Thursday, October 29, 2009

The tale of Boon Island Light

Halloween is still two days away, Laura Dolce of Seacoast Online told two nice lighthouse stories in her article today. I especially like the second one she told, I think it's a bitter sweet love story:

Of Maine's lighthouse legends none are as eerie, perhaps, as the tale of Boon Island Light.

Six miles off the coast of York, the lighthouse can be found on a rocky island in the sea. According to William O. Thomson, the Kennebunk author of 26 books including "Stories and Legends Along the Maine Coast," the story begins sometime in the 1840s when a young lighthouse keeper, Luke Bright, brought his new wife, Katherine, to the island to live.

The couple was married only a short time, Thomson said, when December brought a howling nor'easter to the island. Despite the danger to himself, Luke Bright decided he needed to make his way from the house to the light tower to light the light so any ships out in the storm would be guided safely to shore.

"He tied a rope to his waist and went out in the storm," Thomson said. "He was trying to secure the bolt in the tower when he slipped into the ocean and drowned."

His widow, Katherine, dragged Luke's body back to the tower and sat with her dead husband.

"She held his hand," Thomson said. "And she kept the light going for five days, climbing 164 steps each time. Finally, the lantern went out because she had run out of fuel."

Once the people on land realized the light had gone out, a fisherman rowed out to the island to check on the Brights. They found Luke dead and Katherine beside him in the freezing cold tower.

"It was 10 below in the tower," Thomson said. "She died a short time later."

It wasn't, however, the last people heard from Katherine.

"Keepers on the island reported hearing a woman's voice," Thomson said. "It cries, 'Luke'."

On dark nights, keepers have also reported strange things.

"They hear a knock on the door," Thomson said. "When they go out, they see an apparition in the form of a woman. It floats away to the tower."

That isn't the only strange things that have happened in the tower, he said.

"Dogs and cats will not go in that tower," he said.

And several keepers have reported that when they were unable to get back to the island to light the light, someone's done it for them.

"It goes on all by itself," Thomson said. "Foghorns have gone off by themselves.

It's like someone's looking over the place."

I always fascinated by lighthouses. What can be more poetic? Recall this Wadsworth Longfellow's tribute to the lighthouses:
No one alone: from each projecting cape
And perilous reef along the ocean’s verge,
Starts into life a dim, gigantic shape,
Holding its lantern o’er the restless surge.

Like the great giant Christopher it stands
Upon the brink of the tempestuous wave,
Wading far out among the rocks and sands,
The night o’er taken mariner to save.

And the great ships sail outward and return
Bending and bowing o’er the billowy swells,
And ever joyful, as they see it burn
They wave their silent welcome and farewells.
Or Robert Louis Stevenson's for the Light-Keeper:
The brilliant kernel of the night,
The flaming lightroom circles me:
I sit within a blaze of light

Held high above the dusky sea.
Far off the surf doth break and roar
Along bleak miles of moonlit shore,

Where through the tides the tumbling wave
Falls in an avalanche of foam
And drives its churned waters home
Up many an undercliff and cave.

As a matter of fact at my retirement my old Lab Director, Dr. Al, gave me a small replica of the Big Sable lighthouse of Luddington, Michigan in Lake Michigan. He certainly knows that I am a wave aficionado, he must have guessed correctly that I will be a lighthouse enthusiast also. I really cherish that thoughtful gift.

Thanks Al!


While I am at it, I would like to also mention the the thoughtful card Al and Ruth gave me for my retirement, two years ago, with this verse:
As you retire:

Success lies not
in how well-known you are
but how well-respected.
It's measured by
the height of your aspirations,
the breath of your vision, and the depth of your convinctions.
It's something I'll treasure all my life!

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