Maine’s Seguin Island has a very caring group of Friends. The Friends of Seguin Island, Inc. received much attention last year as they worked to keep the first order Fresnel lens in use in their 1857 lighthouse. It’s the only first order lens in Maine, and the only one in its original home north of Cape Henry, Virginia. It shines from a position higher above sea level than any other in the state.
But the Friends’ work extends far beyond the boundaries of the lantern room. They maintain the keeper’s house and other buildings, and tours must be provided for the visitors that sometimes arrive in large groups in summer. To help with much of this work, each year the group hires new resident caretakers to live in the keeper’s house from late May to September. This year’s “keepers” are Jim Woods and Kris Pescatore of Boulder, Colorado. Jim says their summer home “couldn’t be better” and that to him, Seguin is the “quintessential lighthouse on the coast of Maine.”
Kris and Jim are lighthouse fans from way back. Jim was inspired as a young man by photographer Jean Guichard’s popular poster of a huge wave engulfing a lighthouse — and almost its keeper — on France’s Brittany Coast. Jim had the poster on his wall and would project himself into the scene as the keeper. He says it definitely influenced his career path, which has continually led him to work on or near the ocean. In a nice twist of fate, Jean Guichard visited Seguin Island in June to take photos for a new book, and Jim was able to meet the man who helped shape his future.
A couple of years ago Jim saw the movie Message in a Bottle on an airplane flight. He was intrigued by scenes that showed a lighthouse on a high island near a beach, which in the film was supposed to be in North Carolina. Jim had no idea where the lighthouse might actually be, but it was burned into his memory. Kris saw the movie separately and was also intrigued.
Much later Jim started a search for lighthouse employment for Kris and himself. They hoped for a situation where they could live at an offshore lighthouse, and they learned of the annual caretaker position at Seguin. Soon the pair found themselves on a boat with Friends President Phil Jermain, heading out to the dramatic island off the mouth of the Kennebec River. It was a foggy day and the lighthouse couldn’t be seen from the water. As they made it to the top of the hill and saw the tower, Kris and Jim realized it was the very same lighthouse they had seen in the movie.
Lighthouse caretaker is the latest in a long string of unusual occupations held by 31 year-old Jim Woods. Originally from St. Louis, he graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1992. From 1993 to 1995 he lived in Tanzania in East Africa, where he supervised the construction of a lodge and ran the operations of a company called Photographic Safaris. He followed that with stints as an electrician at McMurdo Station and South Pole Station in Antarctica, and then worked as a marine technician on the icebreaker Nathaniel B. Palmer. Along the line he has also worked in Nepal and Australia, and he built and managed an ice skating rink in Boulder.
Kris Pescatore, 29, originally from Chicago, also graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder. She worked for Kraft and for Access Graphics in Boulder. Kris joined Jim for a while in Tanzania. More recently, the two of them decided to pack up and drive to Central America. They toured Guatemala and drove all the way to Panama. After being chosen among many applicants for the Seguin job, Kris and Jim drove cross country from Boulder, seeing many sights on the way. The couple became engaged at Sankaty Head Lighthouse while visiting Nantucket on the trip.
Like many before them, Kris and Jim are captivated by Seguin. Soon after they arrived a thick fog descended on the island, not an unusual occurrence. It was so foggy, says Kris, that “you couldn’t even see the clothesline” outside the house. It grew darker and at about 10 o’clock Kris and Jim ventured outside. “It was very still and beautiful,” remembers Kris, “and there were huge, perfect beams coming from the lens over the lawn. It was just beautiful, like how people might imagine heaven, or like stepping onto another planet.” “It was ethereal,” adds Jim.
Seguin has more than its share of stories of bizarre events and hauntings, many of which have been featured in books and on national television shows. As of mid-June, Kris and Jim hadn’t experienced anything out of the ordinary other than the light being out for five days (it was fixed by the Coast Guard). Kris reserves judgment about any ghostly presences, saying, “You never know. There have been tragedies, and so much history.”
The Maine Maritime Museum in Bath and Atlantic Seal Cruises in Freeport bring tour groups to Seguin. The tours started up in June, with 28 people including 15 boy scouts arriving on June 10. Kris and Jim give tours to visitors, showing them the tower and the small museum in the keeper’s quarters. Jim says that visitors “like hearing about the hidden gold, or the possibility of it, and they like a ghost story or two.”
Jim and Kris appear to be perfectly suited to the job, and their exuberance can be felt as soon as you land on the island. For Jim, the job is “like a childhood dream.” He adds, “If Mark Twain were alive he could write six books about Seguin.” He and Kris look like they have many years ahead of them as globetrotting modern-day Huck Finns.
For more information on getting to Seguin Island:
Maine Maritime Museum, Bath: (207) 443-1316
Atlantic Seal Cruises, South Freeport, Maine (207) 865-6112
Kennebec Charters, Capt. Howie Marston (207) 389-1883
This story appeared in the
August 2001 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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