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The Lighthouse Keeper

I recently stumbled upon a story that is equally heartwarming and heartbreaking. It all starts with a lighthouse on a lonely island…

Off the coast of Massachusetts lies a small island, a world unto itself, called Thacher Island.

The Lighthouse Keeper's Tale - Thacher Island Location on Map

Satellite view of Thacher Island

In the early days of America–when we were still colonies, really–there were a great number of shipwrecks in the area. According to Wikipedia, sea captains petitioned the provincial government for lighthouses to be installed on Thacher Island, and the lighthouses fired up in 1771.

But, unexpectedly, it appeared that the lighthouses were helping the British fleet navigate the area more than they were helping captains and colonists avoid wrecks. So, a company of minutemen headed to the island in 1775 where they destroyed the lights and brought the lighthouse keeper and his family back to the mainland. Eventually, the lighthouses were restored to operation, and, according to the Thacher Island Association, “The present 123-foot granite towers were completed in 1861 raising the lights to 166 feet above sea level.” About a century later, in 1983, The Thacher Island Association took over care for the island, restored the lighthouses and keepers’ homes, and began operating the lighthouses with the help of volunteers.

Thacher Island Association photo with lighthouse 1Thacher Island Association photo with lighthouse 2

That’s where volunteer Lighthouse Keeper Ann Hernandez comes into the picture.

A Message in a Bottle Tradition

According to Boston.com, “Each year on her birthday, Ann Hernandez and her boyfriend, Alan Tomaska, would settle on the rocky shore of Thacher Island and uncork a bottle of champagne in a toast to the day. When the bottle was empty and the tide going out, Hernandez would tuck a handwritten message inside and Tomaska would hurl the bottle over the rocks and into the crashing surf.”

Thacher Island with Lighthouses - Tim Pierce - Wikipedia

Thacher Island and its duel lighthouses. This is the rocky coast where Ann Hernandez sat with her partner on her birthday in 2003. They drank a bottle of champagne, then sent a message out in it.

I always wonder what makes someone send a message in a bottle. What do they hope for? Ann, for example. Did she want a penpal? Maybe she just wanted to see where it would end up? Maybe I read too much into these things, but I wonder: was there something in Ann that made her long for the outside world? For adventure beyond her own daily sphere? She already spent her summers tending the lighthouse on Thacher Island. Ann must have been an adventurous person.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Message in a Bottle is Found

Six years after sending one of these bottles, a French couple found it washed ashore in their tiny village.

Ann Hernandez Message in a Bottle - The Lighthouse Keeper's Tale

Ann Hernandez’s Message in a Bottle. Photo: Michel and Daniele Onesime / Boston.com

When they went looking for Ann, they found that she had passed away unexpectedly just the year before they found her note. During her lifetime, according to Boston.com, only one of her bottles was found. It was found “in Marshfield, a place that Hernandez dismissed as not exotic enough to merit excitement.”

But according to her friends, “A quaint fishing village on the western coast of France…was just the sort of place where Hernandez would have loved to see her message in a bottle land.”


The French village where Ann’s bottle was found, St. Gilles Croix de Vie. Photo: Wikipedia user Splashview.

The French folks who found her bottled note felt the inexplicable power of messages in bottles to connect people. In fact, they befriended Ann’s friends and family, and hoped to visit Thacher Island and the lighthouse that was a home away from home for Ann.

In the meantime, the discovery of the note was a powerful reminder of Ann’s life for her friends and family. It’s the same with so many messages in bottles: Her friends and family must have believed they would never hear from Ann again. But then, all of a sudden, they did.

To me, that’s as close to magic as we can get.

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