Thursday, June 30, 2011

Beacons in the Night: Lighthouse Keepers, Legends and Lore

Aquinnah Lighthouse
Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
(This is my personal photo)

I've always loved lighthouses and have been fortunate to visit a few here in New England and the Kilauea Lighthouse  on the island of Kauai. For many the position of lighthouse keeper carries a sense of romance and wonder with it but in fact, it was a dangerous and lonely life. Many lighthouse keepers were heroes as well, risking their lives to save others.

Men were not the only ones to tend the lighthouses, many women also took on the responsibility, at least here in the United States.

August 7 is National Lighthouse Day so I offer you some history, stories, curriculum and crafts to celebrate this special day, and to remember those who valiantly lit the way for sailors throughout the centuries.


  • The tallest lighthouse is Cape Hatteras, NC (196 ft. built in 1872).
  • The most expensive lighthouse built in America is St. George Reef, off Crescent City, California.. It took ten years to construct (1882-1892) and cost $715,000.00.
  • The Lighthouse Service was created in 1789 by the 9th Act of the first Congress.
  • There were never more than 850 lighthouses in operation at once, although about 1,500 were constructed in this country over the years.
  • The first fog signal in this country, a cannon, was at the Boston Lighthouse.  The 1st Order Fresnel lens was installed on Seguin Island, Maine in 1857. This extremely rare lens stands 12 feet tall and can be seen for 20+ nautical miles.
  • Towers are given special (painted) patterns, diamond shapes, spirals, stripes, etc. or colors to distinguish them from each other.
  • The most famous lighthouse in history is the Lighthouse of Alexandria, built on the island of Pharos in Hellenistic Egypt.
  • The oldest existing lighthouse in the world is La Torrede Hercules located in La Coruña, in Galicia, Spain. They say this lighthouse dates back to ca. 20BC
The information above was gathered from the following resources:


Green Lantern – A Michigan Ghost Story

Mariner’s Museum – This site is full of information about women of the sea. It also includes three tales about three women who served in what was known then as a male occupation.

Women and the Sea - A valuable collection of resources outlining women’s experiences and contributions as sailors, lighthouse keepers, yachting, mermaid myths, etc., dating back to 1493. There is also an extensive bibliography.

The three sites below offer snippets of stories and information that will help you research the tales to shed more light on the legends...pun intended.

Tales and Legends – Seven short stories about lighthouses.

Haunted Lighthouses, Legends and LoreBackground information on a variety of lighthouses, along with short snippets of haunting and legends; enough to peak your curiosity and perhaps send you on the hunt for more details to craft a longer story.

Legends and Hauntings of Oregon Coast LighthousesHistorical background intertwined with short stories of ghostly specters.



Education World – Grades 3-5
Keeping the Lights for Kids by Elinor De Wire  

Learning From Lighthouses – A Webquest for intermediate grades.
Lighthouses of North Carolina – Math and social studies for grade 4.
Teacher’s Lighthouse Resources for grade K-4 – Offered by the United States Coast Guard offers a rich history of lighthouses from past to present.

Take a tour of lighthouses around the world.

Lighthouse of Australia
Lighthouses of British Columbia 
Lighthouse Directory - Information and links for more than 13,600 of the world's lighthouses.

Lighthouses of Greece
New England Lighthouses – A Virtual Guide – History, photos and more.
US Lighthouses
World Lighthouse Links – From the Baltic to Uruguay, this site offers information on lighthouses around the globe.


Keepers As Heroes

Women Keepers - The United States Coast Guard background information on female lighthouse keepers.

Women Who Kept the Light by Mary Louise Gifford
Barnes and Noble – A long list of children’s books and more focusing on lighthouses.

Karen Chace  2011 ©
This blog post was painstakingly researched and compiled by Karen Chace. Permission for private use is granted. Distribution, either electronically or on paper is prohibited without my expressed written permission. For permission please contact me at Of course, if you wish to link to my newsletter via your website, blog, newsletter, Facebook page or Twitter please feel free to do so; I greatly appreciate your support and personal integrity.


Karen Pillsworth said...

Karen, as always you always send things just when I need them. Thinking of taking some friends out to our "light", The Rondout Lighthouse, and love having stories and more to add in. thanks...enjoy the summer..........karen pillsworth

Barra the Bard said...

Karen,A wealth of information as always! The Maritime Museum in Erie, PA, has some books on the Great Lakes lighthouses; check out their website online store. One of my favorite Duncan Williamson Scottish Traveler's tales is "The Lighthouse Keeper" about a silkie. And did you know that Robert Louis Stevenson's father and grandfather were renowned lighthouse designers and engineers? RLS didn't follow in their footsteps; couldn't do the necessary math. --Barra the Bard

Karen Chace said...

So happy to hear that the information coimes right on time Karen. Enjoy!

Barra, I stumbled upon Duncan's book while researching and of course it is now on my "to read" list.

I didn't know that about Stevenson. Thanks so much for the trivia tidbit. I am always thankful to learn something new.

Linda Day said...

Amazing research and information. Well done!!!! You have so much to offer. Storyfriends, libraarians, teachers, parents, homeschoolers, will need to check it out, and use it over and over again.
For some additional fun activities check out the book....Magic Scissors by the SeaShore, by Linda S. Day. Cutouts to do of Lighthouses, Fish, Birds, Flowers, Crustaceans and Mollusks, Seaside Mammals, Reptiles and so much more. Fun for all ages Besides which Grandma Linda has been a storyteller for 40+years.

Karen Chace said...

Thank you Linda. I will be sure to check out your book!


storyspace said...

Thanks Karen this is a really useful post. I enjoyed reading it.

storyspace said...

Thanks for posting and writing up The lighthouse piece. Really useful information and links. I will be looking to them for information in an upcoming program.

Karen Chace said...

Thank you Lani. Always a thrill to hear from you! :)


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Karen Chace said...

Thank you for you kind comment and suggestion. I did visit your blogs, wonderful information. I will be sure to subscribe.


Carolyn Stearns said...

Wonderful assortment of resources thanks as always!

Karen Chace said...

Thanks Carolyn. You are always so great about leaving a comment. I appreciate you!


Storyspace said...

Great information Karen. going to try paper lighthouse. Thanks! .Andrea