Women Lighthouse Keepers

August 22nd, 2012

women lighthouse keepersEver wonder what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper? To be responsible for ships making it safely into treacherous harbors? Lighthouses and their keepers have always inspired romantic notions of masculinity and heroism but the work itself was tiring, unpredictable, and extremely demanding. Lighthouse keepers had to be vigilant at all hours of the night to make sure the lights stayed lit for boats traveling in all kinds of weather.

The first lighthouse in Maryland was built in 1822 and the last one was constructed in 1910. At one point there were 44 lighthouses on the Maryland shores of the Chesapeake Bay. During the years from 1792 until the 1930s, lighthouses throughout the country saw a dramatic surge in their necessity and an almost as rapid decline in their use as lighthouses became automated, replaced by beacons, fell into disrepair, and ships began to employ more sophisticated methods of navigation.

Most lighthouses today serve as museums and tourist attractions and we have a couple of very popular ones here in the immediate area. Concord Point, located in Havre de Grace (also the second oldest tower lighthouse on the Bay) and Turkey Point in Elk Neck (which had more female lighthouse keepers than any other lighthouse on the Bay) are both popular parts of our local history. Did you know that the first lighthouse keeper for Concord Point was a hero from the War of 1812? Or that hundreds of women have been lighthouse keepers throughout history? Women are often overlooked throughout history for their roles in traditionally male jobs, but many women continued on as lighthouse keepers when their husbands or fathers died and did the job just as well, if not better.

Please join us at the Perryville Branch Library on Thursday, August 30, at 7pm as historian Mary Rasa presents a program tracing the fascinating history of women lighthouse keepers, what kind of duties their job entailed, their tales of isolation and hardship in extreme weather conditions, including Cecil County’s own famous Turkey Point Lighthouse keeper, Fanny Salter.

For more information, we have several exciting books about lighthouses in the area available for checkout at the library including: Lighthouses of the Mid-Atlantic Coast by Elinor DeWire and Lighthouses of Maryland and Virginia: History, Mystery, Legends, & Lore by Bob Trapani, Jr.

What’s your favorite lighthouse?

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My Musical Journey

August 9th, 2012

Slaves Music Painting

First of all, I’m not musical.  At all.   I think there is an old axiom–that which we cannot have is what we want most.  So even though I don’t possess any musical talent, I tortured my parents with the clarinet and piano in hopes of overcoming my lack of talent.  No such luck.  However, I love music and appreciate the incredibly rich heritage of American music.

From earliest childhood I remember my grandfather singing songs from the Chippewa Indians of northern Minnesota and a funny song brought over by Swedish immigrants about porcupines up in trees.   Evenings, at our lake cabin, we listened to songs of the Voyageurs, the early French fur traders who canoed hundreds of miles across Lake Superior and sang to the beat of their canoe paddles.

In sixth grade chorus we sang the sad and mournful “Streets of Laredo”:
As I walked out on the streets of Laredo,
As I walked out in Laredo one day,
I spied a young cowboy all wrapped in white linen,
Wrapped in white linen as cold as the clay.

And who among us has not sung “Home on the Range” or “Darlin’ Clementine”?  They are classic cowboy tunes and part of America’s musical journey westward. Like the sea chanteys of sailors and the field songs of slaves, the songs of my childhood tell the story of American journeys.

College introduced me to folk music.  Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and many more sang about the hardships of the depression, the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War, including Bob Dylan’s poignant “Blowin’ in the Wind,”
Yes, how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

It was not until my move to Cecil County many years later that I was introduced to the incredible Ola Belle Reed, her roots in the music of Appalachia and the great migration from the south to the north that occurred in the 20th century.  My musical journey is not complete.  I will never be a musician but I will always be a lover of great music!

There are many musical journeys that trace the history of our country.  I have only mentioned a few.  Join us for The Musical Stories of Journeys Wednesday, August 22, 7 pm at the Elkton Central Library as musician and music historian Dr. David Hildebrand introduces us to the ballads and songs that Americans have been singing for 200 years.   From sailors to soldiers, cowboys to Indians, slaves to migrant workers, David will offer a mixture of live and recorded musical selections that tell the musical stories of American journeys.

What is your favorite “journey” song?  Does your family have any songs of heritage?

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