Joshua Card here. I hope you’ve been enjoying this happy season. I’ve had a very merry Christmas eve and day with my daughter and some friends, but I promise you it wasn’t so merry that it interfered in any way with my light keeping duties. There was a little light snow to heighten the holiday mood, but not enough to effect visibility and there was no need to wind the fog bell mechanism.
My thoughts drift to Amos Baker, keeper of Butler Flats Light down New Bedford way. Like me, Amos was widowed, and also like me, he took comfort from visits from his daughter, Amy. Captain Baker wrote the following entry in the keeper’s log on Christmas Day in 1907:
A pleasant Christmas Day. . . . Squally in the evening, but we had some music from the phonograph so we had sunshine inside.
Like my station here at Portsmouth Harbor, Butler Flats had a fog bell with a striking mechanism that had to be wound periodically to produce a double blow every 15 seconds.
The bell could also be sounded manually by pulling a rope, and Amy Baker enjoyed saluting passing vessels with the bell. The renowned Captain Joshua Slocum—the first man to sail single-handedly around the world—once gave Amy a copy of a booklet about his sloop Spray with the inscription, “To the little girl who rang the bell each time I passed the light.”
Amy Baker wrote of the fog bell:
To one not used to it, it would seem almost unbearable when going for any length of time, but I have often been told in the morning that it had been running during the night, when I knew nothing of it, sleeping soundly all the while. Vessels are saluted by this bell.
The Baker family found Butler Flats Light a pleasant place to live in summer, but winters were a different story. Amy Baker wrote:
In the winter ice shakes the light a good deal at times and it is scarcely pleasant to have the chair in which you sit shake and realize what might happen if the ice proved stronger than the iron plates of the caisson.
When Amos Baker Jr. died in 1911, his obituary stated, “For 13 years he lived in Butler Flats Lighthouse. Visitors occasionally came alongside, and Captain Baker’s cheery, ‘Come aboard!’ always made them glad to obey and see the old seaman’s comfortable house.” Visitors’ signatures in the register included that of President Grover Cleveland.
Happy New Year to one and all!
Jeremy D’Entremont is the author of more than 20 books and hundreds of articles on lighthouses and maritime history. He is the president and historian for the American Lighthouse Foundation and founder of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, and he has lectured and narrated cruises throughout the Northeast and in other regions. He is also the producer and host of the U.S. Lighthouse Society podcast, “Light Hearted.” He can be emailed at Jeremy@uslhs.org