America’s first cast iron light tower was built in 1844 on Long Island in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts. This new cast iron tower was actually the second lighthouse on Long Island. It was built to replace an earlier 20-foot-tall stone tower that was first lighted on October 9, 1819.
Later towers that resembled Long Island’s first cast iron tower would be the Juniper Island Lighthouse that was built in 1846 at the entrance to Lake Champlain’s Burlington Harbor in Burlington, Vermont and the Monomoy Point Lighthouse built in 1849 at the southern end of South Monomoy Island near Chatham, Massachusetts.
An 1879 government report stated, “This light is one of the most important on this part of the coast, as it is the only guide into Boston by the Broad Sound Passage and it is also a guide in connection with Boston Light by the main ship-channel.” The report called for a new tower, upgraded from a 4th order Fresnel lens to a 3rd order, and a new keeper’s house to be built to replace the old dilapidated one. The plan, with a few minor changes, was approved and by 1881 a new cast iron tower with a 3½ order Fresnel lens as well as a new house, was completed. Unfortunately, the 1881 tower was not destined to have a long life.
Two government reports, one in 1898 and again in 1899, stated that the new seacoast gun emplacements from Fort Strong, also on Long Island, caused the structures to be in danger from concussions every time they were fired. So, the government moved the keeper’s house to a new location and erected a fifty-two-foot-tall brick tower next to the house. The new brick tower was lighted for the first time on November 1, 1900. The old cast iron tower was sold for scrap at an auction and hauled off the island.
Thomas Henry Lyndon was the lighthouse keeper at Long Island Head Lighthouse from 1881 to 1894. He, along with his wife Mary Ann, and son Weston, emigrated from England to the United States in 1860 and their daughter, Louise, was born the following year. Later in life, under her married name of Louise Lyndon Sibley, she wrote the book A Lighthouse Village.
Keeper Thomas Henry Lyndon was born on December 29, 1829 and died on July 23, 1916. He was buried in the Rutland Rural Cemetery in Rutland, Massachusetts. Hopefully, the day will come when a U.S. Lighthouse Service Memorial Marker will be placed at his graveside.
The Funeral and the Wild Ride
One of the bizarre stories about Long Island Head Lighthouse concerns veteran lighthouse keeper Edwin Tarr, who, in 1906, became the last person to serve there as a lighthouse keeper.
On January 8, 1918 while sitting in his favorite chair overlooking the harbor at the keeper’s house, at the age of 65, he silently slipped away. His funeral took place in the keeper’s house during a sleet storm. When the pallbearers emerged from the house carrying the casket, they were confronted with a coating of ice on the steep hill going down to the path to the wharf.
As the four men attempted to maneuver the ice-covered slope, one of the men’s feet went from under him and he fell, losing his grip, causing his end of the coffin to fall onto the ice and the casket began to slide down the hill, pulling the men with them. In those split seconds, one of the men hollered for them to jump on it to slow it down. Grabbing the handles of the casket, they pulled themselves on top of it. But it did not slow down. In fact, it picked up speed and as one of the pallbearers later described it, “we rode it down like we were on a toboggan!” Amazingly, their weight must have worked; the coffin came to an abrupt stop, just short of the end of the wharf!
After Edwin Tarr’s death, the government automated the lighthouse and hired a caretaker to watch over the station. Sometime around 1929, all of the buildings associated with the lighthouse, except the tower, were demolished. In 1982, the Coast Guard decommissioned Long Island Head Lighthouse, but reactivated it in 1985. In 1998, it underwent a major restoration and in 2011, ownership of the tower was transferred to the National Park Service. However, because the bridge to the island was declared unsafe, the island and lighthouse are currently off-limits to the general public.
This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 2021 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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