Meet Mr. Lighthouse
September 8, 2014
With Maine Open Lighthouse Day (Sept. 13) approaching, we thought it would be a good idea to revisit an interview we had with Jeremy D’Entremont, a noted writer, photographer, lecturer, historian and font of fascinating lighthouse lore. Indeed, his encyclopedic knowledge of and passion for preserving the iconic structures have made him the ultimate lighthouse keeper.
“I’ve always been interested in New England folklore and legend,” says D’Entremont, who has written 7 books and hundreds of articles on lighthouses, and also conducts narrated tours and lectures on the subject. He first became interested in maritime history as a child growing up in the 1960’s, and credits the famous New England historian Edward Rowe Snow with planting the seed.
“I remember watching Snow on television. I was fascinated by him. He told shipwreck and pirate stories, and always seemed to have a bag of historical objects relating to New England maritime history. I eventually got to meet him at a book signing when I was a teenager.” Later, while living in Winthrop, Massachusetts, D’Entremont would produce a 6-episode television documentary on Snow and his work.
“I really got the lighthouse bug in the 1980s, while living in Winthrop,” recalls D’Entremont, who began compiling historical information and photographs on New England lighthouses. He also started taking his own photos of the beacons, and has assembled a stunning portfolio of over 250 lighthouses, most of them in New England. In 1997 he created the website, “New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Tour”, mostly to promote a CD-ROM on Maine Lighthouses. The website—which is free to access and contains a treasure trove of lighthouse information, including numerous historic photos—receives up to 35,000 visitors a month.
D’Entremont now lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which makes a great base of operations for his lighthouse tours. A typical tour begins at 8:30 a.m., with D’Entremont picking up his clients at their hotel or a pre-arranged meeting place. Once everyone piles into his van, D’Entremont heads for Cape Elizabeth to visit the cape’s 2 lighthouses, followed by a quick stop at the town hall to view a Fresnel lens, which D’Entremont calls a “work of functional art.” Then it’s off to Portland Head Light and Spring Point Ledge Light in South Portland. After a waterside lunch at Joe’s Boathouse, the group visits Bug Light and the South Portland Historical Society Museum to learn about the Liberty Ships that were build in Portland during World War II. Next is a stop at the Lighthouse Depot gift shop in Wells, followed by a visit to Nubble Light in Cape Neddick. The tour wraps up at Portsmouth Harbor Light in New Castle, New Hampshire.
Between his busy touring season, D’Entremont writes and gives on-water lectures for various organizations and groups. He is operations manager for the Friends of Portsmouth Lighthouse and official historian (and past president) of the American Lighthouse Foundation
American Lighthouse Foundation, which is dedicated to the preservation of U.S. lighthouses. He also works with the Friends of Flying Santa, a group that has delivered Christmas presents to lighthouse keepers and their families since 1929.
On the subject of favorite lighthouses, D’Entremont is circumspect. “I’m very attached to Portsmouth Harbor Light and Whaleback Light in Kittery [Maine], primarily because I’ve worked to help protect and restore them. I also love Boston Light. However, if someone twisted my arm, I’d have to say that my favorite is Portland Head Light. It’s just a perfect light. It’s what a lighthouse should look like—the ideal combination of ruggedness and prettiness—plus it has such a great history.”
Speaking of history, D’Entremont can rattle off interesting facts about each and every light on the coast, although he admits that some are more interesting than others. He points to Minot’s Light off Cohasset, Massachusetts, as one of the most fascinating. The 114′ granite-block tower is built on a submerged ledge and rises straight out of the ocean. It replaced a spindly iron structure that collapsed during a massive storm in 1851, killing its 2 keepers.
Another offshore light, Boon Island Light off Maine, was the scene of an infamous shipwreck where the marooned sailors eventually resorted to cannibalism.
“There’s something about those offshore lighthouses that captures the imagination,” he says. “It’s hard to imagine that people lived in them. A lot of people think that living in a lighthouse was pretty romantic, but that certainly wasn’t the case most of the time!”
To learn more about New England Lighthouses, be sure to catch one of D’Entremont’s many lectures and tours, or visit his excellent website go to New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide