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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Graves Lighthouse - Boston Harbor

Photo by Detroit Publishing Company, 1906.  Library of Congress collection, now in public domain.

The Graves Lighthouse stands on a rocky ledge in Boston Harbor, an outpost perhaps more rugged than romantic, but romantic enough to be used as the Cape Cod lighthouse in the 1949 film, “Portrait of Jennie” with Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones.

We tend nowadays to think of lighthouses as cozy and quaint icons of a romantic past. Perhaps something to do with the fact that automation, and a decreased reliance on ship travel, makes them seem remote and anachronistic. The story of Jennie and the starving artist, first made popular in Robert Nathan novella, is based upon anachronism and the impossible reaching out for the past, a doomed attempt to meld it with the present.

The actual history of the Graves Lighthouse is more prosaic. Built from 1903 to 1905, it is one of the younger lighthouses in New England. It replaced buoys to mark a busy shipping channel in Boston Harbor. With granite cut from Rockport, Massachusetts, it began operation in September 1905 with what was then the most powerful light of any Massachusetts lighthouse. Its enormous lens rested on 400 pounds of mercury (a spill of this material in the 1970s required the lighthouse to be shut down temporarily for decontamination). The light was automated in 1976 and its gigantic lens was sent to the Smithsonian Institute.
Photo by Detroit Publishing Company, 1906. Library of Congress collection, now in public domain.

For more on the Graves Lighthouse, have a look at this website, which also features a brief candid home movie of Joseph Cotten at the time of filming “Portrait of Jennie”. Note that it is the distance shots of the lighthouse in the film that are of the actual Graves Lighthouse. The close-ups were shot on a set back in Hollywood.

Here is another site with more information on the lighthouse.

For more on “Portrait of Jennie”, have a look here at my post on Another Old Movie Blog.

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