The handsome white lighthouse on the beach at Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts has led an unusually circuitous existence. It began its life across Massachusetts Bay, far up the coast at Ipswich, where it was erected in 1881 to replace an earlier tower that served as the Ipswich Rear Range Light. Then in 1939, after it had been discontinued, the 45-foot cast iron tower was floated by barge to Edgartown to replace an 1828 structure that had been badly damaged by the disastrous Hurricane of 1938. It’s even been a movie star (Jaws), and the sturdy lighthouse continues to serve as an aid to navigation. But in its latest incarnation as the Children’s Memorial at the Edgartown Lighthouse, it’s gained new significance as a beacon of hope.
Rick Harrington was born and grew up on Martha’s Vineyard Island, and as an adult he spent many summers there with his sons, swimming, playing and fishing. In 1996, Harrington’s son, Ricky, died in a car accident just three weeks after his 16th birthday. In an article published in Vineyard Style magazine, Jon Budris quoted Rick Harrington: “In my grief somehow I kept encountering images of lighthouses in odd places.” Looking at a photo of Ricky and his younger brother at the lighthouse in Edgartown, Rick noticed the words on the t-shirt Ricky was wearing: “Just do it.” A light went on his mind.
The Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society had been the steward of Edgartown Lighthouse since 1994. Harrington approached the society with the idea of turning the lighthouse into a children’s memorial, and they quickly took to the suggestion. A $75,000 fundraising effort to restore the lighthouse and establish a memorial was spearheaded by Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society Executive Director Matthew Stackpole and board member Craig Dripps. Stackpole is quick to point out, “Rick
Harrington is the reason it happened. He never gave up."
The large base surrounding the lighthouse had fallen into disrepair. It was rebuilt and enlarged for the memorial, which was designed by architect Geoffrey White, with 3,500 granite cobblestones added. Most of the stones are designed to hold a child’s name. The stones are surrounded by a polished granite border and are divided into quadrants by granite spokes meant to evoke the light emanating from the lighthouse’s lantern above. “The architect was wonderful,” says Matthew Stackpole. “He respected the sense of the site—there’s a simplicity to what he did. It just has the right sense.”
A plaque on the ocean side of the base commemorates the memorial’s creation and includes the concluding lines from a poem by Tomas Napoleon called “A Remembrance of an Unforgotten Vineyard Summer,” as follows:
Let the celebration of all our children and their endless youth,
When the world was to them still without problem,
Always be that Unforgotten Vineyard Summer—an everlasting day.
Napoleon, a friend of the Harrington family, had written the poem in memory of Ricky Harrington and read it at his memorial service. “I wrote that poem as a celebration of life,” he said.
Martha’s Vineyard pilot Dick Sherman gives sightseeing rides for tourists aboard his Korean War-era plane Warbird, often passing over Edgartown Lighthouse. This view now reminds Sherman of his own son, memorialized on one of the cobblestones. The dedication ceremony for the memorial on July 14, 2001 ended with Sherman circling the lighthouse in his plane, and he has repeated the flight during the annual “Ceremony of Remembrance” held each year since then. One parent likened the circling plane to “a circle of love, with a trail of smoke.”
Helen Filippone’s son Jason, who died in the summer of 1999 at the age of 24, is memorialized at the lighthouse. “I am so grateful to Rick Harrington for initiating such a wonderful memorial for his son, Ricky,” she says. “Knowing we are not alone in the most tragic of times is an important step towards grief recovery.”
Filippone grew up spending summers at a cottage near Plymouth (Gurnet) Lighthouse in Massachusetts. “It is so beautiful, peaceful and symbolic; a spot that you can’t help but feel that your child’s spirit truly lives on and is at peace. I can almost envision all these beloved children holding hands around the Edgartown Lighthouse as their parents and families come to visit and pay tribute. I’ll remember them as eternally happy while at play.”
The Children’s Memorial at the Edgartown Lighthouse presently contains the names of almost 300 children.
To learn more about the memorial you can visit their web site:
Edgartown Light - Martha’s Vineyard, MA
Established in 1828
Height: 58 feet
White tower with red flashing light
Current tower built in 1873 as the Ipswich Lighthouse
Moved in 1939 from Ipswich to Edgartown, Massachusetts
Remains as an active aid to navigation
Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society
Ph # 508-627-4441
This story appeared in the
July 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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