Editor’s note: The following edited excerpts are taken from a personal notebook of reminiscences written by Josephine Horte Pingree, wife of lighthouse keeper Wesley Pingree, when she was 88 years old in 1963.
After reading Edward Rowe Snow’s Romances of Boston Harbor, I decided I would write some of my own reminiscences. About 1932, E.R. Snow and his wife came to call on us at Deer Island and asked for information about the harbor, etc., as he was writing a book. As much of it is incomplete, I decided to add some details that I thought would be interesting.
A Dubious Lighthouse Visit
A rather laughable incident happened one day shortly after this first visit of Mr. Snow in the absence of my husband, Wesley. After hearing of me going to Deer Island Light as a bride in 1895 and living there three years, the Snows, being almost newlyweds, wanted to visit Deer Island Light and asked me if I would go, as it would be more interesting.
When we got down to the wharf, I thought that the skiff looked rather dubious, but on being informed that it was perfectly safe, we started out, the outboard motor chugging along, smoothly; and with the wind and tide with us, everything was just fine.
We arrived at the light and were received very graciously by the keeper. The wind had freshened up, so when we started back, we bucked a head tide and wind, and a choppy sea. After we got started, it looked even more dubious, so much so we started to bail out the water that slopped in over the low sides of the boat.
When we were about half way to the State Wharf, the city steamer, Michael J. Perkins, passed us on her way to City Wharf. We kept on and I kept getting more nervous, as I knew Wesley was coming home on the Perkins, and my feet were getting wetter all the time. At last, and with a big sigh of relief on my part, we landed at the State Wharf. The Snows spoke of the nice trip and how they had enjoyed it.
All the men in the pumping station were lined up outside, evidently expecting to have to save us from a watery grave, Wesley among them!!! And oh, what a look he gave me. He later remarked that when he had seen the little skiff from the steamer, he said, “Whoever is in that dinghy is Nuts.” (Needless to say, more strong words were said, but I said that the boat must be more seaworthy than we gave her credit for, for the Snows told of going down to Minot’s Light in her.)
I often thought afterwards that in Mrs. Snow’s case, it was a case of “Know nothing, Fear nothing,” for they told of when she first came from [Montana], she ran down to the water’s edge and tasted the water, as she didn’t believe it was salt.
The Tragic Death of
Keeper Joseph McCabe
Then, there was a very sad experience when the young keeper of Deer Island Light was drowned. Joseph McCabe was a likeable chap. He and my son, Philip Pingree, became pals, and at the time I speak of, Joe had been to Boston to see his sweetheart. On his way back to his station, he stopped at the Metropolitan Pumping Station, and then came over to our house to ask if Philip could go out to the light (Deer Island) at the end of the bar with him as the NW wind had become a gale and spray had frozen and filled his dory. He felt Phil would be a help in rowing out to the lighthouse in the lee of the bar.
In the meantime, the ice had frozen solid, so Joe decided to “walk the bar.” So that you may know what that is, the bar became bare at ebb tide, and the keepers could walk ashore, but at other times, the tide was deep over the bar. He asked Philip to take his fresh supplies up to our house and he would get them when he next came ashore.
I had been watching them from my window and saw Joe leave the shore with a pole to steady himself against the wind and the spray, which froze as it fell, as he started to walk the bar. There was a man hole in the Metropolitan sewer pipe a short distance out from the shore, and heavy seas had moved and loosened some of the big stones which had been piled around it; and as I looked, I could see Joe throw up his arms and lose his footing. He motioned that he would swim across this narrow gap in the bar.
It proved to be the end for Joe, for his body was never found, and it was for many years a question whether his body, weighted with ice, had been washed out to sea, or if it had gone down into a deep hole which ran along by the end of the bar. It was a sad ending for poor Joe, for he had been so happy as he had shown me some of his wedding invitations to be held three weeks later, and he had put them in his inside pocket.
This happened in the 1910s, but my memory of this is as clear today as then. Some may ask if no effort was made to find and to help Joe. Even today, I can see many of the men who worked in the pumping station running down to the State barn, and getting the horse out and hitched to the dory as they pulled it over the ground. It was quite a distance, approximately a scant half mile, but by the time they got the boat launched, it was too late.
Deer Island Light at that time [during the War] was operated by the Navy (as all lighthouses were) and had a keeper and assistant as it was a revolving light and they had to “stand a watch,” which means there was always a man left in charge.
I will never forget seeing a heavily-coated person, in hip rubber boots, leaving the point where the men with the horse-drawn boat were getting the boat launched as they had to get the assistant keeper [Elno C. Mott] out to the light, as he, or some person, had to be there on duty. He had stolen away to be with his new wife at Point Shirley and had watched all this from his abode. He ran all the way across the island and was ferried out by Frank Black and my husband, Wesley. They launched the boat in the lee of the bar and it was only a short haul, or row, over to the dry part of the bar to walk to the light.
Now, back to the man who was running- it proved to be my son, whom I thought had been drowned, and I was in hysterics. By this time, the men, boat and horse were back, and Wesley told Phil to get to the house as I was worrying. It almost seemed as if he had risen from the dead and when he asked, “Where is Joe?” he turned away and said, “I guess he is all right now.” I was so shocked, I could hardly speak and neither could he, but shortly after, the men found him outside and deathly sick and vomiting.
Short Stays at Boston Harbor Light and “Bug” Light
Previous to this, I had lived for a month or six weeks at Bug Light, sometimes called the Narrows Light, but now is obsolete and there is only an ice breaker at the end of the bar from Boston Light over to Great Brewster that swings north to old Bug Light.
When I lived at Boston Light with my brother, Albert, Flora Pingree lived there, keeping house for her brother, Wesley. The bar would become bare and she and I would take a walk to Bug Light (about two miles), but couldn’t stay long as the tide would be coming in.
This was about 1892 or 1893. As I look back, I think I must have been a happy person as I could always find contentment wherever I was, but Flora hated the island and the boats as we could only go or come via a dory. She never liked it, but I loved sailing, though never really learned to row a boat.
After I was married in 1895, I lived at Deer Island Light for three years, and only left there because my son was about to be born. I came back to Deer Island Light the next summer of 1899, but it proved to be a poor place for an inexperienced young mother with a young baby, so I became a “land lubber” again.
This story appeared in the
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