Monday, January 15, 2024

A Keeper's Wife Remembers...






            On December 31, 1961, my husband and I along with our two young sons, moved into the Slip Point Light Station at Clallam Bay, Washington.  We had just come from a very active search and rescue Coast Guard station at Hammond, Oregon and my husband was anxious to have a less dangerous responsibility and activity level for awhile.  I was expecting our third child in late February. 


            We had other friends that were at light stations and had heard that life at a light station could be serene and pleasant, but that there were certain demands that were required of both the Coast Guard personnel and their wives.  I was told that the house was to be ready for inspection at all times which was supposedly even more important since my husband was the officer-in-charge.


            Slip Point did not have the traditional light house sitting on a hill or bluff as the first one had fallen into the sea many years before our duty began.  Instead, we had a walkway out onto the reef with a light on the end that also included a fog signal.  However, our house, a large duplex was in the typical lighthouse style.  Three stories, many windows, and beautiful cherry wood furniture supposedly made years before in the prison system.


1944 image looking back at the keeper's house. (Coast Guard Museum NW)

            On a clear and beautiful Monday afternoon on January 29, 1962, my husband was asleep upstairs after serving on the night watch and our two boys were outside playing.  The station's Seaman knocked at the door all excited and said we were being invaded.  He had heard shells going overhead and was able to convince me that we were in fact being shelled. I got the boys in the house right away.  The next task was to rouse my husband and tell him. 


            The news was hard to believe and he was hard to persuade, but he agreed to get up and see what was going on.  As it turned out, yes we were being shelled, by accident of course, but by the Canadian Navy who had sent a drone plane out over the Straits so that their ships could practice firing two or three pound "dud" shells at the plane.  Unfortunately, the plane went over our reef and the shells followed.  One hit the Clallam Bay school yard five minutes before school was let out.  A brass detonator landed a few feet from a fellow in town who was digging in his garden.  A shell did hit one house and knocked off a few shingles.  Another landed embedded in a log that someone was able to locate.  All of these items were gathered up and ended up on my kitchen counter while we waited for our US Naval munitions to arrive and check everything out. 


            Lots of excitement and an international event was prevented, but none of us quite got over the close call of nearly being hit with one of those practice bombs.   

Our length of service lasted only 18 months as my husband found that he really missed search and rescue.  Due to a number of incidents, I also agreed that this was not the quiet life we had envisioned and I was glad to move on.  So, in June of 1963, we moved to Cape Disappointment station in Ilwaco, Washington and one of the busiest search and rescue stations in the US.


Joan E. Miller

wife of CWO -4 Willis Paul MIlller


Paul passed away in 1977 after serving in the Coast Guard for 23 years.

Slip Point had only a foghorn in 1904 when this photo was taken. (Courtesy of Coast Guard Museum NW)

By 1916, Slip Point was a complete working light station, with a fog signal and a light tower. (Coast Guard Museum NW)

By 1952, a landslide behind the lighthouse had so endangered it, the light itself was moved to a small, conical tower nearby. This is the light Joan's husband tended. (Coast Guard Museum NW)


Today, nothing remains of Slip Point Lighthouse or the conical tower. If you look closely, you can see some broken remains of the suport for the plank walkway. (Elinor DeWire photo)

Joan Miller attended a lightkeepers' reunion in Silverdale, Washington in 2006. I have not heard from her since that time. I searched for an obituary for her, as she would on in years by now, but did not find one. So, I assume she is still living.

Friday, November 3, 2023

New Christmas Ornament of Sanibel Lighthouse

 homepage logo


Bailey’s annual ornament features beloved lighthouse



Bailey’s General Store on Sanibel recently unveiled its 2023 Christmas ornament, which showcases the iconic Sanibel Lighthouse and reflects the enduring spirit of islanders and visitors both near and far.

“This cherished tradition is just a small way for the third and fourth generations of owner-operators at Bailey’s to maintain a personal connection with customers while the fourth building iteration of Bailey’s General Store and Bailey’s Center is planned,” fourth-generation owner-operator Calli Johnson said in a prepared statement.

First lit on Aug. 20, 1884, the lighthouse — also known as the Point Ybel Light — marks the entrance to the San Carlos Bay and the historic port of Punta Rassa. The location was strategically located for Florida’s booming cattle industry and trade with locales further south. Florida Crackers driving their cattle to the port began the pilgrimage across the bay and beyond first made by the cattle, then later by visitors and residents of the islands when tourism became the reigning industry in the Florida.

After the United States forcibly removed native peoples from the area in the 1800s, the Lighthouse Board requested funds from Congress to establish a light first in 1881. Approval and land disputes delayed construction to 1884, when the foundation of the light was constructed. Tragedy first struck the lighthouse when the schooner carrying the original iron skeleton from New Jersey sank merely two miles from the intended home. All but two pieces of the skeleton were salvaged by hardhat divers.

As one of the first lights on the west coast north of Key West, it is designed for its namesake as a “Sanibel Class” light and sistered by 13 remaining lights, with three sister lights residing on the west coast and panhandle. The Sanibel Lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and now under U.S. Coast Guard operation. The original flashes were modified around 1933 to the current 10-second grouped flash. The light went unused during World War II, when even dimming the light would have still blinded lookouts at the tower just south of the light watching for enemy vessels. In 1949, the lighthouse was unmanned and the keepers quarters became the headquarters for the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Electrified in 1963, the original lens was replaced with a smaller 500 mm glass lens. The light has operated as a beacon for the islands since relighting after World War II.

After Hurricane Ian hit on Sept. 28, 2022, rumors quickly spread that the island symbol was toppled by the near-Category 5 storm. Islanders returned to find it was missing a leg, but all of the surrounding historic buildings including the Caretakers Cottages had been washed away by the 14-foot storm surge, leaving only a few bricks behind. The light was extinguished when Ian blew through, but relit by the U.S. Coast Guard on Feb. 26 — exactly six months after the islands were ravaged. Now a symbol of resilience with a “broken” leg, it represents the island community with its battered yet unbroken spirit.

“The lighthouse has been on our ‘list’ for years, but it holds even more of a special place in our hearts as we recover from the hurricane. It reminds us that we’re still standing strong,” fourth-generation owner-operator and finance manager Bailie Johnson said in the prepared statement of why it was chosen. “Our store and the lighthouse have much in common, including their history, their founding principles and their symbol of resilience. Just like the Point Ybel Light, we will continue to weather future storms for our community.”

The tradition of the ornaments began in 2009 with an idea driven by one of Bailey’s longtime staff members, Pat Kiely. Kiely’s unfailing dedication to the Bailey’s brand led to her creation of the first ornament, custom-made and gold-plated by the Charleston Mint, which featured the Bailey’s logo.

The 2023 ornament can be purchased from The Island Store on Captiva, which is also operated by the family and its staff, or by visiting Bailey’s online store at

The Island Store is at 1500 Andy Rosse Lane, Captiva.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

A Chance Meeting with a Chance Descendant


Elinor DeWire and Mary Iles at Cape Schanck Lighthouse in Victoria, Australia., November 2022.

Mary IIles is a descendent of the Chance Brothers who made so many British lenses for lighthouses. I met Mary last November at Cape Schanck Lighthouse in Australia, where she volunteers. Mary is so knowledgeable and friendly! I thoroughly enjoyed her presentation and our chat.

Below is the handout Mary gives visitors to Cape Schanck Lighthouse. 

Friday, March 31, 2023


The Black Lighthouse of Queenscliff, Australia

I spent a month in Australia with the U.S. Lighthouse Society in November 2022. What an amazing trip! I invite you to learn a little about one of the South Australia lighthouses I visited. I will say, (eyes rolling) that the docent for the society tour at this sentinel was loud, obnoxious, and pushy. Since there is an Aussie army military installation around the lighthouse, I suppose he had dreams of being a drill sergeant. And it was obvious he thought Americans amusing. Anyway, let's hope if you visit, you'll have a nicer docent to take you around the site. You'll learn a lot of Aussie military history and a little about the Black Lighthouse, so named for its dark color. The basalt blocks in the tower give it the name.

Two of my photos are posted below. They are copyrighted, so don't use them.

I have reproduced the flier I was given, with all information on visiting the site and a bit of history of the lighthouse itself. Enjoy, and if you get Down Under, do visit the lighthouses. They are awesome!

Thursday, June 9, 2022

 A Grain of Cape Sand

Photo by Kraig Anderson

Old Long Point Light--so sandy. Photo from Coast Guard Archives

Old postcard of Nobska Lighthouse about 1900.

Monomoy Lighthouse in its sandy setting. No date. Coast Guard Archives photo

A sand dune creeps up on Monomoy Lighthouse. Great photo by Dennis Donohue. Please go to his website and check out his fabulous images. The Natural World Through My Lens (

Race Point Lighthouse and quarters, nestled in the sand. Photo by TripAdvisor

It isn't named Sandy Neck for nothing! Photo from

Monday, March 7, 2022

 In honor of Women's History Month, enjoy these articles.

Grace Darling

Extraordinary Rescuer or Media Heroine?


Elinor DeWire


Twas on the Longstone light-house,

There dwelt an English maid;

Pure as the air around her,

Of danger ne’er afraid…       

                        Cal Bagby, “The Ballad of Grace Darling”


            What lighthouse enthusiast has not heard of Grace Darling, the daughter of an English lighthouse keeper whose pluck and call to duty in 1838 resulted in the rescue of the survivors of the wrecked steamship Forfarshire? Thanks to flowery Victorian journalism and the British bent for fanfare, Grace’s single gallant deed earned her immortality and made her, as biographer Jessica Mitford said, “the first media heroine.” Yet, her story is barely a glimmer these days…not the popular and embellished tale it was more than a century ago. Who was Grace Darling really, and was she as heroic as history claims.

            I first heard about Grace Darling from my mother, a great reader and amateur historian who, though she never visited England or saw the tempestuous North Sea where Grace gained fame, had learned the heroine’s story in books and girls’ magazines when she was a child during World War I. One day when I was about seven, as we browsed through a plethora of pretty Easter bonnets in Montgomery Ward’s, we came across one with pink, ribbon ties called “Grace Darling.” Mother proceeded to educate me about girls who were pretty and dainty but also tough as nails and braver, sometimes, than their male peers. She remembered reading that Grace Darling had been given an expensive bonnet after Grace became famous.

            Grace’s story grew from simple roots into florid blooms. At dawn on September 7, 1838, Grace and her father, William Darling, the keeper of the 1826 Longstone Lighthouse in the Farne Islands, awoke to the howl of wind and crashing of waves against their ocean home. Spume filled the air as they looked across the slate gray North Sea, a body of water notorious for its storms. It was 4:45 a.m. In the distance the dim, ghostly outline of a ship was seen in the quickening twilight, aground on Big Harcar Rock almost a mile from the lighthouse. A telescope revealed survivors clinging to the wreck.

            Keeper Darling, in the tradition of all lighthouse keepers, waited for low tide and greater daylight, then donned his oilskins and downed a hot drink to steel himself for the grueling task ahead—attempting a rescue of the survivors. The surfmen at North Sunderland (now called Seahouses) likely were not able to reach the ship with their lifeboat. The survivors’ only hope was the lightkeeper on Longstone.

            His twenty-two-year-old daughter, Grace, knowing her father needed help, asked to accompany him. She was young and could handle a boat. The only other person at the lighthouse was her mother, and the elder woman had less strength than Grace. Who knows what conversation passed between Grace and her father? It was a miserable chore to push a small boat into stormy seas. They knew they’d be risking their lives to save others. But this was the way of God-fearing coastal people, especially on the North Sea where fishing, boat-building, and other maritime trades dominated the economy. “You have to go out…” was their mantra.

            Blankets were gathered, and the lighthouse coble, a short, flat-bottomed boat 21½-feet long from stem to stern, was lowered into the wild waters. Grace and her father were able rowers, but the mountainous seas and violent tide pushed the stout little coble off course several times, making the journey to the stranded ship twice as long. They reached the wreck—the steamer Forfarshire—in about an hour and Keeper Darling took off five of the nine survivors while Grace steadied the coble. The boat could hold no more than seven safely, so once loaded they rowed for the lighthouse. The lightkeeper and two of the rescued seamen then made a second trip to the wreck to fetch the remaining survivors. Grace did not accompany them this second time. Instead, she remained at the lighthouse with her mother to help the castaways, one of whom was badly injured.

            What makes Grace Darling a heroine for this effort? It was, after all, only one trip to the wrecked ship, with Grace merely rowing and steadying the boat. Her father did the actual rescuing and made two trips to the wreck. It was strenuous, to be sure, but the Darlings were skilled boat-handlers and observers of the sea. According to a naturalist in Seahouses, “I shouldn’t think their lives were in much danger.” Indeed, “The Deed,” as local Northumbrians call Grace’s act, might not have been worthy of the fame that followed.

            Several lighthouse women later equaled or surpassed Grace Darling’s effort. The United States had several “Grace Darlings.” Ida Lewis of Lime Rock Light in Newport, Rhode Island is said to have single-handedly rescued more than dozen people, as well as a small herd of drowning sheep that she flipped in her rowboat one at a time using an oar. Diminutive Katie Walker of New York Harbor’s Robbins Reef Light—less than five feet tall—is credited with more than fifty rescues, all accomplished on her own. And teenage Abbie Burgess saved her invalid mother and siblings during a terrible storm at Matinicus Rock, Maine, then kept the twin lighthouses operating for more than a month when her father was detained ashore.

            Rescuing and other acts of self-sacrifice were commonplace among light keeping families. Longstone lightkeeper William Darling, had done it before and would do it again. It was expected of his compassionate, solicitous occupation. To have his daughter help him row to the wreck was nothing extraordinary. Lighthouse history is replete with daughters who helped their fathers in myriad ways.

            Shipwreck was commonplace too, especially in the tumultuous North Sea at the change of seasons. William Darling’s logbook entries for Longstone Lighthouse mention several wrecks during his tenure alone. What was remarkable about the Forfarshire incident was not the shipwreck or the rescue, but the sensationalism it created, and how with lightning speed it transformed a quiet, shy, girl of twenty-two into a celebrity.

            Grace’s rapid rise to fame was rooted in the Forfarshire rescue, but other factors may have contributed more, including the tenor of the time, a rising literacy rate, and the public’s fascination with women who challenged the feminine archetype. Names like Joan of Arc, Lady Godiva, and even Queen Victoria, who had recently ascended the British throne and proven herself a capable monarch, resonated with a nation that seemed on top of the world. Everyday people, especially girls and women, could read and write by the early nineteenth century. Grace Darling herself was educated, an avid reader, letter-writer, and keeper of journals. Books, newspapers, and magazines rolled off the presses in her day, readily accessible. The time was ripe for a good heroic story.

            Three days after the wreck of the Forfarshire the weather broke in the Farne Islands, allowing William Darling to take survivors ashore. Once on dry land, the castaways related their punishing ordeal to newspapers, and on September 11th the first of many Forfarshire shipwreck stories appeared in print, replete with lurid details. There was a huge appetite for disaster stories at this time, and this one didn’t disappoint. At first there was no mention of the Darlings’ involvement, or their bravery—Grace Darling was left out of the story entirely. Instead, the wreck was sensationalized in tabloid fashion with arguments over the cause of the catastrophe and the possibility that that the vessel’s owners had willfully sent a disabled ship to sea.

            The ship was a paddlewheel steamer with brigantine rigging. She was British-built and only four years olda cross-ship capable of making her own steam power or using sails. This was the age when steam engines were available but not always reliable, so ships carried both types of motive power. Forfarshire had departed from Hull for Dundee with a cargo of cloth and hardware, as well as about sixty passengers and crew. As she passed St. Abbs her boilers began leaking, and hours later the steam engines failed. The sails were raised, but the rising gale quickly pushed the ship in a wayward direction. Her captain, an experienced seaman named Humble, attempted to give his vessel refuge in the quieter waters around the Farne Islands, but with only sails for maneuvering, the ship went aground on one of the outer isles known as Big Harcar Rock.

            Some of the passengers and crew managed to launch a lifeboat and were later picked up by a passing schooner. The rest of them spent a horrific night as cold, heavy seas pounded the ship and tore away her stern quarterdeck and cabins. Ultimately, she broke in half. Some perished in the frigid waves or drowned on deck from the heavy wave-wash. Others were killed outright when they were slammed into wooden and metal parts of the ship. At dawn a few passengers still clung to the rails, including a keening Mrs. Dawson who held in her arms the limp, dead bodies of her two children, ages seven and nine. In the end, more than forty perished and only nine survived—the nine rescued by the Darlings.

            The first inquest into the sinking reported that the ship foundered due to “the imperfections of the boilers and the culpable negligence of Captain Humble.” This was based on the decision that Humble should have sailed for the nearest port the moment the boilers failed. Instead, he pressed on under sail, let his ship founder, and was responsible for the loss of lives and cargo, not to mention an almost-new ship. Humble had gone down with his ship and was an easy scapegoat. A second inquest was kinder to him, laying most of the blame on the weather.

            When the scandal died down a few days later, a “penny-a-liner” reporter grabbed the Grace Darling story for his gossip broadside and gave it his melodramatic best. He aimed to milk the tale for all it was worth. Single-page broadsides were cheap entertainment for the masses at this time, and broadside writers seldom cared about journalistic ethics. If it sounded fantastic, it made news, often embroidered with questionable details until it bore little resemblance to the truth. Our current-day, scandalous tabloids no doubt grew out of these broadsides.

            The Grace Darling tale was one of the first to explode into an international story, complete with purple prose, hyperbola, and feminine idolatry. The histrionic tale caught fire and leaped from newspaper to newspaper, reaching The Times in London on September 19, and eventually landing in magazines and books, each account more thrilling and dangerous than the last. Grace emerged ten times the woman in strength, spirit, and “intrepidity” than she was in real life. The drama of shipwreck and rescue, coupled with the kind-hearted nature of lightkeeping families, played out larger-than-life. Grace Darling quickly became a household name in England and elsewhere.

            One newspaper reporter identified as M.A. Richardson, said:

            “Surely imagination in its loftiest creations never invested the female character with such a degree of fortitude as has been evinced by Miss Grace Horsely Darling on this occasion. Is there in the whole field of history, or of fiction even, once instance of female heroism to compare for one moment with this?”

            Painters rushed to Longstone Light to capture Grace’s delicate features, then painted her into exaggerated scenes of angry seas and suffering humanity. Those who couldn’t meet her in person took license and drew her as they imagined, a slender, pretty young woman at the oars of a boat or about town wearing a fetching bonnet. The versions of her face are so many and varied, we have little idea what she really looked like.

            Poets and minstrels wrote tributes to the “Grace of womanhood and Darling of mankind.” Peddlers hawked phony locks of her hair and swatches of fabric supposedly from the dress she had worn on the day of the rescue. Anything Grace had worn, touched, or owned fetched a high price. Marriage proposals came by the dozens, none of them of interest to Grace. She wanted only the solitude of the lighthouse, her family, and her books—not untypical for a lighthouse daughter.

            A public subscription for the Darling family raised a gift of several hundred pounds, to which the Royal Humane Society and the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck—the predecessor of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution—added gold and silver lifesaving medals and a silver tea set. Even Queen Victoria chimed in with a gift of money. Grace Darlingsmall, slim, painfully shy due to her sequestered existence at a lighthouse, and possibly of ill health aggravated by the damp, sunless conditions on Longstonehad captured the public imagination! “...her very name seemed so extraordinarily apt,” wrote Jessica Mitford, “almost uncannily predictive of the special place she was destined to occupy…”

            She spent her next few years contending with the media, such as it was in the 1830s. There was no Internet, Twitter, or Facebook, or even a You Tube, but Grace went viral in the only way possible for her day. She “graced” the covers of newspapers, magazines, and books, even special sheet music written in her honor. She appeared on sailing cards, church fliers, and advertisements. Girls copied Grace’s quiet, gentle demeanor and simple dress. Young men wrote poems alluding to her valor and maternal potential.  And she was besieged with mail, visitors to the lighthouse, requests for her signature and personal effects, of which she probably had few. She was the adored model of young womanhood, a perfect suffragettefeminine and obedient, brave and steady of mind and heart, yet capable of rowing a boat like a man to rescue “those in peril on the sea.”

            In his 1841 book, The Tragedy of the Seas, Charles Ellms wrote of Grace’s mettle during the Forfarshire rescue:

            “This perilous achievement stands unexampled in the feats of feminine fortitude. From her isolated abode, when there was no solicitation or prospect of reward to stimulate, impelled alone by the pure promptings of humanity, she made her way through desolation and impending destruction, appalling to the stoutest heart, to save her fellow-beings.”

            The 1839, Maid of the Isles by Jerrold Vernon established Grace as “the girl with the windswept hair” and prompted even more paintings that showed her tresses streaming and lustrous behind her as she faced impossible seas. Those flowing locks are ironic, almost comical, since it’s almost certain Grace’s hair was tied up in rag strips to make it curly—the custom of the day. At so early an hour with a shipwreck sighted, would she have taken time to do her hair? It’s doubtful. She likely went rescuing in her curlers.

            Unfortunately, much written about Grace in popular literature is fabricated. Her older sister, Thomasin, tried to set the record straight in 1880 with a small booklet in which she wrote that “accuracy has suffered” and “romanticists” had colored “The Deed” with untruths. Thomasin was particularly disturbed by the often-printed assertion that Grace had beseeched, even begged, her father to go to the wreck and that he had been reluctant. This probably was untrue, but it made good dialogue and translated well for the stage productions that followed. Drama aside, William Darling had gone out to shipwrecks before and would have gone to this one without prodding. More often than not, lighthouse keepers put their own lives in peril to save others.

            We do know Grace was deft at handling a boat, as were most light keepers’ daughters. From an early age, she was rowed ashore to the family garden plot or to pick up supplies in Bamburgh. Later, after about age twelve, she rowed to Bamburgh alone. Thomasin lived in the village, and Grace paid her frequent visits. Like any teenager, Grace enjoyed her sister’s company and partook of some of the fun ashore. The oars to the coble were analogous to the keys to car today. We must not forget, though, that she grew up in a community that relied on the sea for its livelihood and for transportation. Yet….Northumbrians bore as much disdain for “the deeps” as adoration.

            “The sea is a lover, but the shore is a deceitful whore,” was a popular metaphor repeated by sailors in coastal taverns everywhere, most of whom had a love-hate relationship with the sea. Hardly a family in Northumberland was untouched by “sea change.” The local cemetery was rife with epitaphs alluding to saltwater occupations, drowning, and shipwreck. Grace held the same view of the sea as her neighbors, an outlook colored by religious faith, a healthy fear, and duty. Whatever happened on or near the sea was God’s will and a test of human strength and endurance. Sacrifice was expected, and not to be lavishly rewarded. Grace’s letters after the Forfarshire wreck reveal that she hated all the attention focused on her.

            Ironically, the citizens of Northumberland disliked it too. They saw nothing unusual in Grace Darling. Numerous writers of the day noted the community’s contempt for the media circus surrounding the event and the absurd idolatry of Grace. It was much the same disgust we experience today, with outrageous personalities like Lindsey Lohan, Tom Cruise, and the Kardasians. Travel writer William Howitt, who had met Grace Darling in 1840, discovered that people ashore were blasé about the Forfarshire rescue. One girl said, “It was low water and the sea was smooth; anybody could have done what she did.” Others flat-out denied that the rescue even happened, claiming it was contrived and intended merely to sell papers.

            While Grace attempted to elude the media and cope with her sudden fame, her health declined. Visiting her sister, Thomasin, in April 1842 she experienced chilblains and developed a cough. Back at Longstone she grew worse, so her parents sent her back to Bamburgh to live with her sister and be closer to a doctor. There was little that could be done for lung infections in those days. By September Grace was bedridden and the end was near. “She went like snow,” Thomasin told their parents. Grace died on October 20, 1842. The diagnosis was consumption, today known as tuberculosis.

            It was a tragic finale to a brief career. Grace was buried in the St. Aidans churchyard at Bamburgh in a simple grave; yet, hundreds came to pay their respects. A distraught public gave money for a monument to honor her, and an admiring sailor requested that Grace’s memorial be large enough and placed in such a location as to be seen easily from sea. The cenotaph, a canopied stone memorial minus her body, was built not far from her grave. above)Its stone effigy of Grace, hands folded as if asleep after her arduous labor of rescuing, or perhaps after the more difficult task of coping with instant fame, put her to rest. The memorial lasted forty years before it crumbled and a new one of similar but stronger design was built. The plaque on the memorial reads: “Pious and pure, modest, and yet so brave, though young so wise, though meek so resolute,” a dedication from poet William Wordsworth.

            Even in death, Grace Darling’s legend continued to grow. It enlarged by turns until it shone brighter than any lighthouse in England. Not everything written about her was good. One biographer, Richard Armstrong, audaciously suggested in his 1965 Grace Darling: Maid and Myth, that she may have had a cleft lip and a suspicious and inappropriate relationship with her father, blemishes on her memory that few care to believe. If she was flawed of face or spirit, it made little difference to her admirers. Newspapers of her day described her as attractive. The Spectator noted “…it is pleasant to find coupled with a fine and generous nature a lovely face and a name at once euphonious and cherishable.” Travel writer William Howitt noted, after visiting Grace at Longstone Light, that she was: “…a little, simple, modest woman…neither tall nor handsome…her figure is by no means striking; quite the contrary; but her face is full of sense, modesty, and genuine goodness.”

            The remains of the Forfarshire have a less glorious history. Parts of the ship still lie at a depth of about 12-fathoms off Big Harcar Rock in Piper Gut. Nearby Hull Marina has erected a plaque to the ship, and in a pub in Seahouses is one of the salvaged nameplates. The town of Dunkeld in nearby Scotland remembers the wreck to this day. A plaque behind the altar in a cathedral recalls the loss of the town’s pastor, Reverend John Robb, “who, on a voyage for the benefit of his health, perished by the wreck of the Forfarshire Steamship.”

            Grace, on the other hand, has her own museum that was opened in Bamburgh in 1938 by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution on the centennial of the rescue that made her famous. Fortuitously, it is located near the house where she died and across from the churchyard where she is buried. Visitors can learn her story and view some of her personal effects and the famous coble she rowed to the wreck, as well as see portraits and mementos from the Forfarshire and a variety of souvenirs created in the wake of her popularity—mugs, candies, hand-scribbled poems, postcards, music boxes, clothing, and more. As with most media heroines, Grace has been commercialized.

            School children visit the museum (above), still marveling at her courage and singing “The Grace Darling” song. They view the many artifacts attesting to her mettle, buy a knick-knack or two, and leave chattering about storms and ships and brave young girls. Legend or not, tabloid icon or moneymaking image, Grace Darling surely did something amazing that stormy day in September 1838, an act beyond the expectations of any ordinary woman of her day. This kernel of truth is what truly matters.

(Reprinted from the U.S. Lighthouse Society Keepers Log)

From the newsletter of the Point Fermin Lighthouse Society--