Digest>Archives> August 2009

Antique Store Purchase Uncovers Lost History


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While visiting Maine, William McKenna purchased a hand-sketched pencil and charcoal lighthouse image in an old frame at an antique store.

McKenna wasn’t sure what lighthouse the artwork depicted; however there was a notation at the bottom of the work and, because the old glass was rather dirty, he removed the backboard to see if the glass could be cleaned and if the name of the lighthouse could be read. McKenna said, “To my surprise, when I removed the board, not only was the name of the lighthouse discernable (Eddystone Lighthouse), but the other side of the backboard was also inscribed.”

Now, this is where it gets really interesting.

Folded in the back of the frame was an old hand written document describing who the artist was and also recounted the memory of a grieving family in a letter that was written 173 years ago and had not been touched or read since it was tucked away in the back of the frame so long ago.

The letter read, “This picture was painted by our youngest daughter, Sarah Ann Pierce, in the 11th month of the year 1837. Dear Sarah Ann departed this life on the 23rd of the eighth month of 1837 on the fourth day of the week at about 6 o’clock in the morning. Aged XIV years and eight months to the day.”

There is no indication in what town the family lived. However the document told of how the parents were away, visiting in Newport, Rhode Island, when word reached them of their daughter’s death. The young girl was buried three days later.

The letter documents how grief-stricken the family was and included a Latin verse. Perhaps the parent who wrote this, and then carefully folded the letter in the back of the frame, hoped that someday, many years from then, some member of their family would discover the letter, thereby keeping alive the memory of their dearly departed daughter.

As time went on, the old framed lighthouse drawing was probably sold at an estate sale or perhaps a yard or garage sale with no one realizing that the old letter was inside the framed artwork. Somehow or another, it eventually wound up in an antique store in Maine to be purchased by an inquisitive person, 173 years later - and a small slice of history was rediscovered and brought back to life.

This story appeared in the August 2009 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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