Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Review: Lenore Skomal, The Keeper of Lime Rock

Publisher/Year: Running Press, 2002

The Keeper of Lime Rock is the story of Ida Lewis, “America’s most celebrated lighthouse keeper”. The fact that she was also America’s first female lighthouse keeper makes this honor all that more significant. Author Lenore Skomal takes the few details known about Ida and fastens an interesting story about an unassuming woman reluctantly living in the national and international limelight for simply doing her job.

Lewis came to be a lighthouse keeper after her father fell ill and was incapable of undertaking his tasks. Along with her younger brother, Lewis maintained the lighthouse at Lime Rock and provided the necessary rescue assistance when required. She did these things with very little recognition until one fateful night in March 1869. It was then that she rescued two shipwrecked soldiers from nearby Fort Adams, and thereby cemented her place in American history.
As she continued to serve the lighthouse, news of her acts of heroism were celebrated all over the world (her adventure that March night was not her first or last successful rescue effort). Numerous feature stories and articles were printed over her career detailing her valor and courage. Rich and poor people alike flocked to meet this famous woman, and more than a few men sent her marriage proposals. There were even music compositions written in her honor, and Wordsworth penned a poem.

She received medals from Congress for her rescue of endangered soldiers and citizens. Numerous other awards poured in, either in monetary, medal or gift fashion. But Ida kept these closed away, intent to accept the accolades for peace of mind and as a boost for her self-confidence rather than view them as a means to mark her place in history. Lewis was a very modest person, who would have rather lived her life in obscurity than be the centre of so much attention. For her, tending the lighthouse flames hourly was more important than any of her rescue efforts, and certainly more important than any attention those efforts brought to her door.

Keeper Of Lime Rock PbFor some time, Lewis was a novelty, a sideshow of sorts for a society struggling to shirk the confining principles ideal feminine passivity. The men she rescued didn’t believe she could possibly save them, until she did. Her physical and psychological strength was admired and praised by both men and women. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony even visited Lewis, a meeting that interestingly left Lewis quite unimpressed by the feminist leaders of the time.

Because Lewis was so modest, The Keeper of Lime Rock is not the most engrossing read. It is a rather dull compilation that sometimes runs a little too freely with the platitudes about courage and heroism. Granted, Skomal did not have much to work with in that no journal or diaries exist from Lewis’ own hand. What material she did have is surrounded with truth speculation and third-hand tellings. Without firsthand accounts there cannot be any full understanding of Lewis; there is no way of knowing what she was truly thinking or feeling during her life outside other individual’s perceptions and insinuations. As a result, Lewis does not emerge as a three-dimensional person and this is mildly disconnecting for the reader.

The Keeper of Lime Rock is a short read, which is good as the writing lacks the vitality to make you want to read more. Information and events are repeated, making a strong case that Lewis’ story would make a better article than a full book. This is in no means meant to discredit or minimize Lewis and her contributions to women’s place in the workplace and society; she is most definitely someone worthy of admiring and studying. The problem lies in the written words themselves, for they never fully encapsulate the story-telling potential dwelling in Ida Lewis’ life story. The Keeper of Lime Rock merely reports the facts--what there are to report--and this is unfortunately just not enough to comprise a whole book.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lenore, I am the great grand niece of Ida Lewis, I loved your book. But if you ever have any more to write about I would love to talk to you about the letter and stories that my grandmother Edna (Davis)-Blecha, left on the certificates she was given for Ida after she died in Port Hueneme,Ca. My name is Charlotte Oakley, My e-mail is Not after any of your money just want you to have some more facts.