Digest>Archives> June 2005

Maine Lighthouse Keeper's Wife Writes of Lonely Life

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Roscoe Fletcher in his Coast Guard keeper’s ...

Here are interesting excerpts from a letter written by a lighthouse keeper’s wife, Mrs. Roscoe L. Fletcher as recorded on January 2, 1943 to Maine newspaper reporter Mina A Titus. It is a vital part of lighthouse history that we hope you enjoy:

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The twin lights of Matinicus Rock, Maine, where ...

We are now at Matinicus Rock Light Station, which is about 25 miles from Rockland, the nearest mainland. An island, Crie Haven, which has a general store and post office, is three and one-half miles from here, and Matinicus Island, five miles from the Light, also has a general store and post office to which the government mail comes. We get our groceries from both of these islands.

“This light has three keepers, first assistant and second assistant. My husband, Roscoe L. Fletcher, is the keeper. We have two daughters, Constance and Dorothy. Dorothy attends Leavitt Institute at Turner Center. The first assistant has no children. They live in one side of a double house. We live in a single house in which the government phone is installed. The second assistant is a young man whose home is in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is boarding with us.

Our house consists of three bedrooms, upper and lower halls, living room, dining room, entry, kitchen, pantry and the service room where supplies for the light are kept. Equipment also includes a medicine chest containing practical medicines and a medical handbook. We are furnished with a motorboat for use in getting our supplies to the Rock.

“The light is incandescent oil vapor and flashing light. There is a diaphone horn for use in fog. This horn is driven by oil engine air compressors.

“The keepers are granted four days leave each month. They are on duty Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. The watches are in 4-hour shifts, each keeper having the same watch for one week at a time.

“Matinicus Rock is approximately one-half mile wide. Unlike Saddleback Ledge Light in the vicinity of Vinalhaven, which is swept clean of all vegetation and even pebbles at every high tide, we have here more the appearance of an island for there is enough soil here for gardens. However, flowers do not grow very well as there is too much moisture, salt spray and high winds at all times. There are no animals – not even rats nor mice.There are plenty of wild birds in their season such as gulls, about 6,000 terns. This is also the only place on the Atlantic Coast where puffins are found.

“My husband knows Mr. Wells, the keeper at Saddleback Ledge. We came from the same hometown, Lubec, Maine.

“We have been in the Lighthouse Service for 13 years. We have been at Matinicus five years last October 30. Before coming here, Mr. Fletcher was second assistant at Petit Manan Light for eight years. This last-named light was 12 miles from Milbridge but only five miles from the nearest mainland.

“Of course we have grown accustomed to this sort of life. There were the years when our girls were away at school when we both wished we could see them more often.

They have been with us only during summer vacations with the exception of four years when we were united for the Christmas holidays. To us, this separation from our children while they are growing up is the hardest thing to bear in this mode of living.

“We have had a guest book only since 1939. So far, that was our biggest year as regards summer visitors. There were 108 entries. The greatest numbers arrive in July and August. Most of them are from Maine, but scanning the list some will also note the following names: Alcade, New Mexico; Reeds, Missouri; Ojal, California; Ohio; Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Washington, Florida, South Carolina, etc. Keepers are not allowed to accept tips of any kind from visitors.

“We are most appreciative of magazine subscriptions. Those sent to this station are Life, Saturday Evening Post, National Geographic and Rockland’s weekly newspaper, the Courier-Gazette, in which the Coast Guard and lighthouses are given a special column entitled “Guardians of our Coast.” For this column, keepers send in interesting news and happenings.

“The Lighthouse Tenders, Hibiscus and Ilex, visit here several times a year, were bringing us water, oil and gasoline. Usually our inspectors come on these boats twice a year.

“Boats land on a boat slip. There are times in winter, spring, late summer and fall when we are unable to get any mail for two or three weeks at a time. I would call once a week, the average for receiving mail. All through the year, each mail day, all of the families gather at the boathouse when the station boat is returning with the mail and supplies. On that day, too, a difference in menu is enjoyed for, having no refrigerators, our supply of fresh and green foods is naturally very limited.

“We are obliged to depend much on canned foods. For instance, since we have been in the Service, we have had salt fish, canned salmon or mackerel at Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners. The reason of course has been the weather conditions at this season of the year.

“I am enclosing a photo of a lighthouse haircut. It may be amusing to those who can have a choice of numerous barbershops at any hour of the day. If my husband doesn’t have an opportunity, on account of weather conditions, to get his hair cut at either of the islands, I have to get up the courage and try.”

Unfortunately, we do not have the photo to share with you of Roscoe Fletcher getting his haircut. It may have been lost in the pages of time.

This story appeared in the June 2005 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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