Thanksgiving Day in 1910 at Maine’s Ram Island Lighthouse was a big event in the annals of Maine lighthouse families.
More people than ever before in the history of the lighthouse had gathered for Thanksgiving Day at the keeper’s house on this small island in Maine’s Boothbay Harbor where veteran U.S. Lighthouse Service employee, Samuel Cavanor, had served as the station’s first keeper since 1893.
There were plenty of turkeys with all the trimmings as well as an amazing 65 lobsters for the big feast. However, Thanksgiving Day was not the only thing they would be celebrating that day. It was also the wedding day of Florence, one of the five daughters of Ram Island lighthouse keeper Samuel Cavanor. Florence was marrying Fred Batty, a son of long time friends of the Cavanor family.
Many years later on their 56th wedding anniversary, in November of 1966, Florence and Fred Batty commented that it was only the seventh time that the two dates of Thanksgiving and their wedding anniversary had coincided since they were married in 1910. They joked at the time that they had only celebrated their wedding anniversary seven times in all those years. However, by that time they had five children who bore them 26 grandchildren and 34 great-grandchildren.
After the couple was married at Ram Island Lighthouse, they settled into a 165 year old home on nearby Fisherman’s Island that was owned by Florence’s father. However, Fred eventually followed in the footsteps of his father-in-law and joined the U.S. Lighthouse Service and was stationed at the Saddleback Ledge Lighthouse at the southern end of Penobscot Bay. However, life on the often-inhospitable lighthouse must not have suited him and after two years he quit and went back to work in the grocery and meat business which he had done before he was a lighthouse keeper. He stayed in the grocery and meat business for 15 years.
Apparently the life of lighthouse keeper was still in his blood and he rejoined the U.S. Lighthouse Service and was sent with his family to Boon Island Lighthouse, which sits on a small outcropping of rocks off York and Kittery Maine.
During one particularly violent storm, a large granite boulder slammed into the keeper’s house causing a wide gash in the structure. He had to knock a hole in the floor of the keeper’s house to let the water out from the ocean waves that swept over the rocky outpost. They recalled that everything they owned was covered with seaweed and soot.
It was at Boon Island Lighthouse where Fred Batty started painting. In fact, it was a painting of Boon Island Lighthouse, the tallest in Maine, which he had given to fellow lighthouse keeper Vassar Quimby and has remained in the Quimby family ever since, as reported in a story in the May 2008 issue of Lighthouse Digest, that led to this story with the discovery of more information about Batty’s life and paintings.
Being stationed miles from any town, he used what he found around him for his paintings. He painted scenes on the lighthouse lens curtains, on boards that were found on the shore, fungi growing on trees, washed up driftwood, and just about anything else that he could find. Most of his paintings were of lighthouses and were excellent renditions of the actual stations.
After serving at Boon Island Lighthouse, Batty was transferred to Two Bush Island Lighthouse where he was stationed until
he retired as a lighthouse keeper. Batty’s daughter, Mary, married Floyd Ettinger Singer, who was also a lighthouse keeper who served at a number of Maine lighthouses, including Cuckolds Light in Boothbay Harbor and Seguin Island Lighthouse, the highest lighthouse above water in Maine and the site of the only gigantic first order lens in the state. The family now had three generations of lighthouse keepers.
Granddaughter, Nancy I Singer Bryant, recalled to us, the many times as a young child that she stood by her grandfathers side watching him paint. She called him ‘Pa’ and said he was one-of-a-kind. She remembered the time when her mother, Mary, was on the mainland to give birth and she was informed that her husband, Floyd, was being sent to be the lighthouse keeper at Cuckolds Lighthouse. She said, “I wonder what the place looks like?” Grandpa Batty promptly sat down and painted the island lighthouse station as he remembered it. Nancy said, “I believe he got it perfect, right down to the shingles on the place. The only thing he got wrong was the oil tank, he painted it where it used to be.” To this day, granddaughter, Nancy I. Singer Bryant still has that painting.
When the Batty’s retired from lighthouse living to their home in Spruce Head, Maine, they were surrounded by many of the works of art that Fred had painted over the years.
In a 1966 interview with a newspaper reporter, Florence Batty recalled that she had nothing but fond memories of their life on the offshore light stations where their family had a variety of pets ranging from a pet seal to a pet crow, as well as the traditional dogs and cats.
Even though they were far out to sea, she said they were never lonely; there were the children and a constant array of people who visited the island lighthouses. Obviously they were a hearty breed of people, since in today’s age, most consider Boon Island as a place too dangerous to try to land a boat, and most visits by the Coast Guard are by helicopter. But at Boon Island the Batty’s and the other keepers who lived there over the years thought nothing of rowing the children to the mainland for school and to get needed supplies. On the other hand, although Two Bush Island was also an island station, it was much easier to land and disembark than Boon Island ever was.
In that 1966 interview, Mrs. Batty, in commenting on their 56 years together sharing a life that very few people in history would ever experience, said, “ I can’t think of a thing that wasn’t pleasant.”
We can only wonder if lighthouse keeper Batty were alive today how he would marvel that his paintings of the lighthouses his family loved so much would draw so much public attention. More importantly, his paintings depicted what he saw, in person, during another time in history; they captured some lighthouses where the only parts left standing today are the towers themselves.
The memory of this family of lighthouses keepers will live on forever thanks to the written and recorded memories that are more real thanks to the lighthouse paintings of Fred Batty and the descendants of his family who have helped to preserve them.
This story appeared in the
August 2008 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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