Written by Walter T. Ham IV
Crew members from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Abbie Burgess (WLM-553) and Aids to Navigation Team (ANT) Southwest Harbor, Maine, placed flowers and national ensigns at the gravesites of Abbie Burgess and Isaac Grant, two renowned lighthouse keepers, during a visit to Thomaston, Maine, in August.
Overcoming foul weather, flooded spaces and food shortages, Burgess was best known for keeping the Matinicus Light shining while caring for her ailing mother and younger siblings during a fierce winter storm in 1856. Her lighthouse keeper father had left the island to pick up supplies and was unable to make it back during the storm.
She later married Isaac Grant, the youngest son of the next Matinicus Lighthouse keeper, and later moved with him to Whitehead Lighthouse.
While serving as the Whitehead Lighthouse keeper, Grant earned the Silver Lifesaving Medal for rescuing two sailors from an overturned sailboat near the lighthouse.
The 90-foot-tall Matinicus Rock Lighthouse is located 18 miles offshore and the 41-foot-tall Whitehead Island Lighthouse is at the entrance to Penobscot Bay.
Today, both lighthouses are maintained by ANT Southwest Harbor, based out of Mount Desert Island, Maine. Several ANT Southwest Harbor members traveled many hours to visit the gravesites.
Chief Petty Officer Kevin P. Moynahan, officer-in-change of ANT Southwest Harbor, said maintaining lighthouses, including the two lighthouses where Burgess and Grant served, is hard and precise work.
“A lighthouse is never in a low maintenance needed location,” said Moynahan. “They are typically exposed to the harshest, corrosive and damp environments imaginable.”
The ANT maintains 293 ATON from the Marshall Point Lighthouse in St. George, Maine, to the St. Croix River on the Canadian Border. The team assists with 439 additional Aids to Navigation.
Chief Warrant Officer Michael P. Bollinger, the commanding officer of the 175-foot Coast Guard Cutter Abbie Burgess, said he was honored to recognize his cutter’s namesake.
“It was honestly humbling knowing the services that Abbie and Issac performed and the conditions they performed them in,” said Bollinger.
The crew of Abbie Burgess, the Rockland, Maine-based cutter, maintains 342 buoys that enable lobster boats, fishing vessels and sailboats to transit through local bays and harbor entrances. The buoy tender also services the ATON on the Penobscot River channel, the primary thoroughfare for home heating oil into Bangor, Maine, and points north.
U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliarist Bob Trapani said the Town of Thomaston, Maine, maintains the cemetery where Burgess and Grant are buried.
Thomaston is 2.6 miles from the Whitehead Lighthouse and 21 miles from Matinicus Rock Lighthouse.
Moynahan said unpredictable weather and extreme tides along the rocky New England coastline make the Coast Guard’s ATON mission harder.
A lighthouse technician who regularly works with ANT Southwest Harbor, Trapani said maintaining the buoys and beacons around Maine is as important as it is challenging.
“The New England coastline can be quite unforgiving and the weather equally unpredictable,” said Trapani. “The Coast Guard’s dedication and commitment to keeping our waterways marked and the aids watching properly inspires a level of comfort within mariners as they traverse diverse waters.”
Trapani added that today’s Coast Guard ATON professionals uphold the legacy of Burgess and Grant through their work on U.S. waterways.
“Abbie and Isaac were each heroes in their own right, but heroism aside, what helps make this light-keeping couple so special was their ‘above and beyond’ dedication to their duties, which they never failed to carry out at the highest level of professionalism,” said Trapani.
“The true mark of any professional is the ability to always perform one’s duties to the fullest, even when no one else notices,” Trapani continued. “Abbie and Isaac epitomized this notion.”