As a child growing up in Houston, Texas, in the 1970s, my family visited Bolivar every summer for fishing, swimming, and beachcombing. My father would drive our family of five to Galveston, then take a short ferry ride connecting Galveston Island with the Bolivar Peninsula.
The ferry ride was one of my favorite parts of the vacation. While waiting in line for our turn we made playful bets concerning which ferry we would ride. Would it be the Cone Johnson, the E.H. Thornton Jr., the R.S. Sterling, or the Gibb Gilchrist? We knew each boat by name. My two older brothers and I saved back French fries and pinches of bread from our lunch. After the boat was loaded and the captain gave the safety speech, we bolted for the back of the boat to feed the seagulls and dolphins.
I always knew the exact place the ferry would dock at the peninsula because Daddy taught me how to look for a certain landmark. It was hard to find from Galveston, but the closer the ferry came to Bolivar, the easier it was to spot. By the time the boat landed, the Bolivar Point Lighthouse was as big as a skyscraper in this little girl’s eyes.
Once off the boat, we drove past the iron lighthouse. Her light extinguished, she no longer lit the way for ships coming in or going out of Galveston Bay. Daddy always pointed out the two, abandoned houses beside the lighthouse. He showed me how one of the house’s nameplates read Boyt and the other, Maxwell. I didn’t understand the significance then, but later I realized the connection. Daddy’s uncle, my great uncle, was married to a Boyt, and he and his sister, (who was my grandmother) were born with the surname Maxwell.
You’re probably wondering if my father’s family were the lighthouse keepers. No, the truth is, the Boyt family bought the lighthouse and property at an auction and it has been owned by them ever since.
The original Bolivar Point Lighthouse dates back prior to the Civil War. In fact, it was during the war that the Confederates completely dismantled the lighthouse. Some accounts say it was taken down so the Union couldn’t use the light to their advantage. Others say the Confederate army used the iron for weapons and artillery. Either way, it was this factual event that I based my first novel, Northern Light, on.
The current lighthouse was built shortly after the Civil War and shined its light until it was retired in 1933. The tower’s third-order Fresnel lens is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. The great conical tower has seen over 150 years of United States history, and it still stands tall on the Bolivar Peninsula to this day.
When her family moves to the desolate Bolivar Peninsula to manage a lighthouse that is no longer there, all her hopes for a normal life are dashed. Her world is rocked once again when a wounded Yankee soldier washes ashore, needing her help.
Despite her contempt for the North, Margaret falls in love with Thomas Murphy. As their love blooms, Margaret’s sister is overcome with resentment and her mind slowly slips away. Bitterness, psychosis and depression yield a decision fueled by contempt.
Will her fatal choice condemn Thomas to death?
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