Digest>Archives> April 2005

Memories of Bakers Island

By Timothy Harrison

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Although Sue and Melvin Brooks now live in Texas, a hundred miles from the sea, they still have fond memories of the four years Melvin was in the Coast Guard along the New England coast, two of those years as a keeper at Baker’s Island Lighthouse near Salem, Massachusetts.

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Sue and Melvin Brooks at the time he was a ...

It was just a few days before Christmas in 1956 when the 36-foot lifeboat carried them out to their new home at Baker’s Island Lighthouse. On board the boat were two Christmas trees, one for them and one for the other family that was also stationed there to care for the lighthouse.

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Sue and Melvin Brooks at the time he was a ...

Sue recalled they were met at the pier by the other Coast Guard couple assigned to the lighthouse, Richard and Jean LaLonde (from Lewiston, Maine). The couple had a big red dog. When they asked the name of the dog, Sue was a little hesitant to answer because the dogs name was “Melvin,” the same name as my husband’s. Sue recalled that later when she and her husband also got a dog, there was nothing they could do but name him “Richard” after the other keeper. And so it was.

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Christmas at Straitsmouth Lifeboat Station in ...

Sue recalled that the island was pretty lonely at Christmas time because the weather was usually bad and the seas were not fit for small boats. But they vividly remember the visits of Edward Rowe Snow, the Flying Santa of the Lighthouses. In fact they still have the two books, written and autographed by him, that were included in the gifts that were dropped from the plane, New England Sea Drama and The Story of Minot’s Light. Some of the other items always included with Snow’s Santa drops were candy and cigarettes.

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Melvin the man with Melvin the dog at Baker’s ...

They always had a big Christmas dinner; turkey with all the trimmings.

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Some of the pets; two dogs and a sheep that ...

The summertime saw lots of activity on the island with lots of people and boats from the people who owned property in the island, but since access is restricted to property owners there were never any actual tourists.

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Melvin Brooks with the lighthouse dog, Richard, ...

They had liberty three days out of the month to go to the mainland to buy supplies and many meals were planned for long in advance.

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Winter view of Baker’s Island Lighthouse in the ...

By their second Christmas on the island they had a dog and a bird and the other keeper’s family had a dog and two cats.

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Melvin Brooks (r) with Thomas W. Drake (l) who ...

Before the birth of their child, Sue became ill and they had to leave the island where they had so enjoyed life. Melvin spent his remaining duty tour at the Straitsmouth Lifeboat Station in Rockport, Massachusetts Melvin left he Coast Guard as a Boatswain Mate 3rd Class and they returned to Texas, thousands of miles from New England and a hundred miles from the ocean.

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Paul and Helen Baptiste from a 1994 photograph. ...

We wish to thank Sue and Melvin for sharing their photos and memories with us. Although we may have caretakers at some lighthouses in the future, there will never again be lighthouse keepers at our lighthouses and that’s why it is so vital to share and save these photos and memories for future generations. We hope that photos and stories like this will encourage others to also donate their old photos and stories, too.

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This is the 40-foot Coast Guard vessel that was ...


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This old color postcard shows the twin lights of ...

More on Baker’s Island

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Baker’s Island Lighthouse in an official Coast ...

Baker’s Island keeper LaLonde recalled

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Baker’s Island Lighthouse as it looked before the ...
Photo by: Jean Migre

In the summer of 1959, Will Walsh was the 18-year old manager and sole employee of the general store on Baker’s Island, Massachusetts. At that time Bosun’s Mate First Class Dick LaLonde was the Coast Guard keeper of the lighthouse. Will recalls that LaLonde and his gracious wife would often invite neighbors over for evening coffee in their cozy living room with what he describes as the hospitality of a quieter, simpler time. “Those evenings were filled with good coffee and reminiscences of the days of sail,” he said.

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Paul Baptiste is shown here dangling on the side ...

He also said that many legends, unexplained occurrences and ghost stories surround the light and that Dick was the resident historian. “Walsh said, “We often sang sea shanties, accompanied by the crashing of swells on the rocks below and the eerie shriek of the wind in the waves.

Walsh’s memories of those days are ones he will never forget. He said, “Dick and his wife symbolized the Baker’s Island Light; they were tough, reliable, indomitable and hospitable. They weathered much harsh adversity to provide warmth, safety and assurance to us all.”

Baker’s Island Lighthouse

Quick Facts

Located five miles out to sea off the coast of Salem, Massachusetts.

In 1798, twin lights built at Baker’s Island were among the first twin lights built in America.

The old towers were torn down and replaced by two new towers in 1820. Because one tower was taller than the other they were often referred to as “Ma and Pa” and “Mr. and Mrs.” {insert old photo of the twin towers here}

The shorter tower was demolished in 1926. The taller tower remains standing today.

In 1996 the Coast Guard completed at $250,000 restoration of the tower and in 2000 solarized its beacon.

Today, the island and the lighthouse is managed by the Bakers Island Association who refuse to allow anyone to land on the island except those who are residents or their guests.

History Lesson

During the War of 1812, harbor pilot, Joseph Perkins, who was stationed on Baker’s Island, viewed the U.S.S. Constitution being chased by British warships. He rowed out to “Old Ironsides” and safely piloted it to the harbor and safety. Perkins later became keeper of the lighthouse, a position he held from 1815 to 1829.

This story appeared in the April 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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