Kenneth Black, one of the founders of the lighthouse preservation movement in the United States, died on Jan. 28. Cause of death was not released. He was 82.
A native of Ridgefield Park, N.J., Black joined the Coast Guard in 1941. He fought in the Pacific theater during World War II and saw action at the invasion of Okinawa. In the late 1950s, Black served as commander of Quoddy Head Station in Lubec, Maine. There he started a Coast Guard tradition of decorating the West Quoddy Head Light in holiday lights. During his tenure as commander of the Point Allerton, Mass., Life Boat Station from 1965 to 1968, the station’s crew made the most rescues on the East Coast. Black received numerous honors in the service, including an American Defense Medal, an Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, a WWII Victory Medal and a WWII Occupational Service Medal.
It was while serving in the Coast Guard that Chief Warrant Officer Black became interested in lighthouses. For the rest of his life, he accumulated and preserved hundreds of lighthouse lenses, massive foghorns, lifesaving boats, fog bells, charts and other related artifacts. Much of his lighthouse archives included equipment that was being thrown away after lighthouses were automated, sold to private investors or destroyed. When his massive collection outgrew the Coast Guard base in Rockland, Maine, he moved it to a new building in town that became known as the Shore Village Museum. The artifacts remained there, on public display, for more than 30 years.
Black was affectionately known to lighthouse enthusiasts as “Mr. Lighthouse” for his vast knowledge about the mechanics of vintage lighthouse equipment. (His wife, Dorothy “Dot” Wyman Black, who survives him, is called “Mrs. Lighthouse.”) Ken was the first person to publish a national newsletter on lighthouses, and frequently narrated a slide show called “Lighthouses Are Like People: They Come in All Sizes, Shapes and Colors.” In 2005, Black founded the Maine Lighthouse Museum on the Rockland waterfront. His collection of lighthouse memorabilia was moved into the new building; an exhibition hall in the museum was named in Black’s honor last June. The Maine Lighthouse Museum now boasts the largest collection of lighthouse lenses in the nation.
Black remained with the Coast Guard for 32 years, serving in ports throughout New England and the Great Lakes. He retired in 1973, ending his illustrious career as commanding officer of the Rockland Coast Guard Station and the official curator of the First Coast Guard District. For his dedication to the preservation of lighthouse artifacts, Black was hailed on the floor of the U.S. Senate and commended in a letter from President George W. Bush. Lighthouse Digest magazine also gave him its “Beacon of Light Award” for his efforts in preserving lighthouse history. Last year, the Coast Guard created a special award for Black because he had already received every other award the service had to offer.