Long time Lighthouse Digest subscriber Judi Kearney recently sent me a copy of the May-June 1954 edition of Post Card Collectors Magazine, which has a front page story titled “Random Notes on Lighthouse Cards,” written by Les Staples.
Without reading the story, I flipped through the pages and looked at the post card images to see if there was anything that really caught my eye before sending the magazine to be filed in our archival files. However, I almost jumped out of my chair as I noticed the first paragraph of the story which said, “Having lived on several Maine Lighthouses as a boy, when my Dad was a lighthouse keeper, my interest in lighthouses cards and views seems to follow quite naturally.”
Suddenly this 1954 magazine had jumped from being just another old story and magazine about lighthouses, to becoming a valuable historical document. Naturally, I immediately wanted to know who Les Staples’ father was and at which lighthouses he served, so I immediately read the rest of the story in hopes that those names would be revealed.
In writing about lighthouse post cards, Les Staples wrote, “If one only had enough time to inquire into the story of each light - - - about the interesting and sometimes exciting and even dangerous lives of the keepers and their families.”
But, going back to post card collecting, Staples wrote that he tried to limit his collection to only one view of each lighthouse, unless over time, significant changes to its appearance had been made. On the other hand, he indicated that some collectors might want every view and every card made of a lighthouse. Staples felt that through collecting lighthouse post cards one could learn about the progress of world trade, in fact of civilization itself, from the lighthouses that “marked the Highways of the World.”
Also, for the serious collector, compared to collectors of State Capital post cards, whose collection could be completed in weeks Staples wrote that lighthouse post card collecting could go on for years. But unlike stamp collecting, where you could never complete a collection, you could complete a lighthouse post card collection by collecting only one card of each lighthouse.” He also believed that if you wanted every view and every lighthouse card, you could, at least theoretically, collect every card in a lifetime.
However, Staples wrote at his time in history, as it still is today in some parts of the world, “that present world conditions do in fact present difficulties to the lighthouse collector.” He went on to say, “Side by side with the fine friendly cooperation of other collectors, one meets suspicion and even hostility in some countries. Some lighthouses are considered as part of the National Safety in some countries.” He then explained how he had to write letters assuring certain governments and officials that the views would not be reproduced in the United States and a letter of request for clearance had to be written asking the Ministry of Defense for certain views from the nation of Erie.”
Staples then wrote of the problem he faced with Communist countries. “Another hurdle in the path of the lighthouse collector is the ‘Iron Curtain.’ While it is possible to write people in some of these countries and even exchange view cards, so far no lighthouses! To a somewhat lesser degree, the same is true of the “Bamboo Curtain.” Some day I hope to contact a Dealer or serious collector who may have lighthouse views from those countries. In view of the real life life-and-death struggles of some of those peoples in recent years, it is quite possible that such trivial things as view cards have been lost or destroyed. We certainly hope not. In the meantime, we’ll continue to try to find views from those countries.” He then wrote how some of his fellow post card collectors were worried that Staples’ efforts to collect post cards from these countries would lead to an investigation of him by the FBI or even Senator Joseph McCarthy’s committee on Un- American Activities.
As I read Staples’ story I had to admire the number of letters that must have been sent out in those days trying to locate various post cards and how different it was from today with the Internet, e-mail, and on-line auction sites making it somewhat easier to locate and collect lighthouse or any other type of post cards. But even with all of our modern technology, some views can still be difficult to locate and obtain, which makes post card shows and post card collector clubs just as important today as they were years ago.
However, as interesting as the story was, Staples never mentioned what lighthouses he grew up at or what his father’s first name was. So, I started my search. Without too much effort, I was soon able to find out that there were a number of Maine lighthouse keepers with the last name of Staples. Since I did not know how old Les Staples was when he wrote the article in 1954, I had to make an educated guess, which narrowed my search down to only a few lighthouse keepers with the last name of Staples who could have been his father.
However, even if I was able to figure out who his father was and what lighthouses he was stationed at, I felt that the only way to make a story and the recording of history complete was to locate photographs. After making a number of e-mail and phone inquires, I was able to locate two photos, but of the same lighthouse keeper, Albert Staples. But I still had no idea if Albert Staples was the father of our post card collector author, Les Staples.
Then I hit pay dirt when I heard from Elaine Jones of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, Education Division, who was the driving force behind the restoration of Maine’s Burnt Island Lighthouse and turning it into a Living Classroom. It was 10 years ago that she was able to track down surviving family members of Albert Staples, who was a keeper at Burnt Island Lighthouse from April, 1930 until his retirement in October, 1936. From her research, I was able to substantiate that Les Staples, the man who wrote the article for Post Card Collector Magazine in 1954, was the adopted son of lighthouse keeper Albert Staples – and Elaine Jones even had a photograph of him.
It seems that Albert Staples must have enjoyed being a lighthouse keeper, especially since he was always stationed at island light stations. According to his son, Les Staples, his family lived with him when he was stationed at Boon Island Lighthouse in Maine from 1913 to 1923; Wood Island Lighthouse off the coast of Biddeford Pool Maine from 1923 to 1926; White Island Lighthouse, which is also called Isles of Shoals Lighthouse, in New Hampshire from 1926 to 1930; and then at Burnt Island Lighthouse in Boothbay Harbor, Maine where he retired in 1936.
Albert Staples may have gotten his interest in lighthouses through John and Joanna Moore, his uncle and aunt who raised him and were related to Fairfield Moore who was a keeper at Maine’s Cape Neddick “Nubble” Lighthouse from 1921 to 1928 and then at Maine’s Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, where Moore died on the job in 1934.
Albert Staples and his wife Emily had two children, Blanche Elizabeth and then Les, who is the one who wrote the article in Post Card Collector Magazine. Interestingly, one of Blanche’s children, Madeline, married lighthouse keeper Douglas Larrabee who was stationed at a number of lighthouses, including Owls Head and Spring Point Ledge Lights in Maine and White Island Light in New Hampshire, where his wife’s grandfather, Albert Staples, had once been stationed.
And to think that we learned all of this as a direct result from a magazine article written in 1954 about collecting lighthouse post cards. Hmmm . . . I wonder what tomorrow’s mail might bring that will lead us on another journey to rediscover and reclaim a slice of forgotten history.
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 2011 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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