Last August 7th, on National Lighthouse Day, I had the honored privileged of attending the 100th birthday party of Shirley Morong, who has shared many of her first hand lighthouse memories with the readers of Lighthouse Digest. She and her late husband Clifton Morong, lived at a number of light-stations, such as Perkins Island, Cape Elizabeth and the lost Fort Popham Lighthouse in Maine. Her son, Robert, also served at lighthouses, as did ancestors in her family line.
Shirley’s celebration began at Windmill Point Lighthouse on a small peninsula on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain near Alburgh, Vermont. The lighthouse, owned by Lucky, Rob and Claire Clark of Champlain, NY, has been in private ownership for over 70 years. (Sadly, Lucky Clark passed away this past February.) My companion, John Papp, and I had never met Shirley, but we had heard much about her and were looking forward, with great anticipation, to meeting her. We had no idea what she looked like until this spry white-haired wraith got out of a car and walked rapidly across the sloping lawn towards the lighthouse. She is a marvel to see in action and to speak with in person. Her energy and cheerful outlook belie her years.
Rob Clark was hosting trips up into the lighthouse tower and Shirley made it part of the way but opted to skip the ladder at the very top. She chose instead to come back to the base of the light and regale several generations of her family and friends with lighthouse stories and tales. We were all very content to listen to her wonderful memories.
The celebration then moved to Isle La Motte Lighthouse, another lighthouse owned by the Clarks. It was there that the real celebration kicked in. With a wonderful cake, provided by Joyce Jenkins, and other refreshments, we toasted a terrific, warm-hearted lighthouse lady, all while taking photographs and enjoying lighthouse memories and stories. For those of us just meeting her for the first time that day, the experience was almost over-whelming. The history that rides along with Shirley is priceless and irreplaceable. She really should write a book of her adventures to preserve them for generations to come. But she’s probably too busy living them to write about them…perhaps once she slows down a bit.
Five generations of Morongs were present along with many friends and family. Shirley is proud of her family’s lighthouse heritage. One of Shirley’s ancestors, Frederic William Morong, Sr., was the first lighthouse keeper to serve at Maine’s Lubec Channel Lighthouse. Another ancestor, Frederic W. Morong, Jr., wrote the famous poem “It’s Brasswork,” at the kitchen table at Maine’s Little River Lighthouse. The poem became known as the Lighthouse Keeper’s Lament and was posted and read at lighthouses all over the world.
Thank you Shirley for all you have done to help preserve lighthouse history for future generations.
This story appeared in the
April 2009 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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