In 1837 Nathaniel Gamage, Jr. became the second keeper of the Pemaquid Lighthouse in New Harbor, Maine. He and other lighthouse keepers up and down the New England coast were…
In 1837 Nathaniel Gamage, Jr. became the second keeper of the Pemaquid Lighthouse in New Harbor, Maine.
He and other lighthouse keepers up and down the New England coast were called “wickies,” named after the whale-oil soaked wicks of the lanterns they were tasked with trimming and keeping alight to alert ships nearing the rocky shore.
On a hot sunny September day 186 years later, a new group of travelers came to the lighthouse: my wife and I, along with Jack and Kalley Moore, their son Ryan (our son in law), and the two grandsons we have in common — Henry and Charlie. Jack, Ryan and the boys are all direct descendants of Nathaniel Gamage.
This was more than a typical tourist visit. It was more like a homecoming.
To say that the Pemaquid Lighthouse is iconic doesn’t do it justice. It sits atop a rise of granite high above the ocean, and on the day of our visit the white of the majestic tower was matched by the whitecaps of the waves stretching out across the horizon. Henry and Charlie scrambled over the rocks and darted around the throngs of visitors lining up to ascend up the lighthouse.
While we waited our turn in line, Jack let the State Park ranger know about the Moore family’s ancestral tie to the lighthouse. The lanky ranger was in his 60s, a retired cop with a thick Maine accent. As soon as he heard that not one but THREE generations of Gamage descendants were visiting his whole face lit up. Other people in line heard the news as well and we all joined in a lively conversation, with the park ranger sharing history and chatting with Henry and Charlie.
I brought the boys through the house attached to the lighthouse, now a museum. They were thrilled to see the artifacts on display, including the name of their great, great, great, great (at least this many greats) grandfather listed on a plaque.
Soon it was our turn to go up into the lighthouse. The stairs were narrow and steep, and we grandpas and grandmas ascended cautiously while the boys were eager to sprint.
There was just enough room at the top for our extended family. I think it’s fair to say we all felt a sense of wonder being there. The view was of course breathtaking, looking out through the glass to a panoramic and classic view of the Maine coastline.
In the center was the light, surrounded by our family. The brilliant sunshine hit the curved Fresnel glass lens and refracted around us.
We were there in the present, yet with a sense that the lighthouse itself was a beacon that shone across the years to the time of grandpa Gamage. I wondered what Nathaniel would have said if someone had told him that someday this visit would happen, that his future family would stop by in a few hundred years, with these amazing kids a testament to his legacy.
While I am not related to grandpa Gamage, he and I have the very best things in common: Henry and Charlie, and the joy of passing on a little bit of who we are to the next generations to come. For me, this was a shining, shimmering revelation.
After we’d very carefully descended the winding stairs, Ryan and the boys went down to the shore to walk and play along the rocks by the crashing waves. I could see them in the distance silhouetted against the water as the boys held up discovered shells for dad to see, or jumped from rock to rock, while seagulls swooped and soared above.