Left: Keeper Herbert Spinney and his family at Seguin Island, Maine. Courtesy of the Friends of Seguin Island.
A 1904 Boston Globe article profiled Herbert Spinney, who had been an assistant keeper at Seguin Light Station in Maine beginning in 1893 and was principal keeper from 1903 to 1907.
Spinney, who was a native of nearby Georgetown, also served as president of the Maine Ornithological Society. He had collected and mounted birds since boyhood, and he also collected birds’ eggs, butterflies, minerals, and corals. He always carried a camera, and he developed and printed his own photos. Spinney’s collection filled much of the dwelling’s wall space from floor to ceiling.
This makeshift museum drew increasing numbers of visitors to the island, and eventually the keeper began charging an admission fee of a dime to keep the crowds more manageable. Included in the collection was a stuffed monkey, and a visitor once asked the keeper if he had shot the monkey on the island. “No madam,” replied Spinney, “I didn’t, but I’ve seen little monkeys on this island that I should like to shoot.”
Many of the birds Spinney collected were found dead after flying into the lantern glass of the tower. On one memorable morning, Spinney found 275 birds dead around the lighthouse. Spinney kept a journal of his observations; here’s the entry for September 3, 1899:
Midnight, wind northwest, very dark, not a star to be seen; the air so impregnated with smoke as to make my throat smart in breathing; at this hour I came on duty, the birds were flying around the light; on going into the lantern I found about 75 birds on the outside; pine warblers, black and white yellow throats, oven birds, two hermit thrushes and one yellow-bellied flycatcher; all seemed to alight on the glass as fast as they appeared; very few seen flying around the light.
At 3 a.m. came a light shower, which seemed to check the flight. Those on the lantern remained until morning. All the mortality occurred with the yellow throats, 10 of this species being found dead. This seems odd, as I could hear many birds strike the dome of the lantern, the concussion when they struck sounding like a body of several hundred pounds weight.
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