Devaney Farrow Jennette, was born and reared on Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. In 1908, he entered the United States Lighthouse Establishment. In 1932, he took his last breath and fell over into the arms of Capt’n Swan, in the Lantern Room of the Cape Fear Lighthouse. Over eighty years later…Dawn Farrow Taylor, relit the memory of a Great Grandfather, she never knew. Through listening to old family stories and genealogical research, she came to learn about his life as a dear father, a trusted friend, and a destined lighthouse keeper. And he became a man whose memory…she would never again, let fade.
In the winter of 2004, I decided to take my Father on a trip back to his childhood. To a time spent playing on the sandy beaches of Bald Head Island, underneath the shadow of the skeletal tower known as the Cape Fear Lighthouse. This island, this place that Pop called home for 13 years, had become as much an inseparable part of our lives as our dearest family members.
Often, I sit and look at the black and white photographs that were taken during that era. There are images of Aunt Nonie, holding a doll as she sat in a small chair belonging to Keeper Swan’s children. And there is one of Mom (Great Grandmother Ella Gray Jennette),gracing the front porch of the keeper’s quarters,which faced the barren beach. This is the same beach where Pop fished and the family swam. But we were there to also make new memories. We met Keeper Swan’s son, Reece and his nephew, Ron Hood. We sat and chatted over coffee, with Anne Mills and Marilyn Ridgeway, of the Old Baldy Organization. We had made the journey and thought this would be the end of the story. But Devaney F. Jennette, had other plans…
Have you ever thought that you were in a certain place at a certain time, for a reason you just couldn’t explain ? Call it cosmic forces. Call it fate. You can even call it divine providence. I’ll just say it was Pop’s doing, and leave it at that. One morning I found myself at the home of Rhonda Bates and Wes Lassiter, in Frisco, NC. I was helping to remove some of Rhonda’s art prints from under a piece of furniture. It is then that I spotted what appeared to be a large and heavy object, made of brass and very thick glass. Being out of the Jennette family of lighthouse keepers, it didn’t take long for me to realize what I was looking at. It was a bull eyes panel from a lighthouse ! I turned to Rhonda and asked her, “Where did you get this ?” Her response was one I’ll never forget. “Think it came from some place called Bald Head Island. Wes’ Dad bought it”.
At that point, I believed I knew exactly where it came from. Old Baldy Lighthouse was still standing on the island. But in 1958, the Cape Fear Lighthouse was demolished and the Oak Island Light, took it’s place. Before it’s destruction, the demolition company removed the lens and sold them to an antique dealer in Wilmington, NC. It was that antique dealer who sold the panel to Wes’ Dad. To make a long story short…the lens is now back where it belongs, on Bald Head Island. Guess Pop is still tending to his light. According to Keeper swan’s family, after Pop’s death, one could still hear his footsteps climbing those stairs to the top…one by one. Guess a keeper’s work is truly, never done.
All photographs are from the private collection of Dawn F. Taylor.