Lighthouse Life List
What kid wouldn’t like tramping up all 69 winding steps to the lantern room at the top of Highland Light in North Truro, 183 feet above the sea off Cape Cod? And checking out the shipwreck room in the neighboring Highland House museum?
Provincetown’s Race Point Light is separated from the nearest paved road by two and a half miles of sand dunes–so distant that it’s a Race Point lighthouse keeper who’s credited with inventing the dune buggy. Want to sleep in the keeper’s house? The lantern-light charm has been replaced by solar and wind power, but you’ll still get a sense of the seclusion in which early keepers lived.
After being deactivated in 1914, Bass River Light in West Dennis, Massachusetts, was converted by a Boston mogul into a summer home. Now it’s a Cape Cod hotel called The Lighthouse Inn, with a private beach, pool, tennis courts, restaurant, ocean views, and working fireplaces–and the only private-family-maintained working lighthouse beacon in the country. Three of the guestrooms are in the original keeper’s house.
Want to own your own keeper’s house? There’s one for sale on Maine’s Isle au Haut. And for a deluxe dinner atop a lighthouse, check out Newburyport’s Rear Range Light.
Some lighthouses carry unexpected architectural pedigrees. Alexander Parris, who designed Boston’s Quincy Market, also designed at least seven lighthouses in Maine, including Mount Desert Rock and Monhegan Island. Castle Hill Light in Newport, Rhode Island, is attributed to H. H. Richardson, famous for Trinity Church in Boston.
The offshore Cleveland East Ledge Light in Buzzards Bay is New England’s only Art Moderne lighthouse, and the last built here (1943). But the oddest? South Portland, Maine’s 13-foot-tall Breakwater (“Bug”) Light is modeled on the fourth-century b.c. Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, complete with fluted columns.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Lighthouses were of little use for navigation unless a ship could tell one from another. To set them apart, some were made to blink, others had red lights instead of white, and some had two beams instead of one. There was also one triple light: the original Nauset Light, also called Three Sisters, on Cape Cod. These three identical shingled lighthouses were ultimately deactivated–and moved away. Where are they now? In the last place you’d expect: tucked into a clearing in the Eastham woods, along a marked path called Cable Road, about a third of a mile from the water.
FEEL THE CHILL
The keepers of York, Maine’s Boon Island Light often saw the ghost of a sad-faced young woman in white, said to have been either the mistress of the captain of the Nottingham Galley, wrecked in 1710, or the widow of a keeper who died at the lighthouse.
Keepers assigned to Sankaty Head Light on Nantucket’s east coast reported strange events, too, including pots and pans that flew around the kitchen. At Minot’s Ledge Light, located on the storm- and shipwreck-prone Cohasset Rocks of Massachusetts Bay, off Scituate, keepers saw doors open and close by themselves, and heard a tapping on the walls: a signal system once used by Joseph Antoine and Joseph Wilson, assistant keepers killed when the first lighthouse, a spider-like cast-iron tower on piles, was demolished in a storm in 1851. (It was replaced by a sturdy granite-block tower, which took five years to build atop the submerged ledge, but has endured since 1860. )
Keepers at New London Ledge Light in Connecticut swore that the steel door of the tower, which was bolted from the inside, used to open by itself. That’s the door from which keeper John “Ernie” Randolph, in 1936, is said to have jumped to his death after cutting his own throat when he learned his wife had run off with a Block Island ferry captain.