The ones that got away?

July 18th, 2018
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I’ve always been fascinated by islands, and lighthouses go along with that territory. On a recent trip to Door County (the “thumb” of Wisconsin), I visited the Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay on a blustery autumn day. My favorite exhibit was one devoted to lighthouses of the peninsula; those on the mainland, and those on the islands along the Green Bay and Lake Michigan coasts.

This story about the lighthouse on Rock Island was particularly fascinating, and also sad in its brevity. Lonely tending an island lighthouse? Of course. Twenty days to find a wife….realistic? I’ll recap the brief narrative from the museum exhibit:

1837:  David G. Corbin was named the first keeper of the light (Pottawatomie on Rock Island) at an annual salary of $560, but did not begin tending the light until the 1838 shipping season.  

1845:  Corbin was lonely and given 20 days leave to search for a wife, but was not successful in his quest. He returned to the island and the company of his horse “Jock” and faithful dog. He remained on the Island for the rest of his life and was buried just south of the lighthouse.

A brief account of one man’s life. My first read-through was one of sorrow…I thought of Corbin as a pitiful soul who couldn’t find a suitable woman; that is, a woman who was willing to undertake a lonely and isolated existence.  Of course, he may have found a candidate or two, but Corbin may have been the reluctant one.  And then there’s the question …what would happen if Corbin (or the wife) turned out to be a terrible companion – or worse yet, crazy?

I did a little more research, and one account states that Corbin did find a female companion (with three children) by the time the 1850 census was taken. He died in 1852. You can find more information here:  rock island light.

I’ve thought about writing a series of short stories suggested by the scenario suggested above:  man has 20 days to find wife and persuade her to live with him on an isolated, rocky island and assist him in lighting the lighthouse lamp every night. But this may be one case where the real story is more intriguing than any fictional account.

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