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Classic Covers: Lighthouses

“Christmas at the Lighthouse” by Mead Schaeffer

Christmas at the Lighthouse by Mead Schaeffer From December 28, 1946


"Christmas at the Lighthouse"
by Mead Schaeffer
From December 28, 1946

Why are we so fascinated by lighthouses? Is it because they are so picturesque? Or because, if they could talk, what exciting and harrowing tales of the sea they could tell? Whatever the reason, two Post cover artists loved them as much as the rest of us.

“Lighthouse Keeper” by Stevan Dohanos

“Lighthouse Keeper” by Stevan Dohanos From June 26, 1954


"Lighthouse Keeper"
by Stevan Dohanos
From June 26, 1954

“Here a Coast Guard man,” our editors wrote, “is adding to his duties the task of guarding coastal waters against getting too crowded with fish.” The ever-ravenous gulls await whatever tidbits they can make off with. The lighthouse painted by cover artist Stevan Dohanos in 1954 is not identified.

“Lighthouse Keeper” by Stevan Dohanos

"Lighthouse Keeper" by Stevan Dohanos From September 22, 1945


"Lighthouse Keeper"
by Stevan Dohanos
From September 22, 1945

The candy striped tower, which oversees a strait between the United States and Canada called Quoddy Narrows, looks much the same today as when Stevan Dohanos painted it in 1945.

The website for the West Quoddy Light Keepers Association fills us in on the intriguing history of this structure, such as: The first tower, which was made of wood, “was built in 1808, by order of President Thomas Jefferson. The tower standing and operating today was built in 1857 and became operational in 1858.”

How did they illuminate the lighthouse in those days? The Light Keepers Association tells us it was “originally oil from sperm whales; to lard oil in the 1860s, to kerosene about 1880; to electricity in 1932.”

The artist took, well, artistic license, in painting this scene. Although the lighthouse was in Lubec, Maine, the lighthouse keeper trimming the grass was at Sankaty Light in Nantucket. Dohanos had made sketches of the striped West Quoddy lighthouse the year before, and because it was closer, went to the Sankaty Lighthouse to refresh his memory of the details. Turns out the Nantucket folks didn’t have much information on the Maine lighthouse. However, “they were cutting the grass at Sankaty Light,” editors noted, “and Dohanos liked that touch of domesticity or agriculture or whatever it is, so he included it.”

“Christmas at the Lighthouse” by Mead Schaeffer

Christmas at the Lighthouse by Mead Schaeffer From December 28, 1946


"Christmas at the Lighthouse"
by Mead Schaeffer
From December 28, 1946

Instead of resting on a strip of coastal land, this charming structure sits in the Hudson River between a town of the same name and Athens, on the other side. A large mud flat in the River stranded unsuspecting ships, so in 1873, construction began on the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse.

The website for the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society includes floorplans and the history of the structure and its keepers. One of those, “Emil J. Brunner, kept the light from 1930 to 1949.” When Post cover artist Mead Schaeffer wanted to paint the scene, he asked Brunner and his family to pose.

“Artistic license allows for a dog (at the top of the steps),” writes Louise Bliss of the Preservation Society, “which was of course against Coast Guard rules, and there are too many children and there were no electric lights.” She’s right, the keeper and his wife had five children; the artist generously granted them eight. Intriguingly, Bliss noted, one of the little girls depicted, now grown of course, “comes to public tours in the summer and tells the tales of living on the lighthouse.”

The Hudson Lighthouse today (to the right) )is an active aid to commercial ships and private boats in the Hudson River  as it has been since 1874. Photo courtesy of Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society.


The Hudson Lighthouse today is an active aid to commercial ships and private boats in the Hudson River as it has been since 1874. Photo courtesy of Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society.

“Beach Bonfire” by Mead Schaeffer

"Beach Bonfire" by Mead Schaeffer From September 16, 1950


"Beach Bonfire"
by Mead Schaeffer
From September 16, 1950


The sand beneath your toes, the stars overhead and a perfect spot to roast hot dogs and marshmallows. Sounds like a perfect September evening. We know this cozy scene from 1950 is in Cape Cod, but there are perhaps fifteen or so lighthouses on the Cape and the specific one was not identified. Perhaps a knowledgeable reader can let us know.

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  • Bob McGowan

    These are beautiful, and rather varied styles of lighthouses. The accompanying info on each cover is fascinating. I’d say my two favorites are by Stevan Dohanos, but ‘Beach Bonfire’ comes in a close third.

  • Charles Neumann

    Very intersting covers of lighthouses. The idea of cutting the grass around the lighthouse was a good one to add to the picture. I’m glad the lighthouse keeper’s family at the small Hudson-Athens Lighthouse wasn’t as large as shown – it would have been mighty crowded.