Written by Jenn Bogard
It was the evening of August 5th, 2022 when the Custom House Maritime Museum transported its members back to the lives of New England lighthouse keepers and their families. Photographs, videos, oral histories and more had the room abuzz with curiosity— and even disbelief at times. A night of lighthouse talk is a night like no other, especially when it includes lighthouse guru Jeremy D’Entremont. (He is the president and historian for the American Lighthouse Foundation and the historian for the U.S. Lighthouse Society!)
Members also heard from Jenn Bogard, CHMM Board Member and descendant of Plum Island lighthouse Keeper Arthur W Woods; and John Vogel, President of Friends of Plum Island Light. To top off this spectacular event, the Friends of Plum Island Light opened the lighthouse for CHMM members the very next day for tours of the first floor. Many members turned up with their families and their cameras in hand.
The event began with a photograph of a very special happening on Plum Island in the year 1898. A new conical lighthouse was built and the lantern and lens was transferred from the octagonal light to the new tower. Once the transfer was complete, the octagonal light was torn down, ending the era of the two original octagonal towers.
We were treated to the following poem that was written in 1888, ten years before the transfer:
My Plum Island Cottage by Willie Doolittle, 1888.
(As it appears in the Newburyport beacon: Plumb-Island Special Issue, no date, courtesy NPLAC Barbara and Arthur Woods Collection )
The sample excerpt below mentions the Light:
The white spreading sands and the light-/
house upon it,/
The hills in the distance, all make a/
The cot of my neighbor- – I fear I’m too/
For all I can smell is fried fish and clam/
If you are interested in learning more about the original two octagonal towers and how and why they were built on moveable foundations, just visit the new kiosk located on the grounds by Plum Island Lighthouse. There you can read about the many adventures of these two towers.
That evening we heard how President George Washington appointed the first lighthouse keeper of Plum Island Light, Abner Lowell, and that the original document signed by George Washington is located right here on the first floor of the CHMM and on loan from The Friends of Plum Island Light. You’ve got to come by the museum and check it out!
Jenn also shared about her grandfather’s grandfather, Arthur W Woods who held Plum Island Light for 14 years, from 1905 until his death in 1919. (An aside: he was also the keeper of Baker’s Island/ Salem Harbor from 1887 to 1905 and before that he was stationed at Wood End). His tombstone is located at Oak Hill Cemetery and shows the letters USLHS for the United States Lighthouse Service.
Have you been to the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center? It’s a wonderful place to be– a room of tucked-away treasures nestled in the lower level of the library and Sharon Spieldenner (Archivist and CHMM Board Member) is there to welcome you with her amazing volunteers. Members are headed there to check out the Barbara and Arthur Woods Collection and find out about daily life around Plum Island lighthouse during the time of keepers. Here’s a sampling of some of the items in the collection, including diary entries, photographs, and newspaper articles.
Birding Outside Keepers House
Insignia displayed in a case in the first floor of the Plum Island lighthouse
If you want to know more, you’re in luck. Just listen to following podcast “Light Hearted” by Jeremy D’Entremont, U.S. Lighthouse Society
John Vogel spoke next, and he shared about the history of The Friends of Plum Island Light and all of the many projects that have been handled by the friends over time. If you missed this, just visit the kiosk outside of the Plum Island Lighthouse to see photos of the projects and a comprehensive list. It’s incredible what a group of volunteers can do! Rear Admiral Dan May of the Coast Guard was in the audience and he brought an original invitation to the transfer ceremony and shared the card with members.
Jeremy D’Entremont finished out the evening by dazzling us listeners with many stories that include audio and video of primary and secondary sources. We really can’t spill the beans on the details of his lectures because he presents all over the country. The good news is that you can catch one of his events by visiting the following website and seeing what fits into your schedule: http://www.newenglandlighthouses.net/lectures-by-jeremy-dentremont.html
One thing is for certain, August 5th was magic!