Digest>Archives> February 2003

Faulkner's Island Sojourn

By Vivian Jensen Chapin


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Lighthouse keeper Arthur Jensen and fellow ...

My parents, Arthur and Ingeborg Jensen, lived on Faulkner’s Island when my father served there as light-keeper from April 11, 1911 to July 19, 1916. From assistant keeper at Eaton’s Neck Light Station, on the north shore of Long Island at $40 a month, now keeper at a salary of $624 per annum, or $52 a month. They would be living on an island of a few acres 3.5 miles off the shore of Guilford, Connecticut compared to a station of ten acres on shore. This would be quite different.

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Ingeborg Jensen, 1914. Photo courtesy of Vivian ...

Replacing Elmer J. Rathbun, who was transferred, my father and mother arrived from Eaton’s Neck via the lighthouse tender Larkspur, commanded by Captain Sherman. According to the archives, the duties at Faulkner’s were “keeping the light and fog signal, caring for the building, painting, etc. Light is flashing white, incandescent oil vapor, 4th order, fog signal is 1st class compressed-air siren.”

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Fog signal equipment at Faulkner’s, circa 1915. ...

At this time in history when my parents were arriving at Faulkner’s Island, the president of the United States was William Howard Taft, who was busily dissolving giant oil and tobacco trusts and establishing a federal income tax. The electric light had been invented in 1879, the gasoline automobile in 1885, but change was slow in coming to Faulkner’s Island. The only instrument my parents had was a Victrola and they enjoyed that very much, listening to the records of Enrico Caruso. They did not have a radio, a toaster, a clothes washer, a dryer, just to mention a few of the things we take for granted.

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Faulkner’s dock, 1915. Photo courtesy of Vivian ...

Having assistant keepers and their families close by helped combat the loneliness of the island. The Gregory family was particularly memorable, with their three lively children. Edith, the youngest, liked to follow my mother around the island and in particular liked to gather the eggs in the chicken house. One day Edith decided to make a mud pie with some eggs, but that particular week decoys had been placed in the nests and Edith found out to her disgust that “there was nossing in them today, Mrs. Jensen.” And the tears rolled down her cheeks.

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Faulkner’s Island Light Station, circa early ...

Once a year workmen would arrive by tender from the Depot and “you are requested to furnish them with lodging and subsistence.” My mother had a vegetable garden and she added to this the harvest of the sea, such as fish and shellfish. My father had a 26-foot inboard motorboat, which could become a sailboat with a mast. When the weather was favorable they would sail to the Connecticut River and go up the river to Essex, and on down the Sound for the Yale-Harvard races in New London. They would go into Guilford once a week. Their good friends in town were Harry and Mary Griswold who lived on Whitfield Street. They had a spare bedroom, the “Jensen” bedroom, available in case of bad weather.

At one time my father sprained his back and was unable to stand, let alone work. The following is a quote from the Shoreline Times, Jan. 23,1914.

“MEETING AN EMERGENCY Mrs. Arthur Jensen, wife of Keeper Jensen of Faulkner’s Island Light Station, proved equal to the emergency, which recently arose at the light station, in a manner which commands the admiration of those who know the conditions. Keeper Jensen was ill and unable to rise owing to muscular ailment. The assistant keeper had gone ashore and was unable to return that night. There arose a dense fog requiring the starting of the oil engine, which runs the fog siren. Few women, even had they the skill, could have mustered the strength to perform this feat, which is a task for a strong man. Yet Mrs. Jensen, knowing that the siren must be started and that there was no one but herself to do it, took hold of the fly wheel, five feet in diameter, rolled it back against the compression, and so started into action the machinery which sounded the warning siren. Mrs. Jensen ran the engine four hours, until the fog cleared away, and also lighted the lamp in the tower and watched it all night long. Those who are familiar with the working of these oil engines, marvel that a woman could start the fly wheel, as considerable strength is required, as well as the knowledge and skill born of experience. Many men, learning the art have climbed up on the spokes, a dangerous position as the fly wheel might start unexpectedly; but Mrs. Jensen obtained results with out doing this, the engine being in first-class condition as to its running order. At any rate, Mrs. Jensen kept the station running that night, single handed, by sheer force of ability, and is entitled to much commendation.”

I remember my mother saying she was never lonesome while living on Faulkner’s. She kept very busy, keeping the chickens, the garden, and the keeper’s quarters spotless, so the inspector could run his finger over the doorsills! Because of distant medical care, my parents had suffered the loss of two infant children while at Eaton’s Neck, their former station. Consequently, when they realized my brother’s arrival would be a possibility my father requested a transfer back to Eaton’s Neck where they would at least be on land. And that baby boy grew up with a strong bond to the sea, and retired from Farrell Lines as commodore of the fleet in 1974. My parents had many memories of their stay on Faulkner’s Island, particularly enjoying the amenities of spending time in Guilford, from being members of the Masons and the Eastern Star to drinking checkerberry sodas in Douden’s on the Green.

This story appeared in the February 2003 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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