Digest>Archives> August 1999

Wing's Neck Lighthouse

By Jeremy D'Entremont

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Capt. George A. Howard and his brother William ...
Photo by: From the Edward Rowe Snow collection.

The peninsula called Wing's Neck extends from Pocasset on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, out into Buzzards Bay, a busy thoroughfare in the 19th century. The first Wing's Neck Light, built in 1848, was a Cape Cod style structure, with a wooden lantern room on top of a stone keepers house. In the 1870's it was reported that the weight of the lantern was crushing the roof of the dwelling.

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Wings Neck Lighthouse as it appears today. Having ...
Photo by: Jeremy D'Entremont

The first keeper, Edward D. Lawrence, was removed in 1854 for belonging to the wrong political party. However, he returned as keeper in 1865 and remained until 1887, serving a total of 28 years at the station. John Maxim, who was keeper in the 1850's was killed at the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg.

A Fresnel lens was added to Wing's Neck in 1856. A fire badly damaged the structure in 1878. Repairs put off the building of a new light until 1890 when a new keepers and octagonal light tower were built. A walkway connecting the house and tower was built in 1899.

Albert Gifford served as keeper at Wing's Neck for 21 years. The night he died at the lighthouse, his wife carried on the duties of tending the light and winding the clockwork mechanism for the fog bell. She remained on as keeper for two weeks until she was relieved by Wallace Eldredge, son of a Nantucket whaler.

During Eldredge's stint as Keeper, President Warren G. Harding passed near the station in the Presidential yacht, Mayflower. Because of bad weather, the yacht anchored near Wing's Neck. In the morning Keeper Eldredge gave the President a "twenty-one gun salute" with the fog bell. While he was Keeper here, Eldredge earned five Efficiency Gold Stars for his excellent service at the light. When the Cape Cod Canal opened in 1914, his wife, became a dispatcher for the canal, phoning news of ship arrivals to the canal office in Buzzard's Bay.

George Howard, formerly a Keeper at Thacher Island, Duxbury Pier, Tarpaulin Cove and Ipswich, became a Keeper in 1921. His brother, William, previously at Boston Light, was his assistant. The sons of the captain of the Cross Rips Lightship in Vineyard Sound, the Howard brothers gained widespread fame as lifesavers. In one instance, on July 14, 1931, a small boat overturned with a man and four young boys on board. William Howard went out in the station's small boat and rescued all five. In 1932 alone the Howard Brothers were credited with eight lives saved.

"I wish they wouldn't go fishing off here or cruising in such small craft," said William Howard, "If it comes up a quick blow, there's sure to be trouble." By the end of William Howard's career it was estimated that he had saved 37 people.

In 1930, the Keepers House at Ned Point Light was floated across Cape Cod Bay to become the assistant Keeper's house. However, the end was nearing for Wing's Neck Lighthouse. With the building of the new Cleveland Ledge Lighthouse, Wing's Neck was considered expendable. It was finally discontinued in 1945 and went up for sale in 1947. It was bought by Frank & Irene Flanagan of Boston for $13,738.

The Flanagans were a musical family and Wing's Neck Lighthouse became the center of musical activity in the area. Their daughter, Beth, a concert pianist, threw her bouquet from the top of the lighthouse tower when she was married. Barbershop Quartet concerts frequently took place on the lawn and the von Trapp family singers of "Sound of Music" fame spent some time at the lighthouse. Irene Flanagan lived at the lighthouse until recent years. She passed away in February of this year at age 96. According to her obituary in the Cape Cod Times, for many years she was known locally as the "Lady in the Lighthouse." The family now leases the property out.

The area around the lighthouse is a monitoring station for the Cape Cod Canal, with radar and a closed circuit television.

This story appeared in the August 1999 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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