Digest>Archives> Mar/Apr 2015

Lost at Sea off Little River Lighthouse

By Timothy Harrison


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The Henderson Lawn Lighthouse in Cutler, Maine.
Photo by: Timothy Harrison

As an 8-year boy growing up in Eastport, Maine, Richard L. Henderson watched as his father and brothers built a 40-foot fishing boat. He remembered marveling at the way they bent and shaped the planks by steaming them using steel drums filled with boiling water and fired with driftwood picked up on the beach.

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Vintage image of Little River Lighthouse in ...

He proudly watched in awe as the boat took shape and cheered along with others as she was floated for the first time. He even helped put the identification numbers on the bow. He never forgot them: IE409. He recalled that the boat had a nice cabin, and was open amidships and astern to allow for hauling trawl.

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Richard L. Henderson (September 28, 1933 – May ...

Many times he watched his older brother haul the trawl as the fish broke the surface of the water and ended up in the fish bin that often was filled to overflowing.

Richard Henderson recalled, “I did not go on that trip that left that day in April of 1943 for Grand Manan Banks. Three boats left Eastport for a three-day fishing trip. My cousin Ivan Quinn and Walter Calder manned one boat. Walter Foley, his brother Leo Foley and my brother Arthur Henderson manned the second boat. And the third boat was manned by my father, William H. Henderson, my brother Burnham “Bun” Henderson and my brother Francis C. ‘Frankie’ Henderson. All of them were veteran fisherman who knew the waters well and knew the dangers of fishing for a living.”

Fishing went well until a rising wind and a rising sea caused them to haul everything aboard and head for home on the American side. However, when Ivan Quinn’s boat broke down near Seal Island, things began to change. It was getting near dark and the seas were getting bigger and wilder. The winds were approaching gale force as Richard Henderson’s father, William, and the boat piloted by Foley maneuvered to take the disabled vessel in tow.

The three boats were making their way across the channel in the hope of making the entrance to Cutler Harbor. In the inky darkness, with heavy rain and 55-mile-per-hour winds from across the southeast, the channel was whipping up 15 and 20 foot seas. The beacon at Little River Lighthouse was out; it had been extinguished by the Coast Guard because of World War II. The men had only a compass and dead reckoning to find the entrance to Cutler Harbor.

Richard Henderson recalled, “Under these conditions, the tow-line parted and the little fleet separated and each boat was left to fend for itself as they all tried to stay afloat.” The men must have been frightened as they fought the wind and the waves. Henderson continued, “The Foley boat went ashore at a small cove narrowly missing the harbor entrance and grounding out on a small beach. My brother Artie and the Foley brothers had no trouble getting ashore. My cousin’s boat drifted in at Yellow Rock in Bear Cove. The boat stove up so that only small pieces of plank remained. Both men, wearing life jackets, drifted ashore exhausted, half drowned, and suffering from hypothermia.

“During this time the Henderson boat had swung away when the lines parted and was headed toward West Quoddy. The cabin was then ripped off the boat by wave action. The men in the other boats said later that the lights disappeared almost immediately, but the men at the Cross Island Life Saving Station said they saw the lights until 11:30 that night.”

In the early morning hours a member of the search party found the cabin of the Henderson boat floating off Cutler Harbor – it had the numbers IE409. In spite of days of searching, no more wreckage, debris, or the bodies of the three men were ever found. The local community set up a relief fund for the family.

Richard Henderson always believed, as did others, that if the light at Little River Lighthouse had been working the men and their vessels would have found their way safely into Cutler Harbor. On June 16, 1943 the beacon at Little River Lighthouse was lighted again.

After the tragedy, the remaining family members moved to Portland. Richard eventually had a tour of duty with the U.S. Air Force and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science Degree, a Masters Degree in Science, and a Ph.D. in Education and went on to teach and write. His love of traditional country music also gave him the opportunity to play all over the country and Canada, and in 2009 he was inducted into the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame.

When Richard Henderson retired to a small home in Cutler, Maine he installed a lighthouse facsimile on his lawn. At the base of the lighthouse he installed a granite memorial marker, which read:

In memory of

William H. Henderson 58

And sons

Burnham E. Henderson 28

Francis C. Henderson 18

Lost at Sea off Cutler

April 30, 1943

After a lengthy battle with cancer, Richard “Dick” L. Henderson, my neighbor, passed away on May 8, 2013. His wife, Maria, moved away. The house was put up for sale, and the family removed the memorial stone from in front of the lighthouse. The house, like many other homes in this remote area of the true “Downeast” Maine, has sat vacant since then, and the lawn lighthouse is starting to show signs of neglect.

Perhaps the day will come when new owners will take care of the lighthouse, but they will probably never know that it was built as a memorial to three fishermen who were “Lost at Sea off Little River Lighthouse in Cutler, Maine.”

This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2015 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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