Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Memories of Maine's Wood Island Lighthouse

Maine's Wood Island Lighthouse, though built offshore on a small island, was a popular one years ago due to its accessibility for recreational boaters and fishermen. The families who tended it were much-loved and remembered on holidays with gifts. Visitors frequented the lighthouse too. The old postcard above shows what the station looked like about 1900. The pointed, pyramidal structure was the bellhouse that housed the 1,315-pound fogbell. It was added to the light station in 1873 and had its own striking mechanism. The bell became famous after Keeper Thomas Orcutt taught his dog Sailor how to tug on the bell clapper and ring the bell. Sailor is pictured below. Later, in the late 1960s after electricity came to the island, the bell was replaced by a foghorn.Today, the bell is on display at Vines Landing on the mainland.

Photo courtesy of Judy Orcutt

There are many poignant, humorous, and tragic stories about life on Wood Island Light Station. Kraig Anderson of Lighthouse Friends, relates this one in his profile of the lighthouse--

Not all was idyllic on Wood Island during Keeper Orcutt’s tenure. Late in the afternoon of June 1, 1896, Howard Hobbs, a fisherman living in a shack on the opposite end of the island, arrived at the lighthouse and told Keeper Orcutt that he has just shot his landlord and neighbor, Frederick Milliken. Hobbs was delinquent in his rent, and when Milliken requested to speak with him, he showed up at Milliken’s place with a gun. Milliken attempted to ascertain whether the weapon was loaded, but Hobbs, who had been on the mainland drinking earlier that day, promptly fired a round into Milliken’s abdomen. Hobbs was immediately remorseful and tried to help Mrs. Milliken attend to her husband, but shortly after returning to the scene of the shooting with Keeper Orcutt, Mr. Milliken passed away. Hobbs retired to his shack, where he quickly penned a letter and then took his own life with a shot to his head. Due primarily to this event, Wood Island is considered by some to be haunted, and in 2005 the New England Ghost Project investigated the island for paranormal activity.    

Below are several stories and recollections of Wood Island lightkeeping featured in The Boston Globe in the 1920s. (Clipping below courtesy of Lighthouse Digest, February 1993)

Wood Island Light Station in recent years, courtesy of Bob Trapani, American Lighthouse Foundation. The Foundation has done a great deal of good work to restore the light station and provide public access to it.

For more information on the light station visit Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse.

Another great source of information is Jeremy D'Entremont's profile of Wood Island Lighthouse.

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