Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2021

The Keeper’s Wife

Amanda Coleman

By Debra Baldwin


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Amanda Varner Coleman was born May 26, 1892 in ...

“Sea and Sky Maine Woman’s Whole World for 32 Years,” the Bangor Daily News headline read. Amanda Coleman, wife of keeper Eugene Coleman, shared this particular view of the world with thousands of other lighthouse keepers’ wives who were stationed with their husbands on remote islands and isolated land locations dotting the various coastlines, shores and waterways across the country.

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Eugene Leslie Coleman, is shown on the far left ...

But for Amanda, who was interviewed just a few weeks prior to her husband’s retirement in 1955, her solitary life at the five lighthouses where Eugene served wasn’t overly burdensome- except the one time where she did not see another woman from Christmas to Mother’s Day. “That was during the 12 years and eight months her husband was stationed as keeper of Maine’s Cape Neddick Light, known locally as ‘The Nubble.’ The light was connected to land at low tide, but trips to shore were made by boat, and it was likely to be a rough crossing, Mrs. Coleman says.”

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While the Colemans had no children, they did have ...

Perhaps the Colemans’ backgrounds and family ties to the ocean made it easier for them to live the desolate lighthouse life. “Both of the Colemans have known sea-faring all their lives. Mrs. Coleman’s father was in the Coast Guard, and Mr. Coleman, who was born on MacMahan Island, sailed with his brother in a coastal schooner for ten years before he became a lighthouse keeper for the government.

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Amanda and Eugene Coleman were stationed at Cape ...

“The most isolated spot in which the Colemans have lived? Boon Island, nine miles out to sea from York Harbor, where they were on duty for six years and six months. Mrs. Coleman knows to the day how long they spent at each station, and she well remembers this one. Mail reached them only once a month and there were only three families living on the island.”

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This photo of Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse was ...
Photo by: W. H. Ballard

“The lighthouse Mrs. Coleman liked the best is the one they are leaving this fall, Bass Harbor Head on Mount Desert Island. There she has had a telephone she can use personally and has been able to drive to town instead of making a precarious crossing by water when she wants to visit or shop. She has even belonged to a garden club. Mrs. Coleman is not one to be idle, even with months at a time when her whole world is stretch of sea and sky. She has made most of her own clothes and has hooked rugs and crocheted.”

Amanda and Eugene didn’t have children, but they always had many pets to keep them company when there were no other people around. “On isolated Boon Island, Sambo the cat lived happily in a mouse-less world. They’ve always had at least one dog, and Captain Jane, a collie, is their current favorite.”

As far as housekeeping was concerned, “Mrs. Coleman has cooked on old-fashioned coal ranges, on oil stoves, and on the latest combination of coal and gas. She has had kerosene refrigerators, ice-chests, and even no refrigeration at all. Housekeeping under difficulties holds no terrors for her.”

However, what proved difficult at times were the numbers of sightseers and even invited guests. Lighthouse keepers and their wives were always expected to be accommodating to anyone who would make an effort to venture out to the more accessible of the remote lighthouses. “Why there were many times,” Mrs. Coleman remembers, “when I would just complete breakfast for those leaving and then turn back to the stove to start all over again for those arriving.”

Amanda was possibly referring to her time at Cape Neddick (Nubble) Light from 1930 to 1942 where Eugene’s logbook during the first year recorded over 1000 visitors from 11 countries and 32 U.S. states. The Colemans were probably very ready for a rest by the time Eugene retired.

“In a few weeks, Mr. and Mrs. Coleman are going to Bath to live…. Mrs. Coleman is looking forward to garden club and church activities- which she has entered whenever her husband’s assignment has brought her near to other people. She has tried to garden wherever she is, but salt water spray blown in by storms gives flowers a hard time, she says.”

Lighthouse life, even at the most luxurious stations, wasn’t always a bed of roses for the couple as the Bath Independent observed in an article a couple of months later during Thanksgiving week after the Colemans had left Bass Harbor Head for their permanent home in Bath. “Of course, there were hardships, even several narrow escapes from their ocean yard, but they rode out the storms and came through loving the life they chose, just as anticipated when Mr. Coleman went into lighthouse service that last day in September of 1923.

“Thursday the captain and his wife will be giving thanks for many things- a record of having no serious accidents during their last year of service, a rating of excellence bestowed on the captain, and a home to ‘come home to’ not too far from the ocean’s call.”

And for Amanda, opportunities to speak to other women all year long as often as she desired.

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2021 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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