Redamntion – 4

14 Nov


Standish Preparatory Academy dominated the highest point on Gibbons Island, casting long shadows down the jagged slope that stretched all the way to the sea. The predominant feature of the campus, the old stone lighthouse, served as the island’s symbol of identity, appearing in one form or another on flags, souvenir plates, tee-shirts and, of course, the Standish official emblem. The lighthouse itself did not belong to the academy, situated as it was on a point about a mile away from the school, but still, if you asked any resident they would be quick to call it Standish Light.  Local lore told of its proud history, and of the many ships it guided through the shoals amid mountainous waves or a shroud of fog.

The light had burned above the cliff since long before the building that became Standish Academy was ever built. It stood sentinel, overseeing the construction of the stone and brick fortress that stood against British war ships during the 18th century, shining signals to neighboring islands that the ships were on the way.  It shone its beam over the prisoners held within the fortress during the war for independence under the watchful eye of Josiah Gibbons.

When the war was over, Gibbons saw to the conversion of the fort to an asylum. Gibbons ran the institution with a hard hand, and little oversight from the mainland. Though the institution was founded on the pledge of providing a safe and compassionate place of refuge for the mentally feeble and the infirm, compassion had little to do with the actual treatment that was given.  Well to do families who did not wish to be burdened or embarrassed by a mentally unstable family member, would pay Gibbons a handsome price to house and care for their problem progeny. It was also a convenient place to send away a wayward daughter who turned up in the family way without benefit of husband.

More often than not, the family would pay the monthly maintenance blindly, without ever inquiring on the condition or progress of their loved ones. Often the fee would be paid months, or even years, after the unfortunate inmate had died. Gibbons found little reason to inform, or console, until asked directly about any one patient. Then he would reply with a simple letter of condolence, “I’m sorry to inform you that your letter arrived only days after your brother/son/nephew/wife—passed away due to a sudden onset of influenza…”

The scam was successful and lucrative until 1825, when Wendell P. Standish had, under protest, sent his youngest son, who suffered debilitating seizures, to Gibbons for treatment. Gibbons himself arrived at the Standish estate to escort the lad safely to the island, insisting there was no need to worry.  After months of receiving now word on his son’s progress, Standish insisted on visiting the island himself and was appalled at the conditions he witnessed. He removed his son and filed complaints with the authorities in hopes of shutting Gibbons down.  He sent letters to the news printers of the day, posted plaques and bills all over Boston and even wrote to President Jackson all with little success. People just did not seem to care what happened on an island they could barely see.

Standish grew despondent as it seemed Gibbons would continue to thrive while so many suffered under his hand. Then, one terrible and stormy night in 1829, the lighthouse was doused by giant waves as a monstrous gale blew in over the sea.

By morning, it was clear the tower would need to be repaired as it was essential for the ships to pass safely. A work-crew employed by the Navy were sent to repair the tower. They arrived to find the asylum in ruin, and patients wandering the island dazed and wet, dressed only in rags. Word got back to the mainland that what Standish had been reporting for years was actually true, and in 1830, Josiah Gibbons at the age of eight-eight, was arrested and convicted of fraud. The asylum was shut down and in 1831 Wendell Standish bought the property with the purpose of establishing an academy which truly did operate with compassion.

The histories are unclear as to what became of the inmates after Standish took over. By some accounts, there were only two or three who had survived the storm, and they lived out their lives on the island. Other accounts say there were no such survivors, and still others paint Standish with the same black paint as Josiah Gibbons, claiming he imprisoned them and forced them to build the town. Local lore dictates the ghosts of the poor souls still haunt the halls of Standish Academy to this day. On stormy nights, if the lighthouse goes dark, it is said that the ghosts are once again calling for help from the mainland.

But the lighthouse doesn’t go dark anymore. Not since the early 1970s when the last of the lighthouse keepers retired and the light became automated. The Coast Guard keeps the light functioning and pays the light bill and collects the rent for the little cottage where the lighthouse keeper always lived.

Logan always paid the rent on time.

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Posted by on November 14, 2012 in Uncategorized


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