Going…Going…Gone!

Today I met living history in the form of a spunky 90 year old woman named Margie Rider Currey.  What an awesome timeI had, listening to her stories of her childhood.  Where did she spend her life?  In Tuckerton and summers on Tucker’s Island in the Tucker’s Island Lighthouse!  How did she come to spend so much time there?  She is the niece of the lighthouse keeper, Arthur Rider.  Wow!!

Here is a photo of the Tucker Island Lighthouse as it looked in the late 1800’s.  (Link here.)

Below are photos of it falling into the sea in 1927.  Margie’s father took the pictures with a bellows camera, “not a Brownie Box camera” we were informed, as was written in the linked article here and partially reprinted below.

The article begins, “As the story goes, Lighthouse Keeper Arthur Rider and his nephew actually slept in the abandoned lighthouse the night before it fell into the water.”  All true, according to Margie.  They knew it was going to eventually fall because of the many hurricanes and storms that had assaulted Tucker’s Island for so many years.

The first Tucker’s Island Lighthouse was constructed in 1848, a small light that was in existence for only twelve years.  In 1865 the next Tucker’s Island/Little Egg Harbor Light was erected.  Located approximately 20 miles south of the red and white Barnegat Lighthouse and 12 miles north of Atlantic City’s Absecon Lighthouse, the lighthouse was well situated.  A life saving station, two hotels…and houses appeared on the scene.  All were easy to build with a lot of washed up lumber from shipwrecks and no electricity or plumbing to worry about.

Eber Rider was the first Tucker’s Island Lighthouse Keeper.  He and his two wives had twenty –one children.  The light itself was turned off during the Civil War and re-lit in 1866.  Jarvis Rider, the oldest son, became head of the Life Saving Station, situated about a mile south of the Lighthouse in a location that was better suited to launching rescue boats.

 After his retirement in 1904, son Arthur Rider took over his father’s duties.  He and his family lived in the Lighthouse as his father had done.  Together father and son managed the light for a record sixty-three years.  

Around 1900 Tucker’s Island began to be plagued by a number of storms and hurricanes.  Sand washed away, houses and the two old hotels fell apart or were inundated by water.  The ocean came closer and closer to the Lighthouse, water swirling around the footings.  An inlet opened up north of the Lighthouse causing more problems.  Both the Lighthouse and Life Saving Station had to be abandoned.  

As erosion continued, the Lighthouse eventually toppled over.  Margie said, “The remaining buildings and houses were then set to fire to burn so they wouldn’t float out to sea and be hazards for ships passing by.”   Unfortunately, she did not know if the lighthouse lens had been removed when the lighthouse had been abandoned.  Most people suspect it went down with the house and is now lying on the bottom of the sea.  There is talk of searching for it in the area of the sea where Tucker’s Island used to be.

Yes, that is correct.  The Island is no more.  It too was claimed by the sea many years ago.  There was a time not too long ago when a sand bar appeared and stayed for two or so years.  People said it was Tucker’s Island reborn.  They went to picnic there so they could claim, “I’ve been to Tucker’s Island!”

Margie, of course, really had been there.  Every summer of her young life.  They would go clamming, fishing, eeling and berry picking.  They would sun themselves and play in the sand and sea.  Garveys, piloted by her father, would run back to the mainland for groceries when necessary and return heavy laden.

The Folklife Director of Tuckerton Seaport made an appointment with Margie in order to record her life’s experiences.  Those people, the Pineys, who lived then are rapidly dwindling and the life they led departs.  Thus, it is important to document as much as possible, for historical records.

Margie said, “I’ll even show you all my pictures from then!  I’ve got them all stored in a suitcase somewhere!”  Oh boy!

If you ever visit Tuckerton Seaport, they built a replica of the Tucker Island Lighthouse.  In it you will find nearly life sized photos of the ‘real’ Lighthouse falling into the sea.  The Lighthouse Museum tells the story of the area and its people.  People like Margie, who I was blessed to meet today.

Sigh.  I love history.  Especially when it walks up and greets you with a spunky smile and bright sparkling blue eyes!

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