Magazine article Geographical

Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse

Magazine article Geographical

Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse

Article excerpt

BRILLIANT BEACONS: A History of the American Lighthouse

by Eric Jay Dolin; Liverlight; 20 [pounds sterling] (hardback)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

'Lighthouses are among the most beloved and romanticised structures in the American landscape,' Erci Jay Dolin writes. He then sets about proving it by interweaving historical nuggets about their strategic importance during the Civil War--when the Southern coastline was dimmed, to impede the South's ability to import goods--with stories from the lives of those who maintained them. It's the latter of these that most resonate.

The hardship of a lighthouse keeper's lot is shown by young George Easterbrook's experiences during a single night in January 1860; enduring a furious storm on the aptly named Cape Disappointment, he managed to lock himself on the balcony while attempting to clean the glass panes and had to lower himself to the ground using the copper lightning-rod wire. He resigned shortly afterwards.

Others fared better. When Katherine Walker was appointed keeper in her late husband's stead at New York's Robbins Reef, she remained in the role until retiring at 73, becoming a local legend in the process (though 'the only manifestly grateful creature I saved was a dog'). …

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