Jim Pope of Eliot, Maine, passed away on September 8 after a brief illness. Jim was one of the last Coast Guard light keepers at Whaleback Lighthouse in Kittery, Maine, from 1960 to 1962. In recent years he gave several talks at events for Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, the chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation that cares for Whaleback Lighthouse. He also appeared on the U.S. Lighthouse Society podcast Light Hearted.
Jim was born in Portland, Maine, on May 30, 1938. After graduation from Traip Academy in Kittery he began a lifelong career on the water. After his time in the Coast Guard, he worked as a tugboat captain for Moran Towing for more than 25 years.
When Jim arrived at Whaleback Light Station at the age of 19 in 1960, the men had 24-day stints on duty followed by six days off. When a navigational light at Odiorne Point in Rye, New Hampshire, disappeared in the fog, it was time to activate Whaleback’s foghorn. The horn once ran for 18 straight days during a foggy stretch in 1961.
Jim enjoyed fishing around the tower, and he occasionally shot ducks from the lighthouse’s windows. When it was time to get supplies, he rowed to shore in the station’s 16-foot skiff and borrowed the car of a Kittery resident to make a run to the nearby A&P grocery store. In the off hours, Jim and the other keepers passed the time playing cribbage or watching a television that hung from the ceiling.
Jim spoke at a lighthouse symposium in Kittery for the American Lighthouse Foundation in June 2016. Here is audio of part of his presentation.
Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses is dedicating this Saturday’s benefit lighthouse cruise to the memory of Jim Pope, who was simply a great guy and one of the last living lighthouse keepers in Southern Maine.
Here is the November 2019 podcast episode featuring the interview with Jim Pope.
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