On Nov. 9, 1821, Joshua B. Cushing lit the oil lamps of Burnt Island Light for the first time. Two hundred years later to the day, a commemorative re-lighting was held Tuesday, Nov. 9, its now electrified light briefly extinguished and relit by former lighthouse keepers Paul Kelley, Randy Griffing and Henry Sieg with Steve McCullough, son of keeper Jim McCullough; Coast Guard Capt. Amy Florentino, Portland Station, and Elaine Jones, retired education director at Department of Marine Resources. A stunning fireworks display capped off the observance of the lighthouse’s anniversary.
About one mile away, across the entrance to Boothbay Harbor, 230 people gathered at Spruce Point Inn on the deck and spilling out onto the lawn to watch the relighting and the fireworks, and be part of the historic moment. Paintings and drawings of the lighthouse adorned the railings of the Inn’s deck and Shrinky Dink and wooden lighthouse ornaments were displayed on a small holiday tree on deck. The art was created by Boothbay Region Elementary School students in grades Pre-K through six, and students at Southport Central School who drew from photographs and online images of the lighthouse. With education always at the core of Jones’ vision for the site for the past 25 years, student involvement in the celebration was essential.
BRES Assistant Principal and Keepers of Burnt Island Light (KBIL) board member Matt Lindemann said Jones and Jean McKay, a founding member of KBIL and co-creator of the Burnt Island Living History program, visited the first grade classes of Lisa Andrews and Sarah Wade and brought costumes and props from the history program.
While Jones was on the island, McKay was at the Inn keeping everyone informed about what was happening on the island. Earlier that day, the Coast Guard approved the disablement of the light sensor keeping the lantern room dark until 5:30 p.m. In contact with Jones via cell phone, McKay relayed to the crowd via bullhorn when the keepers were ascending the staircase in the tower: The countdown to relighting would soon begin.
“Ten! Nine! Eight!” The voices of excited children just a second ahead of those of the older attendees rang out across the water and as the crowd shouted “One!” the island’s familiar red light flashed in response, as it does once every six seconds, followed by thunderous applause that rippled across the water.
As he climbed the tower stairs, Randy Griffing thought about all the times he and the subsequent 29 keepers had done so, particularly the ones who had to light oil lamps. In 1821, whale oil fueled 10 Lewis lamps. He was also remembering the night the light went out on his watch (1983-1988).
“It was cold,” began Griffing. “I remember I woke up because an alarm that sounded like a school bell went off and it was really loud. I had never heard it before. I thought ‘Oh my God, the light’s gotta be out!’ I jumped out of bed, looked out the window. It was out. So I’m not fully dressed, but I’m running down the stairs, into the kitchen, through that cold walkway and up the stairs to the tower! To be there tonight with what few remaining keepers there are … We all had our hands on the switch waiting to be told when to throw it … it was very emotional for all of us.”
The keepers were very happy Florentino was at the anniversary. Griffing and his fellow keepers all reported to the Portland Coast Guard Station's Aids to Navigation Division. Florentino was equally happy to be on the island again. She spoke at the 200th anniversary celebration on the island in August. Also representing Portland USCG on Nov. 9 was Master Chief Daniel Morales.
“It was really great to be back on the island again so soon and to see the keepers again,” said Florentino. “And to see the heart the community puts into the light; there’s so much upkeep to be done that it makes for a great partnership.”
Florentino expressed appreciation for Jones and what she had accomplished. “With the transition of technology, you see a lot of these properties go to waste; it’s really nice when people come together to bring them back to life.”
For Jones, the night was the culmination of the vision she had for the island 25 years ago to restore it, make it a beacon not only for mariners, but for students. Education was always the primary objective; that, and maintaining the five-acre island, ever since her first visit.
“Tonight marks the 73,000th time Burnt Island’s light has been lit since that first night 200 years ago,” said Jones. “This is the culmination of 23 years of work and service to Burnt Island, and I am so happy to have shared this night with these former keepers. It’s been so special to be with them and their families and this community who came out and supported the restoration of the lighthouse to its former glory …
“And when it was lit up with all of the flood lights tonight it was amazing. Amazing. It was absolutely gorgeous and I was really happy. I’ve accomplished what I promised to do 25 years ago. It’s done.”
And the next chapter of Burnt Island Light begins.
Lisa Kristoff Article from Boothbay Register https://www.boothbayregister.c...