It rained in Vineyard Haven and in Oak Bluffs on Saturday. But in Edgartown the skies held out for a 1 p.m. service at the Edgartown Lighthouse. More than 60 people came together at the foot of the beacon, under dark and threatening skies for the Children’s Memorial, a remembrance. They came to hear stories, music and commemorate a lost child in their lives.
The granite and concrete foundation below the tall lighthouse is made from the placement of hundreds of cobble stones, each weighing 27 pounds. More than 450 of the 3,000 stones are inscribed with the names of children who have died.
The monument was built in the summer of 2001.
Betsey Mayhew of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum opened the observance with a welcome. The Rev. John D. Schule Jr. of Edgartown gave opening thoughts.
There was music by Shanon Mello and Karen Felder. The two sang Testify to Love, and they finished the program with the song Keep on Rollin’.
The afternoon observance was special in another way. For the first time since the parents and friends of loved ones had gathered for the remembrance, they were welcomed inside the lighthouse.
The gathering was told about $267,000 coming from the Community Preservation Act to fund the cleanup of the inside of the lighthouse and the stabilization of the exterior. For the first time, visitors were invited to wander up the spiral stairway to the top and view the Edgartown harbor below.
Staff of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, who organized the event, offered assistance and refreshments. The museum also raised funds to establish the lighthouse monument in 2001 and make improvements to the foundation.
The Edgartown Light was so severely destroyed in the hurricane of 1938 that it was demolished. An older, cast iron tower, which had been built in 1873 at Ipswich was moved to Edgartown. The U.S. Coast Guard used to maintain the structure as an aid to navigation, but that ended when it was determined that modern day electronics and high-tech navigation devices eliminated the need for lighthouses.
Tribute was paid to Craig Dripps, a regional high school math teacher and member of the museum board of directors who for many years took care of the lighthouse with limited funding. The quarter of a million dollars spent in the last year has prepared the lighthouse for another century. Steel work was done inside and outside. The interior of the lighthouse was scraped of old paint and rust and repainted. The spiral staircase was installed. Rails at the top of the lighthouse were made safe for visitors. The lighthouse was open to the public for the first time this summer.
After the observance Mrs. Mayhew said it is difficult to imagine the loss these families and friends have gone through. “I think this event is so important for these families. They see this memorial in so many different ways. They see it is tragic but there is also a piece of this that is a beautiful part to it too,” she said.
Information on the children’s memorial can be seen on the Web at childrenslighthousememorial.org or at marthasvineyardhistory.org.