I’ll never forget the first time I met Ken Black. It was a number of years ago and my only regret is that I hadn’t met him years earlier.
It was about 15 years ago that I first toured what was then the Shore Village Museum in Rockland, Maine. I was fortunate enough to arrive there on a day when Ken was present and he personally gave me the tour. I was just barely starting to have an interest in lighthouses and I’m sure I forgot about 70% of what he told me on that day.
A couple of things he said on that day have stayed with me. Ken said, “Lighthouses are like people. They come in many different sizes, shapes and colors.” Years later, in my talks, I added the word “brightness,” which is something Ken never would say, probably because he’s much more of a gentleman than I am.
But what impressed me the most was his true dedication to the cause of saving lighthouses, their history, and the artifacts associated with them. He loves to do his best to make people into “believers.” To make them believe how vital it is to save our lighthouse history for the next generations. Well, after the tour that day, while we stood on the porch of the museum, he made me a “believer.” He didn’t know it then; in fact he probably thought I was just another tourist he’d never see again.
Who would have thought, from that one meeting years ago, that a steadfast friendship would grow, one that grew way beyond lighthouses? Sure, at first it was a lighthouse friendship. In fact, in those early years, I probably made a pest out of myself, constantly calling him, asking him questions, and picking his brain or stopping by with no appointment. But he never once complained. In fact, he always had time to talk with me, sometimes for hours. I could never learn enough.
I consider Ken Black my mentor, but first and foremost, I consider him my friend. I can tell you for a fact that I never would have started Lighthouse Digest or Lighthouse Depot or helped form the nonprofit American Lighthouse Foundation if it had not been for Ken Black. But, more importantly, over the years we have become extremely close friends. Not saying how old either one of us is, but I once overheard his wife telling someone that he thinks of me as the son he never had. Wow, was I touched.
I guess one could write a book about Ken Black and his amazing career. It would certainly be too much for the pages of this magazine. However, there is a book that was published a few years ago that included one entire chapter on Ken. Since I’m concentrating on the personal friendship in this story, I’ll save his interesting career and the development of the museum for another issue. I can do that because I’m the editor and being the editor has its privileges.
However, the facts are clear. Ken Black is one of only a few people, and I mean probably less than five, who started saving lighthouse artifacts and history way before it became, shall we say, “fashionable.” He had a vision that no one else had. He still has that vision and has never lost sight of it. It is a vision to save and preserve, and to share with the public, lighthouse artifacts that otherwise would have ended up in the trash heap or in someone’s private collection to never again be seen.
Years ago, he was the first person to start a national newsletter on lighthouses. We like to think that Lighthouse Digest is a continuation of that newsletter, a continuation that probably never would have happened if not for that chance meeting in Rockland at the Shore Village Museum when Ken took so much time to try to teach a novice about lighthouses.
This June 25, “Phase One” of the new Maine Lighthouse Museum opens in Rockland Maine with the largest collection of lighthouse lenses and lighthouse equipment to ever go on display in a museum anywhere in the United States. This museum would not exist if not for the efforts of Ken Black. We started calling him “Mr. Lighthouse” many years ago, and it’s a name that has stuck and is well deserved. The opening of the new Maine Lighthouse Museum is something that Ken can be proud of, and we can all be proud for him. The new Maine Lighthouse Museum will live on forever, as a legacy to Ken Black, a man with a vision.
Next month, we will tell you more about Ken Black, his career, and the amazing true story of how Ken Black’s lighthouse collection came into being and how it actually started the lighthouse preservation movement in this country.
In the meantime, we’d like to award Ken Black, “Mr. Lighthouse,” the “Lighthouse Digest Beacon of Light Award” for his tireless efforts to preserve yesterday’s lighthouse history for tomorrow’s generations.
Congratulations to my friend and a true friend to the lighthouse community, “Mr. Lighthouse,” Ken Black.
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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