Digest>Archives> April 2002

The Day 'Two Lights' Went Black

By Nikk Salata


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It was 137 years ago this month, in April of the year 1865 that sailors approaching the entrance to Portland Harbor from the south viewed a somber sight at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.. It would be a sight that would cause one to pause and wonder what event happened to have the West Tower draped in black. Their curiosity would be answered when they heard the news upon reaching the docks in the inner harbor, for the schooners and clippers had been at sea for many days and weeks. The President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was dead and a nation was in mourning.

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The news of the President’s death traveled as fast as could be realized in the 1860s’. Mention of the assassination was written in the “comments” section of the keeper’s log and entered on April 14, 1865 as: “Abraham Lincoln Prest. U.S. assassinated by John Wilkes Boothe—at Ford’s Theater.” Signed: James Mariner, Light Keeper.

The task of draping the West Tower with wide strips of black crepe was given to Amelia Dyer Staples, that is to say Assistant Keeper Amelia Dyer Staples, the 20-year-old daughter of Assistant Keeper Michael Staples. Amelia Staples, along with her younger brother Charles, were appointed assistant keepers in 1861 due to a shortage of qualified personnel. Many men from the area, including her older brother Assistant Keeper Asbury Staples, enlisted in the 2nd Maine Light Artillery to serve the Union in the Civil War.

Amelia became an assistant keeper at the age of 16. She and her brother worked as a team and were given the responsibilities of winding the works and cleaning the giant lens in the West Tower. She would often study her school lessons at night up in the tower under the bright light next to the lens.

In late April, the government sent a large quantity of black bunting to hang on the light tower. This had to be hoisted 65 feet or so to the railing and secured, with the process repeating itself several times around the perimeter of the tower. Her brother Charles helped her hang the black material in folds from the railing to the ground. This was visible for miles with the contrasting black cloth against the background of the bright white tower. And just as strong and vivid as this was, so too was her memory when in 1932 at the age of 87 she recalled the details of the event in an interview.

This story appeared in the April 2002 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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