Women, real and mythological, have played a prominent role in the history of Connecticut’s Stratford Point Lighthouse on Long Island Sound.
Stratford Point’s first keeper in 1821 was Samuel Buddington. When Buddington died in 1848, his widow Amy replaced him as keeper. An inspection gave her high marks, saying that the “Light-house and dwelling, and in fact the whole establishment, is in good order.” Amy Buddington was aided by her son Rufus, who became the official keeper himself in 1861.
Benedict Lillingston replaced Rufus Buddington as keeper in 1869. His young granddaughter Lottie came to live at the station after the death of her mother. Lottie looked after a flock of Spanish hens, gathered blackberries and beach plums for jam, and helped to tend the vegetable garden. Her grandmother and her Uncle Frederick, an assistant keeper, were her teachers.
One night in late October 1871, as a terrific gale was pounding the light station, Keeper Lillingston burst into the living room and told Frederick that he had sighted a vessel in distress. “‘Twill take both of us, in this gale, to be of any help. Lottie must take care of the light.” The two men quickly rushed out into the night, leaving little Lottie alone with her grandmother who lay ill upstairs.
Lottie knew that the steamer Elm City was due to pass the lighthouse at 11 o’clock. At about 10:30 she decided to check the light. She passed from the house through the passageway to the tower and climbed the stairs for her very first time. She reached the top and saw that the light was out!
Thinking quickly, Lottie returned to the house and fetched a small brass lantern, lit it, and carried it up into the tower. She stopped the clockwork mechanism that turned the lens and put the lantern inside the lens, then started the mechanism again. “Stratford Light dim for half hour last night” was the report made later by the captain of the Elm City. But the dim light. thanks to Lottie, served to guide the steamer past the point.
Agnes Judson, daughter of longtime Stratford Keeper Theodore Judson, gained fame as a swimmer who won competitions in the area. One summer day when she was 17, Agnes watched from the top of the lighthouse as the seas became increasingly rough. Two fishermen about 100 yards offshore were trying to pull up the anchor of their small yawl, and the waves caused both to fall into the sea.
Agnes ran down the lighthouse stairs. She called to her brother Henry, and both swam out to the fishermen. One of them was about to go under a second time when Agnes got a rope to him in the nick of time. Agnes and Henry managed to pull both of the men safely back to shore.
When asked how she had summoned so much courage Agnes replied, “Why, I couldn’t stand by and see those two poor fellows drown, could I? I just jumped in and helped them — same as anyone would have done who knows how to swim.”
Agnes’ father, Keeper “Theed” Judson, made an extraordinary claim. He said that he had seen as many as 12 to 15 mermaids frolicking in the waves off the point. In fact, he had once almost caught one of them, and he did manage to salvage her oyster shell hairbrush. “They’re a grand sight,” he said of the mermaids. It’s said that Judson’s friends were never able to get him to retract the mermaid tale.
This story appeared in the
October 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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