the Concord Magazine

Aug/Sept '99
The Ezine for and about Concord, Massachusetts

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The Pharologist of Concord

By Deborah Bier, editor and publisher of this ezine.


There stands in quiet Sudbury
(it's the river that I mean)
a pillar tall and spendid
a shaft so white and clean....

Hans Miller of Concord was -- as far as we know -- our one and only Pharologist. It is likely we will never have another, or at least none so flamboyant.

a lighthouse???For those who can't quite place this word, it means lighthousekeeper, from Pharos, the ancient lighthouse considered one of the wonders of the ancient world.

Miller and his family lived along the Sudbury River on Main Street, just upstream from Nashawtuc bridge at 310 Main Street. An amateur actor active in the Concord Players (in the first stage production of Little Women, he played the part of Professor Baer), he loved to infuse life with high drama and effusive fun.

As the story goes, there were (and still are) rocks submerged in the river right behind his house which pose a danger to boats in dry weather. They were not deep enough to pass over, yet not high enough to see; thus ramming them was a likelihood. After an peace-shattering collision one fine afternoon in 1930 while he was relaxing by the river, he exclaimed "If we don't do something about this, my garden will be cluttered with the rotting hulks of shipwrecked craft."

His solution was to create a lighthouse (click on photo above for larger image) on what he termed "Boulder 88." Made from salvage and scrap, the structure was 15' tall, electrified, and -- as one might expect -- of a white, colonial appearance to blend in with its Concord surroundings. A concrete base was attached to the submerged boulder to act as a foundation. Boston Edison supplied it with an astronomical timing switch, allowing its flashing beacon to turn on exactly one minute before twilight and turn off exactly one minute after dawn. In return for this service, the lighthouse appeared in the company's advertising.


With its light so bright and cheery
like a beacon shining clear
to guide the tired paddler
to his landing safe and near....

When the Concord lighthouse was erected in 1931, Miller naturally cast himself as its "Commodore," of course with proper costume to flesh out the role. With much pomp and circumstance, it was inaugurated that summer with a bottle of champagne broken over it. Soon, the lighthouse's blinking light became a favorite locally -- and beyond, for the story got picked up by newspapers as far away as Louisiana. And it inspired a poem, repeated in part here, written by a neighbor, F.S. Millett.

the lighthouse nowIt is impossible to say whether Miller's photo on the cover of this month's issue (also here) is him dressed for the role of Commodore or some other. According to his wife, Marian, Miller played the part to the hilt. He even had "Boulder 88 Lighthouse" stationery made up, and with this he sent greetings to fellow lighthousekeepers all over the world.

During the 1930's, it was known that this lighthouse helped guide Santa Claus on his yearly rounds. It seems the myth at the time was that Santa would visit Concord homes not by sleigh, but via river on the equally-mythical Carlisle Brick Barge. An unprotected Boulder 88 meant children ran the risk of no toys on Christmas morning should that barge run aground. It was said to carry bricks so Santa could also repair chimneys. How this story originated and where it disappeared to are questions best left for others to answer.

In the very cold and wet winter of 1936, ice backed up and dammed at Nashawtuc bridge. Eventually, the pressure caused the lighthouse to tip over, taking the famed Boulder 88 with it. According to Marian Miller, in 1980 the lighthouse and rock were still there on their side.

As you can see from the photo taken in May of this year (at right; click on image for larger view), the concrete base attached to the rock is again upright. How this happened is a mystery, but it causes an additional water hazard. There are also parts of the gangplank to the lighthouse from the shore present, as are signs of the electrical cable which supplied it with power (neither visible in this photo).

A few days after this latest picture was taken, it rained and the water rose enough to conceal the base and rock completely. Later in the week, canoes were heard loudly running aground on it. Boulder 88 lives on!

another duckie

So here's to Skipper Miller
and his one-man light brigade
to the cheer he's given his townsmen
by a lighthouse he has made.

Text: ©1999 The Concord, MA Homepage
Photo top: Courtesy of the Concord Free Public Library's Special Collections
Photo bottom: ©1999 Richard Stevenson
Other art: Hometown Websmith

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