Digest>Archives> December 2010

Collecting Nautical Antiques

U. S. Light House Tender “Goldenrod”

By Jim Claflin


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Did you ever wonder what work was performed by the early lighthouse tenders? Or, when the Lighthouse Inspector was aboard, where did he sleep, and what were his quarters like ? What was their food like? How did they set buoys? These and many other little known facets of life aboard these working boats can be gleaned from a little known account written in 1886.

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All Among The Lighthouses or The Cruise Of The Goldenrod was written by Mary Bradford Crowninshield (Boston. D. Lothrop Company. 1886. 392pp.) With beautifully illustrated embossed covers, this is a fictional tale based on the operations of the U.S. Lighthouse Tender Iris as she tended lights in the First LH District in the 1880’s. The author accompanied the tender’s crew along the coast of Maine servicing light stations to gain an insight into the work and lives of the crew. Dedicated to the crew of the Tender Iris, the story follows young Tom Braine and his cousin Violet, whose father is the Lighthouse Inspector in the First District.

The children are invited to accompany the Inspector on a summer inspection trip along the Maine coast. There they visit numerous light stations and get to meet the keepers and their families as the Inspector examines the facilities. In this well written tale, you can accompany the children and crew into the watch room and up into the lantern at Halfway Rock Lighthouse as they examine the Fresnel lens, or look into the fog signal building on Manana Island.

You can accompany them as they visit dozens of light stations up and down the coast including Mt. Desert Island, Owl’s Head, and Ram Island where they learn of the keeper’s war injuries, Matinicus Rock where they meet the Grant family and ride up the marine railway in their longboat, and much more.

While at the lights, we get to watch the “lampist” as he times the flashes of the lights and explains how they work, or we can listen in as the Inspector explains about the portable libraries that they deliver to the keepers. In their travels we can watch too as the crew sounds for ledges and sets a buoy, and they even discover a shipwreck and rescue one of the crew members.

Finally, on their return trip down the coast, they get to meet Keeper Hanna and tour the light towers at Cape Elizabeth. While there the keeper describes for them the wreck of the schooner Australia in 1885 and the rescues that the keepers there performed.

Although written for teens, this is a lovely account of the work of the Lighthouse Service from a different perspective, and it gives us many little details of their lives that we can get nowhere else. This book makes fine reading and should be included in every lighthouse library. Included too are many excellent black & white illustrations as well as a color U.S.L.H.E. First District map with the tender’s route indicated. The book can be found occasionally at out-of-print book dealers and usually sells in the $60 to $150 range depending on condition.

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Jim Claflin is a recognized authority on antiques of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, Life-Saving Service, Revenue Cutter Service and early Coast Guard. In addition to authoring and publishing a number of books on the subject, Jim is the owner of Kenrick A Claflin & Son Nautical Antiques. In business since 1956, he has specialized in antiques of this type since the early 1990s. He may be contacted by writing to him at 1227 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA 01602, or by calling 508-792-6627. You may also contact him by email: jclaflin@LighthouseAntiques.net or visit his web site at: www.LighthouseAntiques.net

This story appeared in the December 2010 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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