An Island Child’s View of the Lights at Matinicus Rock

An Island Child’s View of the Lights at Matinicus Rock
Matinicus Rock

Maine's Matinicus Rock Light Station is a place that stirs the imagination (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

By reading your share of lighthouse books and articles, you will acquaint yourself with some of the most romantic and poetic descriptions of the lights and the keepers who tended them.

We cherish those eloquent lines or verses that can whisk our imaginations away on the ebb tides of yesterday – taking us back to a time when lighthouses presided proudly over a different time and place.

For all the moving prose recorded about lighthouses by adults, one cannot capture the simplistic essence of a lighthouse quite like a child.

Criehaven Harbor

Criehaven Harbor has been home to a small group of fishermen for well over a century (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

Playful and imaginative, a child’s view of a lighthouse is always something that speaks to our hearts. The fact that a child is often unaware of the light’s historical past or how its equipment operates is a charm that is so endearing.

To a child, a lighthouse is all about how it stirs their imagination and captures their fancy.

One of the most imaginative and heartwarming descriptions of a lighthouse by a child that I have come upon was made by author Dorothy Simpson in the early 1900s. During this time, young Dorothy was living in Criehaven Harbor on Maine’s Ragged Island, which is located some 20-plus miles out to sea from Rockland.

Criehaven Harbor

Criehaven Harbor was home to Dorothy Simpson as a child and a place from which she could look out over the water at the lights of Matinicus Rock (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

Criehaven is a snug harbor that has traditionally been used by fishermen and the occasional recreational boat.

Here there is a little village of homes and wharves nestled closely together on the east and southwest sides of the harbor. The conservative gray and brown hues of the houses suggest that the islanders are less about show and more about the workmanlike substance that governs their isolated lives.

A blend of rocky ledge, sun-bleached boulders and pebble-stone beaches mark the line where land ends and the sea begins along the shores of Criehaven – a line that moves ten feet back and forth daily on the whims of the tide.

Matinicus Rock Light Station

A vintage view of Matinicus Rock Light Station (USCG Photo)

It was on this magical island where one little girl allowed her admiration for the twin lights at Matinicus Rock – and the imagery that it stoked in her young mind, to eventually be preserved in a book about her beloved island home.

The Island’s True Child, a memoir of growing up on Criehaven, by Dorothy Simpson, contains one of the most fascinating descriptions of a lighthouse by a young child, especially for someone who was not part of a family whose job was to tend the lights.

Matinicus Rock

A distant view of Matinicus Rock and its twin towers...a view that helped stoke the imagination of a young Dorothy Simpson (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

According to Ms. Simpson, “Matinicus Rock Light was always a romantic sight. It was a turreted castle – a castle with a moat, a castle with battlements. When it was stormy, the tiny rocky island with its towers was a giant battleship, always sailing proudly into the east or west. (It all depended on the wind). And although she always stood still, in our imaginations she was constantly moving, plowing the raging sea, tossing the foam high into the air.”

Ms. Simpson went on to recall, “Matinicus Rock stood three miles away from us, with a foghorn that talked to us in thick weather and two lights
that glowed like mysterious and

Matinicus Rock

A view of the decommissioned tower on Matinicus Rock (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

watchful eyes at night. Years later, the twin lights were changed to a single one that revolved. By that time, we’d had the chance to go and see the place for ourselves. We saw the houses and engine house and boathouse and towers, and learned how they stood close to one another and so formed in the distance the illusion of a castle or a super-dreadnought.”

“Even today; Matinicus Rock rides arrogantly against the horizon for me, and I see it still as something mysterious and majestic and unchangeable. So will it always be for island children.”

For me, Dorothy Simpson’s description of a light station like Matinicus Rock from a child’s point of view is timeless.

Maine’s heroine Abbie Burgess became a legend at this near-mythical island light station and the annals of history record some of the most horrific storms ever endured by keepers and their families at this place, but from the perspective of a child’s viewpoint a few miles away, Matinicus Rock was a special place where the playful dreams of child could roam free without restraint.

Matinicus Rock Light Station

A present day view of Matinicus Rock Light Station, located 25 miles off the coast of Rockland, Maine (Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.)

May we always have room in our hearts for this type of innocent and charming perspective of lighthouses!