I’ve always felt that the room above Kate’s bedroom was her daughter Mae’s room. I wondered where her bed had been—against what rounded wall it stood. No doubt it was decorated as beautifully as the rest of the house-- “bright white,” with a carpet, a dresser, a chair, perhaps a table, and places for her books and porcelain dolls. I also began to think that the other room on that floor belonged to Kate’s son Jacob. One of its round windows overlooks the Manhattan skyline.
There’s a pretty landing outside the two rooms; the ladder to the watch gallery curves up from it, and there’s a round window—one of four that opens, in the wall. Kate said she would stand at that window and look out to the cemetery where John was buried. It still has its turnbuckles, glass, and rim, and we’ve always been able to open it. Kate climbed up to this landing, to the ladder leading up to the watch gallery. That gallery is lit from above by eight glass windows in the ceiling between it and the top deck, where the light is. Some of that light filtered down to the floors below.
While her children slept Kate made her way up from her bedroom, or perhaps the kitchen or sitting room, where she kept her log books, through the metal stairwell with its brick, cast iron, and beadboard walls, to the light deck to fuel the lamps with kerosene. I wonder if Mae heard her from time to time. No doubt she did.
So today, and I know it’s speculative, I got another clue. While scraping and sanding the small closet in Mae’s room—I’d done it before but not well—I realized that a peculiarly cut piece of wood up in the room was a shelf for that closet. Then Coop looked in and noticed that about three feet off the floor, on each side of the closet, was a wooden shelf bracket into which a pole would have fit—a bar on which to hang clothes. Oh this is all ridiculous—the timeline is way out of line—but the height seems right for it to be the place where a little girl might hang her dresses.
“Ahhh,” said Megan, when I showed it to her. There were other slabs of wood set into the closet walls, but, well, this is an interpretation we shared. Later she spoke ruefully about how frustrating it is not to have any images or even records of the days in the eighteen-eighties and nineties at the lighthouse. But we do have our instincts—our speculations--our accumulated days of work bringing Mae’s home back to life.
Lighthouse Log Book is a series of stream of consciousness writings by Executive Director Erin Urban after each Crew date at Robbins Reef. It’s informal and meant to impart a sense of the energy of the volunteers and the work they accomplish in regular seven-hour workdays to Robbins Reef Lighthouse.