Light Hearted

Light Hearted ep 34 – Jim Pope, keeper of Whaleback Lighthouse, Kittery, Maine

Jim Pope

The jagged ledge known as Whaleback lurks menacingly on the northeast side of the entrance to the Piscataqua River. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the Piscataqua, was established as an important port for shipbuilding and trade before the American Revolution, and wrecks occurred around the ledges at mouth of the river with sickening regularity. The first lighthouse built on the ledge in 1830 was poorly built, but it lasted 42 years and has been cited as the first successful wave-swept lighthouse in the United States.

Whaleback Lighthouse, photo by Jeremy D’Entremont

The granite tower that still stands on the ledge today was completed in 1872. The light was automated and the station was destaffed in early 1963. Among the last Coast Guard keepers was Jim Pope, a local Maine native who was one of the crew from 1960 to 1962. He went on to a long career as a tugboat captain.

Whaleback Lighthouse in 1957, showing the 1878 cast-iron fog signal tower adjacent to the granite lighthouse tower. The fog signal tower was dismantled in 1969.
(Collection of Jeremy D’Entremont)

Jim is a bit of a local legend who has made a number of appearances at events for Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses. Most of this episode is an interview recorded with Jim at the Kittery Historical and Naval Museum a few months ago, with special thanks to Kim Sanborn and videographer Jim White.

L to R: Light Hearted host Jeremy D’Entremont, Jim Pope, and videographer Jim White.

A Keeper’s Letter from Whaleback Lighthouse, 1957

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