A number of locals, especially yachtsman around Stamford, Connecticut, want to see what they call the “derelict” Stamford Harbor Lighthouse brought back to its glory days.
But considering its history from 1955 when the General Services auctioned off the lighthouse to today, that may be much harder than most realize. Over the years, the lighthouse went through a number of owners, including the City of Stamford, the Hartford Electric Company, and Connecticut Light and Power, a division of Northeast Utilities.
At a private auction in 1984, real estate investor and banker Eryk Spektor was bidding against 60 other parties when it came down to just himself and one other person. When the bidding reached $230,000, it was suggested that they stop bidding against each other and just flip a coin. Eryk Spektor won the coin toss.
Reportedly, as well as spending well over $300,000 to restore the interior of the lighthouse, he built a dock for his yacht and a breakwater. But, because his wife apparently did not like the boat trip out to the lighthouse, they never even spent one night at the light.
Perhaps Mr. Spektor’s wife had some inklings of the danger involved in accessing the lighthouse or some other haunting feelings associated with it. If so, because of the light’s history, she might have been right.
Early Dangers: When Nahor Jones became the light’s second keeper in 1882, he had big plans to make the lighthouse a comfortable and cozy home for his family. However, not long after settling in, a powerful storm struck the area and destroyed the dock and chicken coup that he had built, and washed his boat out to sea. After experiencing that frightful night at the lighthouse, keeper Jones decided it would be safer to permanently move his family back to shore. He then commuted back and forth daily to the lighthouse via a rowboat and never lived in the lighthouse again.
In early 1908, lighthouse keeper John J. Cook was bringing his wife back to the lighthouse after she had recuperated from an illness. As he approached the light, the boat’s engine broke down, and then, to make matters worse, he lost one of his oars when trying to keep the boat from smashing on the rocks. As the boat was being tossed about and drifting away from the lighthouse, he hollered to his mother-in-law, Louisa Weickman, who had been watching in horror from the outer balcony of the lighthouse, “Keep the light burning!”
The boat with keeper Cook and his wife was then pitched about and disappeared into the cold, dark night. All concerned feared that they would surely perish. Sometime after daybreak, the crew of the Eaton’s Neck Long Island Life-Saving Station spotted the boat being tossed about as it was adrift and they launched a surfboat to rescue the helpless couple, who were, by that time, close to dying from exposure.
The following day, keeper Cook, this time without his wife who was recovering from the harrowing experience the day before, tried to reach the lighthouse again. He got close enough for his mother-in-law to see him, but she could not hear his screaming over the roar of the sea and wind that her daughter was safe and sound.
Finally, on the third day, keeper John J. Cook was able to reach the lighthouse and relieve his mother-in-law who had kept the light burning. She later recalled “The storm on the two nights I was alone in the lighthouse was one of the worst ever known on this coast. Every wave made the tower shake and tremble from top to bottom. I couldn’t find a spot where it didn’t feel as though the house was just going to tumble down into the sea. I could have stood all of this well enough, but I was sure I had seen my daughter and son-in-law drown before my eyes, and I could do nothing for them. Not even give an alarm . . .” She concluded by saying, “The loneliest farm is not so lonesome as a lighthouse.”
Another Near Tragedy
In late August of 1913, with his with supplies loaded in his small boat, high seas prevented lighthouse keeper Joseph Meyer from landing at the lighthouse. That night when some locals noticed there was no light shining from the lantern, three of them feared for the worst and launched a power boat to investigate. In spite of rough seas, they were able to make it to the lighthouse. They forced open a window to gain access and when they realized the keeper was not there, they lighted the lantern, but feared that the keeper must have drowned. However, keeper Meyer was fine. Once he had reached back to shore the night before, he was so exhausted that he fell asleep and did not wake up until long after sunup.
A Drowning and a Rescue
It was not only the lighthouse keepers who were in peril in the dangerous waters at Stamford Harbor Lighthouse. On October 2, 1939, Capt. Oscar Johnson and crewmember Alex Espergen had set out from their yacht Doromar in a power boat to collect can buoys about a mile distant from the harbor. Head keeper Martin Luther Sowle, on duty at the time, noted their departure and was alarmed when their boat capsized and disappeared from view. Sowle immediately took the light-station boat to where he noted oil floating on the surface of the water and was able to rescue Espergen. Unfortunately, Capt. Johnson was nowhere in sight. His body was recovered sometime later. Sowle was awarded the Silver Life-Saving Medal for his quick actions and saving Espergen’s life.
In 1997, Eryk Spektor put the Stamford Harbor Lighthouse up for sale. His asking price was $1 million. No buyers came forward. When he died in 1998, his son Alex Spektor inherited the lighthouse. The last time he was there was five years ago. He now lives in Florida.
Alex Spektor recently told the Stamford Advocate newspaper, “I want to find a way to turn it into something more interesting than what it is. It requires finding someone to partner with or sell to who has the vision and political wherewithal to get it done.”
It is estimated that it could cost up to $200,000 to paint the lighthouse. According to the Stamford Advocate, Harbor Management Commission Chairman Damien Ortelli called the lighthouse a “bloody mess.” If it is not attended to soon, it will end up on the Lighthouse Digest Doomsday List of Endangered Lighthouses.
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2020 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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