Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Lighthouse Keeper and the Mermaid


One stormy, starless, Stygian night,
The lightkeeper sat beneath his light
Reading a tale in the warm watch-room,
Safe from wind and waves and gloom.
T'was a story of sailors long at sea,
Of fishwives, sirens, and green Selkies;
As the pages turned and the hours passed,
He heard the ocean tempest crash!
But with the dawn the wind died down,
The sea grass stilled, waves ceased to pound;
The keeper extinguished his yellow beam—
He fell asleep and dreamed a dream…
Into his slumbers swam a plump seal
With the face of a woman that looked so real,
He could not resist that briny coquette;
He tried to snare her in his net!
But she was slick and slipped away
To her home in the coral of a lonely cay;
The keeper followed her down, down, deep,
To her quiet, pelagic palace keep.
She fed him sandwiches of kelp and clams,
She offered him squid-cakes and seaweed jams!
She combed his beard with a coral sprig,
And then she danced a fishy jig!
"I'll marry you!" the lightkeeper said,
"To a pretty fishwife I shall be wed!"
The mermaid nodded, gave her tail a swish:
"Dear husband to be, then give me a kiss!"
But as they kissed at the bottom of the sea,
The keeper awoke from his reverie;
And found in his arms a less tempting pearl—
His big fat dog instead of the girl!
By Elinor DeWire
Excerpted from Lighthouse Victuals & Verse, 1996

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

New Jersey Lighthouse Society Celebrates 25 Years!

There are so many lighthouse groups around the United States and the world, and all of them do good work. One of the earliest groups in the United States was the New Jersey Lighthouse Society, which formed on June 24, 1990 as a chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society. The group is 25 years old today, June 24, 2015, and now operates as an independent 501c3 organization.

The first meeting of the NJLHS (New Jersey Lighthouse Society) was held at the Atlantic County Library in Mays Landing. There were nineteen members in the original group. Today, there are many, many more. This active society has accomplished a great deal in its 25 years, educating the public and fostering preservation efforts at Garden State lighthouses.

The society's original logo featured Sandy Hook Lighthouse, the oldest standing, operative lighthouse in the United States. The Sandy Hook Lighthouse was commissioned in 1764. (Note the postcard below says 1762. The lighthouse was still not illuminated at that time.) Last June 2014 it celebrated 250 years of service to mariners. The society's current logo, shown above, still features the historic Sandy Hook Lighthouse.

There are about a dozen lighthouses in New Jersey. You'll find a variety of architectural styles, from the old octagonal stone tower at Sandy Hook to the twin lighthouses at Navesink. Hereford Inlet Lighthouse is a handsome carpenter gothic lighthouse; only a few of this style were built in the United States, most in California. Barnegat, Absecon, and Cape May lighthouses are tall conical brick towers, fun to climb and with fabulous views from the top. Sea Girt and East Point lighthouses are both house-top towers. (Who wouldn't like a lighthouse on top of their house?) The Finn's Point and Tinicum lights are iron-pile towers with central stair cylinders and tubular legs.

 Above--Absecon Lighthouse
Below--Navesink Twin Lights

Above--Tinicum Rear Range Lighthouse
Below--East Point Lighthouse

Above--Hereford Inlet Lighthouse
Below--Cape May Lighthouse

The society produces a newsletter and holds regular meetings around the state. Most New Jersey lighthouses are easily accessible, and many operate as museums. The society website offers much information for travelers and people interested in history and lore. I visited the website today and was glad to find some trivia questions and a matching game. There are special tours to lighthouses outside New Jersey. This month, for example, the group is going to Michigan. Also, you can get a souvenir postal cover of the Sandy Hook Lighthouse's 250th celebration for a mere $2.00! Go to the website (address below) and find out how to get one.


I think the most notable accomplishment of the New Jersey Lighthouse Society was the creation of the first "lighthouse challenge," an autumn weekend of fun for the public visiting New Jersey's lighthouses. Many other groups have copied this event, which seems fine with the NJLHS. They're simply glad to share a good idea!

I was a special guest at one of the challenges. Hereford Inlet Lighthouse invited me to sit at a table on their back porch, meet challenge participants, and sign my books. It was a glorious day, the gardens at the lighthouse were still in bloom, and many people came to share in the fun. I enjoyed meeting all of them! Here are some images taken that day--

Lighthouse fan, Tom Bodall, bought a book and asked me to sign it, then asked my husband to take our picture. Tom posted this image online. It remains one of my favorite fan photos.
Another visitor showed me her fancy lighthouse fingernails!

NJLHS is a terrific organization. If you'd like to learn more, join the group, attend a meeting or trip, or volunteer to help out with the society's work, go to their website at or email them at The next society meeting is this Saturday, June 27th at 10:00 a.m. at Maurice River Township Elementary School, 3593 Route 47, Port Elizabeth, NJ 08348. The public is always welcome at meetings, which usually include a speaker, refreshments, displays, and souvenirs to purchase. This Saturday's meeting includes a talk on East Point Lighthouse and a silent auction, followed by a tour of East Point Lighthouse. What fun! I used to attend the meetings regularly when I lived in Connecticut, just a few hours drive from my home. (It's a bit more difficult to go now that I live in the Pacific NW.)

Sandy Hook on its 250th birthday! From

If you haven't yet visited the Garden State lighthouses, plan to go. The NJLHS has done a fabulous job saving their lighthouses and educating us about them. Congratulations to these hardworking people on 25 years of service!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lighthouse Blunders

Do you notice anything unusual about the card above? If you know a little about lighthouses, then you'll quickly see the lighthouse pictured is not on Cape Cod; rather, it's Portland Head Lighthouse in Maine. This is typical of the blunders made by advertisers, giftware makers, and public affairs people when it comes to images of lighthouses.

If they only knew how "bright" we lighthouse folks are, they'd be more careful in choosing what they print or make!

Here's a lighthouse blunder on a souvenir plate from Bermuda. There isn't a lighthouse in the Bermuda Islands that looks like this one. Giftware companies are so enamored of that Cape Hatteras, North Carolina look! I have to admit, it is prettier than the plain white Gibbs Hill Lighthouse in Bermuda. But St. Davids Lighthouse, Bermuda is quite fetching, with its red and white bands. I think I would have featured that one.

This one is downright amusing. The Nubble Light at Cape Neddick, Maine is one of the most famous lighthouses in the United States and a favorite with photographers. You'd think the Hassan Cigarette Company could have gotten it right in 1910 when they made a set of collectors' card for cigarette packs. Compare the card with the snowy image below it, and you'll wonder how the artist came up with such a rendering.
The postcard printer who made the c1900 card of St. Augustine Lighthouse below was a bit off-color, no pun intended. The spiral stripes should be black and white, not brown-red and white. And the lantern should be bright red. I also believe the proper name is St. Augustine Lighthouse, not Anastasia Lighthouse (Anastasia Island is where it stands), but now I'm nitpicking.
These campaign buttons for George Bush feature Portland Head Lighthouse, Maine--a popular image, despite the victory city of Austin, Texas and three counties in Ohio printed on the buttons. Both Texas and Ohio have plenty of lighthouses of their own.
The postcard below, touting a good time on Martha's Vineyard, features the iconic shark of the "Jaws" movies....and a red and white spiral striped lighthouses. I've seen lighthouses kind of like this one in the Netherlands and also in Lake Michigan....kinda. There's no lighthouse like this anywhere on Martha's Vineyard. Hmmmm.


I know of no lighthouse in New York that looks like the one pictured below. It's a little like Fire Island Lighthouse on Long Island, without black and white bands and standing in the sea, not on land. I think someone at this postcard company needed a quick reference and used an image of England's Eddystone Lighthouse.

And then there are Hollywood lighthouse images! Check out the three lighthouses used for posters of the movie "Captain January," starring the late Shirley Temple. The Captain, played by Guy Kibbee, must have had frequent transfers with the lighthouse service. He started at a generic lighthouse modeled after Minot's Ledge, then moved to the West Coast to Old Point Loma Lighthouse in California, and finally, he was transferred to Portland Head Lighthouse, Maine. So which one did little Star visit? All three? (I have an original copy of the 1890 book Captain January by Laura E. Richards, and she says he was keeper of Light Island Lighthouse in Maine. It's a fictional lighthouse Down East.)

A final faux pas I'll share goes to the Canadian postal service. In 2008 they produced a stamp featuring Pachena Point Lighthouse on Vancouver Island. When Canadian lighthouse fans and the Pachena Point lightkeepers saw it, they gasped. The lighthouse scene was backwards! Below you see the original stamp on the left. The orientation of the tower and house is correct on the right. I'm told a red-faced Canadian postal service artist quickly fixed the error, and the stamps were reprinted. But....if you happened to have purchased some of the original Pachena Point Lighthouse stamps, with the scene shown backwards, they're worth some money!


Do you have any lighthouse blunders to share?

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Lighthouse for the Rats!

The first lighthouse built in Western Australia was illuminated on this day, June 1. The year was 1851, and the lighthouse was on Rottnest Island, about 11 miles west of the mainland city of Freemantle. The island was both a hazard and a seamark for ships bound for Fremantle and the Swan River Colony, now known as Perth.

Rottnest was the name given to the island by Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh in 1696 when he stopped there and found a large population of rat-like creatures. He called the place Rottnest, which means "Rats-Nest." The animals actually were native marsupials called Quokkas. They are, as evidenced by the Wikimedia Commons photo below by Sean Mack, much cuter than rats!

A 15-foot-tall white obelisk served as a daymark on Rottnest Island before a lighthouse was built. The first lighthouse was begun in the early 1840s, built of stone, quarried locally from Nancy Cove. A prison for Aborigines, mainly the Nyoongar people, had been established on the island a few years earlier, and convict labor was used in the construction of the lighthouse. It was built on Wadjemup Hill, the highest elevation on the island. Many old sources refer to it as Wadjemup Lighthouse. Wadjemup translates to "place across the water." Today, it goes by Rottnest Lighthouse or the Rottnest Main Light.
Although completed in 1849, the lighthouse was not illuminated for almost two years because not all of the equipment for the light had been delivered. In the meantime, a keeper was hired to look after the place and operate a set of signal flags that announced the impending arrival of ships in Freemantle. A series of observers relayed the flag information ashore to Arthur Head at Fremantle, and a pilot was dispatched to help the ship get into the port. There was quite a lot of competition in town waiting to provision the ships, unload cargo, and entertain sailors, so early notification was important for businesses as well.
In 1851, the clockworks for the revolving light finally arrived and the illuminating apparatus went into service on the night of June 1. Coconut oil was used as fuel for the lamps. It produced a beam visible 16 miles.
A Notice to Mariners was issued shortly before the lighthouse was inaugurated: "...a light has been established on Rottnest Island---a revolving estopric [sic] light will be exhibited from a tower near the center of Rottnest Island after June 1, 1851 [anniversary of the colony on Rottnest] from sunset to sunrise---white stone tower 53 feet high with lantern 11 foot high superimposed, 2 groups of 3 powerful lamps, the whole apparatus revolving once in 2 minutes and showing a flash of light 5 seconds in duration once a of light 197 feet above high water mark seen in clear weather 7 leagues."
A first-order lens was installed in 1881. But the Government of the colony at the time felt the lighthouse was outdated. Plans and funding were secured for a new lighthouse. Another lighthouse was in the works at Cape Leeuwin, where the Southern Ocean and Indian Ocean converge off Western Australia. Its engineers, William Douglas and C.Y. O'Connor, also designed and built the new Wadjemup Lighthouse. It stood 127-feet tall and had a first-order flashing Chance Brothers lens. The photo below, from the Rottnest Island Authority, shows the old lighthouse and new lighthouse on dedication day March 17, 1896.
The 1896 lighthouse is the one that stands at Rottnest Island's Wadjemup Hill today. (Photo above by Djanga for Wikimedia Commons.) The original tower and keeper's dwelling are gone, replaced by the newer ones. The tower has been updated several times and is electrified, but the first-order lens remains in place. The buildings have been repurposed for research and exhibits.
Another younger lighthouse stands guard on Bathurst Point on the east end of Rottnest Island. It's keepers' quarters are rented to vacationers.
I visited Rottnest Island in 2000 and was fortunate to have a private tour of the island, courtesy of the one of the reserve rangers, Peggy Webb. (The island is now a public reserve for wildlife and culture and there is no vehicular traffic permitted, except by bicycle, park shuttle-bus, or the on-duty ranger's jeep. I got a ride with her--thanks Peggy!!) Western Australians affectionately call the island Rotto. It is one of the most popular tourists spots in Western Australia.
On my tour of the island, I met some Quokkas, who were eating potato chips from a visitors hand. (Bad idea to make them moochers. Peggy scolded him!) I photographed and climbed both lighthouses, and I enjoyed a glorious day of sunshine and cool breezes. Ranger  Peggy warned me about poisonous snakes on the island called dugites. Thank goodness I didn't meet any of those!
To end the visit, I had a late lunch at the visitor center cafĂ© with Peggy Webb and the others in my party, including my husband, Jon.  The day was clear enough that I could see the taller buildings of Fremantle in the distance, namely the Dingo Feed silo at the shipping terminal, and beyond that I could just barely make out the hazy outline of the skyscrapers of Perth.
Below is a shot of me looking up at the beautiful Bathurst lens. (Photo by Jonathan DeWire) Unfortunately, this is one of the few print photos from my trip that got scanned, else I'd have more in this blog entry.
Back in Fremantle, my friend Pauline O'Brien (an Aussie lighthouse expert) took me to several places where I found additional information on the history of the lighthouses. She also took to me to the town cemetery where I photographed one of the graves of a Wadjemup Lighthouse keeper. The highlight of that jaunt were the pink and white parrots in the trees of the cemetery!
After returning home to the United States, I gathered together my research and pictures on the Rottnest Island lighthouses and wrote an article for the U.S. Lighthouse Society's Keepers Log. It appeared in the Summer 2002 issue and then was reprinted by the World Lighthouse Society in one of their newsletters. It is a much longer, more in-depth look at Rottnest Island's history and its lighthouses. I have plans to put it in an eBook soon. I'll post the cover when it becomes available.