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A beacon to Beantown

A steamer rides at anchor off the Graves ledges in Boston’s outer harbor in 1906. There’s a bustle of activity at the landing to Graves Light as the crew takes on supplies for the newest Massachusetts lighthouse. Once they get the goods on the dock they’ll have to be carried 30 feet up to the open doorway.

Though conditions are pleasantly calm in this photograph, waves often reached the windows above the doorway, which opened into the keeper’s office and quarters. Raising a window during a storm could get you “three buckets of water in the face,” as one keeper put it.

The treacherous Graves ledges had been marked through the years with buoys, but when the Broad Sound Channel to Boston Harbor was opened to major shipping in 1902, a lighthouse was needed. Soon after, a shanty was set up on the rocks, with a blacksmith shop, a kitchen and living quarters, and some 30 workmen began construction. They blasted a solid foundation, and a schooner delivered cut granite from Rockport, Mass. Some pieces for the 30-foot-diameter base were as much as 7 feet thick.
On Sept. 1, 1905, the 133-foot structure was completed, and keeper Elliott Hadley lit its lantern. At 380,000 candlepower, it was the most powerful light in Massachusetts, its first-order Fresnel lens standing 12 feet tall. Graves was called the “most important light north of Cape Cod,” and it served Boston Harbor well. There were only two wrecks in its vicinity.
Wrote one poet: “Secure on thy rock, the light shines that saves, and guides to the haven, the welcoming Graves.” It was even used in a Hollywood movie, the 1948 production of “Portrait of Jennie,” starring Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones. The Graves light still stands, along with its oil house (far right in the photo), although storms have destroyed the walkway and landing.

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue.


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