Thursday, December 31, 2015

It's a New Year!

From Card Cow on eBay

Lighthouses and the New Year--there's a connection! (I pride myself on finding lighthouse connections to just about everything!)

Did you know many lighthouses were illuminated on New Year's Day? It's a fact. January 1st was a good date to add a lighthouse to the lineup of beacons, in the United States and in many other nations. Mariners knew to check monthly notices about changes to navigational aids. December's list of changes was always long, with many new lights to be lit on the first day of the coming year. In fact, New Year's Day was likely the most common day for lighthouses to be illuminated for the first time.

Dr. Henry Maggs, the first keeper of Point No Point Lighthouse in Hansville, Washington, was supposed to light up the lighthouse for the first time January 1, 1880. However, the lens did not arrive on time, probably due to the bad weather the area was experiencing. Maggs, a dentist by trade, and his assistant, Henry Edwards, were concerned that no light would show in the lighthouse on its scheduled opening, so they hung an ordinary household kerosene lantern in the light tower. It was feeble but better than no light. The wind blew it out frequently. The two keepers were vigilant, though, and quickly relighted it. They tended this makeshift light until February 5 when the lens finally arrived. (There was no need for either man to resolve to be more dedicated in the New Year!)

The Point No Point Lighthouse shortly after the lens was installed. Note the fogbell to the right of the tower. Photo from the U.S. Lighthouse Society archives.

The symbolism of lighthouses as guiding the way forward was adopted for use in New Year's postcards and greeting cards in the nineteenth century. Here are a few examples, some from my collection and a few from eBay. It's curious that around 1900 Father Time was thought to live in a lighthouse!

Here's Father Time with his lantern signaling to a ship. Notice the clock in his lighthouse reads midnight.


Lighthouses illustrate many New Year's trinkets. My mom always got a calendar towel for Christmas every year. I don't recall her ever having one with Cape Cod lighthouses on it, but I've had several with lighthouses on them. You can find lots of lighthouse calendar towels online. When the year ends, they can be re-purposed as tea towels!
There are scads of paper lighthouse calendars available for purchase, to get the New Year going. Foghorn Publishing always has them.
There are regional lighthouse calendars, state lighthouse calendars, national lighthouse calendars, or collections that feature lighthouses around the world. The images are always stunning. I think lighthouses are really appropriate for calendar, not just because I love them, but because lighthouses function 365 days a year. The lights are ALWAYS shining. Keepers wrote in daily journals and logbooks, which kept them in touch with the passing days. I've even visited lighthouses where a lighthouse calendar was hung on the wall!


I could post many, many images of lighthouses calendars here! I've always wanted to produce one of my own. I've certainly got plenty of images to use. The caveat--they aren't sellable after the year ends, or even a few months into the year. The ones I do buy from other publishers get re-used for kids' activities in schools. I tear out the pages and laminate them so kids can see the variety of lighthouses on duty.

Did lighthouse keepers of the past make New Year's Resolutions? I suppose so. The tradition of making promises to do something in the new year is very old, dating back at least to the Babylonians. While lightkeepers often made comments about the New Year in their logbooks and journals, I can't recall any resolutions that were placed in the books. These were serious, business-like folk, and most of their written comments were not of a personal nature. They weren't very candid people, at least not in the record books. Also, their lives were regulated by their duties--the lighting and extinguishing of the beacon, cleaning, painting, operating the fog signal, and more--and by nature, which controlled the weather, the tides, and the behavior of wildlife around a lighthouse. There was plenty to do, so there wasn't much time for thinking about self-improvement and dreaming of a better life.
Being far from civilization and bound to their duty 365 days a year, no fireworks or parties or other public celebrations were part of lightkeepers' New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. No doubt they had their own family traditions. All of us do! There might have been a special meal, or some singing.
My family has a New Year's tradition. Some of our ancestors were German, and like them we eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day. It's supposed to bring luck, happiness, and prosperity in the New Year. (And it tastes great, especially piled on fluffy mashed potatoes!)
The New Year will bring some big changes for me. In that regard, I apologize that I have not been doing regular posts on this blog of late, and I probably won't post much until February. The reason? I'm in the process of moving from the Pacific NW to New England. My husband and I have retired from our jobs and want to live closer to our grandchildren. Within a week, my office will be entirely packed up and loaded on a moving truck. By February, I'll be settled in Connecticut, and I'll be back to my lighthouse work. I look forward to living and working in a new home nearer my family. Wish me luck and safe travels!
And thanks for visiting my blog!


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