Monday, January 6, 2020

Culebrita Lighthouse, Puerto Rico

Culebrita Lighthouse sits on a lonely island off the eastern end of Puerto Rico. It took over four years to construct under Spanish oversight. It first shone for mariners in February 1886.

A gentleman in Puerto Rico sent me this difficult but heartwarming story of the construction of Culebrita Lighthouse. It conveys how isolated the place is and how hard the lighthouse was to build. (I regret his name has been lost. The story was passed from person to person years ago and finally to me in the late 1990s.)

In its day, the lighthouse was beautiful and well-kept. That would change after automation. (Photo from the U.S. Coast Guard Historian's files.)


At the time that some industrialists from the Capital were negotiating the purchase or lease of the island of Culebra, which at the time did not even had an official name, the Spanish Crown was in the process of approving the construction of a brick and stone lighthouse on top of a mountain in the small island east of the island of Culebra that, would serve as navigational aid to the boats and vessels in the area, and at the same time, serve as an observation post to all navigable waters between this island and the Danish island of St. Thomas.
     By some documents that we have read and by the accounts of some of the people that in their youth worked in the construction of the lighthouse, we know that the lighthouse went into service 1874. Of the numerous incidents, many dramatic and others picturesque, that happened during the course of the project we shall mention a few of them. After the construction of a wooden dock in the south shore of island, the workers started right away to build a long and twisted trail up the steep hill with picks and shovels, in order to get to the top of the mountain where the lighthouse was to be built. All the materials as well as all the machinery had to be transported through the steep and rustic trail in hand borrows and in the shoulders of the workers, since it was not possible the use of carts in such a steep and pronounce slope. Soon after the transportation of materials had started, half of the working force had left.

     There were not many of the workers that had been brought up from Vieques and the Capital, that did no have their shoulders peeled, theirs hands bruised, and many sores in their bodies caused by the many stings from the mosquitoes, that constantly attacked them day and night Alarmed by the situation, the engineer in charge of the project urgently requested from his superiors in the Capital, the shipment of mules and horses for transporting the material from the dock to the work site. The following week arrived from San Juan a galleon with five beautiful donkeys, male and females, with their corresponding food and outfits. Because the donkeys were of different sex, some imported from Spain, others raised in the Province, it was rare not see he baskets full of material on the ground, material rolling down the hill, and wholesale kicking and biting. Occasionally a peculiar situation used to come up, for a female donkey to work without resistance, it had to be paired with a male donkey at the beginning of the working day.
     One rainy day, halfway the steep hillside a fiery scuffle began between two male donkeys imported from Spain and soon one them would careen of the cliff with the baskets full of bricks. It is sad to say that the accident was a total loss for the project. Because the terrain so rugged, nothing could save. At the start of the construction of the lighthouse tower the workers started to protest, threatening to walk out of the job if they were provided with shoes to protect themselves from the irritating effects of the hydraulic lime that in great quantities they had to used to plaster the bricks. The engineer in charge of the job, no sooner would he calmed exalted spirits of the protestant workers by promising a shipment of shoes suitable for the kind of work. A few days later, a shipment arrived in the same galleon that months before had brought the donkeys, and among other cargo, there were some wooden boxes containing the shoes.
     Soon the happy and jubilant workers were mum in silence when they saw that instead of shoes they received sandals.
     These were simple slippers made of white canvas with fiber soles; the cheapest shoeing made in Spain. If in those times, it was said to a person of certain social status that he could not have being very high class for having used sandals in his youth, that person would have been profoundly insulted and humiliated. This kind of shoeing was very popular in Spain and in the colonies of the new world.
     In the end, among insults and laughter, and notwithstanding the improprieties made by the old engineer to his superiors in the Capital, because of those ridicule savings, all the workers willingly put on the cheap and plebeian sandals.
     The cook of the project, known as el Gallego (from Galicia), used to buy fresh fish from the Danish fishing boats that frequently came to the island. Besides the fresh fish, the Danish would sell to the cook a variety of other European products imported through the neighboring island of St. Thomas, that as we have said, had been a free port for many years.
     On a certain morning of a regular working day, all the workers on the project including the cook, had not shown to work because they were feeling sick. Fearing that it could be poisoning in mass because of food poison or contaminated water, the engineer was hastily investigating the source of such an alarming situation.
     Shortly thereafter he discovered, that truly, these men were sick to work at daybreak, not because of what he had suspected, but because of a drunken feast the night before. During the night they had drunk a two- and one-half gallon
jug of Jamaican rum that they had bought the day before from one of the Danish boats.
     Another one of this picturesque story or anecdote, told by some of the people that worked in the lighthouse, originated when the galleon that was engaged for the transportation of materials, water and food supplies from the Capital, was forced to stay in port for many days because of bad weather.
     In the meantime, the food supply in the island was dwindling considerably. When one morning the cook announced that the only food left in the locker was a half bag of chickpeas and two gallons of olive oil, the alarmed man went running to the engineer’s tent to tell him the seriousness of the situation. With much aplomb, the old colonel assured the men that nobody would of hunger, because they still had the four donkeys that months before they received from the Capital. My God! Eat donkey meat! Everybody exclaimed in unison. When the group became more excited, the engineer trimming his bulky mustache, stepped forward and in a very grave tone, would exhorted the men to pray to God, that the day would not come that they would have to eat even the skin of four donkeys.
     After hearing the admonition from the engineer, all would become mum in silence, some would cross themselves, they would mumble a prayer.
     The next morning when the cook was making preparations to sacrifice the youngest and fattest of the donkeys, one of the masons working on a platform scream with all the force in his lungs that the expected galleon was remounting Soldier Point at that moment. It was such a happy moment among the workers to see the ship, that all emotional and jubilant embrace each other.
     All the workers were there together, except the cook that when he saw the ship went in haste to the animal pen to caress and to apologize to the donkey he had decided to sacrifice that morning. Thank God! would later say the cook for not having to killed the poor animal to feed a bunch of lambs more stupid than the poor donkeys. At last, and after many disappointments the project had been finished by the end of 1874. (Editor: actually 1886) The majestic red building, with an imposing tower in the center, a cistern to collect rainwater from the roof, and two convenient apartments for two light keepers with their families, became enclaved [sic] at the top of the mountain for centuries to come.
     In times of Spain, the lighthouse keepers were required to lookout with a high-power telescope, the surroundings around a rocky promontory known as El Bergantín. Many years before the lighthouse had been built, English warships started to use the rocky cliff for naval target practice. When Spain and Denmark protested such action before he International Tribunal at Le Hague, Britain immediately suspended the shelling practice.

(Note: I included my version this story in Lightkeepers Menagerie: Stories of Animals at Lighthouses. Find it on Amazon.)


This is Culebrita Lighthouse in 1951, when it still had resident lightkeepers. (Photo from the U.S. Coast Guard Historian's files.)

Today, Culebrita Lighthouse is a shambles and is in danger of being lost forever. Hurricanes have punished it year after year, especially hurricanes Hugo and Marilyn.  Windows, doors, floors, and the cupola have been torn away by storms. With no one on site to care for it, slowly it deteriorates. It has not been in service since 1975. Efforts to restore and care for it have failed. This lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places. It would be such a shame to lose it entirely.




Color photos are from Wikimedia Commons, Lighthouse Friends, and The Lighthouse People.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Cape Mudge Lighthouse

A few years before author Jim Gibbs passed, he gifted me his lighthouse research. Jim had authored a number of books on the lighthouses of the Pacific Coast. He had planned to publish a book on the lighthouses of British Columbia and was well into writing it when Donald Graham published his two books on the lighthouses of British Columbia. Jim abandoned the BC lighthouse book and moved on to other projects. Being one of the kindest men and authors I had ever met, Jim did not want to steal or lessen Graham's accomplishment as a lighthouse keeper turned author.

Me with Jim Gibbs at his home in Yachats, Oregon. This was about 2008. His dachshund was named Tinker. Jim had taken me to his back yard to show me where his wife's ashes were spread. Behind us you can see Jim's Cleft of the Rock Lighthouse. (Photo by Jessica DeWire)


I am lucky to have Jim's draft notebook for his planned BC lighthouse book, wherein he hand-wrote profiles of BC lighthouses. Below, I'm sharing Jim's profile of Cape Mudge Lighthouse on Quadra Island. Note how neat his handwriting was on these pages and how few cross-outs and changes he had made at this point. He could, without much effort, produce nearly final-copy quality in his writing on first draft. I envy him for that! Jim never used a computer. His books were handwritten and then submitted in typed format, using an electric typewriter, and mailed or delivered in person to his publisher. Were he writing today, it would need to be a digital file. (So much has changed in recent years. Can you believe I rarely meet my editors and publishers! We communicate by email ans DropBox.)

Enjoy these pages from Jim's hand. (Use the horizontal and vertical slide bars to see the entire page.) I have added some captioned images from my trip to Cape Mudge Lighthouse about a decade ago.












Relief lightkeeper Milt McGee who lived on station while another keeper took leave. Below he is with me at the light station.



Milt McGee doing "the weathers" at the lighthouse. Weather was reported in to Victoria every four hours. Most of the equipment was inside this box.

The electric foghorns at Cape Mudge in the early 2000s.

One of the lighthouse's decommissioned optics was on display inside the base of the lighthouse. I photographed it through a window. It was a Crouse Hinds beacon.
This map shows the location of Cape Mudge Lighthouse on Quadra Island in the Georgia Strait.

Monday, November 18, 2019

A Dozen Good Lighthouse Books I Recommend

Every so often, I re-organize my lighthouse books--or maybe, and I confess this freely--I just want to handle them. I love books, especially lighthouse books (and my own published books). Here are a few nonfiction lighthouse books I recommend. I will make a list of fiction titles in another blog entry later. With Christmas coming, you may want to gift some books to family and friends. Consider these dozen "Elinor Vetted." You can click below these to get to their Amazon pages for purchase.

This is a Caldecott Medal winner, a very straight-forward books for kids that tells about the life of a lightkeeper.

Find it on Amazon here.



Published by the U.S. Lighthouse Society and filled with stunning photos with meaty captions, this makes a fabulous coffee table book. Proceeds benefit the society.
Find it on Amazon here.



A wonderful hodge-podge of images with information.Though it has a few small errors, I am forgiving. (I have errors in some of my books.)

Find it on Amazon here.



We can never go wrong with primary source material! This nice little paperback contains the memories of being a lighthouse kid from Seaman Ponsart Roberts. There are plenty of pictures and stories. Jeremey D.Entremont helped on the project.

Find it on Amazon here.



This is the best guidebook to New England lighthouses, written by a man who knows them--Jeremy D'Entremont. This is his latest edition of the book too.

Find it on Amazon here.



Although the cover isn't an eye-popper, the text is fabulous. This detailed history of the family that built most of Scotland's lighthouses and many others around the world, is a great armchair title.

Find it on Amazon here.



This is, hands-down the best book I have read of late about lighthouses. This details the history of illumination and the story of French physicist Augustin Fresnel, who revolutionized lighthouses.

Find it on Amazon here.



For upper elementary or middle school kids, this is a terrific gift. The author has scads of good hands-on experiments and demos to help kids understand concepts about lighthouses.

Find it on Amazon here.



At risk of boasting, I recommend my book on the life of lighthouse keepers. This is the second edition. I have received so many letters and emails about this title, all good--hooray! A great winter read.

Find it on Amazon here.



And while I am a hag on the brag--This unique title of mine is all about animals at lighthouses. The stories range from joyful to heartwarming to sad to surprising! This is a great gift for animal lovers.

Find it on Amazon here.



Everyone should read this book, from ages three to ninety-three! The message is sweet and enduring. Little things DO matter. This kids' tome was what first made me think about lighthouses. My mom read this to me as a child. I still love it!

Find it on Amazon here.



Finally, rounding out this bright dozen is Candace Clifford's landmark title, which introduced us to women who were lighthouse keepers. Teachers and youth leaders--this is perfect for Women's History Month.

Find it on Amazon here.


Ok, if I missed a title you feel should be in the top dozen, email me at lightkeeper0803@gmail.com. These twelve are my favorites. What are yours. Notice I skipped regional books, of which there are scads, and many personal memoirs. Personal memories deserve their own top twelve. So does fiction. More to come! Stand by.

And while you're shopping, how about a few lighthouse models too!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

An Unfinished Story

This time of year is especially fun for fans of Edgar Allan Poe. I love his long poem, "The Raven," and his short story "The Cask of Amontillado." But did you know he also wrote about a lighthouse?

"The Lighthouse" is believed to be  his last work of fiction. No one is sure if it was to be a short story, a novella, or a full work of fiction, for Poe died before it was finished. His death, in late 1849, prevented us from knowing.


His biographer, Kenneth Silverman, thinks this is the last piece of fiction Poe attempted, that he began the story in late spring of 1849 and only wrote a short part before dying. It was done as a series of diary entries made by a lighthouse keeper beginning on New Year's Day in 1796 on a lighthouse off the coast of Norway. Not much else is known.



A Wikimedia Commons image of Poe taken in 1849 not long before his death and possibly during the time he was writing "The Lighthouse."


Excerpts from Wikipedia give some insight--

On January 1, the narrator records that it is his first day in the lighthouse, and records his annoyance at the fact that he had a difficult time getting the appointment to man it, even though he is of noble birth. He records that a storm is in progress, and that the ship that brought him "had a narrow pass". He also dwells on the concept of being alone, and how much he looks forward to spending time alone, just him and his dog Neptune, so he can write his book. He briefly comments that he hears some echo in the walls, thinking they may not be sturdy, but catches himself and claims that his worries are "all nonsense", alluding to a prophecy made by his friend DeGrat, who got him the appointment to the lighthouse.
On January 2 he describes the sea as being calm and uneventful, the wind having "lulled about day-break", and expounds on his passion for being alone.
On January 3 he describes the day as being calm and placid, and resolves to explore the lighthouse. He again begins to worry about the safety of the structure, but tries to reassure himself. The last line reads, "The basis on which the structure rests seems to me to be chalk..."
A heading for January 4 follows, but there is no text.

In Poe's own words--
Jan 1 — 1796. This day — my first on the light-house — I make this entry in my Diary, as agreed on with De Grät. As regularly as I can keep the journal, I will — but there is no telling what may happen to a man all alone as I am — I may get sick, or worse ..... So far well! The cutter had a narrow escape — but why dwell on that, since I am here, all safe? My spirits are beginning to revive already, at the mere thought of being — for once in my life at least — thoroughly alone; for, of course, Neptune, large as he is, is not to be taken into consideration as “society”. Would to Heaven I had ever found in “society” one half as much faith as in this poor dog: — in such case I and “society” might never have parted — even for the year ... What most surprises me, is the difficulty De Grät had in getting me the appointment — and I a noble of the realm! It could not be that the Consistory had any doubt of my ability to manage the light. One man had attended it before now — and got on quite as well as [page 2:] the three that are usually put in. The duty is a mere nothing; and the printed instructions are as plain as possible. It never would have done to let Orndoff accompany me. I never should have made any way with my book as long as he was within reach of me, with his intolerable gossip — not to mention that everlasting mëerschaum. Besides, I wish to be alone ...... It is strange that I never observed, until this moment, how dreary a sound that word has — “alone”! I could half fancy there was some peculiarity in the echo of these cylindrical walls — but oh, no! — this is all nonsense. I do believe I am going to get nervous about my insulation. That will never do. I have not forgotten De Grät’s prophecy. Now for a scramble to the lantern and a good look around to “see what I can see” ................ To see what I can see indeed! — not very much. The swell is subsiding a little, I think — but the cutter will have a rough passage home, nevertheless. She will hardly get within sight of the Norland before noon to-morrow — and yet it can hardly be more than 190 or 200 miles.
Jan.2. I have passed this day in a species of ecstasy that I find impossible [page 3:] to describe. My passion for solitude could scarcely have been more thoroughly gratified. I do not say satisfied; for I believe I should never be satiated with such delight as I have experienced to-day ......... The wind lulled about day-break, and by the afternoon the sea had gone down materially ..... Nothing to be seen, with the telescope even, but ocean and sky, with an occasional gull.
Jan. 3. A dead calm all day. Towards evening, the sea looked very much like glass. A few sea-weeds came in sight; but besides them absolutely nothing all day — not even the slightest speck of cloud. ....... Occupied myself in exploring the light-house .... It is a very lofty one — as I find to my cost when I have to ascend its interminable stairs — not quite 160 feet, I should say, from the low-water mark to the top of the lantern. From the bottom inside the shaft, however, the distance to the summit is 180 feet at least: — thus the floor is 20 feet below the surface of the sea, even at low-tide ...... It seems to me that the hollow interior at the bottom should have been filled in with solid masonry. Undoubtedly the whole would have been thus rendered more safe: — but what am I thinking about? A structure such as this is safe enough under any circumstances. I should feel myself secure [page 4:] in it during the fiercest hurricane that ever raged — and yet I have heard seamen say occasionally, with a wind at South-West, the sea has been known to run higher here than any where with the single exception of the Western opening of the Straits of Magellan. No mere sea, though, could accomplish anything with this solid iron-riveted wall — which, at 50 feet from high-water mark, is four feet thick, if one inch ........ The basis on which the structure rests seems to me to be chalk ......
Jan 4.

More analysis from Wikipedia--
Themes of foreboding, isolation and paranoia are apparent in "The Light-House".
Its style is very straightforward and plainspoken, in contrast to the more elaborate and decorated prose of Poe's earlier stories, implying a shift in Poe's writing style which the author did not live to realize.
Like many of Poe's works, "The Light-House" has been studied autobiographically. The lighthouse keeper, then, stands in for Poe himself, who is expressing his own feelings of being alone and isolated and questioning if he can survive.
It is very similar in theme to the later and also unfinished short story "The Burrow" by Franz Kafka. Both involve a reclusive narrator who obsesses over the safety of his enclosure, though Kafka's work was much closer to completion and, consequentially, much more elaborate. Given the obscurity of Poe's story, it is very unlikely that Kafka had read it.

There have been attempts to finish the tale or mimic it--
Author and surgeon Dr. Richard Selzer included his short story 'Poe's Light-house', inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Light-House', in 'The Doctor Stories', published by Picador. Joyce Carol Oates also used Poe's "The Light-House" as an inspiration for the story 'Poe Posthumous, or The Light-House' in her collection Wild Nights! (2008). Leigh M. Lane's Finding Poe (2012) speculates the role Poe's own works, including "The Lighthouse", may have played in his mysterious death.
Author Robert Bloch finished Poe's tale and published it in the February 1969 issue (#53) of Famous Monsters of Filmland as "Horror in the Lighthouse". An earlier version appeared in the January/February 1953 Ziff-Davis publication Fantastic entitled "The Lighthouse".
In addition to Bloch's adaption of "The Light-House", in the TV show The Following, fictional psychopath and serial killer Joe Carroll (played by James Purefoy) writes a novel inspired by Poe's tale, titling it The Gothic Sea.
In 1997 Ediciones Áltera commissioned a number of Spanish and Latin American writers to complete the story, each in their own manner. They included Cristina Fernández Cubas, whose version is included in her anthology “Todos los cuentos” (Tusquets editores, 2008).
A 2016 film, Edgar Allan Poe‘s Lighthouse Keeper, was loosely based on the story. While themes of isolation and unease in the building were preserved, the film took inspiration from Roger Corman's Poe adaptations from the 1960s.
According to Robert Eggers, although the final story bears little resemblance to the Poe fragment, the 2019 film The Lighthouse began as an attempt by his brother Max Eggers to do a contemporary take on the Poe story. When the project stalled, Robert offered to work with his brother and the project evolved into a period thriller with the Poe elements removed.

Author Christopher Conlon, an avid Poe devotee, has written spin-offs of many of the master's tales. It's no surprise he has been beguiled by "The Lighthouse."



About this title, he writes on www.christopherconlon.com --
“Found among Edgar Allan Poe's papers after he died (at 40, all too young) was an untitled story fragment with an intriguing preamble. Consisting of three short diary entries by a newly indentured lighthouse keeper, the fragment affords few clues about Poe's plot intentions. The assignment for the 23 contributors to this unique collection was to finish the tale by using Poe's language, themes, and predilection for curdling the blood. The results range from stylistically faithful narratives to improbable yarns that use Poe's introduction as a springboard for the author's own vision. In one entry, the diary pieces make up an ancient artifact viewed by an archivist in a future civilization. In another, the journal is inspected by detective Auguste Dupin, a figure familiar from such Poe classics as 'The Purloined Letter.' Perhaps the most outstanding entry is John Shirley's masterly continuation, in perfect faux-Poe fashion, of the diary to disclose the lighthouse keeper discovering a macabre use for his polished lantern. Must reading for Poe enthusiasts, in particular.”

Perhaps you'll want to write your own conclusion to the famous tale! If so, I would love to read it. lightkeeper0803@gmail.com

It's exciting to look back on Poe's tale and wonder, especially with the debut of "The Lighthouse" in theaters, a film by Robert Eggers starring Willem DaFoe and Robert Pattison. Was this the tale Poe had in mind?





Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Carysfort Lighthouse & the Ghost of Captain Johnson

It's that season again, when lighthouse ghosts appear and we tell their stories. Hardly a lighthouse exists that does not have some ghost tale attached to it. I hope you like this one!



A few years ago, I began writing a novel for young readers (tweens, as we call them) about a young girl in the late-1890s, named Libby, who knows much about lighthouses and the sea. Her father was a sea captain and her great uncle is the skipper of the lighthouse tender Arbutus. It sails the southeast coast delivering supplies to lighthouses. Libby's great uncle is taking her to Sanibel Lighthouse to live for a year before she goes to a school for young ladies in New Orleans. On the way, the Arbutus stops at several lighthouses. The following Chapter 2 excerpt details fifteen-year-old Libby's visit to Carysfort Reef Lighthouse in the Florida Strait. There, she and her Scotty dog, Duffy, meet the keepers, dine with them, and spend the night on the huge iron lighthouse. Libby, as you'll read, takes a "shine" to the youngest lightkeeper, a handsome young man named Vincent. And, as you might imagine, things go bump in the night on Carysfort Lighthouse!



Chapter 2

The Ghost of Captain Johnson

Thumping sounds on the deck above wake me.  Duffy is standing by the door whining, no doubt needing to relieve himself.  As a puppy traveling on the Arbutus, he has learned to use a dirt box, much the way a cat does.  Uncle Caleb made the box for him when we came aboard the Arbutus, and it is obvious he is anxious to get to it.
            "Yes, Duffy.  I'll hurry.  Let me pull on my dress and shoes and straighten my hair." 
            I make myself presentable and open the cabin door.  Duffy scurries to the ladder and leaps up three rungs on his own before allowing me to carry him the remainder of the way.  Once topside, he runs toward the stern and disappears around some buoy chains to find his box.
            The morning air is brisk, alive with the shouts of the crew as they prepare to dock at Carysfort Reef Lighthouse.  I step to the starboard rail and see the huge metal lighthouse in the distance.  It resembles a giant birdcage, and for a moment I imagine a monstrous seagull nesting inside it.  Papa always said I have great imagination.
By the excitement and business of the crew, I judge we have dropped anchor and the launch is being readied.  The reef is so shallow the Arbutus cannot steam too close to the lighthouse for fear of grounding.  Supplies, mail, and visitors are transferred to the tower aboard a smaller vessel called a launch.
            Several men are gathered about the scuttlebutt, a barrel of drinking water.  They wave and motion for me to join them.  A ladle of cold water is offered, which I gratefully accept.
            "Goin' aboard the lighthouse, Miss Libby?" asked Mr.Burns, one of the hoistmen.  "The keepers there is a lonely lot.  Do ‘em good to see a young lass like yerself.  And 'ey'll be layin' a fine table too."
            His Scottish accent delights me.  I notice his powerful hands as he gives me the ladle to drink from.  As a hoistman, his job running the windlass requires strength and brains.  He must see that heavy cargo is safely moved from the lighthouse tender to the launch by a derrick equipped with pulleys.
            "Oh, yes, Mr. B.  I wouldn't miss it.  The keepers are wonderful cooks, I'm told.  Uncle Caleb said to eat only a biscuit this morning, as they will want us to have a big late-morning breakfast with them."
            "Aye, and they've hens, too, for eggs.  You can see ‘em cluckin’ about on the deck next to the dwellin’.  May be that Mr. Hodges 'll 'ave puddin’.  Tapioca puddin’. Will ye bring me some?"
            I giggle and point to the pocket of my dress:  "Aye, Mr. B.  I'll sneak you some pudding in my pocket!"
            A hearty laugh passes around the circle of men, but shouts from the helm make them scatter to their appointed places, leaving me alone at the water barrel.  I scoop out a handful and splash it over my face.  It makes me shudder, so cold it is.  I am looking forward to a long, hot bath when I reached Sanibel Island.
            I watch as the crew rigs the derrick and begins moving heavy cargo from the deck of the Arbutus to the launch.  Mr. Burns expertly maneuvers the windlass and hoist, lifting boxes and crates and pallets filled with coal bags and oil drums, sacks of flour and sugar.  I look toward the lighthouse in the distance and squint my eyes, trying to see the hens he mentioned.  There are tiny dots moving about on the lighthouse deck – men, maybe a dog, perhaps the smallest ones hens. 
Doc quietly moves next to me and hands me a biscuit.
            “Might be an hour or two before you sit down to breakfast, Libby. Best have something to keep the walls of your stomach from rubbing together.  Have you packed an overnight bag?  Your uncle plans to stay the night, I’m told.”
            “Oh…yes.  I will, Doc,” I reply, a bit surprised by this news. “Staying on the lighthouse at night should be fun!”
            “Hmmph!” Doc says folding his arms.  “You wouldn’t get me to stay in that metal contraption for all of Captain Kidd’s pirate gold!”
            I smile, remembering the crew talking of the ghost that supposedly haunts the lighthouse.
            The Arbutus seems to take forever to ready the launch.  Though I know enough about ships and navigating to appreciate the delicate maneuvering required to safely move heavy cargo, I am anxious to get to the lighthouse.  It’s a famous one in these waters, the first of a string of tall iron lighthouses built along the treacherous Florida Reef.  In fact, as Doc explains, its foundation is anchored into the reef.
            “Built in the 1840s by a famous engineer named George Meade,” Doc says.  “Bet you know that name, Libby, from your studies of the Civil War.”
             I rub my chin, pretending not to know, then let my eyes brighten like a lightbulb is going on in my head: “Yes!  General George Gorden Meade!  Wasn’t he the Union general who defeated General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg?”
            “One and the same,” replies Doc.  “Some say it was the turning point of the war, the battle that was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.  Such a bad time it was, Libby.  I lost a dear friend at Antietam, and my brother came home from the Battle of the Wilderness missing an arm. Lucky for me, I was in the South Pacific at the time working on a whaleship, or I might have been in the thick of it too.”
“Oh, I’m glad you weren’t in the war, Doc. So sorry about your friend and brother,” I say, and quickly change the subject.  “So Meade also built lighthouses?”
“Oh yes.  Many of them, long before the war.  He built the first screwpile lighthouse in the nation, at Brandywine Shoal in the Delaware Bay.  Big hulking iron thing with tube legs anchored into the bay floor.  Folks said it wouldn’t last a month, but it still stands.  Meade did such a fine job on it the government sent him to Florida to build the reef lights.”
Doc motions toward Carysfort Reef Lighthouse.
“I was a young lad when it was first lit in 1852.  Meade devised special screw-shaped feet for each leg.  There are nine legs, called piles, in all.  Each one is screwed down into the coral reef and anchored firmly with a disk, a kind of shoe to hold it in place.  The open metal framework on the lighthouse lets wind and waves pass through easier than if the tower had solid walls.”
It makes sense to me.  This stretch of coast is called Hurricane Alley, and a lighthouse needs to be wind and water resistant.  I had read about the first lighthouse at Sand Key, nine miles off Key West.  Built of stone, it suffered miserably in storms until, in 1846, a powerful hurricane toppled it and killed its keeper and his family.  A screwpile lighthouse, like this one at Carysfort Reef, replaced it in 1853 and has stood strong for nearly fifty years.
            Finally, the launch is loaded and ready.  I race down to my cabin and fetch a tapestry bag for overnight items.  Back on deck, Doc and Santy and Paolo insist on hugging me, as if I’m going away forever. 
“Be careful not to tangle with old Cap’n Johnson, now!” Doc warns. 
“Yes, and leave him on the lighthouse when you come back,” Santy adds.  “We’ve trouble enough on this ship.  No need of a ghost!”
Paolo shrugs and chuckles.  He gives me a second hug and holds my arm firmly as a section of the rail is removed so that I can board the launch. I am tethered in a bos’un’s chair, with Duffy in my lap, and sent down to the launch by means of ropes and pulleys. Were it not for the launch rocking wildly below me, and my dress lifted up by the wind’s curious fingers, I might have enjoyed the unusual ride.
Uncle Caleb, wearing his blue wool uniform with the tender service insignia on the hat and his rank on the lapels of the coat, follows me down into the launch.  Several of the crew who are holding me nimbly hand me into my uncle’s strong arms.  Duffy is shivering either with excitement or fright.  I cannot tell which.  The launch pitches roughly in the waves, then moves toward the lighthouse, powered by the muscled arms of four men at the oars.
            Within minutes we draw near the iron legs of the lighthouse and tie up at the landing.  Three keepers, who peer excitedly at me from the deck, suddenly straighten and salute my uncle, who returns their tribute.  Little is said until I am safely handed up to the keepers and planted firmly on the landing platform, along with Duffy.  I turn and peer into the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen, those of the youngest lightkeeper.  Slowly, he releases his hold on my arm and smiles, patting my dog. 
My uncle is soon beside us, sighing with great relief that we’ve arrived safely.  Uncle Caleb brushes off his jacket a bit, smiles broadly, and shakes hands with the keepers.  They wear uniforms, somewhat similar to my uncle’s, but with different insignia.  Uncle Caleb clears his throat and makes introductions:
            “May I present my great-niece, Olivia Spenser, daughter of my sister’s son, Captain Jonathan Spenser. And, of course, her dog, Duffy. He has more sea time than most sailors!  Libby, meet Captain Herman Hodges, principle keeper of Carysfort Reef Lighthouse, and his assistants, Peter Simonson and Vincent Tremont.”
            Captain Hodges carefully offers his right hand – a perfectly normal hand with all fingers intact – tips his hat and gives a polite nod.  He pats Duffy’s head and mutters something about a “salty sea dog.”  The assistants also nod to me politely.  Mr. Tremont – the one with the beautiful eyes – seems hardly older than me, but I know he must be at least eighteen to be in the lighthouse service.
            “I am well-acquainted with your father, Miss Spenser,” Captain Hodges says, smiling warmly.  “We’ve passed many an hour together in port, for I was master of a fishing schooner before the war left me with this infirmity.”
            He slaps his stiff right leg, a wooden leg that gives off a muffled thump.  I notice three fingers missing on his left hand and realize there was a bit of truth to the story Santy told.
            “Ah, this,” he says holding up his maimed hand, with only a thumb and index finger remaining.  “A fishing accident.  Fed three fingers to a shrimp net when I was a hand on the schooner La Petite out of New Orleans.  I was just a boy then.  I’ve learned to operate just as well without them.”
            As proof, he quickly unbuttons and rebuttons his blue wool jacket.  I’m impressed and giggle politely with delight.  Duffy is mistrustful, however, and utters a soft growl.  Captain Hodges makes a scary face, and this sets Duffy barking.
            “Is this any way to treat the crew of Carysfort Reef Light, Sir Pooch?” the captain asks Duffy.  “Why, you’ll change your opinion of us a bit when you see what’s for breakfast!”
            Mr. Tremont heads off to help the crew unload the launch, while Mr. Simonson excuses himself and heads up the ladder into the quarters – a round metal house set within the iron legs of the tower. He goes to work in the kitchen.  Already, the smell of baked ham is wafting outside.  My stomach growls impatiently.  The crew of the launch and Mr. Tremont have begun hauling crates and boxes and drums of kerosene onto the landing.  They sing as they work, making the heavy chore easier to bear. 
The hens now appear from a box-shaped little house on the far-side of the landing and begin clucking in anticipation.
            “Yes, yes, do come out now!  They’ve brought cracked corn for you biddies!” Captain Hodges says, shooing them away. 
Duffy growls again, but I quiet him.  There are five hens, all plump Plymouth White Rocks, and one rooster who struts haughtily.  Captain Hodges introduces each one by name – Maria, Antonia, Isabella, Carmen, and Juanita, plus Ulysses the rooster.  The hens, he says, are named for his Cuban wife and four daughters who live in Key West and are the finest cooks and seamstresses in the entire South.  The rooster takes the name of Union general and post-war president, Ulysses S. Grant, under whom Keeper Hodges long ago proudly served and lost his leg.
            “Such an arrogant sort old Ulysses is,” Captain Hodges says, pointing to the proud fowl.  “Thinks he’s king around here.  Chases Mr. Simonson when he’s got potato rinds to discard and fights with the gulls.  Yet, he’s the first to run for cover when there’s a thunderstorm.  Ha!”
            As we head up the ladder to the quarters for breakfast I begin to sense the loneliness of this place, where hens are named for the head keeper’s much-missed family and even a crotchety old rooster is granted a noble title.
            The quarters are small but sufficient for three men.  The walls are curved and set with broad windows to allow in light and air on two levels.  The kitchen, storerooms, and office are below; sleeping rooms are above.  Spiraling up through the house is the metal stair cylinder leading to the lantern.
Mr. Simonson is all smiles as we sit down at a simple linen-covered table for a late morning breakfast in the kitchen. Plates of steaming baked ham, fried potatoes with onions, boiled okra, fried eggs, freshly-baked brea,d and jars of orange marmalade cause my stomach to roar in expectation.  An apple cobbler sits on the cookstove, keeping warm.  Captain Hodges invites Uncle Caleb and me to choose seats.  Duffy is given a plate of ham and eggs on the floor.  Captain Hodges says grace, being mindful to thank God for his guests and the many provisions they are bringing.  Then Mr. Simonson serves, pouring the men coffee and honey-sweetened tea for me.  He slips an orange into my hand and winks.
            “A treat for you, Miss Spenser.  A gentleman near Miami brings these to us from his orchard. Shall I squeeze the juice into a glass, or would you rather eat the whole fruit?”
            “Whole, please,” I say, relishing the memory of oranges, lemons, tangerines, grapefruits and limes Papa kept aboard the Angela to ward off scurvy and other illnesses at sea.  Mr. Simonson cuts the orange into quarters, and I suck the pulpy goodness from one as the men watch in amusement.
            “And do you know how to make an orange smile, Miss Spenser?” Captain Hodges asks.  “My children always made us laugh doing this at breakfast when they were little.”
            The captain grabs an orange quarter and pops it onto his teeth, then draws his lips over it in a big, orange smile.  I gasp, then burst into peels of laughter.  He looks so funny in his fancy brass-buttoned uniform, with a cloth napkin tucked under his chin and that bright orange smile!
            After breakfast, we have a tour of the lighthouse.  Up the winding staircase we go, Duffy tucked under my arm, up 112-feet above sea.  Uncle Caleb notes the excellent condition of the tower and its illuminating apparatus.  The prism lens is polished to perfection and ready for the coming night.  Captain Hodges says that the new system for collecting rainwater also is working well.  It has solved the problem of dangerous lead particles from the lighthouse’s red paint getting into the drinking water.  I listen with great interest as he explains how during thunderstorms rainwater that falls on the lighthouse roof is directed to pipes that run into a cistern, or collection tank.  Since the rainwater passes over painted parts of the lighthouse, it is allowed to run freely over the tower for about five minutes to clean off any lead particles. Then, cocks are turned to divert the rain into the cistern.
            “We don’t have to scrub the roof as much anymore either,” adds Captain Hodges.  “The flush of that first rain cleans it well before we pipe the water into the cistern. But the seabirds…they’re still a nuisance.  Like to perch up there and make a mess.”
            I look up at the cupola some eighty feet above the dwelling and dizzily wonder who would be brave enough to climb that high and clean away the bird poop.  I suppose it isn’t much different from climbing the mainmast to the crow’s nest on my father’s ship.  I have done that often with Papa.
            “Mr. Tremont is nimble,” says the captain, patting the youngest keeper on the back.  Mr. Tremont is polishing the lens but pauses to look my way.  “We usually send him up to scrub the roof when the first rain falls.”
            I study Mr. Tremont when he isn’t looking at me.  He is, truly, a handsome young man.  His hair falls in jet black curls about his forehead and on the back of his neck, and his eyes are a strange green color flecked with brown, or it gold?  I am entranced by the fine mold of his nose, an aquiline shape than when in profile reminds me of a picture of a Roman gladiator I once saw in a book.  His hands are strong, yet delicate, as if they might hold a baby bird as easily as grasp a heavy drum of oil.  I am disappointed when Captain Hodges offers to help me down the service ladder into the watchroom, leaving Mr. Tremont behind in the lantern.  Studying him was a pleasant reverie, something I’ve never cared to do with any of the crew of Papa’s ship or the men of the Arbutus.  There is, indeed, something different about Mr. Tremont.
            The men spend all day transporting supplies to the lighthouse, while the assistant keepers busy themselves putting away provisions and kerosene.  After the tour, I wander about the house with Duffy, then we go down to the landing and hand-feed the chickens from the barrel of cracked corn and grain that has been unloaded.  Duffy would rather chase the chickens, but old Ulysses proves a formidable foe and guards his feathered harem.  Duffy, nicked by one of Ulysses’ spurs, is sent whining to my side.
Mr. Simonson brings me a fishing pole and some bait and shows me how to fish from the landing.  After a few hours of dangling the hook in the opaline reef water, I’ve caught nothing.  Duffy snores at my side, having decided some time ago he’d rather nap than fish. Mr. Simonson returns, this time with oatmeal cookies and cold tea.  He takes the fishing pole and soon catches a fine red snapper which he says was meant for me to catch and will make an excellent chowder for supper.  Later at supper, a light meal like suppers on the Arbutus, he rants on and on about my fishing talents and praises the fine fish he says I caught.  Mr. Tremont offers his praise as well, and I find myself embarrassed.
            After dinner, Mr. Conroy returns to the Arbutus, but Uncle Caleb, Duffy, and I remain on the lighthouse.  As Doc said, we will stay the night, since Uncle Caleb wants to observe the lighting up of the beacon and check the operation of the lens.  I suspect he also anticipates an enjoyable evening with the lightkeepers.  Except for Mr. Tremont, who is new on the lighthouse, they are all old friends.  They will swap stories, smoke pipes, and play cards.
For the first time, I am given the opportunity to see a lighthouse beacon kindled, and it is truly an amazing thing to behold.  Shortly before dusk, Uncle Caleb, Duffy, and I accompany Captain Hodges and Mr. Tremont up the tight spiral stairs to the watchroom.  The metal stairway is still quite warm from the heat it absorbed from the mid-April day.  In the watchroom, Uncle Caleb checks the logbook and weather journal.  Mr. Tremont points out an entry from March when a flock of migrating birds stormed the tower.  He drew a picture of one that landed on the catwalk above, a very fine sketch.  I tell him he has great talent, and he blushes, abashed to receive a compliment from a lady, even one as young as me.
In the lantern we watch as Captain Hodges checks the lamps and winds the weights for the clockworks that will turn the lens.  Mr. Tremont has each lamp filled and trimmed, ready for the first watch of the night.  Under Captain Hodges direction, he lights up the huge first-order lens, carefully adjusting each wick so that it burns clean and clear.  One by one, the lamps flicker to life and send their light through the prisms of the great crystal lens.  The beams are twisted together, concentrated, and transformed into a piercing ray.  As the lens begins to revolve, from the pull of the clockworks, the rays are shot through the bulleyes into the twilight air in magnificent flashes where they will provide succor to ships miles away from the reef. 
The amazing process by which the light is concentrated and magnified was developed in 1823 by a French physicist named Jean-Augustin Fresnel.  Mr. Tremont tells me Fresnel’s amazing lenses revolutionized lighthouse illumination by making brilliant beams visible far at sea and creating a flash characteristic for each lighthouse.  Before their invention, there were only a few flashing lights, and beams reached only a few miles at sea.
“It’s an amazing system,” says Mr. Tremont, “but it requires much work for us, the keepers. We must polish the crystal prisms and the brass framework each day until they are spotless.  The gears must be oiled and the clockworks mechanism kept clean of dirt. I spend much of my time doing this brightwork, as we call it.  I clean the lantern windows each day as well.”
I glance outside at the narrow catwalk surrounding the lantern.  Mr. Tremont seems to read my mind:
“Would you like to stand on the lantern catwalk, Miss Spenser?  It’s a wonderful view.”
I give Duffy to Uncle Caleb, who is still inspecting the lens with Captain Hodges. Mr. Tremont and I slide through the small access door to the catwalk, the narrow walkway outside the lantern. I suspect even an agile cat might find this high place unnerving.  Wind buffets my face the moment I enter the outside world of the lighthouse top.  My hair begins a wild dance, unloosing the ribbon I tied in the back this morning to add some decoration.  Mr. Tremont catches it just in time, a moment before the mischievous night wind steals it.  He laughs as he hands it back to me, and for a second his fingers touch mine.
“Look there,” he says, pointing northeast.  Fowey Rocks Lighthouse. And there, to the southwest is Alligator Reef Light.”
He proceeds to tell me how a ship, to remain safe in the sealane along the eastern coast of Florida, ought to see a new lighthouse off its bow as an old one disappears off its stern.  Being the child of a sea captain, I know this fact, but I let him proceed with his instruction all the same. He seems to be enjoying my company, and I must admit he’s a pleasant companion.
“These lighthouses of the reef are nicknamed the Iron Giants.  All of them are made of iron and are screwed into the reef.  I served at the big one on Sombrero Key off Marathon before coming here in January.  It’s the tallest of the reef lights – 156-feet high.  If I’m lucky, I’ll go to a land light next and be promoted to first assistant.  Someday I might even be head keeper at a lighthouse.  Then I can get married and have a family.”
He pauses, somewhat embarrassed that he has gushed his personal feelings so easily.  For a moment, I imagine him standing next to a lovely young girl in a bridal gown, reciting vows.  Quickly, I push the thought away and point to a ship traveling north far out from the lighthouse.
“That’s the Gulf Stream out there isn’t it?” I ask, although I already know the answer.  “That ship wants to be in the current to get a push northward.”
“You’re right! And ships headed south try to stay outside the current and the reef so they don’t get pushed backwards.  It’s tricky navigation.  Must have been difficult before these lighthouses were built.”
Yes, I know too well the ordeal of navigating the Florida Strait.  Papa always demanded Duffy and I remain quiet and not interfere with the work on the Angela when we passed along this dangerous part of the coast.  Sometimes he would give me an old sextant and clock to practice star sights with and a journal to record my positions, or I might sit quietly on deck and read a book about the shipwrecks that occurred here or the pirates that once roamed these waters.  Once we were beyond Key West, Papa would relax a bit.  He always said sailing the Gulf side of Florida was far easier than its Atlantic side.
We descend the tower around 9:00 p.m., leaving Mr. Tremont on watch.  Mr. Simonson will take over at midnight, then Captain Hodges near dawn.  After a short mug-up in the kitchen, Mr. Simonson shows Duffy and me to our sleeping quarters, a small room in the upper level of the house with a single bed more comfortable than the straw mattress in my cabin aboard the Arbutus.  Uncle Caleb will sleep in the bunkroom with the lightkeepers.  He comes up to say prayers with me and kiss me good-night.  He tells me not to read too long, for he knows my ways.  Given a book, I am lost for hours.  From the laughter I hear from kitchen after he leaves, I know it will be hours before he sleeps.
            I open the book I’ve chosen from the lighthouse’s oak library cabinet, kept in the office below.  It’s a book of poems, my favorite reading.  They make me lonely for Papa, of course, but soon the warm glow of the oil lamp on the table next to my bed and Duffy’s quiet snoring lull me.  I put out the lamp and roll on my side.  Sleep comes quickly after a busy day in the sea air.  Papa says ocean air is the very best sleep tonic.

            How many hours I have been asleep when the uproar begins, I do not know.  It is indescribable.  I can only say I am suddenly awakened by a horrendous groan and the feeling that my bed is being shaken.  Duffy jerks awake, sits up, and growls.
            “What was that, Duffy?  You heard it, didn’t you?  That awful sound?”
            His ears perk up; still, he huddles close to me.  Minutes later another groan courses the tower, worse than the first.  Vibration wracks the bed and rattles the lamp on the table.  The pitcher in the basin on the nightstand suffers ceramic tremors.  Duffy dives beneath the blanket in fright, only his nose peeking out.  I fumble for the extra blanket beside my bed to wrap myself.  I must find Uncle Caleb and find out what calamity has beset the lighthouse.
            “Urrrrrr…eeeecchh!” it sounds again.
            Duffy is now deep inside the bedcovers.  Carefully, I feel my way toward the door.  The room is utterly dark until a faint glow from the beam of the lighthouse flashes.
            “Stay here, Duffy.  I’m going to find Uncle Caleb.”
            Outside the room I make my way to the stair cylinder.  A thin light seeps up from below, and I hear the men’s voices.  I am about to step into the stairway and call to them when another horrible groan shakes the lighthouse and a dark figure appears in front of me.  A tiny cry escapes from my throat. I begin to fall backwards. The figure approaches and I recognize the silhouette of a man.  A ghost of a man? Captain Johnson? The men on the Arbutus had warned me about him this morning.
I feel an arm circle about my waist.
            “Everything is fine, Miss Spenser. Nothing to fear.”
It’s Mr. Tremont.  His coffee-warm breath touches my cheek. I feel his whiskers, grown out since morning. He smells different than my father and different than Uncle Caleb. Netter, I think. His arm is strong. My hand passes lightly over the soft hair on his hand.
“Guess we forgot to mention that old Captain Johnson still resides in this tower,” Mr. Tremont says. “Some folks believe his ghost haunts the lighthouse.  That’s him you hear groaning.  He does it from time to time at night.  Harmless sort of wraith.  Come.  I’ll take you back to your bed. Where’s your little dog?”
            I find my voice at last: “He’s hiding in my bedcovers, poor thing.  I was just going down to find my uncle. Are you sure Captain Johnson is harmless?  He sounds so…so horrible.”
            Mr. Tremont chuckles and hugs me a bit closer.
            “Your uncle should have told you about the clamor.  I’m surprised he didn’t.  Oh well…you’re fine now, aren’t you?  At least you aren’t shivering. By the way, your uncle was called back to the Arbutus, and he didn’t want to wake you to go with him.  Said he’d come for you in the morning.”
            Mr. Tremont walks me to my room, fluffs my bed pillow a bit, and helps me get under the covers.  Duffy hasn’t budged from his hiding place and digs in deeper when another groan sounds.  Mr. Tremont kneels by the bed and takes my hand reassuringly.
            “It’s a little hard to sleep the first night you hear it, but we’ve grown accustomed to it. Only lasts an hour or so.  I guess none of us really believes it’s a ghost, but we can’t think what else it could be.  They say it’s happened here ever since the tower was built. Might have something to do with the tower’s iron construction. Metal makes funny sounds sometimes as its temperature changes.”
            “Who is this Captain Johnson?” I ask timidly. When I realize how hard I am clutching his hand, I release my grip.
            “Oh…Captain Johnson.  Yes.  He was the first keeper here.  A great sinner he was, too.  Drank and swore and refused to read his Bible.  He died on the lighthouse, and people say his spirit couldn’t get into heaven, so it roams the tower night after night.  That groaning you hear is supposed to be the old captain crying out his regret.”


            I am silent.  Papa always taught me not to believe in superstitions such as ghosts.  There’s a sensible explanation for every peculiar occurrence.  This one seems real enough though.
            “I’ll sit by your bed until you fall asleep if you like, Miss Spenser,” offers Mr. Tremont.  He touches my hand again, ever so lightly.  I am glad he, too, doesn’t believe in ghosts.
            “Thank you. I’d like that. And…and…you can call me Libby if you like….when it’s just the two of us together, I mean.  Libby is short for Olivia.”
            Though the room is almost completely dark, I sense Mr. Tremont is smiling.
            “I’d like that, calling you Libby.  It’s a lovely name…for a lovely lady.  And will you call me Vincent then?  We’ll only use our first names in private.  Captain Hodges wouldn’t approve of me acting so familiar.”
            “Oh, yes.  Of course.  Vincent.  That’s a nice name.  We’ll keep it a secret, just between us.  And thank you…Vincent…for sitting with me.  I feel so much better now.”
            “Urrrrr….eecchh!”





Perhaps you're wondering about Libby's trip to Sanibel Island Lighthouse and what happens with Libby and Vincent. Hang on! The finished novel will be published next year.