My grandparents - Eugene Larsen, lovingly called Papa, and Dina Reinertsen, lovingly called Nana - were married on April 10, 1907 in Lyngdal, Norway. Papa, a native of Norway, was employed by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey from 1901-1907 and by the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service from 1907-1910. In 1910, Papa became employed by the U.S. Lighthouse Service, at which time Nana and their young son Eugene, joined them from Norway. His first assignment was at the Minot’s Ledge Light in Cohasset, Massachusetts as a 3rd Assistant Keeper at $552 per year. On August 23, 1911, he was assigned to Cape Ann Light Station, Rockport, Massachusetts (Thacher’s Island) as 1st Assistant Keeper at $540 per year. On July 5, 1913, he was assigned to Graves Light in Boston Harbor as 1st Assistant Keeper. On September 15, 1914, he was assigned to Sankaty Head Lighthouse on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts as Assistant Keeper at $480 per year, including housing. Here he stayed for the next thirty years. His duties were shared with James Dolby, whose family occupied the other half of the two-family house. In 1920, Papa was promoted to Keeper of Sankaty Head Light Station.
Papa and Nana’s first born daughter, Alice Thacher, was born at Cape Ann Light Station (Thacher’s Island) Rockport, Massachusetts. Five more daughters were born at Sankaty Head Lighthouse, including my mother Marie and her sisters: Thelma, Ethel, Helen, and Evelyn.
My mother often spoke of her years growing up at Sankaty Head Lighthouse. She remembered the many days she spent walking in all kinds of weather to and from the one room school house in Sconset. In winter, it was not always easy to get one of her sisters to accompany her in the middle of the night to make a trip to the 3-holer outhouse. During the summer, much time was spent swimming in the Atlantic Ocean below the lighthouse.
My mother and her sisters read extensively. In the early thirties, the Granger Tobacco Company asked Papa to pose for a picture with the lighthouse in the background, which he was happy to oblige. Soon after, ads started appearing in many magazines. Papa complained to the tobacco company that he had never given his permission to have his picture used in an ad. Shortly thereafter, a representative of the company appeared at his door. The representative informed Papa that the company had paid may celebrities to be in their ads and asked him what he wanted. Papa told him that he wanted a car. The representative then reached in his pocket and counted out $1,000 and handed it to Papa. Papa bought the first family car, a black 4-door sedan.
When my mother was 16, she married my father, Hartwell Thurston, on September 14, 1931. On October 4, 1932 I was born. My father was a farmer, and for many years we resided across the street from the farm owned by my grandfather. However, every Sunday at noon was spent at Sankaty Head Lighthouse for dinner with Nana, Papa and the family.
Growing up, I quite often stayed overnight at Sankaty. In the morning I would go with Nana to collect eggs at the chicken coop and pick her vegetables in the garden. During the day, I followed Papa around, and up and down the stairs of the lighthouse. Many tourists came to see the lighthouse, and I appointed myself as their tour guide.
During World War II, the Coast Guard took over the half of the house that had been occupied by the Dolby family. I remember seeing the fellows going out two by two to patrol the beach on foot.
Papa retired on May 1, 1944. I attended Academy Hill School for twelve years, graduating in 1950. I later attended Becker Junior College in Worcester, Massachusetts, hoping someday to be a buyer for a big department store in a large city. I graduated in 1952.
While I was still in college, my roommate Tess Blake, and I made plans to take a trip to California in the fall, find jobs, and stay for the winter. Tess spent the summer of 1952 working as a waitress at the Skipper Restaurant on Nantucket. During that summer, I worked for my mother, who owned Marie’s Taxi and Sightseeing Service. When fall arrived, we had both saved enough money to buy a second-hand car and make the trip.
One day after work, I stopped into Mac’s Drugstore for a soda. As I was leaving, my girlfriend Janet Ryder, mentioned she was planning a beach party the next night and invited me. There were three fellows in Coast Guard uniforms, stationed at Sankaty Head Lighthouse, talking with each other in the center of the store. Janet said she was looking for a date for the fellow with the red hair, Joe Bauser, and asked if I would like to go with him as his date. It sounded like fun, so I agreed.
The next night we met, and for Joe it was a blind date. Joe and I had fun at the beach party and enjoyed each other’s company. He asked for my telephone number, and the next night he invited me to a movie. We saw a lot of each other that summer, but when fall arrived, I informed him I was committed to going on a trip to California with Tess. We corresponded during the time I was in California. Joe was at the ferry to greet me when I returned to Nantucket the following spring. While I was in California, Joe had been transferred to Brant Point Lifeboat Station. We resumed our dating, and in August 1953 we were engaged. Not wanting a long engagement, we set our wedding date for November 21st. As the date approached, Joe was informed that he was being transferred to the Great Point Lighthouse.
After a short honeymoon in New York City, we moved into the keeper’s house at Great Point Lighthouse. I had become a lighthouse keeper’s wife, just like my grandmother! What a SHOCK to me - there was NO BATHROOM!! In a small room upstairs, there was a chemical toilet filled with pine smelling disinfectant, which was Joe’s job to empty every morning. There was a small window there which we called “the room with a view.” Fortunately, we had COLD running water in the kitchen sink!
Our only communication with the outside world was a crank telephone on the kitchen wall. This connected us to the Brant Point Life Boat Station, and then we could request an outside line. Every night after supper we played cards, a running game of Canasta; Joe was usually ahead.
Joe cut down our first Christmas tree in the dunes and dragged it back to the house. It looked small, but was SO BIG that we had difficulty getting it through the front door. A few days before Christmas, the Flying Santa – Edward Rowe Snow – flew over the lighthouse and dropped a package for us. It contained candy, writing paper, pens, shaving cream, and various other useful items.
The government provided us with a Dodge Power Wagon, which we could drive over the beach. Once a week we would drive to town to get supplies, visit my parents, take a HOT bath, and leave our dirty laundry with my mother. We carefully tried not to forget anything when we went grocery shopping.
One day we decided to get a puppy, and we named him Teddy. He reminded us of a cute and fuzzy teddy bear. A local photographer, Paul Whitten, took his picture with the lighthouse in the background. Teddy’s picture hung in the lobby of the local bank for many years.
Great Point Lighthouse was a favorite fishing spot in the spring, summer, and fall. Depending on the tide, we had a lot of dune buggies passing through our yard, day and night. Joe decided to join the fishermen on the beach and spent most of his spare time casting for bluefish and striped bass. He won first prize in the Schaefer Fishing Derby for catching the largest bluefish. At a banquet for the winner, Joe was presented a clock radio and an engraved plaque with his name and the weight of the fish. That summer we ate a lot of fresh fish!
During the summer of 1954, two hurricanes went directly over Nantucket, Carol in August, and Edna in September. During Hurricane Carol, the ocean covered the Galls and made Great Point an island. Our first child, Susan Marie, was born during Hurricane Edna. Three days prior, Joe drove me to town to stay with my parents and be close to the hospital. Once again, the ocean covered the Galls. Joe wasn’t able to get to the hospital until the next day to hold his new daughter.
That fall a civilian engineer, Mr. Lovely, arrived to inspect the lighthouse for any potential damage that may have occurred during the hurricanes. A few days before Christmas, the phone rang and Joe was informed that the lighthouse was unstable and that his wife and baby should move out IMMEDIATELY!! We hastily packed up whatever I needed for Susan and myself and moved in with my parents until we could find a place of our own. Great Point Lighthouse was then made into a bachelor station. The lighthouse was shored up with tons of sand and covered with tar until deemed safe. Joe remained at Great Point until 1957 when he was transferred back to Sankaty Head Lighthouse, then also a bachelor station.
In 1959, the government decided to demolish the existing house at Sankaty Head Lighthouse and build a duplex, finishing it in 1960. My cousin Dina and I, along with our daughters, were the first family to move in. Once again, I was the Keeper’s Wife. It was a thrill for me to be back in the place of many fond memories.
What a pleasure it was to move into a brand new modern house with three bedrooms, living-dining area, kitchen, and one and a half bathrooms with flushable toilets. All the heavy oak furniture was beautiful. A television was even included! The girls liked to climb the steps to the top of the lighthouse, counting every step. Occasionally, they would go down to the beach and write messages in the sand with seaweed. The messages could be read from the top of the bluff. When Susan was in first grade, I drove her to school and dropped off Dawn at Planned Playtime for the morning session, often volunteering my time as an assistant teacher. After school I picked up Susan and the three of us would return to Sankaty Head Lighthouse.
Joe was busy daily at the lighthouse, making sure everything was in working order. He painted and kept a log of weather conditions every two hours and maintained the lighthouse grounds as needed. At Christmastime, the Flying Santa flew over the lighthouse once again, dropping a package of goodies for us.
We decided to get another dog - a golden retriever name Jip. Every day, Jip went down to the beach and brought back any smelly, dead fish he could find, dropping it on our front porch. He occasionally would run in the adjoining golf course and steal a golfer’s ball. He was unappreciated by the players! In the winter, I would take the girls sledding on the golf course.
Family life at the lighthouse was at its best, but was cut much too short when Joe was transferred to Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 1961. After three years on Martha’s Vineyard, Joe was transferred to Japan for a year. Since it was isolated duty, the family was not allowed to accompany him. When Joe returned from Japan, he was stationed on Long Island, New York until he retired in September, 1971.
Both daughters married while we lived on Long Island. Dawn married Steve Stewart, and they have a son, Sam, and reside in Connecticut. Susan married Ken Dela Cruz and they have a son, Kenny Jr., as well as a daughter Krystal. They also reside in Connecticut. Krystal is married to Ben Pugh and gave us two of the sweetest great-grandchildren: Hunter and Clare.
Twenty-eight years ago, Joe and I built our dream house on Bay Mountain in Connecticut. Here we intend to remain. However, we will never forget the many wonderful lighthouse years we spent at Great Point and Sankaty Head.
This story appeared in the
Jan/Feb 2017 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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