Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 24, 1946 in The Knickerbocker News, Albany, NY. The tone of the article reflects the time period in which it was written.
“Artist’s Picture Keeps Nation Posted on Hudson’s Glories: Lighthouse at Athens, Painted in July, Makes Magazine Yule Cover” By Katherine A. Van Epps
Fame of the historic Upper Hudson reached a new high tide today when one of its picturesque landmarks – the lighthouse in mid-river between Athens and the City of Hudson – stepped from the commonplace to the cover of a national magazine.
The little lighthouse, since the 1870’s a silent, unsung beacon of safety for the men who ply the fabled waterway and a subject of conversation for generations of excursionists, makes the cover of the Christmas-week issue of Saturday Evening Post.
Sharing the national spotlight with the light are its lean, trim keeper, Boatswain’s Mate (lc) Edward Brunner of the U.S. Coast Guard and his family, who posed for the Christmas picture in July.
The lighthouse’s claim to fame was assured when Mead Schaeffer, Arlington, Vt., artist, spotted the landmark from the window of a New York Central train approaching Hudson.
Through the haze of July heat, Mr. Schaeffer’s artist’s eye saw the red brick lighthouse with spotless white trim as “something that should be under a Christmas tree” (to quote his own description). The idea of putting it on a holiday magazine cover came as he gathered his paints and easel for this unexpected stopover at Hudson.
Mr. Brunner, provided by The Knickerbocker News with a preview of the picture painted by Mead Schaeffer, shows it to two of his five children during his visit to Athens where his family lives. In the picture are Emily Brunner, 21, who has just passed final examinations to become a nurse, and Bob Brunner, 14, who was born at the lighthouse. Mr. Brunner's family moved to Athens so the children could attend school regularly.
Hurried Gathering of Family
The picture, the result of a hurried gathering of the Brunner family, their dog, a fir tree and Christmas packages, shows Mr. Brunner and his son, Norman, rowing toward the lighthouse while the family waits in various poses of welcome. The snow-covered ice floating in the river was produced by Mr. Schaeffer’s imagination.
When The Knickerbocker News rounded up Mr. Brunner on a day much like the one Mr. Shaeffer [sic] conjured up last July, with snow falling and ice floating in the black waters, it was found the artist’s imagination didn’t stop with the weather.
Mr. Schaeffer had added three children to the Brunner’s family of five and moved the landing stairway from the east to the north side of the lighthouse “to make a better picture.”
Mr. Brunner, slow-spoken with the easy humor of a riverman, said he “didn’t mind a bit about the children” but he wondered what the Coast Guard would say about changing the lighthouse.
The keeper, veteran of 21 years “on lights,” has been at the lighthouse which straddles the two main Hudson channels just below “The Flats” since 1930. Since his family moved off the river into Athens so the children can get to school, he has kept his 22-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week vigil alone.
As he goes about his work polishing the huge gas beacon or setting the deep-throated fog bell in motion, Mr. Brunner has memories of the days when the lighthouse rang with the laughter of children and the exciting night 14 years ago when his son, Robert, was born and the doctor had to be brought by boat from Hudson.
Boatswain's Mate (1c) Edward Brunner of the Coast Guard, keeper of the Hudson City Light since 1930, comes to Athens in his outboard motorboat for which he thinks will be his last visit until the river freezes over so he can walk ashore. Mr. Brunner has a Coast Guard radio on "the light," lhis only contact with the outside world when he is marooned by the floating ice or high water.
13 Years Since . . .
It was soon after Robert’s birth that the family moved ashore and now it’s 13 years since Mr. Brunner has been home for Christmas. His home life depends on nature, and by Christmas there’s too much ice in the river for his outboard motor to break through and not enough to support a man’s weight so he can walk home.
Older residents of Athens to whom the Hudson is both a source of livelihood and a neighbor tell countless stories about the little lighthouse, known as the Hudson City Light, in the lexicon of the rivermen.
To Miss Nellie McKnight, town historian and daughter of a steamboat captain, the lighthouse, rising sheer out of the river, is an old friend.
Story of Accident
It is Miss McKnight who tells the story of the “Classic Accident of the Hudson,” handed down through her family. The accident occurred during a snowstorm in 1845 when the Hudson City Light was an unattended beacon years before the lighthouse had been built.
The sturdy steamer Swallow, headed downstream, was nearing Athens when her captain mistook the lights of the town for the river beacon. He pulled right too soon to enter the channel on the Athens side of The Flats and the Swallow split in two on the rocks and burst into flames.
There were 46 persons counted dead when the rescuers arrived – one of the worst tragedies in the history of the Hudson.
To Mr. Brunner there’s nothing unusual about the lighthouse achieving nationwide fame.
“The Hudson is the most beautiful river in the world,” he will tell you, explaining he saw his share of other lands during foreign service in World War I, “Why shouldn’t it provide inspiration for artists?” he added."
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