like in a drawing.)
This light station began service with a sixth-order lens and later, in 1875 when the Old Reedy Island Lighthouse was decommissioned at Taylor’s Bridge, Delaware, Fort Mifflin Blockhouse Light was given the Reedy Island fourth-order lens. The beacon was exhibited from the lantern on top of the dwelling at a height of 45-feet above the river. The fogbell gonged eight times every two minutes and then was silent for 42-seconds before its cycle was repeated.
The lighthouse had only three keepers. William Edwards illuminated the light for the first time on December 22, 1848 and was granted a salary of $350 annually, but he remained at the station only until July. George Robinson, who replaced Edwards, was paid $400 a year. Possibly, this was a difficult assignment, for Robinson remained only until September 1853. Benjamin R. Handy, the station’s last keeper, must have found the place and the wage agreeable. He served until the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1881 and earned $550 that final year.
The lighthouse was in use for only thirty-two years. It was a troublesome site requiring many repairs, most due to erosion and ice floes that battered it every spring when the frozen river broke up and chunks of ice drifted south. The pier was damaged repeatedly by ice, water, and collisions from ships that wandered off course in the fog. Fenders and stone riprap failed to secure it. Rotted timbers frequently had to be replaced.
The light was discontinued in October 1881 after another set of range lights, called Fort Mifflin Bar Cut Range, were built in December 1880 on the New Jersey side of the river south of Billingsport to guide vessels between Ship John Shoal and League Island. Also providing coverage for this part of the river were the Horseshoe Shoal Range Lights that went into service just as the Fort Mifflin Blockhouse Light was discontinued. (See next profile.)
The fogbell from the old lighthouse and its striking apparatus were removed and taken to Fort Mifflin itself to serve as the Fort Mifflin Fog Signal. The lighthouse was then sold at auction into private hands in November 1881. It was dismantled and moved away, its whereabouts unknown. A daybeacon was placed on the old pier—a placard with markings to identify the spot in daylight hours. In 1907, the Annual Report of the U.S. Lighthouse Board said of the abandoned pier: “It is now a menace to navigation at night and in heavy weather, and its removal is necessary.” It was taken apart. Nothing remains on site today of either the pier or its lighthouse.

Excerpted from my  Lighthouses of Pennsylvania
Available on Amazon as an eBook

Monday, February 19, 2018

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Remembering Historian and Lighthouse Author, Jim Gibbs

Jim Gibbs books were and continue to be a mainstay in my lighthouse library--a personal collection of mine that boasts about 200 books. About six of those times were authored by Jim.

I turned to Jim's work early on in my career for information on West Coast lighthouses. I also loved his memories of lighthouse keeping in the 1950s at Tillamook Rock Lighthouse off the Oregon coast. 

I began visiting Jim regularly after moving to Washington in 2002. In all, I probably visited his home in Yachats, Oregon about a half-dozen times. He met my husband and my daughter on separate visits, and I met his daughter, Debbie. I also paid my respects to his late wife, Cherie, whose ashes were in a small flowerbed in Jim's yard. I feel fortunate to have spent time with Jim. He shared so much with me, including several boxes of his lighthouse research.

Jim passed away quietly on April 10, 2010 at the age of 88 in his home, Cleft of the Rock Lighthouse. He wrote more than a dozen books about lighthouses and maritime history of the West Coast. For many years, he was editor of Marine Digest, based in Seattle. He was among five men who founded the Puget Sound Maritime Society. His old vacation cottage in Hansville, Washington, was the Skunk Bay Lighthouse. Both Skunk Bay Lighthouse and Cleft of the Rock Lighthouse were amalgamated sentinels Jim had built using parts and pieces of other lighthouses that had been decommissioned.

Below is an article I wrote for Lighthouse Digest in 2006 about one of my visits with Jim. The photos were taken by my daughter, Jessica. Click on the images to enlarge them for easier reading.



Friday, January 19, 2018

The Lighthouse that Started it All


It was January 1973, and I had been married only a few weeks. My new husband, who I had met fifteen months earlier on a blind date when I was at college, was stationed at the Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine. We lived in a small apartment in a large, rambling house in the town of Bath. Our place was on the bottom floor. It was so cold that I wore two pairs of socks inside my slippers and spent much of the day on the sofa swathed in a blanket. We dared not turn up the heat, as paychecks were slim and stretched to their limit.

The weather that January seemed unbelievably cold for a girl from Maryland. Snow was heaped into huge pyramids in parking lots. None of the streets in town were clear. Rooftops were festooned with snow, with long icicles dripping from their eaves. Thankfully, I had a maxi coat that wrapped me in warmth from my shoulders to my ankles and a pair of warm knee-hi boots. My mom had insured that I would stay warm with gloves and a crocheted hat with a pompom.

For entertainment, Jon and I would drive our '67 Volkswagen to the coast to look at the ocean. Sometimes we took sandwiches and listened to the radio. The winter sea was awe-inspiring!

On a trip to Reid State Park in early February, we were amazed to see big waves pummeling the shoreline. I got out of the VW, buttoned up my coat, and climbed onto the rocks for a better view. Suddenly, the waves seemed unimportant. Beyond them was an island with a white spike on it, a white spike with a light on top. After a few seconds I realized it was a lighthouse. 



I was mesmerized: Someone lives out there, I thought. The lightkeeper. His job is to take care of the place. Is he alone, or is there a wife and family? Maybe a dog or a cat? How does he get back and forth to shore? This was not like the Little Red Lighthouse in a children's book my mom had read to me when I was small.

I must have stared at the island and its sentinel a long time, long enough to fall into a reverie of sorts. Hypnotized by the light. I awoke hearing Jon yelling to me: "Watch out!" 

Just then, a cold, slate-gray wave arched over me and threw itself on my back as I ran from it. I was wet and cold and shivering when Jon scooped me up and ran with me to the car. Nobly, he removed my coat and gave me his.

"That's a lighthouse on that island!" I protested, as he tucked me in the car and turned on the heat. "A lighthouse—very cool!"

Seguin Island Lighthouse in the Gulf of Maine at the mouth of the Kennebec River, was established in 1795 and is the second oldest lighthouse in the Pine Tree State. Its first-order Fresnel lens shines from 180 feet above sea. The brick building in the foreground was the fog signal house. The small building to the left of the tower was the oil house.In the distance is the shoreline where I first stood to look at the lighthouse that would inspire my career.

I was hooked. That week, Jon stopped by the base library and picked up some books for me. One of them was Edward Rowe Snow's Lighthouses of New England.  On the cover was Minots Light being pounded by a big wave, I devoured the book. The second time through, I took notes. Weeks later they went into a scrapbook. (Today, my notes occupy several file cabinets and dozens of CDs and DVDs.)

Sequin Island from the air, as seen on YouTube.

Snow's stories about Seguin Island Lighthouse were amazing, especially the one about the ghost of the lighthouse, a nineteenth century keeper's wife who went mad from the isolation of the place and played her piano so incessantly her husband murdered her with an ax. On misty evenings, a tinkle of phantom piano keys supposedly wafts over the waters of the Kennebec Estuary—the poltergeist of Seguin Island Lighthouse. True tale? Probably not, but it got my attention and has fascinated my readers and listeners for decades.

Using my notes and a paper map of the Maine coast, we began lighthouse hunting in earnest in the spring of 1973. Pemaquid Point, Portland Head, Cape Elizabeth, Hendricks Head, Cuckolds, Tenants Harbor, the Nubble. None of the lighthouses were open to the public. This was before lighthouses became popular tourist sites. There were no printed directions, so finding the lights was often a challenge.

By the end of our first year of marriage another lighthouse hunter had joined us, baby Jessica. Little did we know she'd grow up loving lighthouses like her mom. Today, she's a docent at a lighthouse and has designed and fabricated an exhibit about them. Our son, Scott, loves lighthouses too and always brings home pictures for me when he travels near one. I'm grateful, as well, that my granddaughters—his daughters—are interested. They have a stash of kids' books about lighthouses, do lighthouse jigsaw puzzles, paint lighthouses on everything, and they absolutely loved this past year's lighthouse Christmas tree I put up in our sitting room. Lighthouse appreciation and preservation DNA has been passed on!

The tower's opulent Fresnel lens and auxiliary light. Photo from the Friends of Seguin Island Lighthouse Blog.

It's been 45 years since that first glimpse of Seguin Island Lighthouse in 1973. Whenever anyone asks why I love lighthouses, I point to my husband. After all, he took me to the Maine coast and brought me that first lighthouse book. I was ripe for a hobby...a hobby that evolved into a career. He never imagined what an obsession it would be and how it would shape our lives and influence our children and grandchildren. And, he has rescued me from more than one wave since 1973!

Can you believe I have yet to get out to Seguin Island to visit the site and climb the light tower that first inspired me? That will change soon! I've made a pact with myself that I will visit lighthouses that have special meaning for me or that I've written about for magazines and newspapers. 

And, I'm on the hunt for one of these. Come on eBay!!!

Harbour Lights

It ought to be in my collection, don't you think?