The official homepage of Graves Light, Boston Harbor
Nearly all of the recorded shipwrecks around Graves Ledge occurred after Graves Light was completed in 1905.
If Graves Light ever had any plumbing or running water, it was little more than a cold water sink and a toilet that drained into the harbor. We changed that.
If many of the early postcard images of Graves Light were accurate, the steamships in the pictures would have been wrecked on the rocks.
The namesake of Graves Ledge, English Rear Admiral Thomas Graves of Charlestown, Massachusetts, brought some of Boston’s earliest English settlers to the area.
Rear Admiral Graves was killed fighting the Dutch in the English Channel in 1653.
Graves Light was built by private contractors for the US Light House Service between 1903 and 1905.
The contractors completed construction on-time and under budget, and had enough resources left to build the stone oil house.
A 130-foot, heavy steel and plank catwalk between the lighthouse and oil house, anchored into the Cambridge Argillite ledge with eight-inch steel pilings, was destroyed during the “perfect storm” of 1991.
Graves Light is one of only 36 “important wave-swept towers in various parts of the world,” according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Other “important wave-swept towers in various parts of the world” include Graves’ neighbor, Minot’s Light (pictured during blizzard of 1978); and lighthouses in California, Florida, Michigan (Lake Huron), Ireland, Great Britain, France, Germany, India (Bombay/Mumbai), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Singapore, and Daedalus Reef (Abu Kizan) in the Red Sea off Egypt.
The current automated FA/232 fog horns were made by Automated Power, Inc., of Houston, Texas.
The FA/232 fog horns crank out 122.7 decibels, while using only 12 volts DC on a 2.2 amp current.
A level of 120 decibels is considered “deafening,” equivalent to sound emitted by a riveter, being in a diesel engine room, up-close to a fireworks display. A thunderclap is also 120 decibels. Fortunately, the fog horn is directional and sends most of its sound out to sea.
At the same time the Graves fog signal was being automated, the British rock band The Who broke all records as the world’s loudest band, at 126 decibels.
The fog horn is tripped by radio signals from a laser fog sensor three miles away at Boston Light. That same fog sensor trips the fog horn at Minot’s Ledge Light off Cohasset.
You can see 4 days of rising and falling tides, sunrises and moonrises, and restoration work in a 34-second stop action video (pictured).
While diving, we discovered smashed US Light House Service dishware that the Graves keeper probably threw into the sea in 1939, when President Franklin D Roosevelt merged the service into the Coast Guard and ordered all service emblems destroyed. (Or it could have been from Army artillery practice in 1937.)
At night, phosphorescent (bioluminescent) microbes can make waters around Graves Light glow a deep blue.
Graves Light was built by a 1902 act of the US Congress to mark entrance to Boston Harbor’s new North Channel, created to accommodate giant iron steamships.
Total construction cost for Graves Light: $188,000 in 1902 dollars (about $5 million today).
Two weeks later, the first woman swam to Graves Light: 19 year-old Rose Pitonof of Dorchester (pictured).
Rose Pitonof had previously tried to swim the English Channel. She later went on to become a Vaudeville performer.
During target practice in 1937, US Army artillerymen at Fort Banks in Winthrop fired shells too close for comfort to the lighthouse. The Superintendent of Lighthouses filed a written protest to the commanding officer, saying that explosive shells landed within 200 yards of Graves Light.
The tower never shakes in a storm. The only time Graves Light is reported to have shaken was during the 1937 artillery practice incident. The lighthouse shook so badly that all the dishes inside were smashed. (Perhaps those were the fragments we found under water.)
The artillery at Fort Banks at the time was a battery of huge 1890M1 mortars (pictured) that fired 12-inch-dimeter anti-ship shells as far as 9 miles out to sea. Each shell contained between 700 and 1,046 pounds of explosives.
While the Army seemed to indicate that the target practice 200 yards from Graves was no big deal, a modern Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chart (fig. 4.2, p. 8) shows that the concerns of the lighthouse crew were well-founded: A surface explosion of 700 to 1,000 pounds of TNT would produce severe wounds from flying glass in a building 200 yards away.
Like Graves Light architect Royal Luther, today’s new owners are from Malden.
The most unusual shipwreck off Graves was the SS City of Salisbury, the “zoo ship” laden with exotic animals – including pythons, cobras, honey bears, and 300 monkeys – from India and Ceylon. All the people aboard and most of the animals were rescued.
A researcher at the National Archives in Washington, DC, found and made copies of the Graves Light keepers’ logs from 1905 to 1976.
An early US Light House Service keeper at Graves Light reported in his log that he encountered two naked, sunburned men who drifted to the ledge in a canoe. He wrote that he gave them fresh clothes and they gave him false names.
The alternative folk rock band Half Moon wrote a song, “The Graves Light,” about a lonely sailor at sea whose true love won’t marry him because of his foul sailor mouth. In the song, the sailor pledges to clean up his act, promising, “If I ever see the Graves Light, I’ll never swear again.”
The bronze and glass skylights of the Graves Light watch room were cleaned and restored offsite and reinstalled. Using an original as a template, we had replacements made in Nantucket for the missing pieces.
The most architecturally similar light to Graves is Ram Island Ledge Light at the entrance to Portland Harbor, Maine.
Both Graves Light and the shorter Ram Island Ledge lighthouse were built at the same time (1903-05) and converted to solar at the same time (2001).
Graves Light’s signal is two white flashes every 12 seconds. Its fog signal is two blasts every 20 seconds.
From land, the best places to view Graves Light are from Nantasket Beach in Hull, the southern shoreline of Nahant, and Shore Drive in Winthrop.
Graves Light is a historic landmark. At the outermost entrance to Boston Harbor and the tallest lighthouse in the Boston area, Graves Light is privately owned but continues to serve as a navigation aid run by the US Coast Guard.
The new owners welcome the adventurous public to enjoy the sights of Graves Light, but warn that there are no electrical, water, sanitary, first aid, or other facilities of any kind available to the public at the lighthouse or on Graves Ledge.
Graves Ledge is dangerous. Submerged rocks present a navigation hazard. We insist that visitors enjoy the ledge and lighthouse from the safety of their boat or kayak.
Meanwhile, follow us through this website, Facebook, and on Twitter @GravesLight.