114th anniversary of Graves Light

Happy Birthday Graves Light!

September 1 marks the 114th anniversary of the first lighting of the magnificent First Order lens by keeper Elliott C Hadley.

This weekend we’d like to tip our caps to the many men and women who’ve kept Graves lit over the decades.

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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 http://www.ibiblio.org/lighthouse/.

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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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Exact copy of original oak service cabinet is installed

Remember the oak cabinet that Cousin Kenny built for us?

Well we finally brought it out to Graves this week, in two pieces, and set it up on the first floor.

It’s an exact copy of the 1905 “Service Cabinet” used at Graves to organize the oil lamps and their gear. We have put the cabinet to its original use. As seen in the picture, it now stores genuine, antique, US Light House Service oil pitchers, wick maintenance kit, glass lamp chimneys, and other equipment.

The US Coast Guard provided us with the original plans from more than a century ago. Kennedy made this exact replica, to precise specifications, from the Coast Guard plans.

Well done, Kenny!

 

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Treasured checkerboard made by Graves Light keeper is back at the lighthouse

This original Graves Light checkerboard, made by Keeper Llewelyn Rogers in the 1930s, was gifted to Graves Light by the Rogers family in 2018.

It’s often said the best part of owning Graves Light is meeting interesting people.

Bruce at the UPS Store, delivering the checkerboard to Graves Light.

We just had the good fortune to hear from wonderful Molly and Bruce Nichols in New York state.

Molly’s mother received an antique checkerboard from her aunt Catherine in Wellfleet back in the 1970s.

Inscribed on the back is “Made by L. Rogers, Lighthouse Keeper on Graves Light Boston Harbor 1930s.”

Knowing our interest, Molly and Bruce shipped the relic to us because they “wanted to send it home.”

Well, it didn’t take us long to buy a proper vintage checker set on eBay to go along with the handmade checkerboard so the keepers at Graves can use it again.

Now the set is returned to the Graves Light watch room, waiting for a cozy game by the fire in our potbelly stove.

Thanks, Molly and Bruce!

A note about Keeper Llewellyn Rogers: Born in Maine in 1885, Rogers moved to Provincetown as a boy and worked for the Lighthouse Service for 17 years. He was first stationed at Minot’s Light, then Twin Light, Boston Light, Provincetown Light and finally Graves Light, where he was Graves’ last Keeper under the US Lighthouse Service.

He is standing in the doorway in the 1941 photo below, taken by the prolific Edward Rowe Snow. Keeper Rogers made this checkerboard using scraps of leftover linoleum from the kitchen floor.

The snowy photo shows Bruce readying the checkerboard for shipping to us.

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Grim reminder that it’s not all fun out here

The wrecked Emily Anne sat upside down in 50 feet of water.

The wrecked Emily Anne sat upside down in 50 feet of water.

The realities of the sea and weather remind us that not everything’s as fun as it seems at the mouth of Boston Harbor.

A salvage team just raised the wreck of Emily Anne, the trusty tugboat that helped us with restoration work in 2014. The tug sank just north of Graves Light in February, 2016. A quick-thinking pilot boat captain saved Emily Anne‘s crew as she sank, upside-down, in 50 feet of water.

Because the hulk was so close to the North Channel, the Coast Guard recommended that Emily Anne be raised so it wouldn’t be a threat to navigation. And so she was, in early June, with a crane pulling her to the surface and placing her on a barge.

From there, the barge took Emily Anne to a graving yard in Chelsea, where she’ll be broken up and sold for scrap.

These pictures tell the story of the salvage operation, with a couple shots from happier days when she helped with the Graves Light restoration in 2014.

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Engineer who removed original Fresnel lens returns to Graves

Engineer Ron Fiore explains to Dave how he devised the system to remove the original Fresnel Lens from Graves.

On the deck of Graves Light for the first time since 1975, engineer Ron Fiore explains to Dave how he devised the system to remove the original Fresnel Lens from Graves.

Well, the best part of this whole lighthouse experience continues to be all the great people we meet.

Today we met Ron Fiore, the structural engineer who devised the method of removing the gigantic First Order Fresnel lens back in 1975.

That lens blasted out a 3.2 million candlepower beam for 70 years straight. The lamp required a full-time crew to operate and maintain, so the Coast Guard had it taken out and replaced with an automated electric beacon.

Ron told us all the details about how he built a custom crane to gently lower the priceless lens – it weighed 2 tons and measured 12 feet tall and 9 feet across – down one story into the watch room.

Then he and the crew removed part of a wall to slide the lens past the sloping tower and drop it 60 feet to the dock, where a Coast Guard boat plucked it onto the deck. 

Legendary New England maritime history author Edward Rowe Snow made an appearance, instructing the crew to wave (as he was filming the feat) but the workers were too busy – and scared – to respond.

The next year Ron and his wife visited the lens again, this time at the Smithsonian!

The Fresnel lens was made in France by Barbier, Benard & Turenne in 1904, and was installed in 1905. After the 1975 removal, the Coast Guard installed an automated electric beacon, powered from land by an underwater cable. That cable broke, so in 2001 the Coast Guard installed the present solar-powered lamp, the Hydrosphere Vega VRB-25, made in the U.K.

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Art Milmore, completing Edward Rowe Snow’s unfinished work, visits Graves

Author and speaker Art Milmore (center) on Graves Ledge at low tide with Lynn and Dave.

Author and speaker Art Milmore (center) on Graves Ledge at low tide with Lynn and Dave.

Arthur Milmore, the respected author and speaker, toured Graves Light Station with us last weekend.

He was a good friend of New England maritime historian Edward Rowe Snow, and is completing Snow’s unfinished book about the wreck of the Portland, the side paddle wheel steamship lost in 1898 with all 190 people aboard.

In the greatest of Snow traditions, Art regaled us with seafaring tales and even installed a few of those bronze skylights in the lantern room.

 

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Castle Morro lighthouse keeper in Havana gives Graves Light a tour

The keeper of the Castle Morro lighthouse in Havana, Cuba, shows us the original 1845 Fresnel lens.

The keeper of the Castle Morro lighthouse in Havana, Cuba, shows us the original 1845 Fresnel lens. Manually wound every 3 hours, the lens sits on its original pool of mercury for smooth rotation.

As authentic as it gets: Graves Light got an up-close look at the historic 1744 Castle Morro lighthouse in Havana harbor, Cuba, and saw an original Fresnel lens in about as original a state as possible.

Enrizio, keeper of the Havana lighthouse, takes us on a visit through Castle Morro.

Enrizio, keeper of the Havana lighthouse, takes us on a visit through Castle Morro.

On a quick visit to the island last weekend, Graves Light keepers Lynn and Dave talked their way into the lighthouse just as the Morro keeper was reporting for duty.

The light is closed to the public. Lunchpail in hand, Enrizio, the friendly keeper, gave us fellow keepers a tour and took us up to the lantern room.

It was like climbing back in time. What appears to be the original Third Order bivalve Fresnel lens is still in operation.

The lens was made in about 1845 by BBT Paris, the same manufacturer of the old First Order lens at Graves Light, which is now at the Smithsonian Institution.

The keeper fired up the early hand-cranked motor that spins the lens, which still floats smoothly on its mercury bath. Half the windows in the lantern room are cracked or broken out, but the lens produces a brilliant double white flash every 15 seconds. The mechanism is still manually wound every three hours.

The lens was modified by “the French” in the 1950s with the addition of small reflecting panels to bend some of the beam 45 degrees upward so that aircraft could navigate by its light. Other than those panels and an electric lamp that uses a 70 watt halogen bulb, the entire apparatus appears completely original.

Each evening, the keeper withdraws the curtains and engages the mechanism to spin the lens. By day, the curtains are drawn to prevent the sun from entering the lens and starting a fire inside.

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Lafayette’s warship visits Boston Harbor

L'Hermione passes Graves Light while entering Boston Harbor. Photo by Richard Green.

L’Hermione passes Graves Light while entering Boston Harbor. Photo by Richard Green.

What an exciting Independence Day we had this year, with a visit from the French sailing ship L’Hermione.

A new reproduction of the French warship that the great Marquis de Lafayette took to America to announce France’s military support for the American Revolution, L’Hermione paid a goodwill visit to the east coast of the United States this summer.

We first caught up with L’Hermione during its visit to Baltimore, toured the ship, and talked to the captain and crew. When L’Hermione made its way north and arrived in Boston Harbor on July 10, Graves Light saluted her with the French tricolor. L’Hermione responded with a tweet.

It was a great occasion to commemorate Lafayette’s historic voyage and show her our appreciation to France for saving our new country during the American Revolution.

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