Digest>Archives> October 2008

West Quoddy's Last Light Keeper

Ronald Pesha

By Ronald Pesha


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The automation ceremony of West Quoddy Head ...

“I knew when I was assigned that the easternmost lighthouse in America was slated for automation,” said Malcolm “Mac” Rouse, U.S.C.G. (retired). “But I thought it would be 1989 or 1990, not 1988!”

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Mac Rouse in the lantern room at West Quoddy Head ...

A native of far northern Washburn, Maine, Rouse faced a nine-month waiting list for the Coast Guard. So he signed up for a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force. After the Air Force, six months of civilian life followed until he entered the Coast Guard at Rochester, New York in 1974. Following boot camp, he served a year on the 65-foot Coast Guard cutter Bridle out of Southwest Harbor, Maine. Then came service on the 133-foot Coast Guard buoy tender White Lupine out of Rockland, Maine, visiting every lighthouse from Marshall Point to West Quoddy.

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On board the Snohomish, March 1986. Back to ...

As a Second Class Petty officer, Rouse worked in the Boston Marine Safety Office but found Boston and the lengthy commutes vexing. “Too much traffic for someone from rural Maine,” he said. He was then promoted to First Class Petty Officer, and a three year assignment with Search & Rescue out of Rockland on the Snohomish suited Mac and his family much better.

As the new West Quoddy Lighthouse Officer in Charge in 1986, Rouse relieved BMC Thomas Williams who had been the interim keeper. “Tom died a few years later and was buried at Bass Harbor Head Light. He's the only Coast Guardsman interred at a lighthouse as far as I know. His headstone is near the keeper's house.”

Life and work at a lighthouse is not all routine or official. “We had two weddings at West Quoddy while I was there,” said Mac. “I watched, foghorn a-blowing, as they got married.”

With automation imminent, “a lot of people in Lubec, Maine, must be thanked for trying to keep a person on duty.” But, like time, automation marches on. Even NBC Television covered the switch on June 30, 1988.

Mac's next assignment was Officer in Charge at Owl's Head Light outside Rockland, Maine. “Owl's Head was also popular for weddings,” said Mac. He continued with, “But the lighthouse has a long one-way driveway. All the people in tuxedos and gowns wanted to know if they could go to the light for a marriage ceremony. 'If you don't mind getting those dresses dirty, go ahead,' I'd call out. They went up there and got married at the light, while the rest of the party stayed outside.”

“It was at Owl's Head that we experienced our first visit from the Flying Santa of the Lighthouses,” said Rouse, referring to a tradition begun in 1929 with holiday gift packages being dropped by airplane at isolated lighthouses. “However, by then they were using a helicopter and they couldn't land at the lighthouse itself. So I drove that long causeway to the State Park lot with my son William to receive the Christmas package. It meant a lot to us.”

Later Rouse also assisted at Fort Point Light at Stockton Springs, Maine. “I threw the switch to automate it,” he recalled.

West Quoddy witnessed two accidents while Mac Rouse was in charge. “A Coast Guard helicopter radioed a Mayday because of an electrical fire,” said Mac. He went on to say, “I advised them to land at the old Coast Guard Station nearby. Then I drove to the station with my sons Jason and William. The flight engineer had quickly repaired the problem but they gave the boys a tour of the helicopter.”

“Another time I saw a Canadian helicopter weaving back and forth until it landed alongside the West Quoddy tower. The blades were three feet from house. The crew had to stay there overnight and the next day the Coast Guard brought in parts.”

When asked for his most curious West Quoddy Lighthouse story, Rouse said that during the summer of 1970, a couple from Boston researching Paul Revere bells arrived with an old receipt of such an instrument crated and shipped to West Quoddy, but they had no further documentation. One theory suggests it sunk in the mud. “There are places around the lighthouse where anything heavy sinks slowly,” said Mac.

One night, looking out a window, a car came to an abrupt stop on the lawn. A woman from Campobello Island wanted to drive around the lighthouse but got hung up on a ledge. Mac reached in, took the keys, noted the nametag, and called local police. But the lady started the car with another set of keys and left, leaving her exhaust system behind.

Mac said, “I notified Canadian Customs, but she had just gone through. Three days later she again came across the bridge into the U.S. and was stopped. 'Someone wants to see you about a $300 fine,' said the customs officer. It was the only time the First District Coast Guard's legal department ever fined someone for trespassing at a lighthouse.”

Mac retired from the Coast Guard in July of 1990. He returned to Lubec in 1992 where his wife had a teaching position nearby until her early death. With son Willie having friends at the Lubec school, they did not want to move, until he graduated in 1998.

During those last years in Lubec, Mac served as the second President of the West Quoddy Head Light Keepers Association, the local non-profit that was then planning a Visitor Center at his old lighthouse from where he had departed in 1988. Mac also served as President of the Lubec Historical Society.

In real estate business for a while, Mac Rouse now enjoys retirement with his wife Susan whom he married in 2003.

This story appeared in the October 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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