In the Shadow of the Lighthouse
The tradition of the Flying Santa Over the Lighthouses was begun by Bill Wincapaw,
an aviator who felt he owed his life to the beam of a lighthouse. Returning to an
airfield one night, he got disoriented, but found his way after recognizing Dice
Head Light. In gratitude, he dropped a package to the family there the day after
Christmas. He then conceived the idea of thanking the many benevolent families at
lighthouses over Christmas. The tradition was continued for 50 years by Edward Rowe
Snowe, New England Historian, who expanded his gift giving as far as the Gulf of
Mexico, the great Lakes and the West Coast. In the 1930s, Mrs. Edward Hopkins, wife
of the keeper at Ten Pound Lighthouse in Massachusetts, gave him a present by writing
out "Merry Christmas" with newspapers in the snow. Snowe took a picture
from the plane, and it became front page news on a Boston newspaper. Now traveling
by helicopter, George Morgan, the present Flying Santa, distributes gifts at more
than 30 Maine lighthouses each December -- sporting his own flowing white beard.
(See Bibliography: DeWire p. 166-169)
Peter Ralston of the Island Institute conceived of the Maine Lights Program --
a mass Congressional transfer of lighthouses -- as he was working with the Coast
Guard on the transfer of ownership of Heron Neck Lighthouse. Ralston, US. Senator
Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and former US Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell eventually
drafted legislation signed by President Clinton on October 16, 1996, that would transfer
36 lighthouses to public and private nonprofit organizations that could ensure upkeep
and public access.
The legislation basically works as follows:
The Coast Guard will maintain the aids to navigation in each structure -- light
and radio beacons and fog horns.
Ownership of the land and the rest of each lighthouse complex will be transferred
to a public or nonprofit organization that can demonstrate the financial resources
to maintain the property and can guarantee public access.
The Island Institute receives applications and names are forwarded to an independent
selection committee made up of Maine residents representing diverse interests. They
will designate new ownership, and deeds will be conveyed by the state transportation
secretary. The entire process must be completed by October 1998.
The Maine Historic Preservation Commission will monitor the progress of new owners.
At this point, distribution of lighthouses is as follows: 4 to United States Fish
and Wildlife Agency; 2 to state agencies; 6 to municipalities; 20-25 to non-profit
The Maine Lights Program is a pilot program which has already aroused great interest
in the Great Lakes, Alaska and Chesapeake regions.
Wyeth and Southern Island
Southern Island and its lighthouse are the subject of dozens of paintings by both
Andew and son Jamie Wyeth. Southern Island is a tiny 22-acre expanse of rock, grasses
and a few spruce trees, with a sweeping view of the Atlantic. The Southern Island
Lighthouse was built in 1857, extinguished in 1934 and restored by Betsy James Wyeth
in the 1970s as a private retreat for Andrew Wyeth. After they moved further out
to sea in 1990, Jamie took over Southern Island Light as his principal studio and
residence. An excellent article in ISLAND JOURNAL by Christopher Crosman, director
of the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, illustrates these and interprets many of their
paintings. The museum has established a special Wyeth Collection Center to exhibit
both Wyeths paintings from Andrew and Betsy Wyeths personal collection.
This small museum, brainchild of former Coast Guardsman Ken Black, is housed in
the Grand Army Building in Rockland Maine. It is reputed to have the largest collection
of lighthouse artifacts anywhere in the nation. The foghorns, bells, and lenses on
display are all in excellent working order, including an impressive second-order
Fresnel lens, which was built for Petit Manon Light. There are hundreds of items
on display including lifesaving equipment, nautical instruments, photographs, etc.
Ken Black often says, "Lighthouses are like people. They come in all sizes,
shapes and colors. Unfortunately, some are brighter than others."
Depot and Lighthouse Digest
Operating out of their house and garage, Tim Harrison and wife Kathleen Finger
started a small business selling lighthouse collectibles and memorabilia in 1991.
Additionally they solicited subscription funds for a lighthouse magazine. When they
received only 30 subscriptions, they sent the money back feeling that it wasnt sufficient
to cover start-up expenses. All of the subscribers returned the money, asking him
to use it to start a magazine. It is an informative monthly publication, with news,
announcements and stories about lighthouses and related events. The store, which
still operates out of a small dwelling in Wells, Maine, contains thousands of items.
Yet, this represents 10% of the Harrisons business, which is mostly catalog sales.
They mail 6 million catalogs a year and have a regular mailing list of 75,000 names.
Lighthouse Depot is an underwriter of the PBS series of Legendary Lighthouses.
Festival in Rockland Maine
Rockland is a busy fishing community, whose harbor supports hundreds of lobster
boats, a commercial fishing fleet, windjammers, yachts, ferries, etc. Stated to be
the lobster capital of the world. It is the home of the Maine Lobster Festival every
Portland is the home to the WADSWORTH-LONGFELLOW HOUSE, open June to October.
Talking of a fog bell.....
The Wreck of the Hesperus
"O father! I hear the church bells ring
O say what may it be?"
Tis a fog bell on a rock-bound coast!
And he steered for the open sea.