Diver’s discovery helps us complete our interior doors

Chris, of Boston Scuba, discovered an original Graves Light porcelain door knob on the bottom of Boston Harbor.

Chris, of Boston Scuba, discovered an original Graves Light porcelain door knob on the bottom of Boston Harbor.

Discovering the original from under water let us install authentic replacements.

Discovering the original from under water let us install authentic replacements from a wrecking company..

Some of the clues to the faithful reconstruction of the interior of Graves Light have come from the bottom of Boston Harbor.

Chris, a diver from Boston Scuba, found yet another artifact offshore at The Graves.

Pictured in his hand is a heavily weathered porcelain door knob.

We had already restored the surviving interior door and built two copies on Nantucket, but we didn’t know what the original knobs looked like. Now we do.

So we found four antique sets of knobs at a local wrecking company. Voila! The doors are now complete. Thanks, Chris!

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Discovered: Original Fresnel Lens rotation mechanism

Polishing a century of grime from one of the brackets of the original First Order Fresnel lens rotation mechanism.

Polishing a century of grime from one of the brackets of the original First Order Fresnel lens rotation mechanism.

Ever wonder how the giant First Order Fresnel lens rotated to produce that smooth, sweeping beam lf light?

The good guys at the US Coast Guard revealed the secret by sending us the old engineering drawings of parts of the original mechanism, which are still bolted to the 5th level ceiling.

Since that ceiling is being restored, we figured we’d take the mechanism down and clean it up, which we did this week at home.

Here’s how it worked: Every two hours the Keepers wound a 300-lb weight up a 50-foot tube using a hand crank. The weight was connected by a series of pulleys (pictured) and connected to a big clockwork device, which regulated the speed and drove a gear that spun the two-ton lens.

The system was converted to an electric motor long ago, but happily the Coast Guard left all the old stuff in place, which made it possible for us to tell the story.

 

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1,400 photos recovered from remote camera

Planes line up to land at Logan.

Planes line up to land at Logan, as seen from the remote camera that survived the winter storms.

Remember the remote camera we installed last year to watch the lighthouse? That’s the one from which we made the stop-action video last summer.

Well, the camera survived the winter after we were thwarted from several rescue attempts.

We just recovered it – battered and bent up almost vertically after being smacked from underneath by a big wave during a winter storm. Much to our surprise, it was dry inside, and yielded 1,400 photos. A few of them are shown here.

The camera is an old digital Canon 5D with a 24mm lens, which we housed in an a steel ammunition box with a round window cut into it for the lens. We waterproofed it, and powered it with a car battery and some solar panels that we bought on Amazon.

Then we installed the camera assembly in a wooden box secured on brackets to the side of the oil house on the ledge across from the light. Lo and behold, the camera survived the winter!

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Zip line operation recovers original lighthouse windows

window glass on zipline

The first load of original 1903 lantern glass is returned to the lighthouse by a 100-foot zip line.

The perfect weather coupled with our hearty all-volunteer team enabled us to recover the original lighthouse lantern glass.

Decades ago, when the lighthouse was being renovated, the Coast Guard thoughtfully stored the historic glass away in the oil house.

But to safely recover the heavy plate glass, we needed to build a 100 foot heavy-duty zip line over the treacherous rocks.

Fingers crossed as the first load is away!

We even recovered the rest of the original oak and brass casement windows from the tower.

Big shout out to Jack, Diana, Wes and Lonnie.

zip line from oil house to lighthouse

Moving the priceless original glass was a complete success. Decades ago, the Coast Guard had carefully stored the glass for safekeeping in the oil house.

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Our volunteer crew takes a well deserved rest on the ledge, and does a little exploring as the tide starts to rise.

The plate glass we recovered were spares to replace the huge, curved panes in the lamp room.

The plate glass we recovered were spares to replace the huge, curved panes in the lamp room.

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SS City of Salisbury wreck: A fun dive off Graves Light

A section of the hull of the SS City of Salisbury, at the bottom of Boston Harbor, May 23, 2014.

A section of the hull of the SS City of Salisbury, at the bottom of Boston Harbor, May 23, 2014.

Today we went for an adventurous dive off Graves Ledge to seek the wreck of the SS City of Salisbury, which struck an uncharted rock and sank 76 years ago this month.

Most of the wreck of the famed “Zoo Ship” was raised and sold for scrap metal, dynamited as a navigation hazard, or dragged across the bottom of Boston Harbor in the decades since the sinking.

The bow is said to be nearly intact, and a great dive spot, but we didn’t find it today. We did find the wreckage field, with sections of the hull of the 419-foot British freighter strewn about the bottom and alive with marine life.

It was a beautiful dive on a fine spring day, with great visibility. Take a look.

SS City of Salisbury wreckage at bottom of Boston Harbor, May 23, 2014.

SS City of Salisbury wreckage at bottom of Boston Harbor, May 23, 2014.

The SS City of Salisbury is broken in two on an uncharted part of Graves Ledge. Graves Light is seen in the upper left background.

1938: The SS City of Salisbury is broken in two on an uncharted part of Graves Ledge. Graves Light is seen in the upper left background.

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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.

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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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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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