Digest>Jan/Feb 2010

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On Sept 21, 1938 one of the deadliest hurricanes in history struck New England. The devastating storm cost the lives of over 700 people and the loss of property was nearly beyond comprehension. Numerous lighthouses were damaged or lost, such as Rhode Island's Whale Rock Lighthouse, which was swept away, causing the death of its keeper Walter Eberle. Although the Sakonnet Lighthouse and its keepers survived the hurricane, the keepers on duty thought the end was near and the lighthouse was heavily damaged. Lighthouse keeper William Durfee, who was on duty at the time, reported that a tidal wave washed up and over the tower. He was in the lantern room at the time. The force of wave that struck and went over the top of the 56-foot tower knocked him to the floor. It was a good thing it did; otherwise he might have been killed by the flying glass that blew out some of the lantern room's windows. Seconds later a second giant, but smaller, second wave hit the tower. At this point, the keepers thought the end was near as the tower shook and rattled, but it stood firm. This photograph, taken the day after the hurricane, shows one of the lighthouse boats suspended in the air, clinging to one rope. Another boat is hanging sideways against the right side of the tower. One of the heavy oil tanks was ripped from its bolted position and is hanging precariously from the side of the lighthouse. By the time this photo was taken, the keeper had put up some canvas coverings over the blown out windows and a tarp of some kind was covering up other damage to the upper portion of the left side of the lighthouse. The boat landing ramp had also been washed away. The storm flooded the engine room, which disabled the fog horn. If you look closely, you will see one of the keepers standing at the base of the lighthouse. Most likely it is head keeper William Durfee. While many men who served here only stayed a short time, William Durfee served here for an amazing 20 years. For a time, Thurman Durfee, who was most likely a relative of William Durfee, served with him as an assistant keeper at the lighthouse. The man in this photograph could also be Joseph Bouley, Sr., one of the assistant keepers at that time, who was also in the lighthouse when the hurricane struck. Notice the outside outhouse on the lower base of the lighthouse. At some later point the facilities were moved inside the tower.
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Sakonnet Lighthouse To Be Restored
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