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America’s Very Last Lighthouse Keeper Is Retiring At 72

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In a changing world increasingly dominated by automated technology, the United States had one manned lighthouse left, Boston Light, looked after by Sally Snowman. 69 other caretakers came before her, all men, and now Snowman, at 72, is retiring as America’s very last lighthouse keeper, effective with the New Year.

Lighthouse keepers, referred to as “wickies,” began their line of work in the U.S. in 1789 under the United States Lighthouse Service. The position switched back and forth between a civilian post and a responsibility of the Coast Guard, then back again. By 1990, all lighthouses were automated except for Boston Light, constructed all the way back in 1716 – the first lighthouse built in North America. This is the story of this historic structure’s final keeper, Sally Snowman.

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Sally Snowman became Boston Light’s first female wickie

Boston Light is North America’s first Lighthouse, with Sally Snowman as its final keeper / Wikimedia Commons

It was the summer of 1961 when Snowman cast her first fateful look upon Boston Light when her father, Coast Guard Auxiliarist, brought her to a staff lunch in front of the historic structure.

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“We anchored the boat, I stepped out, looked up at the lighthouse and said to my father; ‘Daddy when I grow up, I want to get married out here,'” she recalled. At first, her life’s trajectory did not bring her in obvious range of becoming a lighthouse keeper; Snowman struggled in school and pursued an online Ph.D. in neurolinguistics to better understand herself. She landed work in caring for seniors, children, and the differently-abled.

The ocean was always a comfort to Snowman, who found out her academic struggles had been exacerbated by dyslexia and ADD. So, she sought work on Little Brewster, the island housing Boston Light. There, she met the man she would marry, a civil engineer whom she wed right there at the lighthouse like she promised years ago. Together, Sally Snowman and James G. Thomsom chronicled their time working at the historic building in the book Boston Light, published in August 2016.

Closing a page of American history

Maintaining lighthouses is becoming automated by technology / YouTube screenshot

Lighthouses have been keeping with the times – and so has Snowman, who shared in a recent video that tending to the structure was undergoing a major overhaul.

“It’s called a stewardship transfer,” she explained. Under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, there will be a transfer of ownership. “So, unfortunately, my job is coming to an end. The keeper’s position is going away.”

But Snowman is not about to put this piece of history behind her. She assures the world, “We will leave the light on for you.” Although she won’t be there to keep those operations running personally, Snowman hopes to return to Boston Light as a volunteer tour guide.

In the meantime, she’ll be at Lifesaving Museum, located in Hull, Massachusetts; founded in 1978, the facility provides “not only crucial lessons from our maritime heritage, but also life-changing and sometimes life-saving youth development experiences.” Sounds exactly like the line of work a wickie would approve of.

She hopes to stick around the lighthouse as a volunteer tour guide / YouTube screenshot

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