Thursday, July 30, 2009

Haunted Lighthouse Open House

On Sunday, August 2, join renowned paranormal investigator and radio personality Ron Kolek of New England Ghost Project for a special open house focusing on the ghostly legends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in New Castle, New Hampshire. Is Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse haunted by the spirit of a former keeper? Listen to the evidence and decide for yourself.

Click here for more details.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Lighthouse of the Week - Great Duck Island Light, Maine

Great Duck Island, more than 200 acres in size, is about nine miles south of Mount Desert Island. There was discussion of establishing a lighthouse on the island as early as 1823 to aid mariners heading for the Mount Desert area and Blue Hill Bay from the south, but many decades would pass before the idea became reality. The Lighthouse Board recommended a light station on the island in 1885. Funds were appropriated in early 1889, and the government soon secured title to about 11 acres of land on the south side of the island.

Construction was completed by the end of 1890, and the light was established on December 31, 1890. The first principal keeper was William F. Stanley. The lantern on the 42-foot cylindrical brick lighthouse originally held a fifth-order Fresnel lens. Three keepers’ dwellings of six rooms each were built side by side near the lighthouse, along with outbuildings and a brick fog signal building with a steam-operated horn.

Keeper Stanley and his wife had three children. Their son, Lyford Stanley, who was two weeks old when the family arrived on the island, later worked as a lobster boat builder in Bass Harbor for more than 50 years. In an interview, Lyford Stanley told the Bangor Daily News about the difficult way of life on Great Duck Island. He recalled that supplies were delivered to the opposite side of the island and were carried by wheelbarrow to the keeper’s house. He described one foggy period when the foghorn blew for 13 straight days. “It was noisy down there,” he said.

The state provided no school for the island until 1902, when Nathan Adam “Ad” Reed arrived as an assistant keeper. Reed came to the island with his wife, Emma, and their 17 children. The Reeds were probably the largest family in American lighthouse history.

One of the Reeds’ sons, Dalton, was seven years old when the family moved to Great Duck Island. Young Dalton Reed enjoyed spear fishing for flounder in a gully near the fog signal building. He’d also fish from a dory to catchfor cod, haddock, and pollock. The family would salt and dry the fish.

The Reed family enjoyed spirited sing-alongs;, with Ad would accompanying on the organ. A crank-style gramophone also provided entertainment. At Christmastime, the children would string popcorn for the tree, and small gifts would be exchanged. “We would get one or two gifts and be satisfied,” Dalton Reed recalled.

Joseph M. Gray, a native of Brooksville, Maine, who went to sea as a cabin boy at the age of 11, came to Great Duck Island as an assistant keeper in 1901 after time at Crabtree Ledge Light and Mount Desert Rock Light. He advanced to principal keeper in 1905. Gray recalled life at the station in a 1938 interview:

I remained 18 years at this station and enjoyed every minute of the time I spent there. I had two assistants. There was a schoolhouse for the children, and the attendance at the school ranged from six to ten youngsters. We planted a garden every spring, and there were plenty of berries for canning on the island.

The Maine Chapter of the Nature Conservancy purchased most of the island in 1984. The organization has estimated that Great Duck Island supports an astounding 20% percent of Maine’s nesting seabirds. For Bar Harbor’s College of the Atlantic (COA), this makes the island an ideal field station for researchers and students. Happily, the college’s interest points to a bright future for the light station.

Great Duck Island Light can be viewed from the “Historic Lighthouse Tour” offered by the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company; call (207) 288-9800 or 1-(888) -533-WALE or visit online for details.

You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses of Maine.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bay Spirit Tours from Hyannis, Mass.

There's a new lighthouse cruise available on Cape Cod! Bay Spirit Tours of Hyannis is offering an 85-minute lighthouse tour of scenic Hyannis Harbor and Lewis Bay on the smooth-riding 63-foot catamaran Bay Spirit. The cruise passes the privately built Lewis Bay Lighthouse in the inner harbor, then continues to Point Gammon Light on Great Island. From there, the cruise continues to Bishops & Clerks Ledge, with a view of the modern automated light that replaced the old lighthouse there, and then passes Hyannisport on the way back into Hyannis Harbor.

At $18, the price is more than reasonable for this tour. Bay Spirit Tours also offers a sunset cruise and seal tours. Check them out if you're visiting Cape Cod this summer.

Click here to learn more.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Beavertail Lighthouse, America's third oldest, under restoration

Beavertail Lighthouse, at the southern tip of Rhode Island's Conanicut Island, in the town of Jamestown, is among New England's most visited coastal attractions. The beauty of the buildings and the surrounding rocky ledges, often pounded by heavy surf, combines with compelling history to make this a must-see for lighthouse aficionados. This is America's third oldest light station, established in 1749 to help guide mariners to the thriving harbor at Newport.

The lighthouse tower is currently under restoration, thanks to the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association (BLMA). Corroded ironwork is being replaced and the exterior is being repointed. New steel panels and decks have been installed below the lantern. The cost of this stage of restoration is $327,000, and it's estimated that $1.2 million will be needed for a full restoration of all the buildings.

The BLMA is reaching out to the maritime industry for help. This light, they point out, has benefited mariners for 260 years. It's certainly reasonable to expect those who have benefited to pay something back. That includes the thousands of citizens who have enjoyed the salty breezes and spectacular panorama at this lighthouse for so many years.

For more about Beavertail, check these links:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lighthouse of the Week - Penfield Reef Light, Connecticut

The shoal that extends more than a mile from Penfield Beach in Fairfield was long a scourge to mariners traveling by on Long Island Sound or heading to the harbors at Black Rock and Bridgeport. Tradition holds that this was once solid land that supported the pasturing of cattle, hence the names “Cows” and “Calves” for two prominent rocky parts of the shoal.

In the winter of 1866-67 alone, four vessels ran into the shoal. The Lighthouse Board asked for $55,000 for a light station on Penfield Reef, to be built in water about five feet deep. There was no immediate action, but finally on July 15, 1870, Congress appropriated $30,000, followed by an additional appropriation of $25,000 on March 3, 1871.

A 28-foot-square dwelling with a mansard roof was built centrally on a granite pier. The second floor originally contained four bedrooms, while the first consisted of a kitchen, living room and oil room. The second story and light tower are of wood-frame construction and the tower at the watchroom level is octagonal. Above that is an octagonal cast-iron lantern, which originally held a fourth-order Fresnel lens. A flashing red light was exhibited, 51 feet above sea level. The light went into service on January 16, 1874.

Many keepers and assistants remained only a year or two at the offshore station. Neil Martin, formerly at Race Rock and Stamford Harbor, was keeper from 1882 to 1891. His wife Jane served as an assistant keeper during some of that time. Jane Martin died in March of 1886, and Keeper Martin received a letter from the Lighthouse Depot in Tompkinsville, NY, coldly informing him, “Find a competent man to take your place, and then leave of absence to attend the burial of your wife is hereby granted you.”

The saddest incident in the lighthouse’s history took place three decades later. On December 22, 1916, Keeper Fred A. Jordan (sometimes spelled Jordon) left the lighthouse at twenty minutes past noon to row ashore. There were high seas and strong winds, but the keeper badly wanted to join his family for Christmas and to give his hand-made presents to his children. Assistant Keeper Rudolph Iten watched from the lighthouse as Jordan pushed his boat through the waves.

About a hundred yards from the lighthouse, Jordan’s boat capsized. He clung to the boat and signaled for Iten to lower the station’s remaining boat and come to his aid. Iten tried valiantly to do this, but the steadily increasing waves and wind made it impossible to launch the boat. He finally got underway about 1 p.m., but by that time Jordan had drifted a mile and a half to the southwest. Iten said later:

I did my level best to reach him, but I hadn’t pulled more than half a mile when the wind changed to the southwest, making a head-wind and an outgoing tide, against which I couldn’t move the heavy boat. I had to give up, and returned to the station in a regular gale. From the station I sent distress signals to passing ships, but none answered. At three o’clock I lost sight of the drifting boat. The poor fellow’s body wasn’t found until three months later. He was a fine fellow, was Fred.

Iten was absolved of any blame for Jordan’s death. He was promoted to head keeper and would remain for more than a decade. In 1922, a writer asked Assistant Keeper Arthur Bender how the men dealt with the ice on the station in winter. Bender explained that they sprinkled ashes wherever they walked outside on the station to avoid sliding right into Long Island Sound. For heat, the lighthouse had three stoves, with eight tons of coal and three cords of wood for winter fuel.

A few years later another writer visited Keeper Iten and a conversation in the wee hours of the morning turned decidedly macabre. “They say that all lighthouse keepers are mad,” said Iten as a preface to the following chilling tale, told against the background of the whispering wind and the gentle wash of the waves.

You ask if there has ever been anything in the nature of a supernatural occurrence at this lighthouse. Well, all light keepers are more or less hard-boiled and not given over to stretches of imagination. While I don’t deny or admit the theory of ghosts, something happened here one night that seemed to point to the establishment of the fact that there are such things as supernatural visitations.

Iten recounted the accidental death of Keeper Jordan in December 1916, then continued:

Some days later on what was one of the worst nights in the history of Penfield, and the waves were dashing over the lantern, I was awakened – I was off duty – by a strange feeling that someone was in my room. Sitting up I distinctly saw a gray, phosphorescent figure emerging from the room formerly occupied by Fred Jordan. It hovered at the top of the stairs, and then disappeared in the darkness below. Thinking it was the assistant keeper I called to know if anything was the matter, but he answered me from the lens room that all was well. Much puzzled, I went downstairs and to my consternation I saw lying on the table the log-book of the lighthouse, with the page recording the drowning of Poor Jordan staring me in the face! This is the only time the book has been taken from its place by other hands than mine or my assistants, and as to how it got on the table and lay open with the entry about Jordan will always remain a mystery to us here.

I have seen the semblance of the figure several times since and so have the others, and we are all prepared to take an affidavit to that effect. Something comes here, that we are positive. There is an old saying, ‘What the Reef takes, the Reef will give back.’ Poor Jordan’s body was recovered not long after his drowning, and in the pocket of his coat was found a note addresses to me – which he probably forgot to leave before he started on his fateful ride in that rough sea – instructing me to complete the entries of that morning – the day he died – as they were not brought up to date.

An undated article in the Bridgeport Public Library claims that, on stormy nights, “the specter of the reef is said to be flitting among the rocks, poised on the rail of the gallery that surrounds the lantern or swaying, as if in agony, among the black and jagged rocks that surround the base of the light.”

On September 21, 1938, when the worst New England hurricane of the 20th century struck, a lone keeper, George Petzolt, survived the night at the lighthouse. According to his son Harold, George Petzolt feared he might not live through that terrible storm as he watched boats, telephone poles and other debris sweep past.

In late 1969, the Coast Guard announced plans to remove the lighthouse and replace it with an automated light on a “pipe tower.” U.S. Representative Lowell Weicker and State Representative Stewart B. McKinney also took up the cause. McKinney asked the Coast Guard to reconsider, suggesting that they automate the light but retain the existing structure, which he called “a thing of beauty which lends a graceful touch to the shoreline area." The protests by politicians and numerous letters convinced the Coast Guard to call off the demolition. .

In April 2007, it was announced that the lighthouse would be available to a suitable new owner under the guidelines of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000. On July 29, 2008, Beacon Preservation, Inc., of Ansonia, Connecticut, received notice that the organization had submitted a "superior" application and had been recommended as the new owners.

The lighthouse can be viewed from sightseeing cruises leaving Captain Cove Seaport in Bridgeport. Call the Seaport office at 203-335-1433 for more information.

You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses of Connecticut.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Support Senate Bill 715

A committee hearing has been scheduled for July 22, 2009, at 2:30 PM EDT for the purpose of discussing Senate Bill 715, an act to establish a pilot program to provide for the preservation and rehabilitation of historic lighthouses.

See the Lighthouse News website for more important information on this bill.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Lighthouse Handbook: The Hudson River & New York Harbor

Now available! Seven lighthouses shine their bright beams across the Hudson, from the famous Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge up to the Hudson City Lighthouse between Hudson and Athens. Celebrate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s first voyage down the river by sailing to every one of these unique gems on the pages of this handbook — as well as to every lighthouse (17 of them) in New York’s famous harbor. Filled with illustrations and photographs, rich in history, and informative about the lighthouses’ current status, it’s a wonderful way to learn about some of America’s greatest treasures.

Click to here to see this book on

Monday, July 6, 2009

NELL New England Series “Little Lights of Mine”

New England Lighthouse Lovers (NELL), a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, has commissioned Lighthouse Marketing and the artists of the “Harbour Lights” lighthouse replicas to produce 6 “Little Lights of Mine” which will comprise the NELL New England Series.

The first one, a beautiful replica of Race Point Light on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is expected in early July. NELL will sell these replicas in two ways - singly or as a reserved set of six models.

Click here for more details!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lighthouse of the Week - Sandy Neck Light, Massachusetts

The eastern tip of Sandy Neck—a half-mile wide, six-mile long, dune-studded peninsula on the north side of Cape Cod—marks the entrance to Barnstable Harbor as well as the approach to the small harbor at Yarmouthport. In the days when shore whaling was a major local industry, Sandy Neck was the site of try works for the processing of whale blubber. Today, it’s home to a little cottage community just west of the lighthouse.

Congress appropriated $3,500 for a lighthouse at the eastern tip of the peninsula, a site known as Beach Point, on May 18, 1826. The light went into service on October 1, 1826. The first lighthouse consisted of a wooden lantern on the roof of a brick keeper’s house.

An 1843 report mentioned that shipwreck victims often took refuge at the lighthouse. The keeper, according to the report, needed a new boat; his present one was 8 eight years old and “in great decay.”

The original lighthouse was replaced in 1857 by the 48-foot brick tower that still stands, slightly north of the first light’s location. The distinctive pair of iron hoops and six staves that surround the central part of the lighthouse were added in 1887 as part of an effort to shore up cracks in the tower.

The waters inside Sandy Neck were often plagued by ice in winter. One cold day, Keeper Thomas Baxter was heading to Barnstable in his dory, alternately rowing, pulling, and pushing the vessel through the icy harbor. He caught his leg between the dory and the ice, suffering an injury that led to gangrene and eventually his death in 1862. Baxter’s wife, Lucy Hinckley Baxter, succeeded him as keeper and raised three children at the station.

George A. Jamieson became keeper in 1897. After a storm in late 1898, Jamieson discovered that his chicken coop and 40 chickens were gone, apparently washed away to their doom. As it turned out, the coop had washed safely ashore in Barnstable. The chickens were fine, although they did exhibit some strange symptoms that were attributed to seasickness.

Barnstable Harbor gradually declined in importance, and shifting sands had left the lighthouse in a less advantageous position. In the summer of 1931, when William L. Anderson was keeper, the lighthouse was decommissioned and its lens was moved to a steel skeleton tower 200 feet closer to the tip of Sandy Neck. The light was discontinued in 1952.

The lantern was removed from the lighthouse and the property was sold at auction in 1933. Ken Morton and Kee Hinckley manage the Sandy Neck Lighthouse property today for their family. In 2004, Morton began working with the American Lighthouse Foundation to have a replica lantern installed on the tower in time for its 150th birthday, in 2007.

The Sandy Neck Lighthouse Restoration Committee eventually became a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation. The installation of a new lantern began in the spring and summer of 2007. The job was completeted in the fall, and in October 2007 the lighthouse was relighted as a private aid to navigation, with a modern LED optic.

The trips offered by Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises pass close by the lighthouse on their way out of Barnstable Harbor; check for more information. You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The Lighthouses of Massachusetts