The Mast-Head: On Montauk Circa 1908

The Montauk Lighthouse visitors’ log from August 1908 to September 1910

Looking through a box in the Star attic the other day, I noticed a narrow, cloth-bound ledger that looked interesting. A handwritten note tucked inside the front cover identified it as the Montauk Lighthouse visitors’ log from August 1908 to September 1910. Whoever had left the note indicated that the entries included an “auto run” in 1908, complete with the makes of the cars.

Flipping through the pages, I had the vague memory that someone had asked about this log some time ago, that it had belonged to a grandparent who had left it at The Star years ago and whose family had wanted it returned. I asked around; no one could remember who that might have been.

Chas. Wright of Brooklyn’s name is the first entry in the log, written in a big cursive hand on Aug. 22, 1908. The last entry is Mrs. H.C. Hoyt of Bensonhurst, on Sept. 26, 1910.

Local names appear by the plenty. My grandmother, who was called Nettie Edwards in those days, visited the Lighthouse on June 13, 1909, with her aunts Phoebe and Minnie Huntting. 

In July 1909, among the visitors to the Lighthouse signing the book were four members of the Roosevelt family, including John Ellis Roosevelt, a first cousin of President Theodore Roosevelt, who had left office just months earlier.

On Sept. 15, 1910, my great-great-grandmother’s name appears in a steady hand as Mrs. J.B. Edwards, Amagansett L.I. The 1908 N.Y. Automobile Trade Association Long Island Run arrived at Montauk Point on Sept. 17. About 27 people listed their names, alongside the makes of their vehicles. Unlike the other visitors’ signatures, theirs are hard to read, perhaps reflecting the long, hard miles they had traveled in their Rainier Motor Car Co. models, but if I can read one name correctly, a person named Anderson.

It was only after I put a photo of my grandmother’s signature on Instagram that the facts about whose logbook this was became clear. Barbara Borsack noticed the post and phoned to ask where I had found the logbook. Her father had lent it to my grandmother shortly before his death in 1974 of a stroke. Time intervened, and about a decade ago, Barbara inquired about it. I kept a Post-It on my desk for a while on the chance that it might turn up, but that, too, fell victim to time and disappeared.

The log had come into Barbara’s family via her great-great-grandfather James Scott, who was the keeper of the Light until 1910. Barbara’s great-grandmother had grown up in the Lighthouse as a young girl and recalled that visitors could be seen miles off over the treeless plain as they made the journey. There was often time enough to get something cooking so that they could have a hot meal ready by the time the guests arrived.

Now, Barbara plans to stop by the office to collect it. She told me she would look through it for a few days, then find it a secure home where it might in the future be accessible to the public.