The lighthouse's fifth-order Fresnel lens produced a fixed white light, first exhibited on September 15, 1856. It was changed to red a year later in reaction to the wreck of the schooner Shark, whose captain had mistaken Egg Rock Light for Long Island Head Light in Boston Harbor.
The first keeper was George B. Taylor of Nahant, who lived at the lighthouse with his wife and five children, along with chickens, goats, a tame crow, and a dog named Milo. A newspaper article reported that Taylor had a garden and grew beets that were "hard to beat by any gardener on the more favored shore."
One of the most famous of all lighthouse pets was Milo, the Taylors' huge Newfoundland-St. Bernard mix. One day, Keeper Taylor was shooting waterfowl on the island, with Milo accompanying him. The keeper shot a loon, which fell to the ocean. The bird was wounded, but not mortally. Milo swam in pursuit, but the loon took off and flew a short distance. Every time Milo would close in, the bird would take off again.
Taylor watched the chase from shore until Milo and the loon disappeared from sight. Milo wasn't seen again that day. The next day, Milo was seen swimming from Nahant, where he apparently spent the night. He swam safely back to his home at the Rock.
An 1860 article described life at Egg Rock:
Keeper Taylor lost his job for political reasons in 1860. Thomas Widger, the second keeper, was at Egg Rock from 1861 to 1871. Widger and his wife had three sons born on the island during their years there, as well as two daughters born ashore in Swampscott.
When the birth of one of their sons was imminent, Keeper Widger rowed his dory to shore and enlisted the help of a Swampscott midwife. In heavy surf the dory capsized and threw the pair overboard. The woman refused to go any further. Keeper Widger had to row alone back to Egg Rock, and his son, Abraham, was born a short time later.
There wasn't much soil on Egg Rock, but Abraham Widger later remembered that his family had a vegetable garden. They also kept chickens and pigs. "We never gave the neighbors any trouble," said Widger. "They were too far away on shore."
An entry in the station's log in 1873, when Henry N. Richardson was keeper, read:
The keeper's daughter, who was twelve years old in 1873, later claimed that she was the one who kept the light going during her father's absence. Another one of Richardson's entries:
(Note: Poor Mr. Phillips had already sold the cod when the ring was discovered inside)
There's a story involving a keeper of Egg Rock Light that has been passed down through the years, but which appears to be legend rather than fact. It seems the wife of one of the keepers in the latter part of the nineteenth century died in the early winter. Egg Rock was surrounded by ice, so the keeper couldn't bring the body to the mainland. Instead he laid her in an outbuilding, where she soon froze solid.
In the early spring, when the ice had cleared enough, the keeper rowed his wife's body to the mainland. A funeral was held that day. After the funeral the keeper visited with an old childhood sweetheart. He hastily proposed marriage, and the same preacher who had performed the keeper's first wife's funeral just hours earlier married the couple. The keeper was back at Egg Rock with his new wife before nightfall, according to the legend.
Charles M. Dunham became keeper in 1884 after time at Thacher Island, off Rockport. Here are two of of his log entries:
In May 28, 1885, the keeper and his wife Mary (Mills) had a daughter born at the lighthouse, Ada Isidore Dunham. Their older daughter, Dora, said years later:
On September 18, 1885, Keeper Dunham rescued a New Hampshire man whose canoe had overturned neat Egg Rock. Dunham later received a Humane Society Life Saving medal for the July 1889 rescue of two men whose small sloop had capsized in a squall.
During more than two decades at Egg Rock, Keeper Lyon took a correspondence course in mechanical drawing. He was a carpenter, boat builder, reportedly an expert marksman with a rifle, and his mechanical aptitude enabled him to repair the dory engines of many local fishermen. He also built and raced his own dories. Lyon's crowning achievement at Egg Rock was the invention of a landing stage on the island. With this arrangement a boat landing on the island was actually hoisted out of the water onto a deck, then hoisted into a boathouse. A powerful hand winch was used for both hoists.
George Lyon was responsible for many rescues in the vicinity of Egg Rock. Once, after the keeper saved a group of five men, they took up a collection and presented a not-so-generous reward of 85 cents to their rescuer.
Lyon had a Newfoundland dog at the lighthouse with the strange name of "O-who." O-who loved to fetch sticks thrown by the keeper into the waves, and he rode along and "assisted" in some of the rescues around the island. Charles Lawrence called O-who a "sailor at heart." The dog was succeeded at Egg Rock by a family of black cocker spaniels.
Keeper Lyon was aided on the island by a local young woman named Ada Foster. The two later planned to be married, but Ada died before the marriage could take place, when Lyon was keeper at Nobska Point Light.
It became a popular pastime for some of the young women in the area to call the lighthouse and chat with the young men to help them pass the lonely hours. The life of one of those men might have been saved by the phone calls, as the young women convinced him to stay at the lighthouse during a bad storm instead of making a risky trip to shore.
In 1919, an automatic gas-operated beacon was placed in the tower. The Lynn Daily Evening Item of January 31, 1919 reported:
Then, in 1922, the light was discontinued. The government sold the buildings at auction for $160. The catch was that the buyer had to remove the buildings from the island at his own expense. The buyer, John Cavanaugh of Milton, Massachusetts, planned to move the lighthouse to Quincy, south of Boston. A crew was hired to move the structure onto a barge. In preparation, the dwelling was separated from the tower. The house was jacked up and placed on rollers, and was moved about 50 feet successfully before disaster struck.
Keepers: (This list is a work in progress. If you have any information on the keepers of this lighthouse, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone copying this list onto another web site does so at their own risk, as the list is always subject to updates and corrections.)
George B. Taylor (1856-1861); Thomas Widger (1861-1871); Henry N. Richardson (1871-1874); Charles Hooper (1874-1883); George Wadleigh (1883-1884); Charles Dunham (1884-1889); George L. Lyon (1889-1911); Malcom (Malcolm?) N. Huse (1911-?); Andrew S. Nickerson (?); James Yates (?)