Marshall Point Light, in the village of Port Clyde, is many things to many people. For mariners, it is a beacon loudly and brilliantly announcing the tip of the St. George peninsula. To tourists, it is a postcard-perfect setting for a summer picnic.
For Tom and Lee Ann Szelog, it was home.
For more than thirteen years, the Szelogs lived on the rocky outcropping, their daily lives dictated by the ever-changing natural and human dramas unfolding at their doorstep. The deafening foghorn that sounds at all hours during fog-filled summer days became sweet maritime music to the couple, the lightning drawn to the tower's metal roof a tangible connection to the heavens.From mundane chores like sweeping the tower's spiral staircase to more exciting activities like preparing the lighthouse for a hurricane's landfall, the Szelogs discovered their roles to be as vital as the those of the handful of other lighthouse keepers who had come before them since the tower was first built in 1832. For many visitors, a trip to Marshall Point is more pilgrimage than vacation; the Szelogs found their new home earned them a place in the personal lives of those who ventured out to the whitewashed granite tower.
Most importantly for the rest of us, they recorded their experiences in dozens of journals and hundreds of rolls of film shot by Tom, a Down East contributing photographer. The end result is a new book, Our Point of View (Down East Books, Camden, Maine; hardcover; 112 pages; $24.95, www.downeastbooks.com
). In this impressive volume the Szelogs offer an account of a life lived on the edge, in a place where many visit but few linger. The following edited excerpt explores the powerful forces that continue to draw visitors to one of Maine's most signature landmarks.June 3, 1990
Reflecting on one of the most amazing experiences in my life, I become very emotional, remembering the attachment and appreciation I'd developed for an abandoned baby harbor seal we named Clyde. Helpless and adorable, he allowed me to observe him all day yesterday as he maneuvered over the rocks, avoiding the ocean water and finally resting in a bed of seaweed. As the sun began to set, my heart began to melt, knowing Clyde was on the rocks, in the dark, all alone.
With the first sign of daylight at 5 a.m., I quickly arose and peered outside to find Clyde in the same spot where we had left him last night. Following instructions previously given to us by the New England Aquarium, I phoned the staff to report that Clyde was still here. The aquarium staff made arrangements for Clyde to fly to Boston, where they would care for him at their rehabilitation facility.
The aquarium experts suggested that we use a laundry basket to carry Clyde. Almost as though he knew we were helping him, he cooperated fully, curling up in the basket and settling in comfortably for the ride. Tom gently placed the basket on my lap in the car, and I stroked Clyde's head all the way to the airport, causing him to fall asleep. It was difficult for me to see him go, and I was worried. What if we weren't doing the right thing?
After talking to aquarium staffers later that afternoon, I knew we had made the right decision. Clyde was underweight, only one week old, and weak. I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know this unique species that shares our front yard, and I think he was grateful to Tom and me for helping him. Each time I look out our bedroom window at the rocks by the light tower, I will always think of Clyde and his big, beautiful eyes; his brilliant, velvetlike fur; and his fascinating webbed flippers. —LeeJuly 1, 1990
The official opening of the Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum occurred yesterday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Among photographers, reporters, and supporters, the festivities livened up with the arrival of sisters Marion Dalrymple and Eula Kelley, daughters of Charles Skinner, former lightkeeper at Marshall Point. We warmly welcomed ninety-nine-year-old Eula and ninety-five-year-old Marion into the museum and keeper's house. Eula's half-hour stay was filled with intriguing stories of her life at the keeper's house. Sitting in the parlor, she recalled, with sharp-witted eyes and youthful vigor, that this had been her sickroom when a doctor and two nurses removed her appendix. She told us she had been near death. One nurse later told her it was the worst case of appendicitis she had ever encountered. Lee and I listened intently as Eula described how the local fishermen, motoring near the point, would stop their engines and row their vessels silently to avoid disturbing the ill child. —TomAugust 5, 1990
A malfunctioning foghorn prompted this morning's visit by two Coast Guardsmen from the Southwest Harbor Coast Guard Station to make the necessary repairs. The automated horn should only operate during fog, snow, or heavy rain, but today it was blasting under sunny skies and unlimited visibility. —TomAugust 24, 1991
As I was driving up to the keeper's house at 4:30 p.m. on August 18, an announcement on the car radio captured my attention. The governor had issued an emergency mandate requiring all residents within a quarter-mile of the Maine coast to evacuate. The full force of Hurricane Bob was expected to strike coastal Maine. The storm was coming!
Despite the mandate to evacuate, we were cautiously eager to witness the event from what we hoped would be the security of the keeper's house. Lee Ann quickly prepared dinner while I filled our bathtub with water as an emergency measure. We sat nervously eating our meal, with the rain and winds getting stronger and louder. Suddenly, a vehicle came speeding into our driveway with red warning lights flashing. Seconds later, emergency officials were pounding on our front door, insisting we evacuate to an inland shelter.
Complying, we swiftly gathered pillows, blankets, our two cats, and a board game and said good-bye to the lighthouse, hoping it would still be here when we returned. Before departing the point, we assisted with the evacuation of Eula Kelley, Marion Dalrymple, and Marion's son and daughter-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Dalrymple, from their nearby cottages, while a forty-knot wind and biting rain battered us.
Four hours later, we returned to Marshall Point, finding the keeper's house, footbridge, and light tower still standing. There was no storm damage to the point. The hurricane had lost much of its strength as the eye of the storm passed over Port Clyde. Winds averaging sixty knots — possibly gusting to ninety knots — and two to three inches of rain were all that Bob could generate. —TomFebruary 17, 1992
On February 14, we witnessed a romantic Valentine's Day wedding at dusk. A tolerable early winter's evening saw Marilyn Masterson and Adelbert Vinal, both from Tenants Harbor, married in a ten-minute ceremony on the footbridge. The fortunate couple had chosen a rare windless nightfall to wed. Smiles and laughter accompanied the joyful ceremony, and no one suffered from frostbite! —TomOctober 4, 1992
Sunset was somber this evening. Frank E. Clark of Belfast, Maine, laid to rest his recently deceased wife by scattering her cremated remains into the ever-changing tides of life and death. Frank arrived, respectfully dressed in a brown suit and tie, carrying a small blue box. Inside was a plastic bag containing his wife's ashes. His gray beard was neatly trimmed like those of seafaring captains in a bygone era.
Frank opened the plastic bag and quietly poured the ashes into the ocean. The fine dust turned the water gray for several seconds, before the tide dispersed it. —TomJuly 3, 1994
Two days ago, while working in my office, I noticed several sightseers photographing the ocean and peering through binoculars, as visitors to Marshall Point commonly do. Going to a kitchen window to see what was attracting so much attention, I was startled to see a large two-masted sailboat rapidly approaching the piercing reef that projects from the west side of the point. It took only a few seconds before I realized that the vessel was out of control, and the wind and surf were hurtling it toward the submerged rocks. Then the boat slammed into the ledge.
The Isabella — a thirty-two-foot wooden Lockeport ketch, built in 1978 in Lockeport, Nova Scotia — was snared on the ledge, rolling violently in the wind and surf. The captain of the ketch Isabella got his wife and daughter into a dory and set them afloat. Although the woman appeared inexperienced as she rowed the dory, she successfully maneuvered it to the cobblestone beach in Stone Cove, where she and her daughter got out unharmed. Only her husband remained aboard the distressed ketch as the incoming surf continued to batter the boat. Finally he lowered the sails from the two towering masts — a step he should have taken earlier.
Several bystanders had waded chest-deep toward the ledge in the numbing water and were attempting to manually dislodge the boat from the ledge. I thought of shouting to them to get out of the water and away from the boat.
I wish I had. One man, who was unsteadily balanced on the slick, algae-covered rocks, was shoving the boat. Suddenly he slid on the rocks and tumbled into the water just as a forceful swell picked up the boat and sent it toward the ledge. As the Good Samaritan struggled in the water between the ledge and the massive boat, it appeared that he was going to be crushed to death. Frightened screams echoed across the point. Miraculously, a split-second before the boat crashed against the rocks, the man crawled to safety — only a moment away from certain death. —TomJuly 5, 1994
When we were returning to the point in our kayaks today, we heard two musicians playing a guitar and a violin on the rocks near the northern reaches of Stone Cove. The amateur musicians were on vacation and just "hanging out at the point." —TomAugust 8, 1994
Two days ago an intimate group congregated near the shoreline to witness the baptism of Mark Winston Lunt, the one-year-old son of Nancy and Donald Lunt of Tenants Harbor. When I asked Nancy why they decided to have the christening at Marshall Point, she replied, "We both like it here. Don wanted him baptized in the ocean, and I wanted him baptized in the river." They compromised by holding the ceremony where the St. George River meets the sea. —TomAugust 26, 1998
Last night we sat in the parlor, feeling unsettled as an advancing thunderstorm grew progressively brighter and more deafening. Then it came — the resounding, nerve-wracking explosion of a lightning strike. We did not know immediately where the lightning had hit, but given the history of this light station — the first keeper's house had been destroyed by lightning in the late 1800s — our foremost concern was for the house. I sped to the attic to see if the lightning had struck the roof. I could not see, hear, or smell any indication that it had. We also checked the roof of the summer kitchen and the nearby trees, but there were no signs of lightning damage. Then, from the safety of the keeper's house, we looked up at the light tower and saw the light flicker and fail.
After waiting half an hour for the storm to blow eastward, we went out to the light tower. Upon entering, we instantly were overwhelmed with the distinctive smell of an electrical fire. We opened the electrical panels but failed to locate the source of the problem.
At our request, the Coast Guard sent a team this morning to fix the problem. Dario DelCastillo and Ivan Villanueva quickly located the cause of last night's odor — a burnt relay switch — and repaired the damage. —TomApril 15, 1999
I feel heavyhearted as I stare at my right hand. It is covered in dust: fine, ashy, grayish-black dust, the cremated remains of a man I never met.
Today's emotional tribute reminds me of Marshall Point's effect on the hearts and souls of people like James Andrew "Drew" Griffith, a Maine State Trooper who was fatally injured in an automobile accident in Thomaston, Maine, while on duty. That tragic accident occurred three years ago today.
Soon after Drew's untimely death, his father, Ralph Griffith of Asheville, North Carolina, placed a granite bench at Marshall Point in memory of his son. It was near this bench, located between the fuel house and the keeper's house, that the family gathered this afternoon to remember a father, a son, a husband.
I first noticed Drew's widow, Kate Braestrup, sitting on the bench, while her four children played in a tide pool near the light tower. A grand colorful urn sat next to her while she wrote in what appeared to be a journal.
Soon her children and Drew's parents joined her. The urn was opened and each child, as well as Kate, reached in to grasp a handful of ashes. With care, they solemnly sprinkled some of the ashes on the ground near the bench. From inside the keeper's house, I watched as they rubbed more ashes on the seat of the bench.
A member of the family picked up the urn and the group walked cautiously to the low-tide mark near the light tower. Drew's father remained behind — perhaps because the rocky shoreline was too slick or maybe he just needed to be alone. Kate slowly stepped to the water's edge and cast the urn's cover into the ocean. Seconds later, she tossed the urn into the water as well. We all stood in silence, watching it float in the current.
It was time for me to leave the family alone with their peace. Drew's mother, Gail, expressed gratitude for my visit and for sharing Marshall Point. Kate approached and shook my hand. I returned to the keeper's house with Drew's ashes covering my hand, feeling spiritually connected to him because of our mutual interest and passion for Marshall Point. —TomJune 21, 2001
Today I experienced the most incredible event that has occurred in our twelve years of residing at Marshall Point. From the parlor windows, I watched in utter disbelief as a huge shape emerged from the ocean near Gunning Rocks Ledge three-quarters of a mile offshore. A whale's arched back surfaced, its massive hulk surging out of the water. The behemoth — a forty-five- to fifty-five-foot humpback whale — surfaced several times, exhaling a tall stream of moisture-condensed breath.
I soon lost sight of it behind the ledge, but I saw several immense splashes. Then the humpback reappeared from behind the ledge to give me the show of a lifetime. It breached more than two dozen times, displaying behavior I'd never seen before — and certainly never from the comfort of my home. I was numb with emotion, watching in astonishment as the whale reared its thirty-ton body into the air. Each time it hit the water, it took several seconds for the sound of the impact to reach me. The muffled, shotgun-like sound is one I won't soon forget, and I can only hope I will someday hear it again. —TomMay 2, 2002
As I wash the floor on the first floor of the keeper's house this afternoon I am vividly reminded why I love Marshall Point. Pausing with the mop in my hand, I listen to the howl of the brisk wind as it forces a steady rain onto the large picture windows. I am alone on the point during the storm, performing my keeper's duties. Just the rugged elements, historic lighthouse, and me.
Five years ago, we purchased sixty-seven acres of land in Whitefield, looking ahead to when we would build our first and last home together. Now our new home is ready, and our fairy tale will continue in a log cabin in the woods of Maine. —Tom