Digest>Archives> June 2005

Women of the Lights

J. Candace Clifford

By Jeremy D'Entremont

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J. Candace Clifford at Heceta Head Light in ...

If you enjoy lighthouse books that are meticulously researched, intelligently written, and handsomely produced, you’re probably familiar with the work of J. Candace Clifford. Her latest work, co-authored with her mother, Mary Louise Clifford, is Maine Lighthouses: Documentation of Their Past. This volume covers in detail the development of Maine’s lighthouse system and is based almost entirely on primary source material. It also includes more than 150 photographs. On the MaineToday website, writer-historian William David Barry has called the book “a wonderful sourcebook for scholars and buffs.”

Candace was born in Princeton, New Jersey, but lived in various overseas locations in the course of her childhood. “ I was not acutely aware of lighthouses early in life,” she says, “but have always loved the water.” After earning a degree in history from New York’s Hamilton College, Candace eventually went to work for the National Park Service (NPS).

One of Candace’s first assignments at the NPS was to put together an inventory of lighthouses across the U.S. This was eventually published in book form as the 1994 Inventory of Historic Light Stations, and Candace became the resident expert on lighthouses. She was hooked on both lighthouses and the research process.

While working for the NPS, Candace wrote her first book with her mother, Women Who Kept the Lights: An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers. The book was published in 1993 by the Cliffords’ own company, Cypress Communications. The book includes the dramatic exploits of famous women like Ida Lewis and Kate Walker, and also rare glimpses into the lives of lesser-known female keepers. “I appreciated Women Who Kept the Lights because it showed me the human story of lighthouses,” says Candace. “Before that project, I had mainly looked at lighthouses in terms of buildings.” A revised second edition of the book was published in 2001.

Candace says her mother, coauthor of her three lighthouse books, has been the most influential writer in her life. “If it were not for her mentoring and encouragement,” she explains, “I doubt I would have ever started writing books.” Some of Mary Louise’s earlier works concerned the countries where the Cliffords lived or traveled, including The Land and People of Malaysia, The Land and People of Liberia, and The Land and People of Afghanistan. She’s also written historical fiction for children, including When the Great Canoes Came, about the Jamestown settlement from the Native American perspective. “We compliment one another nicely,” says Candace. “Essentially, I keep her facts straight and she makes sure my prose isn’t putting anyone to sleep.”

The Cliffords’ second collaboration was Nineteenth-Century Lights: Historic Images of Lighthouses, a coffeetable book filled with sumptuous old photos, published in 2000. “The book is based on my favorite historic lighthouse photos which I collected before we wrote the book,” says Candace. “This was a slightly backward approach since you generally write a book and then choose the illustrations that fit.” This approach made the book especially fun to put together.

When asked what prompted her to write Maine Lighthouses: Documentation of Their Past, Candace says, “When I started to do in-depth research at the National Archives, I was intrigued with the correspondence of the customs collectors who served as local superintendents of lighthouses during the first half of the 19th century. This correspondence included a lot of material from the superintendents in Maine that I had never encountered in any secondary sources. When I decided to do a book based wholly on primary sources, I chose Maine in part because there seemed to be a variety of records and photos, plus it gave me an excuse to visit one of my favorite places.”

Initially, Candace collected everything she could on every Maine lighthouse. This proved overwhelming, so she began to “focus on records that told different aspects of the story.” The Cliffords tried to include something unique and interesting for each light station. Much of the text consists of quotes from primary sources. “I don’t think anyone else has had the luxury to spend so much time in the National Archives,” says Candace. “It helps that I live close by.”

Candace has come to cherish visits to lighthouses, for research and fun. “I’m drawn to the sites where there has been little in the way of modern intrusions,” she says. “You have some sense of what it may have been like when there was a keeper in residence.” Like any buff, she appreciates a beautiful scene. “I like to come away with a pretty photo as a souvenir,” she adds.

Over the past few years, Candace has lectured on the nuts and bolts of lighthouse research at various conferences, including the recent 2005 Northeast Lighthouse Conference in Newport, Rhode Island. She has spent much time with lighthouse preservationists and appreciates the challenges at hand. “I believe the current lighthouse preservation community is strong,” she says. “We need advocates in the upcoming generations however. I hope we find ways to attract younger lighthouse enthusiasts.”

Not everyone has the time or inclination to travel for lighthouse research, so Candace offers research services specializing in lighthouse and lifesaving station documentation at both the National Archives and the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office in Washington, D.C. Numerous lighthouse-related organizations have employed her services, including the Buffalo Lighthouse Association, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the American Lighthouse Foundation, and the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy.

To learn more about her research services, email Candace at jcclifford@earthlink.net.

All of her books are available through Lighthouse Depot by calling (800) 758-1444 or at www.Lighthouse Depot.com.

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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