Wednesday, September 28, 2016

An Inland Lighthouse

There are more inland lighthouses than you might think. Lakes have lighthouses, especially if there is much boating and shipping traffic. The Great Lakes are a good example. There are many, many lighthouses on their shores. The major rivers of the world all have lighthouses too, sometimes in the traditional style we so love.

The Port of Kennewick on the Columbia River has its own lighthouse, a handsome conical tower standing in a river park. What's truly special about this lighthouse is that it's almost new--built and lighted just a few years ago. Although the lighthouse is mostly a decorative accent for the refurbished waterfront, it does have an official Coast Guard-approved beacon, and vessels do use it.

Washington's saltwater shores on the coast, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands, and Puget Sound have about 22 lighthouses. Clover Island Lighthouse is the most inland light in the state, and the newest lighthouse in Washington (faux lighthouses aside).

To reach the island, there is a bridge with a modern gateway. Clover Island has undergone a transformation in recent years. The lighthouse is just one of the many new structures on the island. There are hotels, a yacht club, the Ice House Brewery, and the Coast Guard Station for the area. There’s also art. The sculpture below is called “Call of the River” and is a bronze statue by Rodd Ambroson that recalls the pioneer days of Kennewick.

This is Lewis & Clark territory. The nearby Columbia Trail Park meanders along the city waterfront for several miles and incorporates the lovely entrance bridge to Clover Island. The Corps of Discovery stopped in the area in 1803, long before white settlement, and had a meal of Columbia River salmon, prepared by the Yakima. Some of Lewis & Clark’s men were worried the fish were sick and refused to eat them, since they found fish lying dead in the river and on the banks. Lewis & Clark were concerned too. They didn’t know the fish-kill is a natural part of the salmon life-cycle as the fish return to their birthplaces to spawn.

Clover Island Lighthouse also recalls the era of the “Lights on the Palouse,” when farmers put daymarks and beacons on their silos to guide wagon trains over the vast expanse of Eastern Washington. The rolling hills, endless miles of scrubby landscape, dust devils, and heat wearied the traveling pioneers. Their hearts lifted when they saw a farm and a beacon.

The Port of Kennewick itself was not established until 1915. The steamboat era of the late nineteenth century saw plenty of vessels making the trip from the mouth of the Columbia River eastward to Kennewick. Other than by train, passengers could get to Eastern Washington quickest on the river. In winter, when the mountain passes were snowy, riverboats were safer than trains. There was also much cargo traveling the river. Ships carried out salmon, wheat, and other crops and brought in staples for the settlers.

Clover Island was purchased by the City of Kennewick in 1946. Back then, it was just a sandy spot in the river. It was enlarged with fill, and a marina and a shipyard were built on the island. Beginning in 2010, the marina was revitalized and a large building was erected to house offices, shops, and restaurants. The lighthouse was a bonus, adding great appeal. Clover Island became a tourist draw with its park-like ambiance---sculpture, pretty landscaped walkways, places to eat and shop, and the lighthouse plaza.

The lighthouse is not open to the public on a regular basis. Special tours are available, though, that include a climb to the top. The grounds are open year-round. A stroll here won't disappoint!

(All photos by the author except construction of the lighthouse photo and draft blueprint image by John Ferrolf, HDJ Design, and the nautical map from NOAA.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Daring Rescue in 1838

England's legendary lighthouse hero, Grace Darling, assisted her father on this day in 1838, rescuing the survivors of the wrecked steamship Forfarshire off Longstone Lighthouse on the rugged and stormy Northumberland Coast.

Grace was 22-years-old at the time, a woman of delicate frame and health, but a dutiful daughter with a sense of honor and pride in her father's work as a lighthouse keeper. Longstone Lighthouse was not a preferred assignment. It sat out to sea on a dreary rock. It was damp, cramped, and lonely. Thus, Grace, who had spent much of her childhood on lighthouses, was shy. But she loved the Longstone Lighthouse and the gray, unpredictable North Sea.

During an overnight storm on September 7th, 1838, the Forfarshire ran onto rocks within site of the lighthouse. Grace, reportedly, was the first to see it. 

When her father said he must rescue the crew, Grace asked to go. She knew she could help with the rowing and hold the coble (long, flat-bottomed rowboat) steady in stormy seas while her father got the survivors on board.

The two set off. It was rough going, and they had to take a somewhat circuitous route to fight the wind and waves. The survivors sent up a cheer when they saw the Longstone keeper and his daughter approaching. All nine were rescued in two trips and brought to the lighthouse.

Grace did not accompany her father on the second trip due to fatigue. She was not well and would later be told she had tuberculosis.

The story of Grace helping with the rescue was picked up by newspapers of the day, some of them tabloid-like. The story of a young, slender, pretty girl rescuing the shipwrecked was big news! Grace was quickly propelled into the limelight, and as expected, some of the facts were construed to make Grace seem like Wonder Woman. Some stories barely mentioned her father, who was the true rescuer.

Grace became the idol of her day. Her likeness was painted many times, and she appeared on myriad trinkets--china, broaches, sailing cards, clothing, and more. I have in my lighthouse collection, a thimble with Grace on it. My mother recalled the Grace Darling dress for little girls sold in the old Sears & Roebuck catalog; it was pink and frilly. Grace was indeed portrayed as girlish and feminine, but also tough.

The public was mad for her! Street markets hawked swatches of cloth said to be from her clothing, pieces of hair said to hers, bits of ribbon, buttons, and anything with her image on it. Grace took it all in stride, for she was far from much of the mania on her quiet lighthouse. Still, reporters came to the lighthouse as well as visitors. Grace quietly but shyly met them and downplayed her role in the rescue. For her it was a duty, something expected of lighthouse families.

By 1841, Grace was very ill and was diagnosed with consumption, another name for tuberculosis. Doctors felt the damp conditions at the lighthouse aggravated her lungs, so she went ashore in 1842 to live with her sister in Bamburgh. Within weeks, she was completely bedridden, gasping for breath, thin, and unable to eat. She quickly declined and died. She was just 26.

The entire world learned of Grace Darling's passing through major newspapers. She was mourned over all of England and beyond its shores. Buried in a simple grave in St. Aidan's Churchyard in Bamburgh, it wasn't long before the public demanded a memorial to Grace Darling. A fund was set up and grew fat with contributions. Even Queen Victoria contributed. The money was used to create a handsome memorial that now stands about 20 yards from Grace's actual grave-site. The memorial has her resting in stone on top of her grave with her hands folded. Due to weathering, the stone effigy of Grace was moved inside the St. Aidan's Church, which also had a stained-glass window made to honor her.

Today, Grace Darling's brief life and briefer brush with fame are preserved in the Grace Darling Museum at Bamburgh (shown below). The town has totally embraced her as a tourist attraction. Replicas have been made of the coble she rowed; tourists find it amazing anyone would take such a small boat into the tumultuous North Sea. The museum gift shop is full of Grace Darling trinkets, but the museum itself is well-done, representing the true Grace Darling, but also the mania surrounding the legendary Grace Darling. 

I am thankful to the museum for all the images used in this blog entry.

Grace Darling's story lives on! Year 2015 was the bicentennial of her birth.

Here are the words to the "Grace Darling Song"---

Twas on the Longstone Lighthouse,
There dwelt and English maid;
Pure as the air around her,
Of danger ne-er afraid;
One morning just at daybreak, 
A storm-tossed wreck she spied;
And tho' to try seemed madness,
"I'll save the crew!" She cried.

And she pulled away o'er the rolling sea,
O'er the water blue --- "Help! Help!"
She could hear the cry of the shipwrecked crew,
But Grace had an English heart;
And the raging storm she brav'd --
She pulled away, mid the dashing spray,
And the crew she saved.