Lighthouses of Maine
au Haut Light, Isle au Haut, ME - 1907
One of the youngest and prettiest lights on the Maine coast, a white bridge links
tower to keepers house.
Isle au Haut has long history -- first discover was Giovanni da Verrazano in the
1520s; French explorer Samuel Champlain in 1604, wrote "nearly in the middle
of the sea there is another island which is so high and striking that I named it
Miss Lizzie Rich was for years an island fixture -- ruled as postmaster from the
post office in front room of her home. She started working at the post office in
1909, when she was 16. When forced to retire at age 70, she immediately hired on
as supervising clerk. When she was 78, her hips gave way and cracked. She was strapped
in her rocker on a boat and rushed to hospital. Back to the post office in no time,
using walkers to lug in pails of water walking up the hill to Sunday church. (See
Bibliography: Caldwell p. 183-4)
Now the restored light station is a popular bed and breakfast with five bedrooms,
four in main house and one in oil house. Heated by wood stoves, and lit by gas lights
-- no phones or electricity. Guests arrive by the mailboat, are served three gourmet
meals per day, enjoy biking and exploring the village and the Acadia National Park.
Lots of natural wildlife abounds on the island.
Lights, Cape Elizabeth - 1829
Very visited and popular. First built in 1811; rebuilt in 1828 with two towers
that were lit simultaneously off and on for almost a century; second light discarded
Famous 1929 Edward Hopper painting of this lighthouse that is often reproduced,
is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Famous story is of keeper Marcus Hanna and rescue of the crew of the Australia
in 1885. A ship had run ashore during a terrible winter storm, 100 yards from lighthouse.
Captain had been swept to sea; two crew members clung, freezing to the mast. Hanna
was coming off shift and was sick; storm so bad he had to crawl on hands and knees
in snow. He had gone to bed sick when his wife saw the silhouette of the ship on
the rocks. Hanna sent the assistant to get Lifesaving Service. Meanwhile tried to
throw lines to the crew. He had to go waistdeep in the freezing water. Finally got
rope to first crew member, Pierce, who finally got it around his body and Hanna pulled
the line to shore, slowly and painfully, fighting hypothermia. Pierces eyes were
iced shut and jaw frozen in silent scream. He then threw a rope to rescue Kellar,
and started to haul him, when he was relieved by the US Lifesaving Service crew.
He received a gold lifesaving medal for his bravery.
For other shipwreck stories, see Caldwell p. 70 (286-ton Tasmania; 1947 Oakley
Head Light, Rockland, Maine - 1826
This lighthouse got its name because many claim they see the face of a giant bird
in the rocks southeast of town.
It is a stubby little lighthouse, only 20 feet tall, but it sits handsomely on
a high promontory. It has never been rebuilt.
Several encounters with Indians in the mid-1700s:
- -- in 1747, an English soldier Thomas Sanders got captured by Indians, asked
to borrow a musket to shoot ducks, and managed to escape.
- -- in 1757, a large Penobscot Indian war party sailed in fleet of 30 canoes to
Owls Head, and attacked a small force of white soldiers, who, in fighting them off,
turned the tables and scalped two Indians.
November 9, 1844, the brig Maine sailed out of Rockland Harbor and disappeared
with its crew of nine. Three years later, a ship appeared in Rockland Harbor with
a mahogany chest, a ships atlas, and a navigation book, which locals said all belonged
to the Maine. The crew said three Portuguese sailors had left them behind when they
jumped ship in Vera Cruz.
In the winter of 1850, Henry Achorn, keeper of Owls Head Light rescued and revived
a couple who had been frozen under a blanket of ice aboard a shipwrecked schooner.
The captain had disappeared and a mate brought his bride to be on board. Only other
person there was a deckhand. He managed to get out of the blanket and ice, thought
the others were dead and managed to get to Owls Head Light. They were nearly dead
when rescued but they actually recovered and got married. (see Roberts p. 39)
In 1930s, keeper had a springer-spaniel named Spot, who would bark when he heard
ships and ring the fog bell by pulling on the rope with his teeth. He supposedly
saved the Matinicus mail boat from crashing on the rocks by barking repeatedly during
a blizzard that eliminated visibility and froze the fog bell. (He first tried to
ring the bell but it was frozen!
Clara Emory Maddocks, when widowed, kept the light for several decades. She was
involved in many rescues; including that of her cow when it fell off a cliff.
Island Light, Boon Island, ME - 1812
The story of how it got its name: The island was so desolate and isolated that
for 200 years fisherman from York, eight miles away, packed emergency rations in
a barrel and left them as a boon to shipwrecked sailors on the island.
There is a story of shipwrecked sailors from the English ship Nottingham Gallery
in 1710 resorting to cannibalism when marooned there for weeks during storms.
The story of construction: -- First beacon built in 1800, but washed away in great
storm of October 9, 1804 and was replaced by a stone beacon. New tower was financed
and built in 1812. A storm in 1831 washed away most of the lighthouse and Pleasanton
authorized another tower. In 1852, Congress authorized still another tower, which
was finished in 1855 and still stands.
It was difficult to retain keepers in this desolated location. Many such as David
Oliver in 1811, quit after just a few weeks or months. Others had hard time holding
on to the job because of political pressures. When keeper James Thompson was removed
from the position in 1843, so that John Kennard might get it as a political reward,
he wrote to President John Tyler: "I have been a seaman from a boy -- being
now 60 years old, am poor, have a family to support, with little or no means. I voted
for Your Excellency for Vice-President and intended to exert my feeble influence
to promote another election for you as President, so why I am removed from keepers
job, I am at a loss to know." Despite this protest, he didnt get his job back
Tragic legend of a keeper who brought his bride back to the light with him. One
night during a great storm, he died unexpectedly. His frantic widow ran up and down
the 131 stairs to alternately tend the light and be with her dead husband. The storm
raged for days and nights, and she eventually lost her reason and the light went
out. The next day, fisherman came and found the deranged young widow.
William W. Williams, keeper most associated with Boon Island, spent 27 years from
the 1890s to World War I (See Bibliography: Sterling, p. 54 -61, for reminiscences
when he was 90).
- -- at first he "couldnt get away from the idea that I was locked in a cell...When
the rough weather came, seas swept the ledges clean. I was always thinking what I
would do to save my life should the whole station be washed away. ... I believe it
is these things which gradually wear on the mind and finally upset the brain."
- -- used to bring barrels of dirt to plant flowers and vegetables on the rock
- -- early days carrier pigeons used to transport messages (one pigeon made eight-mile
trip to mainland in 10 minutes)
- -- worst job on Boon island was painting the cap of the lantern black
- -- early wrecks and rescues including Perkins, Rockland, and Pathfinder
- -- most exciting rescue -- the Goldhunter: weather was the coldest he had ever
seen on a December morning/temperature four below zero; crew was in a yawl boat;
keepers rescued them and they were frozen
- -- near brush with death when their sailboat capsized in squall
- -- Story of providential Thanksgiving feast when eight ducks, attracted by the
light during a storm, flew into the lantern on Thanksgiving eve and killed themselves.
Williams and his assistants were stranded on island without much provisions, due
to weather. His wife and kids couldnt get to him. They had resigned themselves to
a bleak holiday meal of boiled potatoes and bread.
Head Light, Vinalhaven, ME - 1832
The 18-foot tower and keepers dwelling was built in 1832. It was automated in
1987 by the Coast Guard, the Town of Vinalhaven now owns the stations dwelling and
The 1,000 pound fog bell is in the Vinalhaven Historical Society Museum.
First settled in 1789, Vinalhaven in the 1800s was a source of granite for Washington,
DC and New York City buildings, but now it is a typical Maine lobster fishing community
-- great Maine town.
Susan Lessard, community manager, lives in and maintains the lighthouse.
This light marks the western entrance of Fox Islands. Therefore, can combine with
Goose Rocks Light at the eastern end. Goose Neck was a stag station, sitting 51-feet
above the water, with occupants confined to a few small rooms.
Desert Rock Light, Mount Desert Island, ME - 1830
Mount Desert Rock, 26 miles offshore, an island 600 yards long by 200 yards wide,
is exposed to some of the most savage seas and gales of any light on the Atlantic
Coast. During a storm, the fury of the sea submerges the rock entirely. In a storm
in 1842, a boulder 18 x 14 x 6 weighing 57-tons, was hurled by the ocean like
There is a story or legend about keeper in 1858 who on a trip back from the mainland
(delayed 2 weeks by a storm) brought her a barrel filled with a surprise -- fresh
soil from the mainland and a packet of seeds. She planted the soil in crevices all
over the rock and flowers bloomed all spring and summer. Every autumn storms washed
the flowers and soil away, and it would have to be replaced and replanted. Sailors
loved it and called it "Gods Rock Garden" and every year they would bring
boxes of soil to the family at Mount Desert. (See Bibliography: DeWire, chap. 1)
Wrecks and rescues:
- -- the "oilskin baby:" in 1880s schooner went down and carried down
life boat. Mate White first saw nothing, then saw the oilskin -- inside was wrapped
his sisters baby. He wrapped the package to his chest and clung to the overturned
boat in the gales, until they were rescued a day later, 10 miles from the site.
- -- Keeper discovered boat of a Maine fisherman. When he pulled on fishing line
, he discovered body of the fisherman, caught on the trawl line. He kept pulling
and landed the 100 pound halibut that had pulled the fisherman in.
- -- Story of the Astral: where, despite sub-zero temperatures, keepers managed
to save all but one member of the tugs "more or less" frozen 18-man crew
as told to Robert Sterling (See Bibliography: Caldwell p. 227 and Roberts p. 6)
There is a story about an explosion of a photo flash bomb by a Strategic Air Command
plane from Dow Air Force Base, near Bangor. The building rocked, windows were blown
out, and the walls fell in. SAC forgot to inform Coast Guard.
Light tended for more than 145 years; in 1977 helicopter lifted last two Coast
Guardsmen Robin Runnels and Douglas Nute off the island just in time for Christmas.
Twenty-year old Douglas Nute had been there only a week, but despite diversions like
TVs, books, electronic video games and radios, was ready to scream, saying the constant
noise of the 24-hour foghorn plus the Rocks constricted size got him down.
Head Light and A Gift From the Sea
Story of older couple who had baby later in life that drowned one winter day when
just a toddler. The couple sorely wished they hadnt lived at the waters edge, yet
recognized their responsibility to tend the light. The next March, a ship came ashore
during a blinding snowstorm. Heavy waves swept over the deck, sending passengers
overboard, where the constant sea froze their bodies in ice. The keeper and wife
kept futile watch on shore and lit a bonfire on the shore. They watched as the torn
ship disgorged many objects, including a bundle, looking like a rolled up mattress
bobbing with lots of energy in the water. When they retrieved it, they discovered
a baby girl. (See Bibliography: DeWire p. 164-166)