The recent passing of Philmore Wass, who grew up at Maine’s Libby Island Lighthouse, prompted me recall a conversation I had with him a number of years ago at a history conference when he jokingly said, with obvious reference to my name, “Someday you should publish my story about Tim.”
In his best-selling book, Lighthouse In My Life, he recalled how his father, Hervey Wass, needed to have a horse to haul coal, oil and other supplies from the boat house at Maine’s Libby Island Lighthouse to the storage areas in each home by the lighthouse, as well as to the whistle house. Since the work was light and infrequent, his father looked on the mainland for horses that were close to “retirement.” If they were basically sound, the easy life on Libby Island would extend their lives by several years. This is an exact account as reported in his book and is used by verbal permission given to me a number of years ago by Philmore Wass.
“Our cow and our horse were so inseparable that as a child I always thought they were mates, and I concluded the same thing about cats and dogs, although they were not as compatible. So when the cow showed up at the barn one day without Tim, our horse, and no one could remember having seen him for several hours, we became concerned and started a search. The search did not take long. Behind the barn was a steep gulch with two small promontories extending into it and a green grassy area created by excess water drainage just above it. In the grass were deep grooves that made us suspicious. We carefully eased our way down this slope, looked over the edge, and saw Tim – on the beach where he had fallen. Although he appeared to be hurt, he was still alive, and the next problem was to get him out. Father, having done a lot of hoisting in his years at sea, devised a way to do it, but knew we would need help.
“The Coast Guard on Cross Island quickly responded to his emergency call, sending over a boat with a crew of men. Fortunately, it was a calm day, so they could make a landing on the beach where Tim had fallen. High above Tim, Father and one crewman were able to arrange a heavy timber to bridge the gap between the two cliffs. Then they fashioned a sling out of heavy canvas. The crew at the bottom got Tim to his feet and slid the sling under his belly. Father then lowered a hook with pulleys and heavy ropes, which they secured to the canvas. Now came the moment of truth. Could a horse weighing many hundreds of pounds be lifted to the top of the cliff and swung to where he could get a footing on the grass? The men below put a strain on the lines but stayed well clear so Tim would not come crashing down on them if something should let go. It was a tense moment. Slowly but surely they raised him – his body swinging slowly back and forth, his head up, and his eyes all white with fear. When he was well on his way to the top of the cliff, Tim suddenly let out a great sigh and slumped. His whole body went limp and his head hung down to his hooves. The strain and the fall had been too much for his old heart. Tim had expired.
“There was no need to hoist any longer, so the men lowered Tim’s body slowly, and it fell into a heap in the sand. Since there was no place to inter him, burial at sea seemed the obvious way of disposing of his remains. Fastening a line securely around his body, the men carried the end of it out to their boat and turned the engines on full force. Tim began his slow “march to the sea,” and soon he was afloat. They towed him well clear of the island, gave him an appropriate salute, and set him adrift. Fortunately, the tide was ebbing, and soon he was spinning slowly toward the horizon. I hope that, with the help of various sea creatures, his body disintegrated rapidly. Otherwise, the occupants of a ship striking it in the night would have had a real surprise.
“I am told that I expressed my sympathy and concern for old Tim that night at the supper table. With tears in my eyes, I allegedly said, “Poor old Tim fell down in the gulch and hurt his tern [stern].” Tim was commemorated on Libby by having the gulch where he had fallen named “Tim’s Gulch.””
This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 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.
All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.