Monday, 12 November 2018 18:05

Maine's Lighthouses: Illuminating History (Part 2) Featured

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RICHMOND/STOCKTON SPRINGS/BASS HARBOR - In the first part of our lighthouse series, we took a look inside some of Maine's lighthouses. In part two, we focused on highlighting the people who have kept them running.

 

"Just because you saved the lighthouse that's not the end of it," said Tim Harrison, the editor and publisher of Lighthouse Digest. "The next step is to save the history associated with it."

 

On a gray day in Richmond, Maine,  Ernie DeRaps's daughter was helping her 90-year-old father make dinner.

 

In years past, DeRaps would be spending rainy evenings like this tending to lighthouses - a passion still seen in the books and paintings he creates at home.

 

After serving in the Navy, DeRaps joined the Coast Guard, and was stationed at four different lighthouses along the Maine coast. Assignments that DeRaps said he was lucky to have because they kept him close to his wife, Pauline, and her hometown of Belfast, Maine.

 

His first duty as a lighthouse keeper was at Monhegan Island Light, ten miles off the coast. Not an easy journey for his two year old son and wife, who was four months pregnant.

 

"My wife looked at the young man driving and said 'you do know I'm pregnant?', said Ernie DeRaps. "He almost fainted."

 

Ernie's work day revolved around lighting the lens half an hour before sunset.. Days were spent on maintenance - painting, mowing lawns, and helping Pauline look after their growing family.

 

And the pay?

 

"Enough to live on and that was about it," joked DeRaps.

 

It wasn't all smooth sailing.

 

Ernie is credited with saving and housing six people who were stranded off of Monhegan. He also saved a young man whose boat overturned, stranding the man who couldn't swim on a rock. Ernie boated out to him and made several passes, but the young man was scared.

 

"Eventually I just grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him in the boat," said DeRaps, "took the boat into shore, and tied it so that I wouldn't lose it, and walked him back to the lighthouse."

 

Today it's groups like the Coast Guard who continue to safeguard the rocky Maine coast.

 

At Bass Harbor Light on Mount Desert Island, Michael Denning serves as an Electrician's Mate First Class with the U.S. Coast Guard. He makes sure the now automated light runs properly, and takes a helicopter to nearby island lighthouses for repairs there.

 

"I really enjoy a lot of the historical aspects of it, it's a fun job," said Denning. "I usually tell people I've got the best job in the Coast Guard because I get to do what I do, and most people tend to agree."

 

Bass Harbor Light was built in 1858 to help mariners navigate the dangerous Bass Harbor Bar. Denning said there are still times boaters come into distress, but now mariners can activate the sound signal from their own boat.

 

While unoccupied now, the keeper's house is still considered active duty Coast Guard housing.

 

"It hurts right here," said DeRaps touching his heart, "to know that those lighthouses were all falling apart."

 

Back to Ernie, he and his wife ensured that one of their former homes and places of work, Fort Point Light in Stockton Springs, was taken care of for the next generation. Ernie and Pauline helped create Fort Point State Park, which is still open to the public today.

 

When Pauline died about three years ago, her family laid her ashes at Fort Point, Ernie and Pauline's favorite lighthouse.

 

Today, it's thanks to private efforts like the DeRaps, the Coast Guard, and the American Lighthouse Foundation that keep these lights shining through the storm.

 

"Our watch like the keepers of old, it's a different kind of watch, but it has no end," said Bob Trapani, the executive director of the American Lighthouse Foundation in Rockland.

 

There are dozens more lighthouses along the Maine coast we did not get into with this report. But if you're interested in learning more about saving these structures, additional information can be found at the American Lighthouse Foundation's website.

 

Part one of this series can be watched here.

Kelly Mitchell

Reporter
[email protected]

Kelly Mitchell joined the news team in March of 2018. She grew up splitting her time between York, ME and Haverhill, MA, but her favorite childhood memories took place along the rocky coast of southern Maine. She's now e...