Life in the Lighthouse, Norway to Long Island, New York

By Vivian Jensen Chapin

In 1894 a gypsy woman in my mother’s nearby Norwegian village told my then 10 year old mother, “You will go across the ocean and live next to a tall tower.”  My mother recalled that old woman’s fortune telling years later, after 80 years of living on both sides of the Atlantic.

My mother’s name was Ingeborg Myhre and she came from “Skaubraatsmyre”, a family farm near Arendal on the southeast coast of Norway.  As a child she made her way to school by rowing herself in a small skiff up river a mile or so to Dybvaag.  Perhaps it was then that she dreamed of crossing the wide oceans.

Captain Jensen painting the lighthouse at Eaton’s Neck. Courtesy of Vivian Jensen Chapin

There was not much opportunity for women in 1904, and when a first class ticket arrived from her Uncle Jens, she sailed to New York to be a ladies’ maid for the Raven family of Brooklyn. There she spent her days ironing layers of tiny linen pleats that made her employer’s dresses, enjoying the company of other Norwegian girls who worked there, keeping friendships for many years.

My father, Captain Arthur Jensen, was born in 1875 in Tangen, Norway.  When he was barely a teenager he sailed on his grandfather’s whaling ship to the Falkland Islands and took to the sea like he was born to it.  After Navigation School in Drammen, he left for New York harbor, where he enlisted in the US Navy.  In 1896 he served on the USS Richmond with Admiral Dewey in the Spanish American War sailing to South America, Philippines and Alaska.  He joined the Lighthouse Service in ’04 and became first assistant keeper at Execution Rock Lighthouse, then keeper at Cold Spring Harbor Light on Long Island in ’08.  During that summer at a Sons of Norway dance in Brooklyn, Arthur Jensen met my mother, Ingeborg Myhre.

My parents were married in Oyster Bay in 1908 and started married life in the isolated Cold Spring Harbor Lighthouse on Long Island.  One of my parent’s frequent guests was President Teddy Roosevelt, who would row as many children as he could fit into a boat out to the lighthouse for a visit.  In 1909, my father became the first assistant keeper at Eaton’s Neck Lighthouse, and keeper at Falkners’ (once called Falcon Island, now spelled Faulkner’s) Lighthouse, a remote island light five miles off the coast of Guilford, Connecticut on Long Island Sound.  They had an inboard with a sail, and they would sail to Guilford once a week, and sometimes motor up the Connecticut River to Essex when the weather was warmer.

Captain Jensen and his wife, Ingeborg. Courtesy of Vivian Jensen Chapin

My parents had lost two babies in infancy, so when my brother was about to be born they moved back to Eaton’s Neck, where they would be closer to town.  My sister arrived a few years later, then I in 1923.  My mother’s sister Gerda had emigrated to Brooklyn in 1910, married a Norwegian immigrant from Bergen, and my uncle Thor, a ship’s carpenter came over to live with us. Despite being surrounded by Norwegian family, my father insisted that we speak English since he was employed by the United States Coast Guard, but I thought all kids grew up eating lefse and krumkake!

The United States Coast Guard began operation of the Light in 1942 and shortly thereafter my father retired.  He never returned to his native Norway.  He died peacefully a few years later in their home on Mariner’s Lane (renamed in his honor) in Northport overlooking the Long Island Sound where he could see the steady beam of Eaton’s Neck Light.

My mother lived another thirty years and delighted in her travels back to Skaubraatsmhyre and Arendal to see her sisters and places she loved.  When Ingeborg Jensen passed on in 1975, she had indeed proved the gypsy woman’s prophesy to be truth.  My parents lives were lived across two oceans, in the shadow of many a tall tower and in the warmth of countless loved ones on both shores.

Vivian Jensen Chapin
5830 Hill St.
Port Townsend, WA 98338
February 10, 1999

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