weather-beaten, Graves Light might appear to the uninformed observer to
be a more ancient structure than Boston Light, its neighbor in Boston's
outer harbor. Surprisingly, it's actually one of Massachusetts'
In 1843, the engineer I.W.P. Lewis expressed surprise
that there was no beacon on the ledges known as the Graves. The ledges
were named for Rear Adm. Thomas Graves, who came to America from London
in 1628 and was an early settler of Charlestown, Massachusetts.
From the collection of Edward
Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell
U.S. Coast Guard
An iron bell buoy was placed near the ledges in 1854. It
was later replaced by a whistling buoy beyond the northeast end of the
ledges. A new major shipping channel into Boston Harbor, the Broad
Sound Channel, opened in the early 1900s, necessitating a lighthouse at
In 1902, Congress appropriated $75,000 for a lighthouse
and fog signal, and Governor Crane of Massachusetts signed a deed
conveying 435,400 square feet at the ledges to the federal government.
The project ultimately cost $188,000, meaning a second
appropriation of $113,000 was required in April 1904.
Construction took place from 1903 to 1905, and Royal
Luther of Malden, Massachusetts, was in charge. The style of Graves
Light is very similar to Maine's Ram Island Ledge Light, built at about
the same time.
The granite for the tower was cut at Rockport on Cape
Ann. Rock on the ledges was blasted, and the foundation was laid just
four feet above the low tide mark. The first 42 feet were completed in
the summer of 1903.
Note the inscription over the
entryway: "A.D. 1903."
Scenes from the
construction of Graves Light
From the collection of
Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell
A schooner transported materials from Lovell's
Island, 3 1/2 miles away, to the Graves, and a 75-foot steamer
transported workers to the site. A shanty was constructed on the
highest ledge of the Graves, connected to the wharf by a 90-foot
elevated walkway. The shanty had living quarters, a storeroom, a
blacksmith shop, and a kitchen, and up to 30 men lived there in the
summers of 1903 and 1904.
While the granite was being put in place, the
ironwork was being manufactured in Boston and a huge first-order
Fresnel lens was being created in Paris.
The summer of 1904 saw the lighthouse reach a height
of 88 feet. Construction was completed during the following year. A
granite oil house was built 90 feet south of the tower, reachable by a
On the night of September 1, 1905, Graves Light's first
keeper, Elliot C. Hadley, lighted the most powerful light in
Massachusetts history for the first time. The gigantic lens floated on
400 pounds of mercury. After the completion of Graves Light, a
Lighthouse Establishment report stated:
At so exposed a site the height necessary for the lantern
above the heavier masses of spray, the consequent geographic range, its
location so far seaward, the service of the light to the large commerce
of Boston and modern ships of deep draft, make it perhaps the most
important light north of Cape Cod.
A poem by Henry J. Clark called "To 'The Graves'" was
published in the Boston Globe the day the lighthouse went into
service. It read, in part:
Now thou art conquered, thy terrors are gone;
Grim death is displaced, and life sits on thy throne:
Secure on thy rock the light shines that saves
And guides to the haven, Thou welcoming Graves.
When it went into service, Graves Light was measured at
380,000 candlepower. The light was later upgraded to 3.2 million
candlepower, and for many years it was the most powerful light in New
England. The station was also equipped with a powerful Daboll fog
The tower is just over 30 feet in diameter at the base,
and the lower stones -- held to each other with strong bolts -- are 7
feet thick. The lower 42-foot section of the tower was filled with
concrete, with a space left for a cistern.
The entrance door to the tower was at the top of a 30-foot ladder,
which made entry difficult in rough weather.
The first story was the landing and storage space, the
second was the engine room containing the fog-signal equipment, and the
third floor was the kitchen. The fourth and fifth levels contained the
keepers' beds and a library.
Handgrips were built into the outside of the lantern,
which made the treacherous job of cleaning the outside of the glass a
Two of the floors and all the walls were finished with
enameled bricks. The handrails on the stairways were mahogany, and the
rest of the woodwork was oak.
A newspaper article described the rooms in the
lighthouse as "reminiscent of cheery, compact little cabins on a smart
The tiled wall can be seen
behind the stairs to the lantern room
The cistern in the bottom of the lighthouse was filled with
water twice yearly by a lighthouse tender, and food was delivered
regularly to the lighthouse. The keepers augmented their diet with
lobsters caught in their own traps around the ledges.
- This photo showing the rocks at the Graves covered with
ice was published in the Boston Post in February 1934. From the collection of Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of
In 1910, Keeper Hadley described the conditions at
Graves Light in storms:
I've looked up at solid water rushing in toward the
ledges. I don't know how far up the solid water comes. I've been
knocked down by it on the wharf beside the light, and opening a window
to look out more than halfway up the tower, I've had as much as three
buckets-full dashed in my face.
A severe storm in November 1935 moved giant stones, some
weighing three tons, and deposited them near the lighthouse.
First Assistant Keeper
George H. Fitzpatrick, left, and Keeper Octavius Reamy, right, on
October 1, 1935, the 30th anniversary of the lighting of Graves
From the collection of
Edward Rowe Snow, courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell
Several wrecks have taken place in the vicinity of Graves
Light. In 1938, the 419-foot freighter City of Salisbury,
remembered as the "Zoo Ship" for its cargo of zoo animals, struck a
reef not far from the Graves. There was no loss of life. The ship
became a tourist attraction for a few months before it finally split in
two and sank.
Graves Light circa 1940. Courtesy of
The last civilian keeper, Llewellyn Rogers, also was at
the Graves when the steamer New York crashed into the Romance.
The Romance sank in 20 minutes, but no lives were lost in the
In 1947, Graves Light served as a filming location to a
movie crew working on the David O. Selznick production, Portrait of
Jennie, starring Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones.
Graves Light was supposed to be an abandoned Cape Cod
lighthouse where Cotten's character went to paint in solitude. The
climax of the film takes place on the ledges around Graves Light with
Cotten looking for his lost love, Jennie.
The crew spent 10 days in and around the lighthouse.
Historian Edward Rowe Snow, a resident of nearby Winthrop, served as a
goodwill ambassador to the movie crew. Click
here to see Edward Rowe Snow with Joseph Cotten on one of Boston's
outer harbor islands (courtesy of Dorothy Bicknell)
Joseph Cotten at Graves Light
photo, taken on July 5, 1941, shows Keeper Llewellyn Rogers in the
doorway greeting visitors to the lighthouse. Courtesy of Dorothy
Coast Guardsman Larry Bowers was stationed at Graves
Light from 1961 to 1963. He later recalled one storm when waves knocked
out the window on the first deck and destroyed the generator.
He also remembered a summer visit from Edward Rowe Snow,
who gave him a copy of his book Famous New England Lighthouses.
There were problems in the 1970s with the mercury that
served as a bearing for the rotating lens.
Pedro Marticio later remembered:
I was the last Coast Guard keeper of the Graves
Light. I was there for two tours of duty -- I closed it down the first
time due to a mercury spill, and after the light was decontaminated I
went out for another year.
This photo of the American flag
flying at Graves Light is courtesy of the last Coast Guard officer in
charge, Pedro Marticio.
The light was automated in 1976. The Fresnel lens,
12 feet high and nine feet in diameter, presently sits in storage at
the Smithsonian Institution.
For a period between 1981 and 1983, the light was
powered by an emergency generator due to damage to the electrical cable
from shore. Blake Rinker was in the Coast Guard at the time, and he
aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter White Heath had to fuel it every
five weeks. We could always tell if we didn't get there in time because
it was reported as an outage. Sometimes the seas were too rough to make
a landing to fuel.
On Christmas Eve of 1984, the light failed. A Coast
Guard Aids to Navigation team headed out to the lighthouse and got the
light back on. They just beat a bad storm back into Boston. The team's
officer in charge, Chief Paul Driscoll, said "four guys almost spent
Christmas night in a lighthouse instead of home with their families."
Courtesy of Pedro Marticio
Today crews working at
Graves Light usually arrive by helicopter, landing on a small platform
next to the tower
Storms and vandalism have done their share of
damage. The old walkway has been destroyed by storms, and vandals have
caused thousands of dollars in damage. The fog signal house was swept
away by the "Perfect Storm" of October 1991.
The badly damaged landing platform was repaired in 1993. The original
oil house still stands.
The submarine cable from the town of Hull that
powered Graves Light was damaged in a March 2001 storm. Three months
later, the light was converted to solar power. A civilian crew working
for the Coast Guard out of South Portland, Maine, did the job. The
conversion ended the light's reliance on the submarine electrical
In The Islands of Boston Harbor, Edward Rowe
I shall not attempt to give you a description of
the scene from the top of the Light but hope that some day you may
journey to this far-flung ledge and see the splendid view for yourself.
is now almost impossible since automation, but you can get excellent
views of Graves Light from various tour boats, as well as distant views
from the towns of Winthrop, Nahant, and Hull.
You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book
Lighthouses of Massachusetts by Jeremy D'Entremont.
The crew that converted Graves
Light to solar power, L to R: , Electrical Work Leader Fred S.
Eggleston, Maintenance Mechanic Craig Smith, Electrician Al Wilson,
Carpenter Work Leader Hugh Hicks, Helicopter Pilot Dale Hardy. The
project was supervised by Chris Ledwith.
Left, new electronic
fog signals, and right, the
new optics installed in June 2001
list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers
of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at email@example.com.
Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own
risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)
Webmaster Jeremy D'Entremont in the
lantern room, June 7, 2001
Photo by CWO Dave Waldrip, First
District Coast Guard Lighthouse Manager
C. Hadley (1905-1911); Elliott C. Hadley, Jr. (second assistant,
1908-1912, first assistant,1912-?); Robert M. McAfee (second assistant,
1906-1907, first assistant, 1907-1912); Thomas J. Creed (second
assistant, 1909-1910); George L. Lyon (1911-?); William Anderson, Jr/
(second assistant, 1912-?); Henry Towle (c. 1914-1917); Harry Whin
(First Assistant, c. 1915-1917); Bill Baldwin (Second assistant keeper,
c. 1916); ? Carter (c.1917-1924); Octavius Reamy (assistant 1906-1907,
keeper 1924-at least 1939); Allison Gregg Haskins (c. 1920s); Llewellyn
Rogers (c. 1930s-1940s); George J. Fitzpatrick (first assistant, c.
1935); Otis Earl Walsh (assistant, c. 1940); Ernest A. Sampson (U.S.
Coast Guard, 1943-1944);
Raymond Burton (U.S. Coast Guard, c. 1945); Bernard Brady (Coast Guard,
c. 1945); Robert H. Curran (U.S. Coast Guard, c. 1945); Charles Sidney
Martin (U.S. Coast Guard, c. 1950); Gene Calmon (U.S. Coast Guard,
1952); ? Delany (U.S. Coast Guard, c. 1961); Larry Crouse (U.S. Coast
Guard, 1961); ? Newman (U.S. Coast Guard, c. 1961); John Mariani (U.S.
Coast Guard, c. 1961); ? Cookson (U.S. Coast Guard, c. 1962); Larry
Bowers (U.S. Coast Guard, 1961-1963); Stephen Downey (Coast Guard, c.
1967), Edward Widborg (U.S. Coast Guard, c. 1966-1967), ? Butler (U.S.
Coast Guard, c. 1966-1967), Allan Leto (U.S. Coast Guard, c. 1968),
James Kreiger (U.S. Coast Guard, c. 1968), Pat Faiella (U.S. Coast
Guard, c. 1970), Douglas Smart (Coast Guard, c. 1971), Sheldon Kaminsky
(Coast Guard, 1970-1971), Pedro Marticio (?-1976).