Friday, February 13, 2015

A Lighthouse Valentine

Lighthouses are all wrapped up in love! If you don't think so, check out the many pictures of people kissing at lighthouses and the large number of wedding pictures online that were taken at lighthouses. Many lighthouses around the world make a tidy income hosting weddings. After all, a lighthouse is a cathedral of sorts, or at the very least a country church. It's a picturesque and metaphoric place to tie the knot.
There are plenty of romantic stories set at lighthouses, fictional and true. In the fiction category, Susan Wigg's The Lighthouse Keeper is a steamy romance novel set at Cape Disappointment Lighthouse in Washington. Wigg did her homework; many of the details about lighthouse work and technology are accurate!
My friend Debbie Maccomber has a few soft romance tales at lighthouses, one in particular that launched a TV series. A Light Between Oceans is a nice romantic novel. And the list goes on. Some of these reads are classy; some are cheesy. You pick.
And how about those lighthouse films about love?
Lighthouse records are rife with romance, albeit subtle. Keepers weren't supposed to write diary-type entries in the logbooks, so there aren't many details about relationships. Logbooks mention marriage proposals delivered in the lantern room, keepers getting married at their lighthouses, or keepers' daughters and sisters getting married at lighthouses, sometimes to an assistant keeper. The field of marriage candidates often was narrow for lighthouse women. If you didn't get ashore much, the bachelor keeper began to look really handsome! Of course, he had a good and well-respected government job and a regular paycheck, if you could accept the vagaries of his occupation. The opposite could be true. There was something appealing about the lighthouse keeper's daughter if she was the only available candidate for miles.
This is not to say lighthouse marriages weren't solid: If you were one of the above--a bachelor keeper or the daughter of a keeper, there was something to be said for choosing a mate who knew your lifestyle and could be happy with it. You'd be together 24/7, and you'd have to work out any issues on your own. The lighthouse inspector wouldn't have cared to be a marriage counselor.
Did lighthouse keepers and their mates exchange Valentines every February? I think some did. A few I've interviewed--mostly Coast Guard keepers--made sure to remember their spouses' sacrifices with a sweet Valentine gift. Nancy Johnson, whose Coastie husband was a keeper at Burrows Island Lighthouse in the San Juan Islands, WA, recalls that somehow her husband and his co-keepers got ashore for flowers and chocolates for the wives. It meant a lot, Nancy said. Her life on an isolated island wasn't easy.
Did you get a Valentine card for your sweetie this year? Maybe you found one with a lighthouse on it. Check out these cute ones I found on eBay--
Sailors made special Valentines in the days of sail for their girlfriends back home. It kept them busy, so they weren't "at loose ends," and kept them thinking of home and loved ones. Mystic Seaport Museum, where I worked for a number of years in the 1980s-1990s has a beautiful collection of these ornate Valentines. This one below, found eBay for a hefty price, features a lighthouse. It has a scrimshaw center, which makes it really valuable.
And speaking of sailors, many came ashore in the nineteenth century after a career at sea and became lighthouse keepers. Sailors had good knowledge of the sea--important aspects of it like the weather and the ways of ships, how to navigate, and how to handle a small boat. The lighthouse service saw these skills as a boon at lighthouses.
Whether or "knot" it's true, who can say?

Happy Valentine's Day!

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