Friday, June 18, 2010

Tales from the Ambrose Channel

West Bank Lighthouse

Location: Ambrose Channel, New York

West Bank Lighthouse became active on New Year’s Day, 1901 and was raised to 70 feet in 1906 to align with the Staten Island Light. Two more stories were added in 1907. From Lighthouse Friends comes a tale of legendary lighthouse keeper, Ed Burge, the first keeper of the light, and his dog.

Burge brought a small fox terrier puppy with him when he arrived at the newly built West Bank Lighthouse. Like his owner, the lighthouse life quickly got into the dog’s blood, and he refused to live anywhere else. In a 1924 magazine interview, Burge talked about his dog:

“You couldn’t get that dog to live ashore. Sometimes when I took him with me after supplies, he’d run down to the edge of the water and look out toward the light, and whine. If the light dimmed at night, or the fog signals stopped, he’d bark and tear around. He recognized a lot of boats, too, and would bark to the tugs he knew. I used to tie a flag to his tail, and he’d run out onto the gallery and wave signals. He always slept outside on the gallery, no matter how stormy it was, and watched the light and the boats. He was a lot of company. When I was transferred to Elm Tree I brought him ashore with me, but he wouldn’t live here. He was homesick, so I had to take him out and give him to the new keeper on the West Bank. He lived on the offshore lights for eleven years. Then the keeper brought him ashore, and he died in three days.”

The lighthouse was also crashed into by a vessel being towed by a tug, just three days after Christmas in 1908. The Carrie Winslow ripped the railings off the lighthouse and broke the glass. The tugboat company was held liable for the damage, which was $1200. However, Burge was kind of put out into the nor’easter by the fact it was his bedroom that got destroyed.

“She tore out one side of the tower, ripped free and drifted on, leaving that gale pouring through my bedroom. Nope, I didn’t do anything heroic. A man can’t be much of a hero without his pants. I just saw that the pup was all right and the light burning, and that the barkentine hadn’t sunk, and hunted another room that wasn’t busted wide open.”

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