Everyday, interesting people walk in the front door of the Inn — people from all over the world, coming to get a glimpse of the New England seashore, or experience first hand the heady smell of salty marsh air that comes up off the beach at low tide, or walk in the footsteps of Presidents by touring the island of Martha’s Vineyard.
Sometimes they make plans to come a year in advance, and other times they just walk in the door in the late afternoon looking for a place for the night. In late September, a couple “walked in” (to use the innkeepers jargon) from upstate, New York. They had been touring the area and taking their chances…we were happy to have one room left, which they booked.
As they wandered around the inn, they saw an antique kerosine lantern that sits on an old metal safe in one of our living rooms and they asked me a bunch of questions about it. This lantern actually came out of my grandfather’s barn. My grandparents lived most of their long lives on a farm in coastal Massachusetts, and they kept a herd of dairy cows there from the 1930s through the late 1960s.
My grandfather bred the cows, and had pictures of his winners hanging on the walls of his 1700’s-era house. I remember the one called “Larches Pat” posing with her handler, all curried and groomed to perfection with a big ribbon on her halter at the Topsfield Fair. My grandfather was committed to these cows, he really loved them, and he always said one of the saddest days of his life was in the late 1960’s after the milk distributor stopped coming (“you’re too small to warrant a stop,” they told him); after months of pouring the milk onto the fields, he realized he had to sell his prized herd.
When the barn was cleared out after his death (at the age of 97!), this lantern moved into my mother’s basement. I liberated it a few years ago and it sits in one of the dining rooms at the Woods Hole Inn, reminding me of my wonderful grandparents and their beautiful farm, where I was lucky enough to spend holidays my whole childhood.
Now enter my walk in guests! (I bet you were wondering when I might get back to that:) No one has ever asked me about this lantern before, but these guests were very curious, remarking on it’s size and style. Very unusual, they said. Don’t see them that large, they said. Well, there were tons of them in my grandfather’s barn before it was wired for electricity, so they were common at some point, I explained.
Honestly did not think much more about this interaction until this week when this cool Trainman’s Lantern arrived in the mail, one for me and one for Amanda. It came with a thank you letter from the above-mentioned lantern-curious guests, who it turns out own a lantern company in upstate New York. The letter tells me that the Dietz Company went out of business many years ago (maker of my grandfather’s lanterns), but their company Star Headlight and Lanterns, has been around for 123 years and is still going strong. In fact, the owner (our guest) is the fourth generation of his family to run this business!!
Here are some highlights from this delightful letter:
“Anne and I really loved staying at your lovely place. It was the end of a memorable trip. Your MapQuest got us perfectly to our sons house, where we saw our grand kids, then flew home. The enclosed lanterns are used daily by all railroads. Put one next to your Deitz. Please see Amanda gets one, she was most helpful. We look forward to seeing you again sometime.”
Well, so do we!! These lanterns are sure to be useful in a winter storm when the lights go out! This is the fun of inn-keeping, meeting interesting people and continually learning things about our fascinating world. And creating this dialogue between new people, and returning guests, where they can share with us the important things in their lives, while we can offer a restful place to return, hopefully year after year, to find peace and tranquility from the crazy buzz of modern life.
So thank you so much, David and Anne (and all the nice people at Star Headlight and Lanterns), — we hope to see you soon.