Today is June 23rd, so it seems only right to share this one first, from June 23, 1973--
The New Yorker is a magazine famous for its thought-provoking covers. That's a mighty big moth illuminated in the lighthouse beam! And the lightkeeper seems astonished and speechless. He's not sure what he needs to do about this, if anything. Even though it's a huge moth, the pink color suggests it's harmless.
What fun artists, cartoonists, and Hollywood producers have had over the years imagining the myriad creatures drawn into the beams of a lighthouse! Birds are drawn, as you'll see below in another cover. Perhaps fish swim to the beams, or whales. A Ray Bradbury story had a sea monster enamored of a lighthouse foghorn, and perhaps the beam too.
Insects are the major attractees. They cause a big lighthouse-cleaning problem. All manner of flying bugs and creepy crawlies, like spiders, end up in the lantern room of a lighthouse. Moths, especially, are drawn to the lantern. A number of poets have captured this "moth drawn to a huge candle" metaphor. Less poetic are the lighthouse keepers' logbook entries about moths, including a type that left a fine dust of iridescent blue on the lens and brass and windows of the lantern of a Great Lakes lighthouse, and caused a lot of work for the lightkeeper. Pretty as it was, that blue glitter obstructed the light.
Here are more The New Yorker lighthouse covers:
This was the cover of the November 30, 1946 issue. The lighthouse keeper is rowing back to his lighthouse with Thanksgiving dinner. The meal looks hearty, and I love the turkey's feet sticking up out of the basket! It appears he has the makings for stuffing and a pumpkin pie too.
There are lots of true stories about this event--the returning to the light tower with Thanksgiving fare. I have two favorites I'll quickly share--
One is from the West Coast and is written up in one of James Gibbs' lighthouse books. The lightkeeper, who lived on a distant, far-flung rock lighthouse like the one pictured on the cover above, radioed a grocery store ashore a few days before Thanksgiving and asked to have a turkey delivered to his mailbox...a mailbox that consisted of a boxlike structure at the boat slip where the keeper rowed once a week to get his mail. His plan was to row ashore just as the mail was delivered the day before Thanksgiving and fetch his fresh turkey. Unfortunately, a bad spell of weather blew in just as the turkey was delivered to the mailbox. The keeper was unable to row ashore and get it. When the weather finally cleared and the sea calmed, days later, he launched his boat, went ashore, and found a smelly, putrefied mess in his mailbox.
Another Thanksgiving tale--one with a happier ending--comes from Boon Island Lighthouse off the coast of southern Maine. That's Boon Island Light pictured above in black and white during the Coast Guard era, about 1950. It was a rather glum place--just the tower and house, boathouse, fog signal, rocks and sea. Nothing much grows there, so gardening had to be done in boxes. Several keepers attempted to keep chickens, but usually the coops and birds were blown away in storms. A keeper named William C. Williams and his assistant were alone on the lighthouse early in the 1900s as Thanksgiving approached. Their families were living ashore, probably because the children needed to attend school. Keeper Williams hoped to take the boat ashore and get a Thanksgiving feast for himself and his assistant, but the weather was bad. Provisions were running low too, but this was nothing new for the keepers. They were accustomed to making due when weather prevented a re-stocking of the pantry. On Thanksgiving Eve a really nasty windstorm blew in, and the two men knew there'd be no Thanksgiving turkey or feast. However, the storm caused a flock of ducks to slam into the lighthouse lantern, misguided by the storm and the brilliant beam. Keeper Williams saw it as providence! He and the assistant gathered up a couple of the dead ducks from the ground below the lantern, picked and cleaned them, and made themselves a grand Thanksgiving meal. Roast duck with gamey gravy went well with a couple of potatoes they found in the pantry and biscuits made from the dwindling supply of flour, salt, and baking powder. As the tempest roared around them, they sat down to a fabulous meal.
The September 29, 1962 cover featured a bit of graffiti on the base of the lighthouse. This might have been a political statement about the rising number of lighthouses in the United States being de-staffed and automated, leaving them prone to vandalism. I can't see a cryptic message in the scrawls. Can you? I think it's plain old random graffiti. Was it Kilroy who started that habit of signing one's name or initials on anything and everything? Surely, he never meant for it to become a problem. It has. Below is Michigan's South Haven Lighthouse covered in graffiti. (Courtesy of "Lighthouse News.")
Who wouldn't be heart-warmed by this February issue, with a lonely lighthouse keeper discovering a Valentine left on his doorstep? I've interviewed many lightkeepers, and this is a common theme: It's a lonesome life, especially if you're a bachelor or bachelorette, or you're married and your wife or husband is ashore. (Yes, there were women who served as lightkeepers!)
January 1, 1979 has another lonely lightkeeper, this time celebrating the arrival of New Year's all by himself with a noisemaker. I suppose most lighthouse keepers were accustomed to being up at midnight, burning the midnight oil so to speak, so staying up to see in the New Year was much like any other night.
Then, there's this migratory flock of seabirds on the October 27, 1980 issue taking their formation cue from the divergent beam of a lighthouse. Many lightkeepers observed this; quite a few of them were avid birdwatchers. Of course, things could go wrong for the birds, as it did at Boon Island Lighthouse.
Wonderful color tones! The scene looks like Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior, Minnesota (below). See if you agree--
This December 3, 1984 cover has a Christmas tree on a sailboat mast upstaging the lighthouse beam. This could have been drawn from a real scene. The lighthouse is a screwpile-style sentinel, much like those that were built on the Chesapeake Bay. This could have been inspired by the Calvert Marine Museum in Maryland where the Drum Point Lighthouse has been hauled ashore and made into a display. Note the winsome fogbell tower to the left. In their real-time milieu, screwpile lighthouses had no stairways leading down to walkways. They sat in the open water on iron legs screwed into the bay floor...hence, the name screwpile.
April 19, 1969 had this pretty cover, somewhat generic, but definitely representative of the lived-in feeling of a lighthouse standing its solitary watch on a rocky shore. It's a poem in a picture. Notice the yellow light in the window of the dwelling. The keeper is home. All is well. This image was listed as the Reilly Rouault Lighthouse.
The Saturday Evening Post also ran many covers featuring lighthouses. I'll share some of them in another post.