Centennial coming up of first swimmers to Graves Light

photo copyThis August marks the centennial of the first swimmers to Graves Light.

We just discovered this today, when Carol went to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, to do some research.

She came back with articles from the Boston Daily Globe from August, 1914.

August 2 is the 100 year anniversary of the first men to swim to Graves Light. August 17 is the 100 year anniversary of the first woman to make the swim.

All of them swam 12 miles from Charlestown Bridge to The Graves.

The historic swimmers were Samuel Richards Jr., of the L Street Swimmers’ Club (better known as the L Street Brownies), who made the swim in 5 hours and 54 minutes; Henry Miron of Abington; George E. Hardy of Marlboro; and William R. Kessener, also of the L Street Swimmers’ Club.

Just two weeks later, 19 year-old Rose Pitonof, whom the Globe called “the wonderful little Dorchester swimmer,” swam the same route in 6 hours and 21 minutes. Had she swum with the men, she would have placed second.

‘A feat never before accomplished or attempted’

Richards was a well-known distance swimmer, but his three colleagues were unknowns. Rose Pitonof was famous as a world-class distance swimmer, and had previously attempted to swim across the English Channel.

Rose Pitonof, in her swimsuit. (Photo via Wikipedia)

Rose Pitonof, in her swimsuit. (Photo via Wikipedia)

The swim to Graves Light was “a feat never before accomplished or attempted,” according to the Globe.

The four men swam at the same time but took different routes, with Richards allowing the tide, “which flowed through the Broad Sound Channel, to whisk him to his destination.”

Richards had decided to make the swim just the Saturday before. Hardy had planned to swim only to Boston Light. Miron, age 18, swam at a “fresh water pond at Abington,” and decided to swim to Boston Light when he heard of Hardy’s plans. He had tried but failed to swim to Boston Light two years earlier, in 1912. Kessener apparently planned the swim as a member of the L Street club with Richards.

Hardy started the swim before the others, “because he swims almost entirely with a breast stroke,” the Globe reported in a lively, blow-by-blow report.

During his swim, Richards was thinking about a planned date that evening with his wife and a group of friends, aboard the Harriet, “to take dinner at Boston Light, six miles away.” He reportedly considered the Graves swim as preparation for a planned swim across the English Channel.

“It was a great day’s outing for the swimmers, and opened up a new course for distance swimmers that may supplant the shorter, but more difficult course to Boston Light,” according to the Globe.

After arriving at Graves Light, Miron and Hardy were immediately welcomed as the newest members of the L Street Swimmers’ Club.

Rose Pitonof‘Annoyed’ by porpoises and mackerel

Miss Pitonof was considered “the accredited long distance woman swimming champion of the world,” the Globe reported, “successful only because of her great pluck and her familiarity with the waters, for in the final two miles she was surrounded by a school of large porpoises that disported about her annoyingly.”

“A less strong-hearted swimmer would have quaked,” according to the Globe.

The porpoises joined Miss Pitonof between Green Island and the Graves, and lost interest in the plucky swimmer after a while. Then “an unusually large school of mackerel threatened to hold up the girl, but she managed to put on an extra burst of speed and just succeeded in getting clear in the first slacking tide between the Roaring Bulls and the Graves Rocks.”

The Globe gave a lively and colorful account of the swim, which Miss Pitonof made alone, and through waters described as “littered with flotsam and grease.”

Hundreds of people on their way to work stopped at Charlestown Bridge to cheer. The ferry boat Hugh O’Brien slowed by Lewis Wharf to allow her to pass. The crews of Fireboat 31, the steamer Bunker Hill and other vessels sent up “ringing cheers.” Two torpedo boats “swerved from their course to prevent giving the girl their splash.”

Rose Pitonof tried several times to swim the English Channel, and became a Vaudeville performer. She married a local dentist and raised a lively family, and passed away at age 89 in 1984.


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Lots of harbor seal sightings this spring

Seal at Graves croppedHarbor seals are happily out this spring at Graves Ledge, with sightings being reported by our diver friends at Boston Scuba.

We got some pictures of our own this weekend, including this one at low tide of a playful baby seal, the newest seen this year at Graves Ledge.

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50-foot wall of spray breaks over The Graves

Graves storm March 2014 Richard GreenOur friend Richard Green shot this remarkable photograph of a 50-foot wall of spray crashing over The Graves.

The picture, taken with a powerful telephoto lens on March 26, 2014, shows the wall of whitewater extending up half the height of the 113-foot tall lighthouse.

Breakers crash over the granite oil house located 90 feet to the left of the lighthouse.

Graves Ledge and the lighthouse are 4 miles from the mainland, but the telephoto lens draws in the neighboring town as if it was only a few feet away.

The dramatic photo shows why it was so necessary to build the lighthouse back in 1903, to guide mariners past the dangerous stone ledge. Numerous shipwrecks, resulting in loss of life, have been recorded around The Graves.

By the way, Graves Ledge, as The Graves is also called, gets its name from British Rear Admiral Thomas Graves (1605-1653), an early settler of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Contrary to popular myth, The Graves was not named as the graveyard of doomed ships and sailors.

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Secret cave discovered at Graves Light

Secret CaveWhile surveying the masonry today at Graves Light, Mike Sylvester of CCI contracting made an exciting discovery: A secret cave.  You’re looking at the first-ever picture from inside.

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Original architectural drawings discovered at National Archives

Lamp room diagramJust discovered: Copies of the original architectural drawings of Graves Light from 1903.

We’re just going through them now. The US Coast Guard Historian recommended a professional archivist to us, who knows the Coast Guard and US Light House Service records at the National Archives in Washington better than anyone else.

The drawing pictured is of the lamp room and roof. It gives a good idea of what we’ve found so far. Other drawings literally get down to the nuts and bolts.

Almost none of the Graves Light records at the National Archives are imaged electronically. We have hired the professional archivist to digitize everything she can find, and will provide the electronic images to the Coast Guard Historian’s office and to the National Archives.

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Dug out of the archives: Dramatic news photo of Graves Light shipwreck

'Storm administers coup de grace' is the news caption on this original 1938 photo from the archives of the San Francisco Examiner. We acquired the original from the Examiner archives.

‘Storm administers coup de grace’ is the news caption on this original 1938 photo from the archives of the San Francisco Examiner. We acquired the original from the Examiner archives.

The reverse of the 1938 news photo of the 'coup de grace' sinking of the SS City of Salisbury. This International News Photo is an original print from the archives of the San Francisco Examiner.

The reverse of the 1938 news photo of the ‘coup de grace’ sinking of the SS City of Salisbury. This International News Photo is an original print from the archives of the San Francisco Examiner.

While rooting through old news archives, we found an original wire service photo of the sinking of the SS City of Salisbury, with Graves Light in the background.

We don’t mind posting pictures of this wreck, because nobody was hurt. So we’re particularly excited with our new find, which we acquired from the archives of the San Francisco Examiner.

Posted here is the original photo, and an image of the reverse, with the commentary from the International News wire service.

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Cleanup begins

Graves bucketThere’s quite a bit of cleanup work to do at Graves Light, not all of which is visible.

Among the big chores: What to do about the two 1500-gallon cisterns that occupy much of the first 40 feet of the lighthouse.

One of the cisterns held fresh water for the lighthouse keepers. The other one held compressed air for the fog horn, and was later used to store oil or kerosene.

We brought some buckets and rope up to the lighthouse to start cleanup, and found some oil at the bottom of one of the cisterns. We removed the oil in buckets, hauled it to the mainland by boat, and disposed of it safely at an oil recycling site. Now we have to scrub down the interior of the cisterns, break up the oil residue, and we’ll be done.

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Nah, we’re not really going to do this. . .

Hilltop at Graves?We’re not really going to move the giant Hilltop steakhouse sign from Saugus to The Graves.

We were just having a little fun with PhotoShop.

No worries.


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Harbor seals call Graves Ledge home

Boston’s harbor seals love the stone ledges around Graves Light.




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Welcome to the Keeper’s Blog

Graves rockscapeThis is the Keeper’s Blog of Graves Light.

Most of GravesLightStation.com will feature pages arranged by topic.

All the news updates will be here on the Keeper’s Blog, which is loosely connected with our Graves Light Facebook page.


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