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Lost His Leg at Mt. Desert Rock Lighthouse

By Timothy Harrison


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This is the only known photo that includes Rufus ...

Not much is known about the actual day-to-day life of Rufus King who became a lighthouse keeper at Maine’s remote Mt. Desert Rock Lighthouse in 1853. But we do know that at one time he must have suffered greatly. Rufus King, who was born on April 2, 1917 in Tremont, Maine, married Margaret Ward who was the daughter of Margaret and Benjamin Ward, Jr. who had previously been a lighthouse keeper at Mt. Desert Rock Lighthouse from 1840 to 1848. In later years Rufus King was apparently married two other times. His third marriage was to Lucy Newman, daughter of Samuel Newman, who built the home that John and Becky Burnham, who shared this photo of Rufus King with us, now live in.

Rufus King’s lighthouse career only last six years. In 1859 while stationed at the lighthouse, 26 miles out to sea from the nearest port, Rufus King developed some type of infection in his leg. It is most likely that bad weather or rough seas prevented the other lighthouse keepers from getting him to the mainland for medical help, which probably would have only been minimal, especially in that part of Maine in those days.

Apparently the other lighthouse keepers stationed with him at Mt. Desert were forced to amputate his leg to save his life. Without proper anesthesia the pain must have been excruciating. But, it ended Rufus King’s career as a lighthouse keeper.

Rufus King died on October 27, 1895 and he was originally buried behind the yard of the old Manset Union Church but was eventually moved to the Mt. Height Cemetery in Southwest Harbor, Maine. On September 28, 2016 a U.S. Lighthouse Service Lighthouse Keeper Memorial Marker was placed at his tombstone at a Lighthouse Digest sponsored ceremony when 15 other lighthouse keepers were also honored with markers at the same cemetery.

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2017 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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