Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2019

Wickie’s Wisdom

History Dishonored at Little River Lighthouse


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A Coast Guard helicopter at Little River ...
Photo by: Kathleen Finnegan

Earlier this year, the United States Coast Guard removed the revolving Vega (VRB-25) light from the tower at Little River Lighthouse in Cutler, Maine and replaced it with a modern nondescript flashing optic, thereby dishonoring the historical significance of the lighthouse.

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The Beacon of Freedom (Vega VRB-25 revolving ...
Photo by: Sean Blue

The apparent reason for the change was that the new and more modern optic will be brighter and less costly to maintain. However, the situation at Little River Lighthouse is much different than at any other lighthouse in the United States. It is the only lighthouse to be relighted as a Beacon of Freedom.

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The new beacon installed at Little River Light is ...

If the Coast Guard had wanted to, for the safety of the mariner, the revolving beacon could have been made brighter, something that had been advocated for years and was never actually accomplished. The fact that the American Lighthouse Foundation, the organization which owns the lighthouse, did not campaign to keep the revolving beacon in the tower is, in my humble opinion, shameful, although not surprising.

It was eighteen years ago, a few weeks after the terrorists attacks of 9/11, and after being dark for 26 years, that the lantern at Maine’s Little River Lighthouse was relighted with a Vega (VRB-25) revolving optic as a “Beacon of Freedom to the World.” That revolving beacon represented the resolve of an entire nation to never forget those who lost their lives to terrorists and our will to battle against terrorism and the threats it imposes to our way of life. A large number of dedicated citizens, including Coast Guard personnel, worked hard to get that light into the tower. Now it is gone.

The relighting ceremony held on October 2, 2001 was witnessed in a two-part ceremony: one with a flotilla of vessels on the water, and one on land in the Cutler town circle by the fog bell that was once used at the island lighthouse. The entire epic event was filmed by The History Channel and Jeff Dobbs Productions for a documentary that aired on PBS-TV.

During that very patriotic ceremony eighteen years ago when the Little River Lighthouse was relighted, there were very few dry eyes as the attendees of the event listened to Lee Greenwood singing God Bless the USA. And during the singing and playing of God Bless America, with the events of 9/11 a few weeks earlier still fresh on their minds, the members of the Machias Memorial High School Band could barely keep their composure.

At the ceremony, Maine State Representative Martha Bagley described the relighting as a “new birth to the maritime history of Maine and a beacon to honor those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of September 11th on America, so that their memory will never be forgotten and that Freedom’s Light will shine forever.” Little could she have imagined then, that eighteen years later, Freedom’s Light would be removed from the Little River Lighthouse.

Yes, I’m sure there are those who will argue that the new light in the lantern at Little River simply takes over where the old one left off. Yes, modernization and new technology is everywhere, and the world is full of constant change, but there are some things in this country that should be and must be saved and not altered, if only for the historical significance of honoring the memory of those who lost their lives through no fault of their own on that dreadful September day eighteen years ago.

That’s my opinion and I welcome yours.

Timothy Harrison

Editor & Publisher

Lighthouse Digest

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2019 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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