Digest>Archives> November 2002

Bicentennial Beacon Beams Brightly on Birthday

By Jeremy D'Entremont


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Fred Farnsworth, Chair of Faulkner’s Light ...

As brilliant fireworks illuminated the night sky over Jacob’s Beach in Guilford, Connecticut, and the sonorous notes of an old foghorn pierced the darkness, one could almost imagine the 200-year-old Faulkner’s Island Lighthouse taking a bow about three miles offshore. Long Island Sound’s beloved “Grand Dame” was saluted in grand style by her benefactors, the Faulkner’s Light Brigade, on the weekend of September 7 and 8, 2002.

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Among the distinctive features of Faulkner’s ...

The octagonal brownstone tower has been rescued from the brink of oblivion in recent years. The lighthouse, overlooking the edge of a cliff on the small island with its light 94 feet above sea level, was restored in 1999. And in recent years a huge erosion control project, made possible by a Congressional appropriation, has halted the steady march of the bluff’s edge toward the base of the tower.

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Captain Joseph J. Coccia, Commander of U.S. Coast ...

The 200th birthday celebration took place on Saturday evening, while the island was opened to visitors on both Saturday and Sunday. During the two-day open house, a total of 925 people toured the inside of the tower, guided by members of the Coast Guard’s Aids to Navigation Team from Group Long Island Sound. Petty Officer Pete Jennings said, “It’s nice to be present. We all volunteered. People get to ask us questions and see what we do.”

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Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro addresses the crowd at ...

The open house drew many private boaters along with a number of VIP guests, mostly former Coast Guard keepers and descendants of Coast Guard and civilian keepers. The oldest of the former keepers present was William Parker, who came all the way from California for the event. Parker was stationed on the island as a young Coast Guardsman in 1945-46, immediately following a stint on a patrol boat during World War II.

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Mark Robinson, far right, Faulkner’s last Coast ...

Parker said he was saddened to see the tower standing without the keeper’s dwelling, which was accidentally destroyed by fire in 1976. “It’s a shame the house isn’t still standing,” he commented. “But it would be expensive to maintain.” Parker says he saw the northern lights while he was stationed on Faulkner’s Island - something he hasn’t seen since. He has maintained an interest in lighthouses and visits them whenever he can when he’s on vacation.

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Joel Helander, founder of the Faulkner’s Light ...

Among the Saturday visitors to the island were Mark Robinson, Faulkner’s last Coast Guard officer in charge, and engineering officer John Von Ogden, another member of the last crew. Both men helped with the investigation that followed the 1976 fire. The station was automated and destaffed immediately following the fire. Robinson and Von Ogden, who have remained good friends, recall a storm when they witnessed about two feet of the bluff fall away at one time.

Bob Baranski, who served with the Coast Guard on Faulkner’s Island 1957-1958, remembers that when he was stationed at Faulkner’s, he had just met his wife-to-be and wasn’t so happy to be stuck out on an island for three weeks at a time. “We had a bad winter with lots of ice,” he recalls. Baranski attended the Saturday evening celebration with several family members.

Another ex-Coast Guard keeper at the events was Steve Martin, who was on the island from 1966 to 1970. He remembers reroofing the boathouse during his stay. Asked about his reaction to the celebration and seeing the island after so many years, Martin commented, “It’s tremendous, but kind of a shock” to see the lighthouse without the keeper’s house.

While stationed at Faulkner’s, Steve Martin once gave a tour to a local high school student named Joel Helander. Helander has been devoted to preserving the lighthouse and its history ever since. He published a book, The Island Called Faulkner’s, in 1988. And most importantly, he founded the Faulkner’s Light Brigade, a commission of the Guilford Preservation Alliance, in 1991. The Brigade has been the salvation of the proud old tower.

Fred Farnsworth, chair of the Faulkner’s Light Brigade, served as the master of ceremonies for the Saturday evening celebration. “This is more than a commemoration of Faulkner’s Light,” he said. “This is also a celebration of a successful campaign of preservation... The campaign still isn’t over. It was a long slog for 11 years!” Ginny Baltay, co-chair of the Bicentennial Committee, added, “Behind us was a multitude of individuals... a cast of enthusiastic and diligent volunteers.”

U.S. Coast Guard Captain Joe Coccia, Commander of Group Long Island Sound, addressed the crowd. He stressed the Coast Guard’s ongoing commitment to lighthouses and other aids to navigation. “ATON is one of those fundamental responsibilities that we will always be there for,” he said. “These are tangible, identifiable examples of our heritage and history. I have a special place in my heart for lighthouses because I live in one - Stratford Point Light.” He concluded his remarks by saying, “The citizens of the United States are the ones that keep our heritage alive, and you are to be commended for your dedication and patriotism.”

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, called “our angel” by Farnsworth, said in her remarks that her involvement with the lighthouse was a “labor of love.” The lighthouse, she said, “has been a beacon in so many ways - it has become an enduring symbol of our proud maritime heritage.”

Joel Helander delivered the keynote address in eloquent fashion. “Night and day, in calm or tempestuous seas, in warm sunshine, swirling blizzards, or howling Nor-easters,” he said, “Faulkner’s Light has created a sanctuary of security and trust. It is a monument to the American nautical soul.” After recounting much of the station’s history, Helander concluded, “The Grand Dame of Long Island Sound is still the mariner’s salvation. She is the story of survival and continuity. She remains preserved as a beacon of joy and security, an American symbol of hope and reliability.” Helander dedicated the event to the ex-keepers who were present, and six of them took the stage to thunderous applause.

Darkness descended and the fireworks began. At the same time, a huge air-operated foghorn removed many years ago from Faulkner’s Island was sounded over and over again from a truck in the parking lot. The rich, satisfying sound was a fitting note to close on.

For more information, contact Faulkner’s Light Brigade , P.O. Box 199 , Guilford, Connecticut 06437. 203-453-8400. Website: www.lighthouse.cc/FLB/

If you visit Guilford, be sure to visit the exhibit “Bicentennial Beacon: Faulkner’s Island Lighthouse, 1802-2002” at the Henry Whitfield State Museum. The museum, home to the oldest house in Connecticut, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The exhibit will continue through December 14, 2003.

This story appeared in the November 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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