A Q&A with SpinSheet and PropTalk co-founder and book author Dave Gendell.
Why a book about the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse?
I first visited the idea back in 2004, at the time the lighthouse was being handed over from the federal government to the City of Annapolis and its partners. I was involved in the handover ceremony and in the process met a number of U.S. Lighthouse Society leaders and other lighthouse aficionados. As I learned more about the history of the screwpile at Thomas Point, it was obvious that someone needed to put together a book about the lighthouse, what went into building it, the men who kept it, and the ongoing preservation efforts. I actually did a fair amount of research and writing that winter of 2004-05, but we were in start-up mode for PropTalk and I became father of twins around the same time, so the lighthouse project was paused before it really began.
Fast-forward to summer 2019. I was stuck on a writing project and trying to shake something loose. On a whim I dug out the 2004 Thomas Point research and notes folder. After working for so many years on sprawling non-fiction projects, the idea of writing about a single fixed point on the earth over a linear timeline was appealing. The fact that that point of earth was just a few miles from my desk and that the timeline continued through today and extended into the future was a great source of motivation.
How did you do the research?
For this book I conducted research sessions at the National Archives in College Park, MD, and at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Some amazing lighthouse researchers had gone before me, many associated with the U.S. Lighthouse Society, so their work also helped blaze the path. When I ended up with a specific date or event that was especially interesting, I turned to the archives of The Baltimore Sun and the Maryland Gazette/Annapolis Evening Capital newspapers which helped frame some context around the events.
The last sections of the book are current day, and I was able to get out on the lighthouse and spend real time there, thanks to Lighthouse Manager John Potvin. Of course, I had to interview the legendary Lenny Rudow about fishing at Thomas Point and also got to take a trip out to the shoal to fish with the great Tom Weaver. That first-hand research was so important (and fun).
Any favorite stories stand out?
The very first keeper out there was from the Eastern Shore. As a young man he had been wounded in the fighting at the Bloody Lane at Antietam while fighting for the Union, and it appears that he had some sort of disability for the rest of his life. He not only had the honor of serving as the first keeper, but he also had some wild adventures out there and faced real danger. I loved telling his story. In the depths of the April quarantine I went up to Antietam, and it was really empty. I found the spot at the Bloody Lane where he had been wounded, and we had a moment.
In the mid-1970s, the Thomas Point keeper was an African-American from North Carolina, who had the honor of serving at the 100-year anniversary of the lighthouse. His story was also wonderful to learn and include in the book. And obviously, the work that has been done out there since 2004 is just amazing. The increase in fundraising and public interest over just the past few years has been incredible. It is so rewarding to be able to document those stories, too. I just love what is happening out there now. I am donating a portion of the book proceeds to lighthouse preservation efforts.
To buy a copy of Gendell’s book “Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse,” click to spinsheet.com/thomas-point-lighthouse-book