Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Trials of Great Point Lighthouse

On this date in 1984, the old Great Point Lighthouse, completed and lighted in 1818, was knocked down in a fierce spring storm. The 60-foot tall rubble-stone tower had stood for 166 years.

The first lighthouse on Great Point was a wooden tower built in 1784. The point, then called Sandy Point, projected far into the sea on the northeastern side of Nantucket, marking the waters between Nantucket and Monomoy Point (on the Cape Cod mainland). The original light tower was illuminated with whale oil lamps in October 1784 and was dubbed Nantucket Light. Captain Paul Pinkham, a seasoned sailor, was the first lightkeeper. He had to commute 14 miles roundtrip every day to tend the lighthouse, since there were no quarters at the site. There were few lighthouses in America at this time, and other than Boston Light, this lighthouse likely was the most important one in New England. The whaling industry was in its heyday, and ships headed into ports like New Bedford and Nantucket itself had to pass Great Point.


A keeper's house was built in the early 1800s, but in 1812 it burned down. The lightkeeper, Jonathan Coffin, resumed the old and tiresome routine of commuting across the sands from his home to the lighthouse. In 1816, the lighthouse itself burned down. Most citizens suspected arson, but it was never proven.

The residence for the keeper was quickly rebuilt and a temporary light on a post was displayed until 1818 when a new rubble-stone tower was built. The same lamps were installed in the new tower, but this time using a reflector system designed by Winslow Lewis of Cape Cod. In 1857 the tower was given a new third-order Fresnel lens. At this time, the tower also was fortified with a brick lining and the old wooden stairs were replaced by iron stairs.

The lighthouse continued its work dutifully, but when lightships were anchored at Cross Rip and Handkerchief Shoals, ships sometimes mistook the Great Point Light for one of the lightships. This eventually was rectified by changing the signature of the Great Point Light with a red sector, but not before several shipwrecks occurred, including the Leesburg and the Storm Castle
Great Point Lighthouse was a beloved landmark on Nantucket. In 1920, Everett Fitch wrote a poem about it after he left the sea trades and retired ashore:
Good-bye, old friend, old friend, good-bye.
For me you held the light up high.
Through all the years I sailed the sea,
But now you are no more to be.
Alas! I miss thy kindly beam
That from your tower did nightly stream,
And can but heave a heavy sigh.
Good-bye, old friend, old friend, good-bye.
The lighthouse was automated in 1950 and its ancillary buildings were razed, including the house after its was set fire by vandals. The tower stood alone on the point, working well. In 1971, the beautiful Fresnel lens was removed and placed on display at Nantucket Lifesaving Museum. The tower then exhibited a 190mm modern beacon.
Photo by Kraig Anderson
But the point slowly eroded and repeated storms began to undermine the light tower. On March 29, 1984, hurricane force winds tore out the foundation of the light tower and it collapsed. The point was breached by the storm as well, leaving the tip where the lighthouse had stood an island.
The lighthouse community expressed sadness at the loss of the lighthouse and then outrage when the Coast Guard announced that a skeleton tower would replace the old stone tower that had saved so many lives and served steadfastly for 166 years. Fortunately, Senator Edward Kennedy was able to secure $2 million in federal funding to rebuild the lighthouse using many of the old stones that lay on the beach as exterior facing on a reinforced concrete tower. Like the fabled Phoenix, the new tower rose and was lighted on September 6, 1986. Senator Kennedy was on hand to dedicate the new tower and baptize it with champagne.
It continues to shine brightly, carrying on a long American tradition of making the seas safe for mariners.

Photo by Kraig Anderson


All images from the author's collection or the U.S. Coast Guard Archives, except where otherwise noted.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Curiosities for Sale...or Not

I have my share of lighthouse collectibles. Most people who love lighthouses do. Many of mine were gifts from family, friends, and groups I've given presentations to or helped with projects. A few caught my eye on eBay. Most of my purchases, though, have been images for books and articles. I do like memorabilia!

Occasionally, I meet that lighthouse fancier who seems to have everything lighthouse! Product makers are only to happy to accommodate someone who has more than a liking...maybe an addiction. (I'm not quite there yet...but getting close.)

Check out some of the fun lighthouse curiosities available. (I assure you, I have no association or deal with any of the companies selling these items. I just want to let you know where you can get them...in case your liking has become an addicition.)

I absolutely love the simplicity of this lighthouse pepper mill. Fresh pepper, ground at the table, from a beautiful wooden pepper mill! I don't have one of these, but I do have one that looks like Seattle's Space Needle...kind of a lighthouse...perhaps...sort of....

Give it a Shake
Add caption

Father's Day deserves a special gift. If my dad was still living, I like to gift him these cufflinks from Zazzle. You know you're dressed up when you wear cufflinks! Dad used to wear them when he went to weddings and banquets, and such. This pair features Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. Wear a Pair

I have several table lamps that feature lighthouses. My favorite is a Lefton model featuring Admiralty Head Lighthouse. The shade has an old world map look. My lamp looks similar to this one that features Amelia Island Lighthouse--Light up Your Life

There's lots of lighthouse bling for sale online and in gift shops. You've already seen the cufflinks. I admit I have lighthouse earrings, but I really do like this ring; it's classy! I could see this being a great conversation starter. Buy the Bling!

Lighthouse keepers were known for being fastidious. Everything at a lighthouse had to be clean and shiny when the Lighthouse Inspector arrived. Maybe you aren't worried about that sort of "clean." But we all need to stay personally clean. You can buy a bar of lighthouse soap or make your own with a mold. I like this herbal brand, though I've yet to buy it. Get Clean & Bright
A lighthouse dreidel for Hanukkah--who knew? Not in my collection, but I like it! Give It a Spin

Does anyone use a thimble anymore? Not me. My sister-in-law quilts with one. My husband wears a thingy to protect one of his fingers that cracks and peels in winter. Maybe he needs this! Or, he could use the one I have with Grace Darling on it. She was a lighthouse keeper's daughter in England; she rescued some shipwrecked sailors and was propelled into fame. Stick One on Your Finger

I've seen lighthouse fingernail art on several occasions, and I admire anyone who can create fancy nails freehand. This website has a tutorial for doing your nails...and they even glow in the dark! I rarely paint my nails--I'm not careful and would mess them up in no time--but if I did... Paint Your Nails

Yes, this is a "thumbnail" image.

We all like to buy toys for our pets. No dogs at my house...I wonder if my cats would like this? Here you go! Fetch!
Need a light? Plain old matches are fine, but why not these? They have character! I'd love a box of these, so I could impress my friends by lighting the charcoal in the BBQ grill by striking one on my shoe sole. My dad used to do that. Strike a Deal

I'll wrap this up.....decide for yourself. Wonder Unders

Thursday, March 17, 2016

McGregor Point Lighthouse, Maui, Hawai'i

McGregor Point Lighthouse in 2000 (Photo by Larry Myhre)
Minor lights don't get much publicity; yet, they often have an interesting history. I researched McGregor Point Light on Maui, a few miles south of Lahaina, about two years ago for a friend named McGregor. He was wondering if he might have some connection to the lighthouse. A little research showed he had distant relatives who went to Hawai'i in the nineteenth century, so perhaps he is related to the man for whom this light and its point are named.
McGregor Point Light is typical of the many minor light structures built in Hawai'i. Even modern-day Lahaina Light, one of Hawai'i's oldest lighthouse sites, is similar in design. Once the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment discovered the wonder material called concrete, it became a standard for inexpensive lighthouse construction. In Hawai'i, where the budget for lighthouses was low following acquisition of the Hawaiian Islands as a U.S. territory, concrete was a miracle material. You'll see many minor lights, and a few major ones, in our 50th state built of concrete in this square, pyramidal shape. They may not be the prettiest lighthouses, but their stories are important.
Captain Daniel McGregor, who immigrated to the United States from Scotland and then to Hawai’i in the 1860s, was the first keeper of Honolulu Harbor Lighthouse, established in 1869. He lit the lamps for the first time on August 2, 1869. The beacon was a simple oil lantern in a 26-foot wooden tower. The light could be seen for about 8 miles. Because the lantern looked like a birdcage, mariners quickly nicknamed it “The Harbor Wink.”

In 1871, Captain McGregor left the lighthouse to command the steamer Kilauea. He ran an inter-island trade called the Ko’olau Trade, the name referring to trade with ports on the windward sides of the islands.

One night in the 1870s, McGregor’s was headed for the Mā’laea Bay landing on Maui. He knew he could not anchor in such an exposed area as the landing afforded, and so he ordered his crew to take soundings and find a sheltered place to drop anchor. They did. Come morning, the captain saw that his ship was in a quiet cove in Mā’laea Bay, protected by bluffs. It soon was dubbed McGregor Point and became the preferred landing area in foul weather.

In the 1880s the Wilder Steamship Company, which ran a passenger and freight service between the islands, began erecting private aids to navigation, since the island government at the time did not have the resources to build lighthouses. The company’s beacons were situated along the waterways their ships traveled. One place that needed to be marked was McGregor Point near the Mā’laea Bay landing. Coral reefs off the point made navigation tricky.

The first beacon here was a small lantern hung from a post, like the one pictured below. The lantern glass was red to distinguish it from lights on the plantations behind it.

In 1904, after the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment took over the navigational aids in Hawai’i, the lamp at Mā’laea Bay was replaced with a lens-lantern, an 8-day lamp about three feet tall with a kerosene reservoir, and the post was switched out for a 12-foot-tall one. The beacon remained fixed red. A local lamplighter was paid to refill and service the lamp once a week. If there from mid-December through mid-May, he might have seen humpback whales in the ocean off the lighthouse. Today, it’s Hawai’i’s most popular whale-watching spot.

In 1908, after the United States acquired the Territory of Hawai’i, the U.S. government set aside 1.33 acres of land at McGregor Point and moved the beacon there.

From: Statutes of the United States of America, 1919:

NOW THEREFORE I, WOODROW WILSON, President of the United States, by virtue of the authority in me vested, do hereby declare proclaim and make known that the parcel of land situated at McGregor Point, District of Lahaina on the Island of Maui, in the Territory of Hawaii, reserved for lighthouse purposes, by Presidential Proclamation of December 4 1908, be and the same is hereby restored to the possession use and control of the government of the Territory of Hawaii to wit. Dwelling Site: From a concrete monument marking former location of McGregor Point Light Station, measure by true azimuth 138º 45’ 945 ft to a point on the hillside for a place of beginning Thence by true azimuths and distances—

1.     157º 52’ 275 ft thence

2.     104º 15’ 450 ft thence

3.     337º 52’ 560 ft more or less to north side of Government road thence

4.     Along Government road to place bearing 337º 52’ and being about 300 ft distant from place of beginning thence

5.     157º 52’ 300 ft to place of beginning Containing 4.2 acres more or less

This new light showed from a 32-foot mast on the bluff  80-feet above the sea. There was a storage building at the foot of the mast, painted white with a red roof. About 1000-yards from the mast was a small one, story dwelling for a resident lightkeeper. It was painted light green with a red roof. The station (proper title for a lighthouse complex with mast or tower, dwelling, and other buildings) was completed and placed in service May 1, 1906. Three months later, the wisdom of placing the station on the high bluff was proven. Tsunami waves destroyed the Mā’laea Bay wharf but did not reach the lighthouse.

From 1911-1912 the lightkeeper was Luther K. Kalama. In 1913 John N. Ano was listed as the keeper of the light at McGregor Point.

About 1914, during the keepership of John Chester, the mast light was replaced by a 20-foot-tall reinforced concrete tower of pyramidal shape.

From: Annual Report, United States Dept. of the Interior, 1915--

On the island of Maui a new concrete tower has been erected and the apparatus purchased for the change in the near future of the lens lantern oil lighted station at McGregor Point to an acetylene gas lighted station and a change of Kauiki Head Light Station from oil to acetylene gas light was completed in April 1914.

The focal plane of the new light at McGregor Point was 72-feet above sea. James L. Cornwell, the lightkeeper in 1915, left the station, since it was now equipped to operate automatically with acetylene gas tanks. An inspector keeper would henceforth visit the light every few months to make sure all was in order. The beacon was changed from fixed red to a white flash for 0.5 seconds every 1.5 seconds, at 160 candlepower. This was the work of the new U.S. Bureau of Lighthouses, whose commissioner, George R. Putnam, aimed to cut costs with automation.

During World War II the station was staffed by the Coast Guard, mainly as a lookout for enemy activity. Edmund L. Arruda was the Officer in Charge shortly after the war began. Probably, there were several Coast Guard personal at the station at this time to share watches.

For a few years (dates unknown) it is believed the light was unlit. It may have been extinguished during the war and the station used only as a lookout. It might also have been painted in camouflage green to make it less easy to see. This was the case at a number of U.S. lighthouses during the war, including Barbers Point Lighthouse on Oahu. A Light List for 1944 had McGregor Point Light lighted, and another one in 1959 indicates it was lighted at this time too. For certain, it was lighted in the early 1960s. Ed Marques, resident keeper at Pa’wela Point Lighthouse on the opposite shore of Maui was the inspection keeper at this time for McGregor Point Light and several other automated beacons on Maui. He lived at Pa’wela Point.

In recent years, the Coast Guard has updated the lighthouse with a modern green beacon and solarized it. It's easy to see from Rt. 30 on the south coast of Maui.
Author James Gibbs on top of McGregor Point Lighthouse in the late 1960s. (Photo from the author's collection)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Mooncussing Keeper..or Not?

On this date--March 14, 1870--the deputy inspector of lighthouses in the Bahamas sent a letter to the Bahamian governor expressing concern over the morals of the lighthouse keeper at Gun Cay.

1884 Gun Cay Lighthouse (British Library image)

The inspector felt sure the keeper was deliberately changing the signal of the lighthouse to confuse ships and cause wrecks. He based this supposition on the fact that the keeper "had married into a family of unscrupulous wreckers residing on Bimini a few miles away" from the Gun Cay Lighthouse.

Wrecking was supposed to be an ethical and useful business, where the goods of a wrecked ship were salvaged for the ship-owner and, at the same time, any shipwreck survivors were rescued. Sometimes wreckers even salvaged the ship itself, either in pieces or to repair and refloat the vessel.

In some places, though, business was nefariously improved by causing shipwrecks. This practice was usually done on moonless nights. Thus, these kinds of wreckers were called mooncussers; they hated bright moonlit nights when ships could see the shoreline and hazards such as whitewater waves on reefs and sandbars. Moonlit nights were not helpful if you wanted to cause a shipwreck. A dark, stormy night was best for the evil practice of mooncussing.

Mooncussers lured ships onto reefs by various means. Some displayed a lantern they hoped a ship would mistake for a lighthouse. Others hung the lantern over the neck of a horse and walked the animal along a treacherous shore to delude a ship into thinking another vessel lay safely at anchor. The rocking of the light mimicked the rocking of a ship. In fact, the community of Nags Head on the Outer Banks of North Carolina supposedly takes it name from the old nag a wrecker once used on that beach. For a lighthouse keeper, it would have been easy to confuse a ship by either turning out the light or changing its signal of flashes.

Most wreckers in the Bahamas were upright citizens who saved lives and property from wrecked ships. But on occasion there were mooncussers among them who exhibited false lights and led ships astray to profit from the spoils of a tragic wreck. The false light carried the biblical name Judas Lantern. Was the Gun Cay lightkeeper guilty of luring ships to their doom in 1870? He certainly had the means to do it, and just offshore of his light were shallows and the narrow channel between Gun Cay and Cat Cay. (You can see it on the map above.)

I'm still searching books and records to find out which type of wrecker the Gun Cay lightkeeper was. I hope he loved a full moon and a ship riding safely by his lighthouse.

Below are some images of the Gun Cay Lighthouse as it looks in recent years. Notice the ruined keepers' dwellings, the rotted up dock, and the curious tripod supporting a light on top of the tower.

Photo by Oscar Reyes for Lighthouse Digest.

Photo by the Sailing Vessel Snow Goose

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Kindle of Lighthouse Books, Plus a Clucky One

If you like e-books, I'm happy to announce that several of my lighthouse books are now in Kindle format. Kindle appears to be improving the appearance and friendliness of its books. Photos, especially, are getting better. I'm glad, because lighthouses are extremely pictorial. Photos of them are important in a book.

Pineapple Press has converted several of my popular titles to Kindle:

Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Guardians-Lights-Stories-Lighthouse-Keepers/dp/1561641197/ref=pd_bxgy_14_img_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=14GKSYMPJD79JSMMZXDX
Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Lightkeepers-Menagerie-Stories-Animals-Lighthouses/dp/1561643912/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Lighthouses-Greece-Elinor-Wire/dp/1561644609/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Voyageur Press offers this one in Kindle. It won the Ben Franklin Award and the Coast Guard Book Award!--

And if you haven't seen my Itty-Bitty-Kitty Guide to Lighthouses... series, check out these three. As of this date, they are only available in Kindle format. All of them are bargain priced at $1.99. I plan to convert them to print format later this year, for those who like a print copy of a book. I have several more of these in the pipeline, including one on the lighthouses of Bermuda, and one on the lighthouses of Rottnest Island, Australia. They're designed to take along on your travels on a tablet or laptop.

Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Bitty-Kitty-Guide-Lighthouses-Georgia-ebook/dp/B00IVTC118/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Itty-Bitty-Kitty-Lighthouses-Pennsylvania-Elinor-DeWire-ebook/dp/B00N47DL8Y/ref=pd_sim_351_2?ie=UTF8&dpID=51PtGWTpSeL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR124%2C160_&refRID=1RV2S9ZZZ93R8D1Z2FZC
Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Itty-Bitty-Kitty-Guide-Lighthouses-New-Hampshire-ebook/dp/B00KQ4V3RE/ref=pd_sim_351_1?ie=UTF8&dpID=51t0MxlQLYL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_UX300_PJku-sticker-v3%2CTopRight%2C0%2C-44_AC_UL160_SR124%2C160_&refRID=0HS95FJG8TKBCTNABMCA

In case you didn't know, I write on other topics too. Here's an example in Kindle format. Cluck!!! This is the first of a series I call The Funky... books. Most of these will be about animals, because...I LOVE ANIMALS!...and I have scads of files on everything from dogs to donkeys, cats to horses, owls to ravens, and even a few cryptids like mermaids and sea monsters. These books give me a break from the lighthouse titles...which I love writing and illustrating, of course, but every so often I just want to have a little fun. In one sense, "funky" means "a little curious, odd, or off the beaten path." These titles are.

Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Funky-Chicken-Memories-Truth-Tribute-ebook/dp/B00FAS4U6W/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Famous Mascot of the Lighthouse Tender Hyacinth

If you loved my last blog entry about Old Jack the Lighthouse Mule, you'll like this one too!
The Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association has been around for more than thirty years. I met the founders of the group in 1985 at a conference in Rockland, Maine, and they enlisted me to help them write articles for the GLLKA newsletter, The Beacon. Below is the first article I wrote for GLLKA for the Fall 1985 issue.
I discovered a copy of it while organizing my office in my new home in Connecticut. It's just as heartwarming a story today as it was more than thirty years ago. The information is true and was first mentioned in the United States Lighthouse Service Bulletin for 1927. Since no one seemed to have a photo, the drawing of Sport was done by Leo Kuchel, who did many illustrations and covers for The Beacon.
Here's a picture of the Hyacinth, courtesy of the George N. Fletcher Library in Alpena, Michigan. She was built in 1903 and served navigational aids for many years. She was scrapped in 1957.
Many ships had mascots in years past, mostly cats and dogs. Those days are gone, for health reasons I'm told. A four-footed friend surely would have made life at sea easier!(Click on the image below for a larger copy of the article.)