Gallagher, on the beach south of his home. (Photograph by Gary Wayne Gilbert for Boston College Magazine)
Bob Gallagher, keeper of Massachusetts’s Scituate Lighthouse, rocks on his boots and a 16-inch-wide pine floorboard creaks. “I like to start tours here,” he says, in his living room. Seagull squawks echo down the chimney, waves pound the boulder breakwater on three sides of the shingled cottage with adjoining 50-foot-tall octagonal lighthouse. Both home and light were built in 1811 (the lighthouse of granite and brick), and the pine is original. “How big a tree would get us these boards? Gigantic,” he says. “Well, that takes us to the 1600s.”
When the town of Scituate posted the opening for caretaker in 2008, there were more than 100 respondents; 26 showed up for interviews after it became clear the job was unpaid. In fact, Gallagher pays $900 in monthly rent, which goes into a maintenance fund. Along his tour, he points out windows, doors, and portions of exterior walls he’s replaced, and re-replaced, after storms. Other duties include shoveling off stones the sea throws into the yard.
Gallagher, his wife, Julie, and their teenage daughter are stewards of several historical artifacts, and he enthusiastically relates the tale of one, a small, dented fife. The first keeper’s daughters had played it, along with a never-found drum, with such martial vigor that two British warships were deterred from landing in 1814. Now the public beach 40 feet outside the family’s door draws tens of thousands of tourists a year.
Gallagher is required to provide an open-house tour, which can draw 600 visitors, five days a year. In his application to the town’s historical society, he wrote of the appealing benefit “for my [then-nine-year-old] daughter, to have people from all over the world come to our home.” And he said he was “corny enough to want to give back to my hometown.” The lifelong Scituate resident paid his way through his B.A. and M.A. in political science by working at the local sub shop Maria’s (“an institution”), which he would later manage for 18 years. Since 1999, he has been a U.S. history teacher at nearby Marshfield High School. Gallagher is coauthor of Legendary Locals of Scituate (2013) and has developed school programs centered on local landmarks such as a grist mill from 1650.
The lighthouse tour ends 32 spiral steps and two ladders up, in the lantern room. Gallagher checks thrice weekly that the 500-watt automated beacon flashes every 15 seconds and that the public webcams he installed haven’t frozen. During hurricanes and blizzards, “this is the place to be,” he says, smiling. “You feel like you’re inside a popcorn machine.”
—Zachary Jason | Boston College Magazine