Light Hearted

Light Hearted episode 4 redux – Catherine Bumpus, Friends of Nobska Light (MA); Gigi Lirot and Ben Swan of Whitehead Light Station (ME)

Episode Four was first released on June 13, 2019.

Nobska Point is in Woods Hole, part of the town of Falmouth at the southwestern tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In 2014 the U.S. Coast Guard announced that the iconic Nobska Point Light Station would be available to a new steward through a license agreement. In the following year the Friends of Nobska Light was incorporated. The Friends of Nobska Light are working to complete restoration and to open a museum on site. Catherine Bumpus is a founding member of the organization and a lifelong sailor who has worked in various aspects of the marine industry all her life.

Whitehead Island is an 80-acre island in Midcoast Maine. The establishment of Whitehead Light Station was authorized by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803. In 1997, through the Maine Lights Program, Pine Island Camp, a boys’ camp in Maine, became the owner of the station and began renovations. Today, Whitehead Light Station offers three-to-five-day programs that focus on a variety of subjects. Gigi Lirot is the island manager for Whitehead Light Station, and Ben Swan is the executive director.

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Here is the full transcript:

Light Hearted Episode Four

JEREMY

You are listening to Light Hearted, the official podcast of the United States Lighthouse Society. My name is Jeremy D’Entremont. Welcome. My cohost today is Michelle Jewell Shaw, a volunteer for friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses. and we are recording today at the Portsmouth Public Library here on the beautiful New Hampshire Seacoast. Thanks so much for joining me today, Michelle.

MICHELLE

You’re welcome, Jeremy. Thank you very much for having me and welcome to all of you listeners.

JEREMY

Today’s episode of Light Hearted, which is episode number four, is going to feature an interview with two people involved with the Whitehead Light Station in midcoast Maine, Ben Swan and Gigi Lirot. Whitehead Light Station offers a variety of adult education programs in a beautiful offshore environment, and we’ll talk about that. But first we’re heading over to Cape Cod for a talk with the executive director of the friends of Nobska Light. Michelle, have you ever been to Nobska Point Lighthouse in Woods Hole?

MICHELLE

Yes, I have. Jeremy. It was roughly four years ago that I visited there for the first time. I was unable to get a tour inside of the lighthouse as it wasn’t open. We were there during the off-season, but it was beautiful lighthouse. I took several photographs from the beach. It’s a really beautiful area and lighthouse.

JEREMY

It is. I would say Nobska is one of the really iconic lighthouses of New England and Cape Cod. So, Michelle, could you please tell our listeners a little bit more about the Friends of Nobska Light?

MICHELLE

I absolutely can. Jeremy. In 2014 the U.S. Coast Guard announced that Nobska Point Light Station would be available to a new steward through a license agreement. And the following year the Friends of Nobska Light was incorporated. The Friends and the Town of Falmouth worked to secure a license for the station from the Coast Guard. In 2017 substantial work was carried out on the lighthouse tower. The Friends of Nobska Light are working to complete restoration and to open a museum on site.

Nobska Point Light Station, photo by Jeremy D’Entremont.

JEREMY

I visited with the executive director of Friends of Nobska Light, Catherine Bumpus, this past March. Catherine is a founding member of the organization and a lifelong sailor who has worked in various aspects of the marine industry all her life. Let’s listen to that interview right now.

MUSIC INTERLUDE

JEREMY

Thanks so much for being with me today. Catherine.

CATHERINE BUMPUS

Thank you for having me on the podcast, Jeremy.

JEREMY

Nobska Point Lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses in New England and I’d say it’s really an icon of Cape Cod. What makes us so special, do you think?

CATHERINE BUMPUS

It’s hard to say what makes it so special because in many ways it is like many other lighthouses, but it is very accessible, which is a huge plus for ease of taking care of it and for people to come and enjoy it. It is in a lovely location because we have 270 degrees of water view because it sticks out on the point there. And people just feel a kinship to it. They love to come and enjoy the peacefulness of it and they love to be on the water and look back at it. They love to be driving along the shore and say there is its silhouette, far away. And for some people who come here just for part of their time of the year, sometimes it’s the first thing they do. They drive by Nobska to say we’ve arrived here on Cape Cod and we have to go by and see what it looks like and then we can go to our house and enjoy the rest of our summer. So it is a touchstone for many, many people.

Catherine Bumpus, photo by Jeremy D’Entremont.

JEREMY

Absolutely. You know, I have a Facebook group for New England lighthouses and I would say people post photographs of Nobska Point Lighthouse as often as just about any other lighthouse in New England. It’s really a very well loved lighthouse for sure.

CATHERINE BUMPUS

Which is one of the reasons it’s really nice to take care of it because there are so many people who care about it and love it. And so it’s a nice project to work on.

JEREMY

Definitely. When you found that the Coast Guard was looking for a new steward to take on the Nosbka Point Light Station property, what made you so determined to keep it under local management?

CATHERINE BUMPUS

I think that feeling of love for Nobska and the fact that the community looked around and Falmouth has a long history of taking care of historic properties that it cares about. Partnering with the Town of Falmouth and private entities, the community has taken on any number of different buildings and done very good jobs with them. We understand that it’s not necessarily any government’s best use of resources or abilities to do historic preservation. So partnering with a private nonprofit makes a lot of sense. Falmouth has done that successfully a number of times and with Nobska being so well loved, it made sense to do it again.

JEREMY

Now, you had some significant work done on the lighthouse tower in 2017. Can you tell us about that?

CATHERINE BUMPUS

Well, the tower is structurally in very good shape but still needed a lot of work and still needed a lot of maintenance. So we wrapped it all up and sandblasted it and did a bunch of work that hadn’t been addressed for a number of years and it looks terrific now. It’s got several coats of a special marine epoxy on the outside of it that we hope will continue to preserve it for years to come.

JEREMY

Now you have opened it somewhat to the public. I know there are plans to open it down the road for more open houses. Are there any particular plans for the 2019 season?

CATHERINE BUMPUS

So for the 2019 season we hope that we are going to be doing rehab construction on the keeper’s house and that will throw a little bit of a wrench in our tour schedule because things will be different and we will have a little bit less access on the site because we will have construction people there. So we had been open Tuesdays and Thursdays for the past two summers and we’ve had a terrific response to that. We have yet to set our tour schedule for the coming summer. We will post it on the Facebook page, we will post it on the website when we have it, but some of that is coordinating with the contractor, which is also dependent on our fundraising work. So while we hope to be under construction, it may be pushed off a little bit, which means we’d be doing more regular tours.

JEREMY

So you mentioned the work that’s planned for the house or houses, which are kind of two houses that are joined. Can you tell me a bit more about what is planned, which may be happening this summer may be moved back a bit? I know you have quite a bit planned for that.

CATHERINE BUMPUS

This is a terrific place for a museum because it would be a wonderful window to Falmouth and history for so many people who come to visit. So we’ve engaged with a museum designer and architects and engineers to look at the building and see what kind of upgrades it needs to make it a publicly accessible building, which is different than what you need to do if you just want to make it into a house and we’ll be undertaking those upgrades to make it welcoming to people to come in and have exhibit space inside.

JEREMY

What an exciting thing that’ll be.

CATHERINE BUMPUS

Yes!

JEREMY

What a great, great thing for the area. And how has the community responded to the effort?

CATHERINE BUMPUS

Oh, remarkably well. So we’ve had all different levels of community support. We have the $1 donors, we have the Boy Scouts and Rotarians who’ve shown up and painted the fences. We’ve had the art students from the high school come and help us do work. We’ve had lots of different field trips from different schools. And then on a town level we’ve financial support from the community preservation act, which is been very helpful with the tower renovation and will be helpful with the rehabilitation of the lightkeepers’ houses.

JEREMY

What might people, visitors, expect when they come to a tour of Nobska Point Lighthouse?

CATHERINE BUMPUS

So when we do it, when we have open tower times and it’s been open tower, which is because you can always stop by and walk around the grounds and look at things. And so the tower being open is the special part of that. And there are a lot of stairs. It’s a small space. So we limit the number of people that can go in at any one time and they’re there with a docent.

JEREMY

And you have a still active fourth-order Fresnel lens, which is the jewel of the lighthouse, of course.

CATHERINE BUMPUS

Yes, we do. And it’s a beautiful lens. It was built in 1888 in Paris and it’s stamped Paris on it. It has lived a life, it has a couple of chips and some dings in it. But to see something that was cutting edge technology then and still in use today is a wonderful thing for many people. It’s also interesting to see the people that come up and whether they look in towards the lens or out towards the view first, and then they turn around and go the other direction and enjoy it. The other part of it.

Photo by Jeremy D’Entremont

JEREMY

Either way, I’m sure you hear “wow” a lot.

CATHERINE BUMPUS

Yes, yes.

JEREMY

Typical thing you hear at the top of lighthouses.

CATHERINE BUMPUS

Well, I think Nobska’s a wonderful place and it’s certainly dear to my heart and I hope that it is dear to other people’s hearts, but I know that lighthouses, your own personal lighthouse or you’re the one that is special to you matters, too. So be involved and volunteer and support them if you can, because they all need communities to keep them going.

JEREMY

Well, what a perfect way to close this interview. Thank you so much. Thank you, Catherine Bumpus, the executive director of Friends of Nobska Light. Thank you for being with me today. I appreciate it very much.

CATHERINE BUMPUS

You’re welcome, Jeremy. Thank you for coming to Woods Hole.

JEREMY

And now it’s time for our lighthouse history segment. Yay. Everybody gets really excited when I say lighthouse history.

MICHELLE

I know I do.

JEREMY

I’m glad. In our last episode we told you about the ruins of the Roman lighthouses at Dover in England and at Leptis Magna in Libya. There’s another ancient Roman lighthouse that still stands today and although it’s undergone many changes, it has the distinction of being the oldest functioning lighthouse in the world.

USLHS archives

MICHELLE

The Tower of Hercules, also known La Coruña Lighthouse, was built somewhere between the second half of the first century AD and the early years of the second century AD by the Romans on a rocky point known as the End of the World in Northwestern Hispania at the entrance to the harbor of present day city of La Coruña, Spain. The lighthouse was built because the Bay of La Coruña had become very important to the Roman shipping routes that connected the Mediterranean and North Atlantic coastal areas after the Roman conquest of Western Europe.

JEREMY

The Romans created a major port, which they named Brigantium, and to provide support to the navigation of commercial and military ships they constructed the large lighthouse that we now call the Tower of Hercules. It was originally known as the Farum Brigantium. It’s called the Tower of Hercules because, according to myth, the hero Hercules slew the giant tyrant Geryon after three days and three nights of continuous battle. Hercules then buried the head of Geryon with his weapons and ordered that a city be built on the site. The lighthouse, atop a skull and crossbones representing the buried head of Hercules’ slain enemy, appears in the coat of arms of the city of La Coruña.

MICHELLE

The tower was originally about 120 feet tall and was one of the tallest buildings of its day. It’s thought to have been based on the great Pharos of Alexandria. Its base has a cornerstone with an inscription ascribed to the original architect, dedicating the lighthouse to the Roman god of war, Mars. We don’t know what it looked like on the outside, but we know it had an outer perimeter wall and a ramp or stone steps that led to the upper platform. A fire would have burned at the top to provide light for navigation. It stopped functioning as a lighthouse during medieval times when it was used as a defensive castle. It was eventually abandoned by the 13th century.

JEREMY

The tower began to be used again as a watchtower by the 1600s. In the late 1700s the tower was raised to 187 feet and it became a lighthouse again. The base of the building has 18 sides. The lower part is four sided and then there’s a section that has seven sides, then a section with five sides, with a lantern on top.

Tower of Hercules Lighthouse (USLHS photo by Ralph Eshelman)

MICHELLE

Electricity was installed in the lighthouse in 1927. Several buildings for the accommodation of the keepers, located at the base of the tower, were built in 1861 in 1956. Today, the Tower of Hercules Lighthouse is open every day and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the Spanish region of Galicia. When you visit, you can go inside to see much of the original Roman structure.

JEREMY

If you’re looking for more information, I recommend that you Google “Tower of Hercules.” There are a number of good web pages and there are also a number of good videos on the lighthouse on YouTube. Next time we’re going to tell you about one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the world—the Hook Lighthouse in Ireland.

MUSIC INTERLUDE

JEREMY

Next, we’re heading up the coast a couple of hours from where we are right now to Maine’s Penobscot Bay region. Whitehead Island is an 80-acre island in Midcoast Maine. The establishment of Whitehead Light Station was authorized by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803. The lighthouse was eventually rebuilt; the 41-foot stone tower that stands today was constructed in 1852. Michelle, could you tell our listeners a little bit more about Whitehead Island?

Whitehead Light Station, photo by Jeremy D’Entremont

MICHELLE

I sure can. Jeremy. Resident keepers kept the light for 179 years. Whitehead Light Station was automated in 1982 and the dwellings and outbuildings were shuttered and abandoned. In 1997, through the Maine Lights Program, Pine Island Camp, a boys’ camp in Maine, became the owner of the station and began renovations. The restoration process was completed in 2008 and the result is a facility that is remote but comfortable. The station now has a new mission to provide programming for adults that will give them the opportunity to experience life at a historic Maine island light station and to gain knowledge of specific subjects, the Maine coast, and themselves.

JEREMY

Whitehead Light Station offers three-to-five-day programs that focus on a variety of subjects and activities taught by an instructor. I’ve actually been the instructor for a course on New England lighthouses a few times and I’ll tell you, being on the island for a few days is a fantastic experience. In addition to instruction, discussion, and lectures, transportation to and from the Island is provided as well as meals and local excursions in the Whitehead Light Station boat. I recently sat down with two of the people who run the operation at Whitehead.

MICHELLE

Ben Swan is the executive director. Ben has also been director of Pine Island Camp, parent organization of Whitehead Light Station, since 1990. He has directed program development at the Whitehead Light Station and restoration of the buildings since Pine Island Camp acquired the facility through the Maine Lights Program.

JEREMY

Gigi Lirot is the island manager for Whitehead Light Station. Gigi is a Coast Guard licensed master captain with sailing experience in Atlantic and Caribbean waters, and she also holds a private pilot single engine land and sea certificate, and is an avid scuba diver. So let’s jump right into my talk with Gigi and Ben.

MUSIC INTERLUDE

JEREMY

Gigi, can you tell us some of the basics of how the programs work? First of all, how do people get to the island?

GIGI LIROT

We have a parking area on the mainland where people can park and leave their vehicles and we transport them in one of our boats to the pier on the island, where they can walk the walk through the spruce woods to get to the lighthouse. Or we can provide a ride on that Gator that we’ve mentioned. If people feel more comfortable doing that, folks can fly into Portland airport or Rockland airport. Another option that some of our repeat guests do is to fly into Boston Logan and then take the comfortable bus that picks up right at the airport terminals in Boston and drops off in Rockland. And we can pick folks up at the Rockland airport or the bus station in Rockland.

JEREMY

And how many days typically are the programs?

GIGI LIROT

The best programs are the six-day programs where you get a lot of time to actually experience the place in probably different weather and really have a chance to relax. And we also have shorter programs that are down to about three days.

JEREMY

So between three and six days. And can you describe the accommodations just a little bit, and the food? The food is one of my favorite things there.

GIGI LIROT

We try to use fresh local ingredients, of course, with all of our food and provide a full breakfast every day as well as options for any special dietary needs that people have, such as being gluten free or paleo or keto diets. All different preferences are accommodated as much as possible. But we provide coffee and tea and juice and a full breakfast every morning, a full lunch, usually an appetizer and a full dinner and dessert every night as well as fresh baked snacks. Everything is homemade. And we’ve got a fantastic kitchen that makes it very easy to do fresh baked goods. And we make use of berries and things that grow right on the island. We have a small garden for some herbs and some vegetables, so that all gets incorporated into the menu. The accommodations—we’ve got four guests, we have seven bedrooms, each has its own in-suite bathroom and they’re comfortable. They’re not luxurious, but they’re very nice and comfortable. And some of them have a view of the water and the lighthouse and a couple of the rooms are very often requested by repeat guests because they like to the blinking of the light in their room.

JEREMY

I’ve experienced that. That is pretty special.

BEN SWAN

And then downstairs there are three sitting rooms, one of which is mostly a library. And a dining room and a couple of nice porches and then an array of Adirondack chairs out front where that seems to be the favorite place for everybody is to sit down out front and watch the parade of boats or the fog or whatever happens to be going on in Penobscot Bay. I mean, when you’re sitting in one of those chairs, you’re looking straight out at the Gulf of Maine. It’s really beautiful.

JEREMY

It is. Sunrises are one my favorite things there and going out and seeing lobster boats going out at the break of day is, I think, a pretty special thing.

Whitehead at dawn, photo by Jeremy D’Entremont

BEN SWAN

And you can listen also to the bell buoy, which for a while recently, it was quiet. Somebody stole the bell. But they put it back.

GIGI LIROT

Yeah, it’s a nice little background noise. And one of my favorite things is watching the moonrise in the evenings when a full moon rises over the horizon.

JEREMY

And what are some of the programs that are being offered this year?

GIGI LIROT

We have a knitting retreat, a craft beer brewing retreat, essentially, a writer’s workshop, a history of New England lighthouses that you’re going to be presenting.

JEREMY

Well, that sounds good.

GIGI LIROT

We also have another knitting retreat that is not instructed; the one that we have has an instructor to help folks that might have issues with knitting and want assistance. And then another is without an instructor just to come relax and knit with fellow knitters. We also have a new program model that we’re trying out this year. We’re calling “Stack of Books,” where you can come and relax, bring that stack of books you’ve been meaning to read, participate in some interesting conversations and just share meals with other folks. We’ve got a couple of getaway weekends. Those are always very popular and I think they’re pretty much all booked up.

JEREMY

So is that for people who would like to stay there but not take part in a structured program?

GIGI LIROT

The getaway weekends? Yes.

BEN SWAN

And the “Stack of Books” weekend is a sort of hybrid of that where we’re experimenting with offering a number of opportunities to enter into discussions about particular books of which you’d be notified ahead of time and some other discussions as well. And then there would be, you know, going clamming on a neighboring island and the usual boat trips, but not an instructor. And of course, the getaway weekends are just purely relaxation.

JEREMY

And how can our listeners find out more about Whitehead Light Station?

GIGI LIROT

On our website we have a list of programs and a calendar of events and our contact info, and the website is whiteheadlightstation.org.

JEREMY

And I’m sure if people don’t write that down, if they just Google Whitehead Light Station, they can find that easily enough.

GIGI LIROT

Yeah, they can find us easily enough.

JEREMY

And you have a Facebook page as well?

GIGI LIROT

We do, yeah. Yeah, Whitehead Light Station is on Facebook.

JEREMY

Anything else either of you would like to add that you’d like listeners to know about Whitehead Light Station?

GIGI LIROT

Well, even people that have come who had hesitation because they didn’t know what to expect or were afraid to go so far from civilization and be on an island, but every single person just really loves it.

BEN SWAN

Yeah. I’ve never talked to anyone who’d spent any period of time at Whitehead Light Station who hadn’t counted it among one of the best things they’ve ever done. And that’s not hyperbole; it’s just the truth. It’s a very, very special place and it’s worth taking what you might think is a little bit of a risk to take the plunge and join us there. It’s really—you’ll never forget it.

JEREMY

Well, Gigi and Ben, thank you so much for spending time with me today and I’m looking forward to my time on Whitehead Island this year, as I do most summers. It’s always a very special time there. Thank you so much.

BEN SWAN

Well, thank you.

GIGI LIROT

Thank you Jeremy.

MUSIC: “This Little Light of Mine”

MICHELLE

Again, for more information on the programs at Whitehead Island, people can go to whiteheadlightstation.org, and you can also find them on Facebook.

JEREMY

Thank you Michelle. And now it’s time for our trivia question.

MICHELLE

The first two people to email the correct answer to this question will receive prizes. The first gets a 2019 U.S. Lighthouse Society calendar featuring photographs by 14 talented society members. The second gets a lighthouse illumination DVD. This video takes you on an animated tour through the history of lighthouse illumination.

JEREMY

Okay, Michelle, and what is today’s question?

MICHELLE

People who listened on the last episode of Light Hearted should know this. What lighthouse was the first offshore cast-iron caisson lighthouse in the United States? Again, what lighthouse was the first offshore cast-iron caisson lighthouse in the United States?

JEREMY

To enter, send your answer in an email to me at jeremy@uslhs.org. Again, that’s jeremy@uslhs.org. Be sure to say that you are answering the trivia question in Light Hearted episode four and include your full name and your mailing address. Not just your email address but your mailing address so we can send you a prize if you win. Again, send it to jeremy@uslhs.org. Thank you to the staff of the Portsmouth Public Library in beautiful and historic Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where we have been recording today. Thank you to Jeff Gales, Maria Guevara, Tom Wheeler, Tom Tag, everybody at Point No Point in Washington, all the staff and volunteers of the U.S. Lighthouse Society. For more information on how you can become a member of the USLHS, for information on their great domestic and international tours, check out their website at uslhs.org, check out the social media pages on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. And of course very special thanks to my cohost today, Michelle Jewell Shaw. Anything you’d like to add, Michelle?

MICHELLE

I want to invite our listeners to come to visit Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in New Castle, New Hampshire, during our weekly Sunday afternoon open houses. You can get more information on the website for Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, which is a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation. We also have cruises and other events that you definitely want to check out. The website is portsmouthharborlighthouse.org.

JEREMY

Well, thank you Michelle. And again, I hope we will see some of our listeners at the open houses and other events. And that does wrap it up for this edition of Light Hearted. So until next time, keep a good light!

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