As part of the Gay Head Light summer solstice celebration, William Waterway will be reading from and signing copies of his new book Gay Head Lighthouse. Mr. Waterway is currently part of the committee working to relocate the lighthouse by moving it back from the eroding cliffs, and he was also instrumental in the effort during the 1980s to save the lighthouse.
While he may never have been a lighthouse keeper, he is certainly a keeper of the lighthouse legacy.
Mr. Waterway’s book takes the reader back to the beginning of the lighthouse, built in 1799, and chronicles an era when a lighthouse was a crucial element for sailors looking to navigate difficult passages. The book also charts what happens when technology seemingly puts history to bed, and people then have to step up and keep it alive. The lighthouse has had many lives, from wood to brick, with many keepers and relocations.
The book also chronicles the long journey of carting building materials from down-Island to the cliffs. It places the reader in the time of war, both the Spanish American War and World War II, when lighthouse keepers had to stay on the lookout for the enemy.
There are recollections from lighthouse keepers and neighbors who lived nearby. Consider this passage from Bill Grieder who lived at the lighthouse station as a boy from 1937 to 1948:
“One night at Gay Head we had a nor’easter. I heard a plane going around. I ran out of the house — I could hear the plane flying and I could see the lights. It went around three or four times. It was a miserable night. The plane crashed that night at Lobsterville, just a mile down from the lighthouse. They came in to make a landing — they had their gear down. It hit a sand bar or something and it killed two pilots. I knew something was wrong. Evidently they were using the light to try to get a position.”
There is a list of all the lighthouse keepers, from Ebeneezer Skiff (1799-1828) all the way to today’s principal keepers since 1994, Richard Skidmore and Joan LeLacheur. And there are photographs throughout the book documenting nearly every step in the life of one of the jewels of the Vineyard.
Mr. Waterway will be available from 5 to 9 p.m. tonight, June 20, at the cliffs, and will also be giving readings later in the summer.