Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fort Pickering Light in Salem, Mass., gets a makeover

Story and photos by Phil Karwowski

Fort Pickering Light with holiday wreath and red bow

L to R: Dave Gilbert, Patrick Mulligan, and Capt. Bill McHugh
In mid-September 2013, contractors began giving the 142-year-old lighthouse on Salem’s Winter Island a much needed makeover. The scope of work included chipping, scraping, sanding, and cleaning the rusted surfaces of the 32-foot, cast-iron tower. After workers completed the two-month project, the tower looked great.

Dave Gilbert, manager of the Winter Island Park, thought it would be a good idea to decorate the light for the holidays. A six-foot diameter wreath was placed on the tower with the help of Salem Harbormaster Capt. Bill McHugh and Deputy Harbormaster Patrick Mulligan.

Christmas at Stamford Harbor Lighthouse

John J. Cook, a native of Denmark, was the keeper of Stamford Harbor Lighthouse in Connecticut 1907-09. Cook went to sea early in life and had been awarded many medals during his years in the U.S. Navy.

A reporter once asked Cook how he could possibly enjoy Christmas in an isolated, lonely, offshore lighthouse. Cook explained that with such unpredictable weather and sea conditions, preparations and Christmas shopping had to be done well in advance. He described the Christmas feast they had at the lighthouse a year earlier, with goose, mince pie, and plum pudding. Christmas evening would be spent much like any other, with conversation, or card playing, or perhaps the reading of books or newspapers.

The rest of Cook's reply showed him to be quite a philosopher:

I dunno, it is pretty lonesome here sometimes, especially in winter, but we manage to enjoy our holidays. We can’t go to church on Christmas and we miss the nice music and the fine sermons, but there is a compensation for that. What more soul-stirring music could there be than that of wind and wave as they whistle and roar or moan and swish past our little home? And that light aloft is a sermon in itself. Many a fervent "Thank God," many a heart-deep prayer has gone up, maybe from people who wouldn’t be thinking of such things ashore, when the red gleam of Stamford Light was made out in a storm, or the bell heard in a fog. My little light has its mission just as your pulpit preacher has his; and no one who has watched it through the terrible winter storms can fail to appreciate this, and with it his responsibility. Human life, yes, human souls depend upon that light Christmas and every other night of the year, and I dare guess it’s compensation for the loss of a Christmas sermon to keep the light burning steadily.