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The Nubble to the nebula

Perched on a rocky ledge above the surf, Cape Neddick Light Station exudes a certain confidence, a sense of permanence in the face of the forces of nature. Also known as Nubble Light, the station is located off Cape Neddick Point in York Beach, Maine, and opened in 1879.

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The light atop the 41-foot brick-and-iron tower, itself atop an 88-foot rock formation, warns mariners of the dangerous rocks, or “nubble,” at the entrance to York Beach. It rapidly became a familiar marker on the navigational trail to and from nearby Portland, Maine’s busiest harbor.

There’s a utilitarian neatness and simplicity in the station’s layout, with its tower, neat white keeper’s house, fog signal, and oil and storage shed. But the Nubble — along with hundreds of other manned lights around the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries — was more than a nav aid; it was a way of life, home and hearth for the government-employed keeper and his family, who lived in lonely isolation much of the time.

The family’s entire life was focused on tending the light. But mothers also kept house and raised children, and the children grew and went to school. The light keeper and his family often became a valued, respected part of their community.

This image was captured on a dry-plate negative from the Detroit Publishing Co., taken in the first decade of the 20th century. Some 60 years later, it was headed into deep space. In 1977, a picture of Nubble Light was chosen, along with images of the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China, for inclusion on a Voyager Golden Record. These gramophone records contained earthly images and sounds and were sent hurtling into space aboard the Voyager I spacecraft, intended for extraterrestrial life that may someday come across them.

July 2014 issue


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Just yesterday: The life of a lifesaver

The U.S. Life-Saving Service grew from roots planted along the shores of Cape Cod in the 18th century, with men assembling at times of need to pluck mariners from the sea along that long and sometimes treacherous Massachusetts coast.