- by Carol Standish
Arcadia Publishing has long been know for its Images of America series in which local antique photograph collections of individual towns across the country are put together with some light commentary and sold as souvenirs and keepsakes. Recently, however, Arcadia has been branching out into more general subject matter. The current enthusiasm for all things "lighthouse" makes the subject a sure bet for the specialty publisher and Arcadia has joined the fray, publishing two volumes of antique photographs not just of lighthouses but life saving stations as well. The two volumes cover the northern New England coast, Lighthouses and Life Saving Along the Massachusetts Coast ($18.99, 128pp) and Lighthouses and Life Saving Along the Maine and New Hampshire Coast. ($18.99, 128pp). Connecticut and Rhode Island are surely in the works.
The books are produced in the same format as Arcadia's town series and could be easily overlooked in a large display, but they are worth hunting down. The author, James Claflin of Northboro, Massachusetts, is a nautical antique dealer as was his father before him. Most of the old photographs in the two volumes are from the author's collection and it is impressive.
These antique scenes of lighthouses and light saving stations from Quoddy Head to Buzzards Bay and the Islands are not the usual lighthouse fare. We are used to full color glamour shots of pristine symbols of a bygone era. In the old black and white photos in Claflin's books stalwart uniformed men stare at the camera above impressive handlebar mustaches. Pigs and chickens and clotheslines full of laundry liven up island landscapes, reminding us that these unique buildings were actually family homes, often to several generations. Among the photos of the life saving stations are numerous action shots of surfmen launching surfboats, shooting a lyle gun into the rigging of a foundered vessel, a grateful soul hanging in a breaches buoy sliding toward the shore on the tether delivered by the gun. Many of the photographs picture buildings long torn down or blown away.
James Claflin is probably one of the most knowledgeable individuals around on the subject of New England lighthouses and life saving stations. His photograph collection is wide-ranging in subject matter and is in top-notch shape. Reproduction quality is high, presenting crisp detail and unique views. Claflin's commentary is a bit spotty and repetitive. He knows a lot but even so, the reader often craves more information-which is OK because Claflin provides a helpful bibliography-different in each of the two books. He also refers the reader to his own shop in Northboro which carries vintage books on nautical subjects.
Claflin's two books provide a fun introduction to the history of the lighthouse and life saving services but more important, they strongly convey the human element. Today, we tend to over-romanticize the extant buildings without much awareness of the courage and endurance of the people who lived in them and served in the lighthouse service