Digest>Archives> Sep/Oct 2012

Book Reviews

By Timothy Harrison


From Guiding Lights to Beacons for Business, The Many Lives of Maine’s Lighthouses

Years in the making, this magnificent book is by far the most unique book about Maine’s lighthouses ever published. Reaching into a vast collection of ephemera, this book provides the reader with an exceptional insight into the many aspects that made Maine’s lighthouses and their history so well known and respected around the world.

The book is not an in-depth study of the lighthouses, but rather, it is an amazing study of why Maine’s lighthouses have touched millions of lives through the many varied aspects that represent the lighthouses. Printed on high quality paper, with outstanding modern color and historical images, (many never before published) and its fancy French-fold cover, the book with its 240 pages weighs in at almost a whopping three pounds.

From Guiding Lights to Beacons for Business is a collaboration of seven noted authors and historians who were brought together under the direction of Richard Cheek of Historic New England, who is also the editor of the book and one of its authors. The other authors are Kirk Mohney, W.H. Bunting, Tom Deneberg, Earle Shettleworth, Jr., David Richards, and Timothy Harrison, editor of Lighthouse Digest. Getting this many authors and historians to collaborate on one book was a feat unto itself.

The foreword to the book is written by United States Senator Olympia J. Snowe, who brought about the federal legislation to create the Maine Lights Program, which was the forerunner to the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.

The book can only be described as spectacular. From Guiding Lights to Beacons for Business, The Many Lives of Maine’s Lighthouses is available from www.LighthouseDigest.com as item #246 for $34.95 plus shipping or by calling 207-259-2121.

The DeWire Guide to Lighthouses of Alaska, Hawai’i and the U.S. Pacific Territories

Everyone in the lighthouse community is familiar with Elinor DeWire’s many previous lighthouse books, but, in my opinion, she has outdone herself with The DeWire Guide to Lighthouses of Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific Territories.

This new book, with its mix of historic and modern images, provides an amazing insight to many of our nation’s most rugged lighthouse outposts, especially in Alaska, where lighthouse life, although similar to other lighthouses, was also so very different.

As well as teaching the reader the basics of why and how the lighthouses were built, she has provided amazing stories of hardship, mystery, intrigue, and tragedy, as well as stories of the warmth and closeness of family lighthouse life that most of us could never imagine in this modern era. DeWire has done an excellent job of mixing current and historic photos, including photos of families, keepers, and my personal favorite, the dog at Guard Island Lighthouse. But, you’ll have to buy the book to see the photo.

Although she has also included a section on buoys and lighthouse tenders, the extra bonus in the book is the section about the lighthouses in the U.S. Pacific Territories, a largely neglected area of lighthouse history.

The soft cover book, with it 200 plus pages which are nicely designed, and with a well-researched text, you have what I call "A Good Read," one that you will not want to put down. Personally, I love the book and highly recommend it to everyone.

The DeWire Guide to Lighthouses of Alaska, Hawai’i and Pacific Territories is available from www.LighthouseDigest.com as item #2102 for $19.95 plus shipping.

Lighthouses of New Brunswick - Past and Present

The wait for the release of Lighthouses of New Brunswick - Past and Present by Kraig Anderson and Kelly Anne Loughery has been worth it.

New Brunswick, which has the third-largest collection of historic lighthouses in Canada, is an area I’ve often felt more should be written about - and now it has. The knowledge of Kraig Anderson and Kelly Anne Loughery, who have been researching lighthouses for many years, is evident as you read through the pages of this book with its informative text and wonderful images.

For you rock-solid history buffs, this book will provide you with exactly what you need to quench your thirst for information and photographs of New Brunswick’s many lost lighthouses, information that, until now, has not been readily available. For example, did you know that there were once two towers at the famous Machias Seal Island Lighthouse? Or, how much do you know about the Quaco Head Lighthouse - in fact have you ever even heard about it? Have you ever heard of the Cape Tormentine Lighthouse? If so, did you know about the other Cape Tormentine Lighthouse? This is definitely my kind of book.

A nice extra touch to the book is the ‘legend" that is included with each of the 132 lighthouses that are featured in the book. This provides you with a quick reference to let you know if you can easily get to the lighthouse to photograph and visit it, if there are any fees involved, or if it is on private property. This also makes the book a great travel companion to use while visiting the lighthouses, so you don’t waste your time following the map to a lighthouse location only to find out that you can’t see it from the end of the road, or you will need a boat to get to it.

I would highly recommend Lighthouses of New Brunswick - Past and Present by Kraig Anderson and Kelly Anne Loughery. This book should be in every home library. You won’t be disappointed. Soft cover, with 154 pages, it is available as item #2101 from www.LighthouseDigest.com for $22.95 plus shipping.

The Clara Nevada: Gold, Greed, Murder and Alaska’s Inside Passage

Can you name the largest, as yet undetected, robbery in North American history? If you could, it wouldn’t be "undetected," and you‘d be a wealthy person.

In a nutshell, the saga of the Clara Nevada is one of those stories where truth is stranger than fiction. It is called Alaska’s ghost ship because it sank in February of 1898 and then reappeared in March of 1908, almost to the day that it sank.

If that was all there was to the story, it would make a great legend, but there is so much more to be told.

The Clara Nevada was carrying 15 tons of dynamite, yet only one stick went off and that one stick was in the boiler room. The average depth of the Lynn Canal where the Clara Nevada sank is 1,500 feet, yet the ship sank in the one spot where the canal is only 20 feet deep. There were 165 people on board and, in spite of the fact that the ship only sank in 20 feet of water, only one body was ever found. But there is more to the mystery. Did the captain of the vessel steal the gold valued then at $165,000, which in today’s market would be $15 million? If not, what happened to the gold and why has it not been found?

The author, Steven Levi, believes that the robbery of the Clara Nevada is probably the oldest cold case robbery in America. If so, it is twice the size of the famous Brinks robbery and quite possibly one of the largest mass murders in American history.

Using historical documents, the author believes he is now able to prove who sank the Clara Nevada and where the gold may still be today, just waiting to be recovered. But, if you want to know where the gold is, you’ll need to buy the book.

The Clara Nevada, a soft cover book with 128 pages and 35 images, is available for $19.95 plus shipping as item #2103 from www.LighthouseDigest.com or by mail at P.O. Box 250, East Machias, ME 04630. You can also call 207-259-2121.

New England Lighthouses, Famous Shipwrecks, Rescues & Other Tales

Hopefully this book, with its slick layout and design, high quality glossy pages, great color photography, and an excellent blend of historic images to highlight notable events in New England’s lighthouse history, will help attract some new people to the lighthouse preservation movement.

If you are a long-time lighthouse history aficionado, the book is a rehash of many, but not all, lighthouse stories that you have probably heard or read about before. Interestingly, some of the stories are from articles that we believe were the first to be written about in Lighthouse Digest, ones that since have been retold by others in various alterations or editions. However, they are all worth revisiting, especially with the way the book is designed and written. The book provides an excellent accounting of some amazing slices of interesting lighthouse history, such as the famous lighthouse rescue dogs, maritime disasters, and, for the ghost lovers, a selection on haunted lighthouses.

My personal favorite chapter is about former lighthouse keepers Paul and Helen Baptiste, who are two of the nicest "true life lighthouse people’ that you can ever meet. Over the years, the couple has generously shared their memories and photos with others in an effort to help preserve lighthouse history for future generations.

My greatest disappointment is that the author, Allan Wood, did not separately inform the reader about Lighthouse Digest or the various lighthouse groups, especially those in New England, which is the region book is about, who are working to save lighthouses and the history associated with them. Although the author is obviously under no obligation to do so, I believe he missed a great opportunity to reach newly interested people about how they can learn more or become involved in lighthouse preservation, especially from a book that is this attractive and well done. It is obvious that a lot of thought went into which slices of history were chosen to be included in the pages of the book.

New England Lighthouses - Famous shipwrecks, Rescues & Other Tales is a soft cover book with 160 pages, 8 1/2" x 11", and would make a perfect gift for anyone interested in New England’s rich lighthouse and maritime history. It is available as item #2100 from www.LighthouseDigest.com for $29.99 plus shipping.

American Lighthouses - A Comprehensive Guide to Exploring Our National Coastal Treasures

Completely revised and updated, this third edition of American Lighthouses features over 400 color photos of American lighthouses, many of which were added just for this edition. This 351-page soft cover book is a one-of-a-kind handbook written and complied by well-know historians and photographers Bruce Roberts, Cheryl Shelton-Roberts, and Ray Jones, who are among the nation’s foremost preservationists and authors who have written more books than we can remember. As well as providing details on lighthouse history and architecture, the book provides information on visiting and viewing many of the lighthouses. Included are many endangered lights that are facing a threat of extinction as well as some ghost lights that are no longer standing.  

If you are a long time fans of the books by the Roberts duo of Bruce and Cheryl, or Ray Jones, you’ll want this book. If you are a first-time buyer of books by these folks, you’ll soon know why their lighthouse books are so popular among lighthouse aficionados. American Lighthouses by Bruce Roberts, Cheryl Shelton-Roberts and Ray Jones is available from www.Lighthouse Digest.com as item #156 for $22.95 plus shipping or by calling 207-259-2121.

This story appeared in the Sep/Oct 2012 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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