Digest>Archives> May/Jun 2015

High and Dry

By Timothy Harrison


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In 1967, Coastguardsman David Winchester, the lighthouse keeper at Maine’s Cape Neddick Lighthouse, which is better known as Nubble Lighthouse in the community of York, decided it would be too risky to allow his son, Rickie, age 7, to cross the 200 feet of water by boat to go to school, so he sent him back and forth each day in this large wooden box hooked up to ropes and pulleys 50-feet high above the waves, which get pretty fierce in the wintertime.

Once on the mainland, the boy was plucked from the box by the school bus driver for the bus ride to school. The process was repeated at the end of each school day when the bus would drop Rickie off and the driver would put him in the box for the breeches buoy type ride back to the island lighthouse and the waiting arms of one of his parents.

Ricki’s mother said that she felt the box method was much safer than the boat. “There were a lot of mornings Rick would not have been able to go to school in the boat because of the swell. We needed to bring the boat in at a slant. We had to count the waves to get up on the rocks on the mainland; otherwise we would have been swamped.” She said she felt that her son was totally safe in the wooden bucket.

A local artist, Madeline Downing, entered an extremely realistic and accurate painting of Ricki making the crossing that she titled “Off to School” in a local art contest. It won first place and was sent to Boston for another contest where a newspaper published a photograph of it. The Admiral in charge of the First Coast Guard District saw the newspaper photo of the painting. We can only image what he must have thought what he saw the photo. Well, that put an end to the box crossing mode of transportation. The Admiral said the box was not safe and it could not be used to transport any child or adult.

For the rest of the school year, arrangements were then made for Rickie to live weekdays on the mainland and weekends back on the island. At the end of the school year, Rickie’s dad was given a new assignment, and orders came from Boston that no one with children over four years old could be stationed at Nubble Lighthouse.

Today, because of its close driving proximity to major metropolitan areas of other nearby states, Nubble Lighthouse on the southern coast of Maine is the most viewed lighthouse in Maine and tourists by the droves flock to Sohier Park where they can see Nubble Light, but not actually get to it. And the town of York accommodates them with public restrooms and a gift shop. There is also a take-out restaurant where people get local cuisine and ice cream cones.

(Original photo, dated January 6, 1967, is from the archives of Lighthouse Digest.)

This story appeared in the May/Jun 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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