Blackbeard, the notorious pirate, is said to have hidden treasure near what is now Hendricks Head Light. Captain Kidd reportedly also hid out at several islands where lights now stand, hoping to claim the booty from shipwrecks. Perhaps he left loot nearby. Finders keepers?
The Parrot that was a Pirate
A well-known attraction at Portland Head Light in the early 1900s was the keeper’s parrot, Billy, who reportedly “had the language of a pirate.” He seemed to know when a storm was on the way. “Turn on the horn, Zeb,” he would say to the light keeper. “It’s getting foggy.” He also is credited with spotting a young boy swept into the sea. Billy made such a ruckus that the keeper knew something was wrong. Then Zeb saw the drowning boy and was able to rescue him.
At Owl’s Head Light, a keeper’s pet spaniel, named Spot, is said to have saved a distressed mailboat by barking continuously when the fog bell was buried in snow, unable to sound. To show his appreciation, the mailboat skipper sent Spot a steak and a little medal for his collar proclaiming that Spot was “a real life-saving dog.”
Little Abbie’s Tale
Twenty-five miles from the mainland, Matinicus Rock Light is so remote that government agents brought supplies there only twice a year. When a supply boat failed to appear during the winter of 1856, keeper Samuel Burgess felt he had no choice but to attempt the passage himself in order to buy medicine and other provisions. With his wife in poor health, he asked his oldest daughter, 17-year-old Abbie, to look after the family and the light. “I can depend on you, Abbie,” he said as he left the Rock.
Mr. Burgess had been gone only a short while before a bad storm came howling out of the Northeast. Fearing the worst, Abbie moved her mother and three sisters from the keeper’s house into one of the light towers. In a harrowing account of the ordeal, Abbie said the sea rose higher and higher with the tide, until only the light towers stood. A wave destroyed the old dwelling and swept the rock. For four weeks, nothing could land there while Abbie single-handedly took care of her family and kept the light burning until her father finally returned. Thirty-five years later, Abbie wrote: “If the care of the lighthouse will follow my soul after it has left this worn-out body? If ever I have a gravestone, I would like it in the form of a lighthouse or beacon.” Her wish was granted several years later, when lighthouse historian Edward Rowe Snow put a lighthouse replica on her grave.