Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Ghosts of Aquinnah and the Gay Head Lighthouse


As I've mentioned on this blog before, my upcoming novel The Ghosts of Aquinnah is set on the island of Martha's Vineyard. The original idea for the novel came to me when I was looking at this webcam of the Gay Head lighthouse, which sits atop the cliffs of Aquinnah and is the oldest lighthouse on the island.

I have a sentimental attachment to the lighthouse for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that my great-great-grandfather Samuel Flanders was the principal keeper of the light from 1845-1849 and again from 1853-1861.

Horace Greeley wrote a story about a summer in New England and on the Vineyard in an 1860 edition of Harper's magazine and Samuel, who was known around the island as Squire, was featured in the article. Based on the information in the article, Squire was quite a colorful character. Greeley wrote:
In short, notwithstanding some eccentricities of appearance and manner, no one can long sojourn with Squire Flanders without being touched with his obliging and amiable character, and impressed with his substantial worth and honesty. It is a matter of conscience with him to keep his lamp always trimmed and his light always set upon a hill.



When I visited the island back in May I learned that the lighthouse is now in danger of being demolished because of safety concerns due to the erosion of the cliffs. In June, the lighthouse was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of the most endangered historic places in the United States. The light now stands less than fifty feet from the edge of the cliffs and needs to be moved within the next two years due to the ongoing erosion and the fact that the move will require at least forty feet of space in order to accommodate the necessary equipment.

Islanders and Aquinnah residents have started a campaign to save the lighthouse and raise the money needed to move it to a safe and sustainable location on the cliffs.

I have heard arguments that the cost of the move is simply too high and the lighthouse should be let go. While there's no question the move is going to cost a great deal of money, I think the alternative would be a terrible loss to the island and to the maritime history of New England.

I visited England some years ago and one of the things I loved the most about the trip was seeing all of the old buildings and structures that date back hundreds or even thousands of years. As a history buff, that appeals to me and I think we are often too quick to tear things down in this country.

When I am on the Vineyard and see the Gay Head lighthouse, I love to imagine my great-great-grandfather Squire and all the other people who have been there before me. I also think of how many countless people have been out in the Atlantic ocean during a dark night and seen the lighthouse beacon guiding them. I can't imagine going to Aquinnah in the future and not seeing the red brick lighthouse on the cliffs.

With my mom and dad at Gay Head - 1976

Are there any historic landmarks or sites that are particularly meaningful to you? Do you think historic preservation efforts are worthwhile?

On a side note, I am taking some vacation days this week and don't expect to be around the blogosphere for the rest of the week. I hope you all have a good one and I'll see you next week! :)

66 comments:

  1. What a fascinating story, Julie! How amazing to have someone like that in your family tree.

    When we were in Italy, the age and history of so many of the churches and buildings astounded me.

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  2. Oh, that is so sad, Julie. I hope they raise the money and keep the lighthouse. I agree with you about the importance of preserving our history.

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  3. I love historic buildings, too. I hope they're able to save it.

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  4. This post was very touching. The last part, about your great-grandfather and the others, brought tears to my eyes. I hope they are able to save the lighthouse. It would be a shame to lose it.

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  5. Your ancestor sounds like a great character. And I do hope they manage to save the lighthouse. Maybe having your book published will bring some needed attention to the cause!

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  6. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. I hope they decide to save the lighthouse.

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  7. Julie, how interesting to have that excellent information about your grandfather! Of course, you want the lighthouse to be saved. Our little town did not save an 1895 school building which I think was a huge mistake. Love it that you've written a story connected to the old lighthouse. Also love the photo with your parents!

    Mary Montague Sikes

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  8. Oops! I left out the greats for your great-great-grandfather! Quite a story!

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  9. @Madeline, oh, I can imagine that. I'd love to visit Italy someday.

    @Karen, I hope so too, thanks.

    @Rachel, I hope so, it would be a real shame otherwise.

    @Jenn, oh, thanks, I appreciate that!

    @LG, what's funny to me about him is the description kind of sounds like my grandpa! That would be so awesome about my book.

    @Melissa, thanks, so glad you enjoyed it.

    @Mary, we are very lucky to have it! I hardly know anything about my ancestors on my mom's side so this is a treasure. Thanks so much about the photo. :)

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  10. If they can raise the money, then of course they should move it. It will take a lot of effort and money, but not the first time one has been moved. How far do they plan to move it?

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  11. Yes, it would cost a great deal of money to move it, but it's been done for other lighthouses, and I hope they do it for "yours." For it IS yours to me now... your connection is personal and historic. I love it, and now I'm looking forward to your book even more. (I hope you include an author's note in there describing your connection to the lighthouse. We readers eat that kinda stuff up with a spoon, ya know.)

    Enjoy your break!

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  12. @Alex, I'm not really sure, but it seems to me like there is a lot of room available on the cliffs where it could be safely moved. I hope so anyway.

    @Susan, aww, thanks! And that's a good idea about the note, I will do that. :)

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  13. We tear down so many of our old structures and put up strip malls with outlets. How many Targets does one country need?

    I hope the lighthouse finds a save place to be for another few hundred years!

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  14. What an amazing inspiration! Such a beautiful place should never be lost, it's a shame that everything comes down to money, I hope enough can be raised to save it. You should put this up on one of those fundraising sites, see what happens! It'd be worth a try, history is important and lighthouses - wow, who doesn't love the romance a lighthouse inspires?

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  15. @Lee, exactly! I really hope so too.

    @Yolanda, oh, I wonder if the people running the campaign have thought of that. That's a great idea! And I agree, I just love lighthouses. :)

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  16. I hope this massive project can be realized. Point Loma Lighthouse is a National Park (or State Park?) and has been kept in good condition. Can this lighthouse be declared a National Treasure?

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  17. I hope they save the lighthouse, it's beautiful.

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  18. HOW THRILLING JULIE to have such amazing roots.

    I hope they save the LIGHTHOUSE. I had visited Martha's VIneyard years ago and LOVED the old lighthouse. I would TOTALLY be a loss for America.

    Hopefully they will be able to save it!

    Enjoy your time off!

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  19. I love old lighthouses. I hope they're successful in saving this one. What a cool connection!

    Enjoy your time off :)

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  20. I also hope they can save the lighthouse. Your great-great grandfather sounds like he was quite an interesting man. Cute family photo!

    Julie

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  21. As a European, I believe that old buildings should be preserved in general. We are far to fast to demolish here in the US. As a history buff, I think that at a minimum those with historical value should be preserved. Have a nice vacation and thanks for stopping by before you took off from bloggyland.

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  22. I love history and do thing we're too quick to tear things down. I hope they save the light house.

    There's an old cathedral in downtown Buffalo which a family member helped establish... a priest, so I can't say ancestor. But it gives me a sense of where I come from. I wish great grandpa's tavern still existed and the old family farmhouse. I think it's important to know where we come from.

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  23. I love history and historical sites. I recently visited Philly for the first time and languished around the Liberty Bell the read and looked at all the pictures carefully. It's always a shame to see a part of history destroyed.

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  24. Oh, and have a nice vacation, Julie. I'll be leaving on Aug. 12th to go to the beach and there's no internet excess. It's good and bad.

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  25. Julie, I know you're on vacation, but I've nominated you for an award if you choose to accept. Check out my blog.

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  26. @Susan, oh, I don't know, that would be a huge help though, I'm sure.

    @Sheena, I think so too. :)

    @Michael, that's awesome you've been to the island and loved the lighthouse. I love lighthouses in general and this is definitely a special one.

    @Carol, hope so. Thanks!

    @Julie, thanks! The picture makes me smile. :)

    @Inger, I totally agree with you 100%. And thanks for stopping by here as well.

    @Mary, oh, I wish that tavern was still around too. That would be an awesome thing to be able to visit. The cathedral is also a cool connection.

    @Cathrina, I agree completely. Never been to Philly but I would love to visit there someday. I hope you have fun on your beach trip! And thanks for the award, I will be there to get it, thanks!

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  27. Lighthouses are special places, to be sure. I've seen in person only the one near Truro at Cape Cod. The view from the Martha's Vineyard lighthouse looks phenomenal, and it's painful to think of the landmark torn down. There's a lighthouse on the Louisiana/Texas border on the Gulf coast, the Sabine Pass lighthouse, which I regret is too hard for the average person to visit. Have a lovely vacation.

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  28. That is so cool! I hope it's saved.

    Historical places are awesome. I live super close to Andrew Jackson's house so I'm all about keeping these places preserved :)

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  29. Aw, how sad how this lighthouse is in danger of being torn down! Hopefully it'll be able to survive. It'd be terrible to lose something that's been around for so long...

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  30. My goodness, that's tough. Do you let the history go, or make the sacrifice to keep it? I don't think that's a call I could make.

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  31. I understand both sides of the argument. I hear what you are saying about maintaining a cultural and historical icon like this lighthouse, but the fact is that money is tight these days. Look at poor Detroit. It's declared bankruptcy and people will lose their pensions. There's been talk of selling off Detroit's immense art collection to pay for these pensions and people are crying foul.

    But I understand. Do we want art or do we want to pay people what they were promised?

    It's a tough and painful decision. In the end, I think the bottom line has to be balanced and justified.

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  32. @Jan, oh, I've been on some of the Cape but not Truro. Thanks for your good wishes!

    @Samantha, that would be an interesting place to visit, I bet.

    @Heather, I guess if it isn't torn down or moved it will tumble into the sea soon enough. It's crazy.

    @Crystal, I know, it's not an easy call for sure.

    @Michael, I agree with you, really, and I know if I was in Detroit I wouldn't think it was a bad thing to sell that art. It's definitely not an easy situation.

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  33. Love the story of the lighthouse and your family connection to it! As a Brit who loves history I would agree that there should be conservation of old buildings, even if sometimes it costs a pile! It gives a sense of continuity!

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  34. How absolutely fascinating. I love history and all the amazing stories that come with it. I'd love to say save the lighthouse, but a few other people do make the point about how bad money is these days.

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  35. @Carolyn, you definitely have that in the UK! I loved visiting Bath and seeing the Roman structures, so amazing to think how long they have been there.

    @Christine, that's the thing, it is such a difficult time economically for so many. But I just think this would be such a loss for the island. :(

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  36. Great story re your great-grandfather Julie - they do often move light houses so should be able to in this case...

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  37. I would fight for that, too, Julie! I can't think of any sites at the moment that are as meaningful to me, as yours is. I love stories about family, especially grandparents...and beyond! Hope you're enjoying your brief "get-away" from the blog!

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  38. wow! Fascinating! England is such a beautiful country It's no wonder it's the setting for so many stories.
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  39. I love all historical buildings, so I'd find it a terrible loss if the lighthouse was demolished.

    I hope someone manages to get enough money together to move it.

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  40. @David, I hope so. I honestly didn't even know that it is fairly common to move lighthouses until I read about all this.

    @Becky, I do too! Thanks so much.

    @Nutschell, I totally agree.

    @Misha, I hope so too, fingers crossed.

    @Genevieve, oh, that's so true! Great way to put it.

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  41. They moved the Cape Hatteras lighthouse after years of wasting money trying to rebuild the beach. When I wrote Past Due...the moving of the lighthouse was part of the back drop to the story...because I love the place. It represents our history...and that's totally worth preserving!

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  42. Lighthouses are so neat - grew up around a lot of them in California. Yes, the sea definitely has a way of eroding things...have a wonderful vacation, Julie:)

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  43. What a fantastic family history you have! That's beautiful!

    I do think historic preservation is important, and something this country, on the whole, does very poorly. I love Europe and the fact that they have buildings all over dating back hundreds and hundreds of years. We could use the few sites we have here in America.

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  44. @Elizabeth, oh, I didn't realize that about Past Due! I need to move that up on my TBR list, sounds really interesting.

    @MJ, thank you!

    @Beverly, I agree, I love just reading about all the old places in Europe, it's amazing.

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  45. What a beautiful lighthouse. I love how it has inspired your next novel. I look forward to reading it.

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  46. Sharing for sharing such a wonderful story... love lighthouses:) Enjoy your time off.

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  47. I have a tender spot for Nobska Light across the sound between Falmouth and Woods Hole. My husband and I got engaged there many a year ago. All the lighthouses on the Cape and the islands are unique and worth preserving.
    Elizabeth at Scribbling In the Storage Room

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  48. I live in England, my brother in France and my dad's Italian. And one of the things I love most about these countries is the history and the buildings. Once something's been destroyed that's it, so hope the lighthouse can be successfully moved :)
    Suzanne @ Suzannes-Tribe

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  49. @Rebecca, thanks!

    @tf, thanks so much, glad you liked it.

    @Elizabeth, oh, what a wonderful place to get engaged! I love that Nobska Light too.

    @Suzanne, I hope so too, thanks!

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  50. Enjoy the vacation! Great family pic too.

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  51. Wow what a great story, to have a family connection to a place like that must be wonderful, a real link with the past. I live near the sea in Cornwall, UK so we have lighthouses here, they are part of the scenery and have no doubt saved countless lives. The Uk tends to be a country rich in historical buildings and I do think we should try and preserve them whenever possible. I used to live in a 16th century house myself, if the walls could have talked I wonder what they would have said?

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  52. Save the Lighthouse!!! How cool that your GGGrandfather worked there.

    I love all the old buildings and architecture in England. They really knew how to build back then.

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  53. @Stephen, thanks!

    @Suzanne, oh, I'd love to know what those walls would have said. That's what I love about these old places, it's so fun to imagine. I've always wanted to visit Cornwall, hope I make it someday.

    @Gwen, totally agree. :)

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  54. Fascinating story. Loved the picture of you and your parents.

    Hope you enjoyed your holiday.

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  55. @Ellie, thank you! It was definitely nice to have some time off. :)

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  56. Wow Julie. Such a wealth of history in the Gay Head Lighthouse to which you are closely connected...
    I really hope that the structure can be successfully moved...
    Hope you had a good the holiday!
    Writer In Transit

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  57. It's thrilling that you have tangible evidence of your g-g-grandfather's job and personality. Too many people don't know a thing about their great-grandparents (including me). I don't blame you for being attached to the lighthouse. It would be a shame to lose it, and I hope the town moves to keep it.

    I hope you've had a wonderful break and will be back soon.

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  58. I've always wanted to visit a lighthouse.

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  59. definitely should preserve some historic spots. they're enchanting and reminders of where we came from!

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  60. @michelle, I did, thanks!

    @Lexa, I hope so too, I would hate to see it go. Thanks!

    @Brinda, I love them.

    @Tara, agreed, and thanks!

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  61. Oh, wow! I do hope they save the lighthouse. I love history too, and I think we tear down our historical places too quickly.

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  62. Hi Julie .. comments for Africa!!

    What a fascinating back story, history of the lighthouse and are .. loved reading it and then seeing the video.

    We have a lighthouse here that's been moved, which was meant to last for over 60 years .. but the cliffs are eroding so fast - who knows what the next move will be ... but the Downs are quite slopey and it was 'an easy' move ... and cost a lot ..

    Link here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belle_Tout_lighthouse

    Great history though and I loved seeing the photo of you and your parents ...

    Have a happy few days .. cheers Hilary

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  63. I hope they save the lighthouse.
    Enjoy your vacation :)

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  64. @Cherie, I totally agree.

    @Hilary, oh, thanks for the link, how interesting! That's one thing I wonder - what if they manage to move it will the erosion just catch up with it again. Thanks!

    @Lynda, me too. Thanks!

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Thank you for your comments!