In 1971 the U.S. Coast Guard decided that they no longer wanted to maintain the fog bell tower and the fog bell at Maine’s picturesque Marshall Point Lighthouse. CWO Kenneth Black, founder of the Maine Lighthouse Museum, was still in the Coast Guard then. Getting special permission from the Admiral, he had delayed his retirement from the Coast Guard to spend authorized time to save as many lenses and lighthouse artifacts as possible before they were discarded by the Coast Guard during its automation and closing of light stations.
In fact, during those days the Coast Guard was discarding so many lighthouse items that Ken Black could hardly keep up with saving them, and in some cases some of these artifacts simply slipped through his grasp. Such was the case at Maine’s Marshall Point Lighthouse where the Coast Guard wanted to get rid of the historic fog bell tower and the fog bell. Ken tried to save them by moving them for display at the Rockland, Maine Coast Guard Station. But the tower could not fit through the gated road leading to and from the lighthouse. And, the Coast Guard refused to spend any money to disassemble the tower and then reassemble it at a new location. So the Coast Guard demolished the tower, and for a number of years after that, even the whereabouts of the fog bell itself remained a mystery.
Ken Black said that, in those days as a Coast Guard officer, he was not allowed to raise money for projects like this, nor did he have the time to do so because his phone was ringing off the hook with information on lenses and artifacts that were about to go into the scrap heap.
He often said that if saving the fog bell tower had been an issue twenty years later, long after he had retired from the Coast Guard, he probably would have been able to raise the money to save the fog bell tower. After all, by then there was a growing nationwide movement of hundreds, if not thousands, of people donating to save lighthouses, their artifacts, and historical documents.
However, he would probably be surprised, and maybe even disappointed, to learn today that the lighthouse movement of so many concern citizens has changed dramatically in the past 15 years. Many of those people who donated so generously have died off, or are now on fixed incomes don’t have the money to donate, and a new generation apparently does not have the same heightened interest.
Since we made our urgent appeal in the last edition of Lighthouse Digest for help in saving the Maine Lighthouse Museum, which Ken Black founded, many people have made donations. But, as of yet, it has not been enough to save the museum. The www.GoFundMe.com/SaveTheMLM website set up to raise $15,000 for the water damage to the museum, as of this writing has only received 59 donations totaling $5,375, which is only a little over 1/3 of the amount needed for this campaign. Other donations that have been made on Paypal at www.MaineLighthouseMuseum.org or in the mail to the museum at P.O. Box 1116, Rockland, Maine 04841 have been more substantial and have allowed the museum to bring its mortgage payments up to date and pay a small amount on its past due condo fees. But this is only a band aid. Substantial additional donations are still urgently needed if the museum is going to survive.
Although many people who belong to lighthouse groups have made individual donations, interestingly, as of this writing, other than the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society, none of the many lighthouse groups around the nation have made donations to the Maine Lighthouse Museum. Obviously, each lighthouse group has its own restoration and maintenance projects that require tons of money, but it would seem to me that some of them could step forward to help the Maine Lighthouse Museum with a direct donation, or encourage their members to lend a helping hand, or hold separate fund raisers to help the museum. After all, we are all in this together. Although the museum has Maine in its name, it is so much more; in fact it could easily be called America’s Lighthouse Museum. Its amazing collection must be preserved at this one location for the benefit of everyone and future generations.
So, if you think that someone else will step forward to save the Maine Lighthouse Museum, don’t count on it. When Ken Black was still with us, for many years he published a lighthouse newsletter. He ended each newsletter with the words “Be neighborly”-- something that I again appeal to each and every one of you to please do.
Editor & Publisher
P.O. Box 250
East Machias, ME 04630
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 2015 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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