Lighthouse Directory has 20,700 lighthouses in its database

Here’s a shoutout to Professor Russ Rowlett, whose years of work have given everybody access to what could be the world’s largest database of lighthouses.

“For many years, Russ Rowlett, a mathematics professor at the University of North Carolina, has been building one of the most useful lighthouse related sites on the Internet,” the Lighthouse Society reports.

“The Lighthouse Directory provides information and links for more than 20,700 of the world’s lighthouses, divided into sections by countries and regions. There’s also a list of the latest lighthouse news headlines and other pertinent facts. Anyone who’s struggled to find information on a lighthouse, famous or obscure, has probably gone to the Lighthouse Directory in search of enlightenment at one time or another,” the Lighthouse Society says.

Spend a year of rainy weekends on Russ’ Lighthouse Directory and you still probably won’t finish it all. It’s constantly being updated, too. That’s

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Graves Light under construction, 115 years ago today

November 27, 1903: How Graves light looked after its first 7 months of construction.

One hundred and fifteen years ago today, Colonel Stanton of the Army Corps of Engineers took advantage of calm seas to photograph The Graves, documenting work accomplished in the 1903 season.

Remarkably, in seven months, the workmen prepared the ledge, constructed temporary cofferdams and wharves, built a barracks and footbridge, and set half the tower’s stones into place.

The next year would see the rest of the tower, interior tiled walls and stairs completed.

Graves Light went operational in September, 1905.

Click here for more historic photos of Graves Light’s construction, along with copies of many of the original blueprints and diagrams.

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Too close for comfort: The day Army artillery shook Graves Light

Doc 1 May 24 1937Artillery practice before World War II caused one shell to land too close to Graves Light, prompting the Superintendent of Lighthouses to issue a sternly worded letter to the Commanding Officer in Boston.

The 1937 incident was the only time the granite tower was ever shaken.

It happened on May 21 of that year, when the Army’s coastal defense force at Fort Banks in Winthrop practiced shelling Boston Harbor’s narrow outlet to the sea, apparently to ensure that they could strike at any enemy ships trying to enter the port.

The thunderous artillery practice had shattered the keepers’ dinner plates at Graves Light.

Fort Banks was home at the time to two batteries of huge Endicott 1890M1 mortars to defend Boston Harbor against enemy warships.

A total of 16 mortars provided a formidable defense for the harbor. Each mortar was 12-inch caliber, meaning that each fired an explosive shell 12 inches in diameter. Each shell contained between 700 and 1,046 pounds of explosives. Each mortar could hurl the shell between 7 and 9 miles.

A researcher at the National Archives in Washington has discovered carbon copies of the letters exchanged between the US Light House Service and the Department of War from May and June, 1937, settling a matter between the artillerymen and the Graves Light keepers.

The correspondence shows that at about 1:30 on the afternoon of May 21, 1937, the keeper at The Graves phoned his superintendent in Chelsea that during artillery practice from Fort Banks, one shell landed within 200 yards of the lighthouse.

That resulted in a phone call to the commanding officer at Fort Banks, who made sure it wouldn’t happen again.

It seems that no further incidents occurred, though the recorded correspondence, typed on manual typewriters and sent via the Postal Service, took some delays that in retrospect seem curious.

Doc 1 May 24 1937Three days after the incident, on May 24, Light House Superintendent George E. Eaton in Chelsea, sent a letter to the Commanding Officer of the First Corps Area responsible for Fort Banks. (Doc 1 May 24 1937)

Eaton described the matter, making a correction about the distance of the target zone from the lighthouse.

Politely, but with what seems to be a taint of sarcasm, Eaton said that on receiving the phone call on May 21, “the officer in charge at Fort Banks was accordingly communicated with and assurance obtained that further shooting operations would be conducted in the proper direction.”

The lighthouse superintendent then spared no words to express his concern:

“The above is invited to your attention for such action as you may dispose to take in so far as issuing official instructions to the proper parties to make definitely sure that future similar maneuvers will be so carried on as to obviate any possibility of damage or other embarrassment being suffered by the relatively numerous lighthouses and other aids to navigation located in the vicinity in question.”

On the copy retained by the Commissioner of Lighthouses, someone scrawled in the margin, “Entirely too many chances taken with this sort of thing apparently.”

Doc 2 June 15 1937Three weeks later, on June 15, Colonel Clark Lynn, Adjutant General at Headquarters, First Corps Area in Boston, responded formally. (Doc 2 June 15 1937)

“No previous acknowledgement was made,” said COL Lynn, “due to the fact that your letter indicated that the Commanding Officer, Harbor Defenses of Boston, Fort Banks, Massachusetts, had been notified by telephone.”

The colonel assured the light house superintendent that instructions had been issued “to prevent any possible recurrence in the future.”

The same day he received COL Lynn’s letter, Superintendent Eaton wrote a memo to the Commissioner of Lighthouses, recounting the incident and stating that the Army commander “should have formally acknowledged our letter without request having to be made for the same.” (Doc 3 June 16 1937)

A modern Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chart (fig. 4.2, p. 8) shows that the lighthouse crew was right to be upset: A surface explosion of 700 to 1,000 pounds of TNT would produce severe wounds from flying glass in a building 200 yards away.

The letters appear on this page. Click on each image to enlarge.

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Vivid lost photos of 1938 shipwreck found

The smokestack of the SS City of Salisbury snaps off as the hull of the wrecked steamer makes its final plunge.

The smokestack of the SS City of Salisbury snaps off as the hull of the wrecked steamer makes its final plunge. The bottom photo was taken minutes earlier. The photographer was aboard a US Coast Guard vessel.

Our unstoppable archivists have recovered dramatic photos of the salvage and sinking of the SS City of Salisbury.

The famous “Zoo Ship” sank 76 years ago today.

Graves Light Station has acquired the historic Associated Press photos of the 1938 shipwreck.  

The vessel wrecked off Graves Ledge in April, its keel broken on an uncharted ledge. The big steamer sank the following month.

Most of the vessel’s cargo of exotic animals from India and Ceylon survived, and all the people on board escaped unharmed.

We have been scouring antique photo collections and old newspaper archives for images of wrecks, rescues and other events around Graves Light, and already had a number of original pictures from the SS City of Salisbury.

The earlier pictures appear on the shipwreck page on this site, and on our posting from last November.

The latest collection of eight original prints are from the Associated Press, acquired from a dealer in Tennessee.


The smokestack of the SS City of Salisbury snaps off as the hull of the wrecked steamer makes its final plunge.

The smokestack of the SS City of Salisbury snaps off as the hull of the wrecked steamer makes its final plunge.

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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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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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