Digest>Archives> August 2008

Happy 100th Birthday to Shirley Morong

By Timothy Harrison


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Clifton and Shirley Morong at Cape Elizabeth "Two ...

Shirley E. Morong, widow of lighthouse keeper Clifton Morong, will be celebrating her 100th birthday on August 14, 2008.

Coming from a family with a rich maritime history of lighthouse service dating back to the 1800s with the U.S. Lighthouse Service and the U.S. Coast Guard, Shirley has been instrumental in helping to preserve a large portion of lighthouse history for future generations. Over the years she has recorded many of her memories of lighthouse and Coast Guard life, and over the years many of her stories appeared in Maine newspapers and publications such as Maine Coast Fisherman.

Since we started the magazine in 1992, Shirley has written a number of stories for Lighthouse Digest as well as provided us with numerous historic photographs. Shirley’s most recent story, Memories of Maine’s Perkin’s Island Lighthouse, appeared in the June 2008 issue of Lighthouse Digest. Some of her photographs and memories were shared with this writer and recounted in the book, Portland Head Light, A Pictorial Journey Through Time, which is available from Lighthouse Digest.

Shirley’s son, Robert, also followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Coast Guard and even served at two stations where his father had been a lighthouse keeper.

Shirley was also instrumental in researching the history of Hopley Yeaton, the Father of the Coast Guard, and in locating his nearly forgotten gravesite in Lubec, Maine, so that it could eventually be moved to the Coast Guard Academy where a memorial to him was erected.

As a point of interest, it was ancestor Frederic W. Morong Jr., at that time a District Machinist with U.S. Lighthouse Service, while sitting at the kitchen table of Maine’s Little River Lighthouse, who wrote the famous lighthouse poem, “It’s Brasswork.”

Shirley has given us many of her written memories and they all will be eventually shared with our readers through the pages of Lighthouse Digest.

One such account that Shirley wrote was dated August, 1962 — Recently our son, Bob, told us that the lighthouse tower at Fort Popham, (Maine) was burned down by the Coast Guard. By then it had been nothing but a shell — and a pretty shaky one — since the time several years ago that the light and bell were installed on top of the old fort just above it. The wooden bridge leading out to the light had been badly damaged by the seas during a storm at high tide. A couple of years ago the tower was struck by lightning that ripped off a line of clapboards.

As I think of the night so long ago when I stood in that tower and listened to the waves washing over the rocks below and to the bell as it tolled its warning of swift tides and dangerous ledges, as I felt the vibration of the building when the powerful hammer struck cold metal, and I saw the green glow of the light penetrating through the fog just outside the windows, a feeling of sadness came over me, for now Fort Popham Lighthouse is no more. As it caused the death of one of its keepers, Alonzo Morong, so it too has now passed into oblivion, a victim of automation.

You don’t need to know Shirley to send her a birthday card. You can simply sign your name and say you are a friend of lighthouses or just thank her for sharing her memories and helping to save so much lighthouse history with us, for all of our future generations.

Birthday cards can be sent to:

Shirley Morong

c/o Gerald Morong

76 Prospect Hill Road,

St. Albans, VT 05478.

This story appeared in the August 2008 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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