Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse

For this post, I turn the reins over to Sue Clark for an update on the controversy which surrounds Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.
Sue is a charter member of the Maine Lighthouse Museum, a docent and former secretary of the Friends of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, and a member of the American Lighthouse Foundation. Her second marriage took place at Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in September of 2000. She also is the creator of two great lighthouse blogs, Lighthouse News and Spectral Keeper of the Lights about haunted lighthouses.
I am extremely honored that Sue has agreed to do a "guest blogger" spot for me, as her knowledge of Pemaquid Point is second to none.

Who Should Own Pemaquid Point Lighthouse?

At the Bristol Town Meeting March 18, 2008, voters overwhelmingly approved a warrant article to "accept the gift of the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Tower at such a time as it is declared excess property and offered to the town by the federal government (the U.S. Coast Guard). "
Wow, I knew the town had a severe misunderstanding of all things Pemaquid Point, but this is one of the better ones.
By way of background, the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, arguably one of the best known lighthouses in Maine by virtue of it being featured on the state quarter in 2003, is part of the Town of Bristol's Lighthouse Park. When the lighthouse was electrified in 1934 and the last lightkeeper left, the town later bought the land surrounding the lighthouse to turn into a park. And they did, and used the house as both a rental apartment (upstairs) and as the Fisherman's Museum (downstairs). The Coast Guard of course retained the immediate land surrounding the light, as it is still an active aid to navigation.
Everything was fine for the next sixty years. The light was there for everyone to view, but no access to the lighthouse tower was provided. Sometime around 1993, the Coast Guard, who only visited the tower three or four times a year to change the bulbs, offered to lease the tower to the town for maintenance. The Selectmen refused at that time, citing costs and liability reasons as to why they shouldn't accept it.
Fast forward to the year 2000, when the federal government enacted the National Lighthouse Preservation Act, which put non-profit organizations on an equal footing with municipalities. Several lighthouses were outsourced at that time, since the Coast Guard was getting out of the lighthouse preservation business. Pemaquid Point was not on the list, but since Bristol had earlier refused to maintain and open the light, the American Lighthouse Foundation was approached, and accepted the long term lease from the Coast Guard. The tower, sadly in need of a paint job, was painted by volunteers from New England Lighthouse Lovers, an ALF chapter.
Then came September 11, 2001. The Coast Guard was put in charge of Homeland Security as their priority, and in the switch over, records pertaining to Pemaquid Point Lighthouse and Bristol's refusal of same were lost or misplaced. The Coast Guard has never been the best record keepers at times, but this loss would prove to be the basis of the controversy. In early 2003, initial meetings with interested citizens were held to form a local chapter for Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. This group, calling themselves the Friends of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, set to work in May to clean up the ground floor of the tower, fix it up in preparation for opening it to allow visitors to climb the tower. On Memorial Day weekend, the lines waiting to climb wound all around the park. At first, the tower was only guaranteed to be open Wednesday afternoon, but as more volunteers signed up the days were extended. Eventually the tower would be open from Mother's Day to Columbus Day from 9 am to 5 pm, seven days a week. No money was charged to climb the tower, but donations were encouraged. The town of Bristol charges a $2 per person park entry fee, and encourages donations in the Fisherman's Museum, so this was felt to be the best way to raise money.
ALF and FPPL met with the Bristol selectmen and town manager, and went away with promises to work together for the good of the tower and park. A spirit of cooperation was in the air. When the quarter was released in June, 2003, the ceremonies were held at the lighthouse, and served to provide the publicity that the tower was open for climbing.
Enter John Allen, the head of the Fisherman's Museum. From the beginning, Allen resented the money the FPPL was "taking" from the Museum. The accusations started. First, the FPPL was accused by him of "selling" things at the lighthouse. This was because the organization had bought thousands of the quarters and were selling them as a fundraiser.
At one point, the ALF met again with the selectmen and park board and extended an offer to fund and build a replica of the original fog bell mechanism. This was refused because the "town didn't want anyone controlling the bell tower." Of course, it wasn't an attempt to take control, but to work in the spirit of cooperation that had supposedly been offered at that initial meeting. This type of non-cooperation on until November 2005, when matters were brought to a head at a presentation ALF gave at the school about their and FPPL's work by accusing the ALF of underhandedly stealing the lighthouse away from Bristol. Both in person and in a subsequent letter to the editor in the local newspaper.
Well, that set off a storm of controversy, especially when Allen claimed the lighthouse belongs to Bristol and should not be run by people "from away." Just to clarify, "from away" in Maine means anyone not a Maine native. The American Lighthouse Foundation was born in Maine, and is still in Maine and has no plans to leave Maine. Hardly from away. And it has been the position of ALF, the National Park Service (the owners of the lighthouse), and the FPPL that the lighthouse, like all of them, belongs to everyone, not just Bristol. And of course, all the transfers of ownership have made access to the lighthouse by the public a requirement for any entity taking over the deed.
But the town saw money to be made. After all, visitors have come from every corner of the planet to climb, over 50,000 per year, and the dollar signs started spinning in their heads, as in, "What's an extra two dollars to climb the tower? We can get that money instead."
One of John Allen's better statements in a letter to the editor came when he claimed that because Bristol doesn't own the tower, no one will ever be able to use that image of the lighthouse again because "ALF has it copyrighted." Hmmm, tell that to the US Mint. If that's the case, they owe mucho bucks to the ALF.
And then came Town Meeting 2007, when the town voted to spend $10,000 to find a lawyer to break this sneaky and underhanded lease and return the tower to Bristol. Of course, by now, no one can find the original refusal, and the town can't find it either. And no one remembers being offered it in the past. A Lighthouse Committee was then started to seek out ways to break this lease. This false pride of ownership is strongly reminiscent of what happened at Currituck Beach Lighthouse. See

And now the voters have spoken. The town will graciously accept thelighthouse when the US Coast Guard offers it to them. Well, that's not how it works, people. The lighthouse has to be formally excessed, which the National Park Service will then add to their notice of availability list. For a period of time, applications will be accepted. The Park Serivce will then review the applications, and grade them accordingly. At that time, the possible applicants will be asked to submit further documentation. In anywhere from six months to a year, or even longer, the decision will be made. And I strongly suspect the American Lighthouse Foundation will come out ahead. A major renovation was undertaken by ALF on the tower this past summer, and the Town of Bristol contributed not one thin dime. Nor have they ever contributed any monies. In fact, they didn't think the lighthouse needed anything at all as far as maintenance.

What do you think? Should the Town of Bristol "own" this tower, like they think they should, or does this historic and beautiful lighthouse belong to all of America?

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Battle of Point Judith

The northern Atlantic was a dangerous place to be during WWII. Allied merchant ships were at the mercy of German U-boat submarines and many ships and merchant seamen were lost to the roving U-boat attacks. For most of the war years, merchant vessels were forced to travel in convoys, with U. S. warships deployed as escorts in order to abort attacks.
As with any war, technological advances progressed with great speed due to necessity. WWII was no exception. The emergence of such scientific tools as RADAR, SONAR, and LORAN, a very early form of global positioning, as well as other communication advances, made great strides in helping Allied warships detect and destroy large numbers of German U-boats, making the waters around the North American coast a much safer place for merchant ships to travel.
As the war progressed and technological advances emerged, U-boat attacks within the waters between Long Island Sound and the Gulf of Maine became so scarce, a complacency emerged among many of the merchant marine's vessels. This complacency was further enhanced on May 4, 1945 when Admiral Dönitz, the successor to Adolph Hitler who committed suicide on April 30, declared a cease-fire. The order was sent out to all of the German armies, air force, and naval fleet. A number of the remaining U-boats, however, were submerged at the time of the communication, and were unable to hear the news of the German surrender. Such was the case of U-853.
One week before Hitler's suicide, U-853 was patrolling near the Gulf of Maine when it discovered a lone vessel, the PE-56. A member of a class of patrol craft known as Eagle Boats, the PE-56 was slow and no match for the modern U-boat. 62 men were on board the PE-56 that day. Only 13 survived the U-boat attack.
Upon a court of inquiry, the reason for the sinking was determined to be a boiler explosion, not a submarine attack. The highly secret U-Boat Tracking Room at Eastern Sea Frontier headquarters knew better, but was unable to give testimony at the court of inquiry for fear that the highly classified program would be discovered by the Germans.
Following the attack on PE-56, U-853 headed south along the New England coast, biding its time in search of another easy target. It was during this time, submerged while eluding detection from patrolling U. S. warships, that the unheard cease-fire order was issued.
On the morning of May 5, 1945, the merchant collier SS Black Point was sailing northwest off of Block Island, RI, en route to Boston. Cargo was 7000 tons of coal to be delivered to the Edison Power Plant in South Boston, MA. These waters had been void of U-boat attacks for quite some time, and the captain and crew of the Black Point had no reason to think that this trip would be any more dangerous than countless others they had made previously in this region. In fact, the captain was so confident of the ship's safe passage, that the U-boat lookouts weren't even posted.
At about 5:40 PM, the Black Point was approximately three miles south of the Point Judith lighthouse, and could be seen quite clearly by the lighthouse's lookout. As the lookout was entering the sighting within the lighthouse's logbook, he heard a large explosion. It was at that moment that the Black Point's stern was blown off by a torpedo fired by the U-853.
It took approximately 15 minutes for the Black Point, or what was left of her, to roll on its side and sink completely. Twelve of the Forty-one merchant seamen aboard the ship were killed. Lonnie Whitson Lloyd, a member of the Black Point's crew, was the last American sailor to die in WWII's Atlantic campaign.
Word of the Black Point's sinking spread rapidly. Not far away, the Yugoslavian freighter Kamen witnessed the explosion, and within two minutes a radio message was transported from the Kamen. Risking attack from the submarine, the Kamen immediately changed course and sped to the rescue of the surviving Black Point sailors.
Almost immediately after the explosion, a message was transmitted from the Point Judith Light Station to the 1st Naval District headquarters in Boston, which immediately passed the message on to Eastern Sea Frontier headquarters in New York City. The remnants of an anti-submarine task group, TG 60.7, had left New York at noon that day, headed to the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston for a complete overhaul. The remaining force consisted of destroyer Ericcson, destroyer-escorts Amick and Atherton, and the patrol frigate Moberly. All were diverted to the scene of the attack. Far to the southwest at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey, two Navy blimps, K-16 and K-58, were ordered to move immediately toward the site of the Black Point sinking and join in the hunt. They were not to arrive at the scene until approximately 5:40 the next morning.
After patrolling the area and searching for the sub, it was determined that the U-853 had most probably headed south toward a steep shoal known as East Ground, which was approximately 12 miles south of Point Judith and 9 miles from the Black Point's sinking. It was here that many U-boats in the past had gone to in order to avoid detection from American sonar.
Just after 8:00PM, only 2 1/2 hours after the Black Point sinking, the sub was located by the Atherton's sonar operator. At 8:30PM, the captain of the Atherton ordered his crew to commence firing upon the sub. Thirteen magnetic depth charges were dropped into the sea. One explosion was detected, complete with air bubble and an oil slick. It was uncertain if the explosion was caused by a hit on the U-853, or had merely hit a wreck on the bottom of the ocean floor. The Atherton conducted two more attacks within the next three hours, and more explosions and oil and air bubbles were observed, along with some life jackets and pieces of wood and other debris.
Just after midnight on the 6th of May, the Atherton let loose one more barrage of depth charges, resulting in more explosions and debris. At just after 1:00AM, the captain of the Atherton radioed headquarters with confirmation of the kill. The reply from headquarters ordered him to continue the attack.
Perhaps no other warship ever took such a beating as U-853 got that day. The Atherton dropped another barrage of depth charges upon the U-boat, then the Moberly took a turn. Each barrage resulted in more explosions and debris, oil and air bubbles. For good measure, the Moberly dropped one more round of depth charges upon the dead sub.
At 5:30 AM, though no movement was detected, the Moberly delivered one more round of depth charges upon the U-boat's hull. Shortly thereafter, one of the blimps arrived from New Jersey. In order to mark the area, the blimp dropped dye markers and a smoke float. It also informed the warships that no movement was detected.
The Atherton moved in and picked up debris from the scene. Among the items collected were, "German escape lungs and life jackets, several life rafts, abandon-ship kits, and an officer's cap which was later judged to belong to the submarine's skipper."
Undeterred by the evidence, the attack continued. The Ericsson delivered another depth charge attack, followed by rocket bombs which were dropped by the two blimps.
At 6:40AM, the Atherton launched first one, then another attack, followed by yet another depth-charge attack by the Moberly. After a short respite, the Moberly dropped one more barrage upon the sub, followed by another by the Atherton.
At 7:45AM, the Atherton lowered a whaleboat in order to collect more of the debris floating to the surface. It was while lowering the whaleboat that the sole American casualty in the Battle of Point Judith occurred. TM3c Robert A. Griep fractured his left arm and was treated by the ship's medical officer.
At 8:00AM, the task group commander, Cdr. Francis C.B. McCune, radioed Eastern Sea Frontier headquarters that he believed that due to the nature and mass of the recovered debris, the U-boat was destroyed. Not receiving any orders from headquarters to cease and desist, McCune ordered the attack to continue.
The morning which ensued consisted of the warships dropping depth charge barrages, then picking up the scattered debris each round produced. Alternating turns, each ship ship was able to keep its crew in high form while waiting for orders from headquarters to stop the attacks.
Finally, at 12:25PM, the ships received a radio message from Eastern Sea Frontier headquarters to cease the bombing. A marker buoy was placed at a point bearing approximately 099° True, 14,000 yards east of Sandy Point Light on Block Island. The three ships which remained at the scene, the Atherton, the Ericcson, and the Mobley then departed the scene and headed to Boston, reverting back to their earlier mission. The blimps were also redeployed.
The Penguin, a submarine rescue vessel, arrived shortly thereafter to the marked area. Divers from the Penguin determined that the U-583 was indeed lying at the bottom of the ocean, and showed no signs of life. It was also determined that of the 465 depth charges, hedgehog projectiles, and rocket bombs which were launched at the sub, only two were direct hits.
The U-853 remains at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and is a popular site for divers. The crew, with one exception, remains on the boat. The body of one of the German sailors was found floating near the Rhode Island coast and was buried at the Rhode Island Cemetery Annex. On the third Sunday of November 2001, the traditional day upon which German military dead are honored, several German and American naval personnel gathered at the grave site to pay respects to the unknown sailor.
The Battle of Point Judith was the final incident of WWII in the Atlantic. In retrospect, it is a shame that so many lives were lost, including their own, due to the sole fact that a cease-fire radio message was unheard by the crew of the U-853.
*Most of the info for this article was obtained from "The Battle of Point Judith" by Ralph DiCarpio, which appears on the website DE History and Stories.

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Martha's Vineyard Lighthouse Challenge

We have recently learned that the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce will be sponsoring the island's very first Lighthouse Challenge on the weekend of June 13, 14, and 15, 2008.
As of this writing, four of the five Martha's Vineyard Lighthouses would be involved in this event, and the Chamber is very hopeful of being able to add the one remaining holdout to the loop. Already committed to the Challenge are Edgartown Light, Cape Pogue Light, Gay Head (Acquinnah) Light, and East Chop Light. West Chop Light, which remains owned by the U. S. Coast Guard and serves as quarters for Coast Guard personnel, remains the only holdout due to security reasons. The Chamber is working with the Coast Guard at this time in attempting to work out some sort of agreement which would satisfy both parties and add West Chop to the Lighthouse Challenge.
Unlike Lighthouse Challenges which are conducted in other parts of the country, the MV Challenge will not be selling tickets at each individual lighthouse.
A reception is planned on Friday evening (June 13) at the Martha's Vineyard Museum in Edgartown to welcome participants, collect fees, and hand out passbooks. The lighthouses will be open on Saturday for the participants, and an awards ceremony is being planned for Sunday morning at the Museum.
The Chamber is still workong on the logistics, such as cost to participate, exact times, lodging, and transportation information. Questions can be directed to Susan Gibbs at the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce at 508/693-4486 ext. 10.
The following links have been provided for more information.
Edgartown Lighthouse:

East Chop Lighthouse:

Cape Pogue Lighthouse:

Martha's Vineyard Museum:

Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce:

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