Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Mystery of Lighthouses

I've been photography lighthouses lately. They possess a kind of mystery and romance to them. I've always been mystified about them and always wanted to live in one or go inside them. What kind of people live in them. Each lighthouse has a story and I will be writing about all the lighthouses that I come across.

I first got interested in lighthouses when I went on a Whale Watch in Plymouth, MA. There was this lighthouse in the middle of the harbor.

Lighthouse blog

This lighthouse is Duxbury Pier Light nicknamed "Bug Light". I thought this name was adorable.

Frank A. Grieder, a Maine native, became keeper in 1930. The Grieders brought their belongings from Maine to Plymouth in a Model A Ford, and the keeper's wife and children took up residence in the Rocky Nook section of the city. In an interview in 2000, Grieder's son, Bill, remembered his father's days as keeper of "The Bug."

The thing that I used to get a big kick out of was when it came in foggy. We had a huge brass bell up on the tower, and it worked like clockwork. You'd wind it up, and it had a big hammer. You'd wind and wind and all of a sudden it'd go "whammo!" and the whole tower would shake. You'd lie there at night and wonder, "How am I going to sleep?" And next thing you know you'd gotten used to it. And when the fog cleared and they shut the bell off, you woke up.

At low tide you could walk around there and pick up lobsters and sea clams. Of course if you were out on the flats you always kept your eye on the tide because it came up quite quickly.

Fred Bohm, later at Deer Island Light in Boston Harbor, was keeper in the late 1930s into the 1940s. The historian Edward Rowe Snow claimed that Bohm rescued 90 people from drowning in a single year, including 36 Girl Scouts.

One windy night Bohm heard a scream for help. He rushed out to see a woman swimming toward the lighthouse from her capsized boat. Not able to row to her in time, Bohm dove into the water and swam to the woman, who was unconscious by the time he reached her. Bohm brought the woman back to the lighthouse where she gradually came to. In her struggle to stay afloat she had lost her bathing suit.

As she regained consciousness, the woman's first words were, "Where are my clothes?" Keeper Bohm answered, "I don't know, but you're lucky to be alive." Later that night the woman was safely ashore with borrowed clothes.

In December 1942, Bohm and a companion were heading for the mainland to pick up provisions, but nearly drowned when their boat began to leak. A lobsterman rescued the pair, but the keeper lost two fingers from frostbite.

Coast Guardsman Harry Salter was keeper at "The Bug" in 1944. He has written a booklet about his time at "The Bug," called simply Bug Light. Salter was at Duxbury Pier Light when the hurricane of September 1944 hit, battering the isolated station with 30-foot waves. He described the scene:

The gigantic waves were hammering this stout little light station unmercifully. It shook so bad we had trouble keeping the oil lamps lit... The heavy seas on the east side were striking against the light, then crashing up under the catwalk and tearing away at our boat that we had previously lashed high on the davits.

Salter went out on the deck in an effort to secure the boat. A wave opened the trap door near him and Salter fell through. Fortunately another wave drove Salter against the ladder, and he was able to climb to safety. Salter gave up on saving the boat and watched the hurricane from inside the tower for the next few hours. He and the other keepers surveyed the damage later and found that the boat, the fog bell mechanism, and the outhouse were all gone.

The lighthouse was automated in 1964 and the keepers were removed. A modern optic replaced the Fresnel lens. Over the next two decades Duxbury Pier Light fell victim to much vandalism and seabirds made themselves a home in the interior.

In 1983, the lighthouse was slated by the Coast Guard to be replaced by a fiberglass tower much like the one that had replaced Boston Harbor's old Deer Island Lighthouse. The Coast Guard had estimated that a renovation of the current structure would have cost $250,000. A group of concerned local residents formed Project Bug Light.

Aided by Congressman Gerry Studds, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and State Senator Edward P. Kirby, the group convinced the Coast Guard to alter their plans. A five-year lease was granted to the preservation committee. The Coast Guard sandblasted and painted the structure and did some repair work in 1983; the work was completed in 1985. The Coast Guard spent $100,000 to refurbish the lower half of the lighthouse. Project Bug Light raised $20,000 from local businesses, as well as sales of T-shirts and bumper stickers, a fashion show, baseball games, and raffling a painting. They used this money to restore the upper parts and the interior, including the rebuilding of the roof and the catwalk. At the same time solar power replaced the older battery system. The fog signal was also converted to solar power.

In the late 1980s vandals broke into the lantern room, leaving it susceptible to leaks. The weather deteriorated the wood interior so much that all the wood had to be removed, leaving bare iron walls.

After a few years Project Bug Light virtually dissolved as an organization, and the five-year lease expired. In 1993 the Coast Guard again talked of replacing the lighthouse with a fiberglass pole, or at least removing the lantern room. This time Dr. Don Muirhead of Duxbury, an avid sailor, spearheaded a new preservation effort. The Coast Guard again refurbished the lighthouse in 1996.

Project Bug Light is now responsible for the care of Plymouth ("Gurnet") Light as well, and they have changed the name of the organization to match the mission. Founder Don Muirhead died in 2000, but the volunteers of Project Gurnet & Bug Lights, Inc. continue to do maintenance at the light and to raise funds toward the continued preservation of "The Bug."

In the fall of 2001 Project Gurnet & Bug Lights, Inc. hired the Campbell Construction Group of Beverly, Massachusetts for another major renovation of the lighthouse.

Joints in the caisson were repaired by caulking and welding, and over 1,200 pounds of rust was removed from the lighthouse. All the paint was removed inside and out, and three new coats of paint were added. In addition, several inches of guano were removed.

Duxbury Pier Light remains an active aid to navigation. While it can be seen distantly from the Plymouth waterfront, it is best viewed from the harbor cruises and whale watches out of Plymouth.

Keepers: William Atwood (1871-1878); John A. Richmond Jr. (assistant 1872-1873); Oscar Marsh (assistant 1873-1874); S. J. Atwood (wife of William) (assistant 1874-1878); George Manter (1878-1881); Milton Reamy (assistant 1878-1881); Benjamin B. Manter (1881-1884); Henry H. Sampson (assistant 1881-1882); Edward L. Gorham (1884-1887); Amasa S. Dyer (1887-1888); James H. Bagnall (1888-1891); Michael J. Curran (1891-1892); Edwin F. King Jr. (1892-1895); George A. Jamieson (1895-1897); Mills Gunderson (1897-1902); Joseph F. Woods (1902-1903); Willis Higgins (1903-1904); George E. Kezer (1904-1909); George E. Howard (1909-1910); Fred C. Brown (1910-?); Frank Allen Davis (?-1920); Frank A. Grieder (1930-1934); Fred Bohm (c. 1930s); Homer Hathaway (1942-1943); Harry Salter (Coast Guard, c. 1944); ? Jovie (Coast Guard, c. 1943); Ellis Woods (Coast Guard, c. 1943)

Thanks to New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide where I got all this information. Lots more information is available in Jeremy D'Entremont book, "The Lighthouses of Massachusetts."