It was a typical late February day in 1935 when assistant lighthouse keeper Clinton L. “Buster” Dalzell left Maine’s barren Egg Rock Lighthouse at the entrance to Frenchman Bay.
The 26-year old lighthouse keeper said goodbye to his pregnant wife and two small children and shoved off in the station’s small boat for the mainland. As the wife of an experienced lighthouse keeper, his wife thought nothing of it. After all, he had made many trips to and from island lighthouses and often times she had travelled with him.
Born in Lubec, Maine, on Feb. 10, 1907, Buster Dalzell’s parents gave him the middle name of Lubec to always remind him of the town where he was born. He enlisted in the lighthouse service after a three year stint in the U.S. Army. His first assignment was as an assistant keeper at Heron Neck Lighthouse on Green Island, off the coast of Vinalhaven, Maine. It was at Heron Neck Lighthouse where, on June 6, 1931, he married Elizabeth M. Smith in what was reported as the first ever wedding at the lighthouse.
After Heron Neck Lighthouse, the couple spent stints at the Maine lighthouses of Matinicus Rock, Seguin Island, and Boon Island before arriving at Egg Rock Lighthouse in 1933 with their two small children: Westley (sometimes spelled Wesley) and Franklin. Mrs. Dalzell later recalled that no matter which lighthouse they lived at, life was good and they were happy times.
It was when Egg Rock’s head keeper, Jaurel B. Pinkham, telephoned the mainland on another matter that he found out that Buster Dalzell had not arrived at his destination. Fearing for the worst, he called the police and then the Coast Guard. A search was immediately launched. Keeper Pinkham also launched his own boat to search for his friend and fellow keeper. About a mile and half from the lighthouse, keeper Pinkham found Buster Dalzell’s overturned skiff, but there was no sign of the assistant keeper. Pinkham knew by that time that there was no chance of survival in those bitter cold waters. After three days, the Coast Guard gave up its search. About a month later, the trawler Eliza C. Riggs discovered Buster Dalzell’s body. Although there was lots of speculation, it was never determined what actually caused Buster Dalzell’s death.
Keeper Dalzell’s third child, Barbara, was born three weeks after his death.
Elizabeth Dalzell returned to Vinalhaven, Maine, where she was from and where she buried her husband, and where, she raised her three children on a small survivor’s pension. She never remarried, often telling others that no one could replace Buster.
Franklin Dalzell recalled many a night when the family would sit around the fire while he asked questions about his father and lighthouse living. His mother’s memories were always happy ones that she always loved to talk about, memories that kept her going for the rest of her life.
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 2018 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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