By Fred Morong

Fred Morong

The following poem was written by Fred Morong and was published in the book, "Lighthouses of the Maine Coast and the Men Who Keep Them" written by Robert Thayer Sterling. It was published in 1935. It has appeared several times since, in the Coast Guard Retiree Newsletter and more recently in "This - ?#!*@*? Was the Coast Guard" by Esther Stormer -- ©1986

Oh what is the bane of a lightkeeperís life
That causes him worry, struggle and strife,
That makes him use cuss words and beat on his wife?

What makes him look ghastly consumptive and thin,
What robes him of health, vigor and vim,
And causes despair and drives him to sin?

The devil himself could never invent,
A material causing more world wide lament,
And in Uncle Samís service about ninety percent

The lamp in the tower, reflector and shade,
The tools and accessories pass in the parade,
As a matter of fact the whole outfit is made

The oil containers I polish until
My poor back is broken, aching and still,
Each gallon, each quart, each pint and gill

I lay down to slumber all weary and sore,
I walk in my sleep, I awake with a snore,
And Iím shining the knob on my bedchamber door

From pillar to post rags and polish I tote,
Iím never without them, for you will please note,
That even the buttons I wear on my coat,

The machinery, clockwork, and fog signal bell,
The coals hods, the dustpans, the pump in the well,
No Iíll leave it to you mates...If this isnít...well,

I dig, scrub and polish, and work with a might,
And just when I get it all shining and bright,
In come the fog like a thief in the night,

I start the next day when noontime draws near,
A boatload of summer visitors appear,
For no other reason than to smooch and besmear,

So it goes along all summer, and along in the fall,
Comes the district machinists to overhaul,
and rub dirty paws all over,

And again in the spring, if per chance it may be,
An efficiency star is awarded to me,
I open the package and what do I see?

Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud,
In the short span of life that he is allowed,
If all the lining in every dark cloud,

And when I have polished until I am cold,
And I have taken my oath to the Heavenly fold,
Will my harp and my crown be made of pure gold?



A dustpan made of brass would hardly seem to be an important piece of equipment at a lighthouse. However, the brass dustpan personified the spirit of lighthouse keepers not simply because it was brass, but because it was shined. As a class, the old time keepers applied the hirsute New England verse which goes .... "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

Read More About Fred Morong

.....A Letter from Seamond Ponsart Roberts March 17, 2000.....

Hi my friends:  

You probably already know of these people, but then again, I don't know what you do know and what you don't, so I will send this anyway.

A little story:
Back in the 1950s, my mother used to write letters to the old (now defunct)
Maine Coast Fisherman in a column called Letters from the Lighthouses. (How I would love to get copies of these if you ever know of any!)

Anyway, lots of lighthouse keepers' families would write.  In the process of
this, my mother started corresponding with Shirley Morong at Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where she and her husband, Cliff Morong, were keepers.  Mother would save Shirley Morong's letters for after supper when we got them and read them to us and even semi-draft a little letter on comments that Dad and I had to say to stuff and then put it in her next letter to Shirley.  Mom and Shirley Morong never met - but they seemed to be part of our little lighthouse family because we loved the letters so much.  They contained everyday happenings of the lighthouse life and we could each compare things that happened to us.  Dad retired in 1957, medically, with him dragging his heels all the way.  He never wanted to leave the lighthouses.  He loved them. 

Well, Mom and Mrs. Morong corresponded for years beyond that and when my mother died in 1974 and I was going through her paper stuff, I found stacks of letters Mom had saved from Shirley Morong.  I sat down there in the middle of the floor and spent hours rereading these wonderful letters and it was a good feeling to read these once again.  (No, unfortunately, I don't have these letters anymore).

I vowed then to try to look them up.  

Years and years and years passed.  When I got re-involved with lighthouses this past two years and with all you wonderful people, the thought crossed my mind to try to find them.  This was especially true when I read "Brasswork" by Fred Morong which was featured on Jack's Joint (Jack Eckert's wonderful Coast Guard/Lighthouse/Marittime web site).  I remember my father reading us "Brasswork" many times and we would all laugh over this, especially the part about having to even polish the damn brass dustpan!  We could identify with this big time.  So, when I saw the name "Morong" on that website, I again thought of trying to find Shirley and Cliff Morong, ASSUMING they were dead and maybe I could find their children and tell them what a wonderfully warm grandmother they had. 

But, I didn't do anything further.

Then, "It" happened to me a few days ago.  Lolling around and leafing through Ebay on my postcard hobby, I saw a seller listed as

WOW!  How many people are named Morong.  I found her on line and instant messaged her and asked her if she would mind chatting with me about lighthouses. 

The happening is that Fred Morong, "The Lighthouse poet" (author of Brasswork) is her grandfather!!!!

And did she know of Shirley and Cliff Morong? 

Why yes.  She gave me their address.

I CALLED THEM!!!!  What a wonderful reunion for me and a chance to say thank you for being such a friend of our family in years past.  I told her maybe she didn't know how much those letters meant to us, but they really meant a lot and I told her they brought happiness to our little family to share with us their daily events at Cape Elizabeth. 

She said that Cliff retired in 1962 - 5 years after my father did.  Well, I think it was HE who answered the phone.  I was so excited talking to her, I forgot to ask.  Well, if so, he MUST be the oldest living lighthouse keeper (or at least 2nd in line).  I was also so delighted to have found her, I forgot to ask if she would mind being interviewed by any of you - but they probably would not mind.  (I'm assuming a lot here; perhaps they would!)

They are now living in Brewer, Maine. 

I am delighted over this. I asked Becky Morong ( if she would mind any of you getting in touch with her, re, lighthouse stuff and her grandpa and she said she would be glad to talk with you!!

So, maybe one of you or perhaps Tim Harrison would like to know this.  Becky the granddaughter of Fred Morong the Lighthouse Poet and Shirley and Cliff Morong, lighthouse keepers extraordinaire, in Brewer, Maine.   What a discovery!  I feel like I excavated a treasure house, finding these wonderful people again. 

Best regards -

P.S.  Becky Morong was nice enough to say she would send me the complete copy of Brasswork, which is some 18 stanzas long.  I said nothing would delight me more!  I truly am happy about this and it was such a nice coincidence to "find" Becky Morong and for she to be so nice to me to talk (with a stranger in cyberspace) about lighthouses and also her love for Maine - I never grow tired of hearing this type of information - I can almost hear the seagulls calling me home when I talk to each of you and now this wonderful new Internet Friend. 

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