Thursday, January 14, 2010

Captain January and the Keepers of the Light

Have you ever read "The Wreck of the Hesperus" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?
It begins:
It was the schooner Hesperus,
That sailed the wintry sea:
And the skipper had taken his little daughter,
To bear him company.

Everytime my father would recite this poem to me, I would get the chills. Because I knew that in the end, the child and her father would perish in a shipwreck. Later in the poem, when the little girl said to her father:

”O father! I see a gleaming light, and
Oh say, what may it be?”

I always hoped it was a lighthouse, and that for once, all would be saved. But each time, the unfortunate child, her father and the ship would end up lost on the dreaded reef of Norman’s Woe.

Star Bright, the young heroine of Laura Richards’ book, "Captain January" (1890), met a happier fate. She was rescued from a shipwreck, (that claimed both her parents), by a kindly and crusty lighthouse keeper, named Captain January. Shirley Temple, America’s Sweetheart, sang and danced her way through the film adaptation of "Captain January (1936). Who could forget her rendition of the "Codfish Ball" (click here), one of several musical numbers from the movie!

Summer holidays would find our family happily ensconced by the sea in the Garden Cottage, at Rockport, Massachusetts. Nearby was Loblolly Cove, where the majestic twin lighthouses of Thacher’s Island (built 1861), provided us with a constant sound and light show. Some years later, I happened upon a tiny sketchbook with pencil drawings of the area, including one of the lighthouses, done in 1880.

Driving South from Carmel on California's Coastal Highway 1, you will see in the distance an outcropping jutting into the sea. You could be forgiven for thinking you have been magically transported to Mont St. Michel in France, or Michael’s Mount in Britain. Atop this promontory is a lighthouse known as "Point Sur Lightstation".

An intrepid group of volunteers have undertaken the preservation of the rock, the light and its historic buildings. One recent windy day, we made our way up the the hill on a three-hour guided tour of the old lightstation.

Along the way there are some incredible vistas of the Big Sur Coast, with its rugged rocks and crashing waves. You can see why this coastline has been the location of numerous shipwrecks. From January through May, you might even spy migrating whales.

"Point Sur Lightstation" has been a beacon of hope, and a landmark to mariners for 115 years.

The winding staircase within the tower, resembles the shape of a nautilus shell, and leads upward .

The light, which continues to guide sailors, is now automated.

Preservation of the site continues. A list of local benefactors, includes at least one famous name!

We carefully made a tour around the catwalk

The skeleton of a whale's jaw bone brought up from the beach below.

Families lived here from 1889-1974. Little children, like Star Bright, must have frolicked on the sea beach, climbed the volcanic rocks, and played in the tidal-pools.

Thus ends our visit to the only complete Turn-of-the-Century Lightstation open to the public in California.

God bless all the keepers of the light, ships at sea, and those in peril,


  1. How lovely Marjorie
    I have always been fascinated by tales of shipwrecks and stories of the sea. My grandfather was one of only 2 men to survive a shipwreck by swimming the Bay of Biscay back in the 1920's and so tales like these and his own artwork stirred my imagination...

    Wonderful post. xx Julie

  2. Dear Marjorie,
    Wonderful stories and pictures.
    My husband loves the sea. His great,great,great uncle was a carpenter on the ship 'The Resolute' that went in search of Franklin who was lost whilst looking for the North West Passage in the Arctic.
    My in-laws had the uncle's log book and they sold it at Sotherby's for £17,000.
    There is a desk in The White House made out of the timbers of The Resolute at which, nearly every president sits to do his work.
    I loved this post Majorie. Full of interesting facts and stories. How lucky that you found that sketch book. XXXX

  3. What a grand tour! sad to say I've never been in a lighthouse though I have always lived along the water. I never boat much but I couldn't imagine ever living anywhere else.


  4. That island does look like Mont St. Michel!
    I so enjoyed this tour. I think all lighthouses in the U.S are now automated. Love them!!

  5. Hi Marjorie, thank you for commenting on my blog, I have not seen yours before but after browsing I will certainly put it in my favorites! Enjoy your weekend!
    Julie at gilded moons

  6. Hello my dearest Marjorie!!! What a treat to see Shirley Temple dancing with Buddy Ebsen!! I had never seen this movie, but I loved her when I was very young. Your photos are stunning! I remember seeing my first lighthouse in Maine when I moved back east to go to school. Thank you for coming to visit me and my dear friends. God bless you Marjorie!! Anita

  7. Marjorie..I just loved this...looks like home to's funny cause you're on the north end and i am on the south end....

    I LOVE BIG SUR.......

    good to stop by and I enjoyed the visit, dear friend...great post..beautiful pictures....


  8. What a beautiful site you have here! I'd never read the Longfellow poem - but it will join my collection now! Thank you for whisking me away on a 5 minute vacation.

  9. What lovely family memories. Gorgeous photos! I love those old Shirley Temple movies. I haven't seen Captain January in ages.

  10. There is something both mystical and calming about lighthouses. We have our fair share of them here in Australia too. Thanks for sharing these wonderful images Marjorie.

  11. are you doing up there?

    everything o.k.

    we almost got flooded today..but made it out o.k.

    stay warm and dry, dear one


  12. Hi Marjorie -
    Channeling Chanel - very funny!

    Your coastline is gorgeous. I've never been to the west coast, but being an East coast gal for 30 years I've climbed many a lighthouse. The last time I did it - just a few years ago -I got such bad vertigo that I said, Never again. I do love them though.

    Thanks for dropping by.


  13. Oh Marjorie, what a nice visit from you! Thank you for your confidence in me! Well, I blew it....I got to the university only to find NO ONE THERE! THE DATE IS NEXT THURSDAY! Yikes, am I overloaded with stuff in my brain! However, all of the well wishes from you dear friends is not wasted; I will cherish your prayers and thoughts and take them with me next week! Have a great week yourself, Anita

  14. Marjorie-

    Charming and original blog. I love it.

    I've been to the Point Sur lighthouse (there are several others in the Carmel/Santa Cruz are) and your pictures are very atmospheric.

    Looking forward to reading more of your essays.
    I am going to add you to my blog roll.
    cheers, DIANE

  15. What a charming site!! My mother would say that I looked like the wreck of the Hesperas... I only looked it up last year and was shocked that is was a based on a real horrid storm. I can't wait to see what you do next!