Resident Starts Drive To Save Iconic Lightship

The red glow of the Nantucket Light Ship – now docked in East Boston indefinitely – can be seen as a red dot on the other side of the Harbor from Charlestown, but it’s potentially sad story is resonating on this side of the Harbor thanks to a new partnership hoping to save the ship.

Charlestown resident P.J. Mugford hosted a sold-out fundraiser last Sunday, May 17, at Pier 6 in the Navy Yard, and nearly 200 people came out for the initial effort to raise funds to help save the historic lightship, which is in bad disrepair and is threatened with getting put in the scrapyard.

Mugford, who owns stores on Nantucket called the Sail Loft and Her Sail Loft, said he heard about the Nantucket Light Ship recently, and wasn’t about to let the historic ship go the way of a destructive death. Partnering up with owners of Muskeget Group Private Holding Company, including owners Robert Caron of Beacon Hill and Jesse Biggers of the South End, Mugford kicked off the effort here last weekend.

“I began to hear the story of the Nantucket Lightship and at the end of that great story they said that it would likely end up being sent for scrap metal if it didn’t get fixed,” he said. “I said, ‘That’s insane.’ It would be absolutely horrible – an atrocity – if they cannot get enough money to save this thing. We’re really trying to play a big part in making people aware and excited about saving this great ship. They’ve never tried to do fundraising in both Boston and Nantucket before, and so this is the first effort of many more to come here and in Nantucket.”

The Nantucket Lightship is a special ship in that it is on the list of 100 National Treasures. Other things on that list include the home of Malcolm X and other historically significant items and places that need to be saved. It was the largest lightship ever built and was stationed as an off-shore lighthouse about 100 miles out at sea. The current lightship was actually a gift from England, as the original Nantucket Lightship was overrun in the 1930s by a British ocean liner – causing a tragedy at sea that killed many people. As a gift in memorial of that tragedy, England paid for a new ship and gifted it back to the U.S.

According the the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the ship was constructed in 1936 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. Nantucket Lightship/LV-112 was called the “Statue of Liberty of the Sea,” as it was the first and last U.S. landmark seen by ships traveling to and from Europe. The vessel’s famed fog signal could be heard for 14 miles, while its light beacon could be seen for 23 miles. During WWII, the converted LV-112 patrolled the coast off Portland, ME, rescuing the crew of the USS Eagle-56 after she was sunk by a German U-boat. Its 39 years of service made LV-112 the longest-serving lightship on the Nantucket Shoals.

Hundreds of lightships like the Nantucket patrolled the shores of the United States from the early 1800s until the late 1970s. However, only a handful of those ships are still in existence. The Nantucket had been rescued from Long Island in 2010 by the U.S. Lightship Museum Society, having been made seaworthy and moved to Boston. However, the plans for it to become a museum stalled out as costly repairs seemed not to have a funding source, according to museum president Bob Mannino.

Recently, however, American Express made a donation to help fix the Beacon light – which is a good first step. Mugford said there is still a great deal of work to do on the motor and the electrical system before anyone can think about going on tours.

However, that is the eventual goal, he said.

“This restoration project is a pretty lofty goal,” said Mugford. “What we’re tying to have done is to get it restored so that there can be tours and a museum on board. There’s a lot to do so we’ll take it one piece at a time.”

If last Sunday was any indication, the effort has gathered some real steam.

Mugford said he sold out of pre-ordered tickets to the Charlestown event, and even sold additional tickets at the door. He estimated a total of 190 people who came out to help save the Nantucket.

“There are a lot of Charlestown people who have a connection to Nantucket, who summer there or have places there,” he said. “Sunday was exciting for our first event, but we do plan to do more.

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