In the summer of 1944, as houseguest of a college friend in Washington, D.C., (between our Freshman and Sophomore years), I had taken advantage of our proximity to Rhode Island to make the trip there to spend a weekend with a great-uncle at his large vacation home on Hog Island in the Narraganset Bay. My boyfriend at the time was doing graduate work at MIT, so he joined me for the week-end.
No sooner had he arrived than he spotted the charming lighthouse about 600 yards away and promptly said, “Let’s swim to the lighthouse!” So, off we went, not bothering to tell any of the cousins gathered at the house what we planned to do. Had we done so, someone among them might likely have asked if we’d checked the tide schedule.
After swimming awhile, I tired to the point that my companion adopted a chin carry on me, and began to swim for both of us with his one free arm. As I glanced at the lighthouse, our objective, I was dismayed to see we were past any chance of reaching it, and were way off course. But then I also saw a figure, a man, standing on the walkway that surrounded the building, and I saw a dinghy lowering on ropes to the water, then the man descending a rope ladder and getting into the boat! He rowed to us and grappled us aboard his small vessel, thus saving us from certain drowning in the Atlantic Ocean for which we were headed.
This lighthouse keeper wanted us to see his cozy place, so before returning us to Hog Island he ushered us upstairs to see where he lived, to show off his beautiful handmade quilt of cotton gingham circles he had stitched by hand himself, also the bowl of sliced apples he’d been working on when he decided to stop and take a look outside from his “bridge,” then spotted us and could tell we were in trouble!
Now that I am 93 years old, living in a wonderful retirement community, and having enjoyed a fulfilling life, I find myself remembering this long-ago adventure and near-death experience, regretting that I failed to even ask the name of our savior, or say a gracious “Thank You!”
In attempting to rectify these omissions I’ve done some research online and discovered the Lighthouse Digest in Maine, and Kathleen, there, who was able to find records of the identities of lighthouse keepers through the years. It turns out that the man who saved my life, and that of my friend, was Edward F. Duffy. I’ve no idea whether he had a wife and children, but, if they exist, they should know that their husband and father was a hero.
Epilog: Edward F. Duffy was stationed as a lighthouse keeper at Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse for an amazing 30 years; from 1916 to 1946. Our research found that he never married and, without children, he had no one pass on his memories of life at the lighthouse. Sadly, during our extensive research, we were unable to locate a photograph of him.
However, thanks to Lois Lighthart, the memory of lighthouse keeper Edward F. Duffy has been saved for future generations to remember his heroic deed, which made a difference in the future for the lives of two people, in what was to him “just another day at the office.”
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2019 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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