Rockland lighthouse museum needs $50,000

Posted May 14, 2009, at 9:43 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Lighthouses, with their steadfast symbolism and romantic history, can inspire love and even obsession in fans around the world.

The question is, can love of lighthouses inspire $50,000.

That is how much money the interim director of the Maine Lighthouse Museum in downtown Rockland says she needs to raise to keep the ailing nonprofit in business.

“It’s certainly been a wonderful outpouring today of interest,” Dot Black said Thursday. “Hopefully, people will help out. I believe they will.”

Black said that one of the main financial challenges for the mostly volunteer-run museum is that its home is in the restored Courier Newspaper building on the city’s waterfront, with a $3,500 a month mortgage — not counting electricity costs.

“It’s a lot of money,” Black said.

The building had been restored by credit card giant MBNA, and the museum, the city of Rockland and the Lobster Festival created a condominium association to jointly purchase it from MBNA’s successor, Bank of America.

Black said that the museum owes the most money to the other members of the condominium association, which she would like to pay back by July 1.

“They’ve been awesome,” she said. “But those groups just can’t keep supporting me, because they’re nonprofits, too.”

For income, the Lighthouse Museum depends on membership dues, admission fees, contributions and fundraising, which have all been lagging lately, according to board members.

The museum was founded by Dot Black’s late husband, Ken Black, in 1972. Ken Black was a Coast Guard veteran of World War II and also helped to found the lighthouse preservation movement in this country. He became interested in lighthouse artifacts when he observed that many historical items from earlier centuries were being discarded by the Coast Guard with the onslaught of modernization and automation. He created his first exhibit of artifacts at the Boston Lighthouse in the 1960s.

The Lighthouse Museum in Rockland has the country’s largest collection of rare lighthouse lenses and when it merged with the Museum of Lighthouse History in Wells in 1997, it became the country’s biggest lighthouse museum.

“I think it’s a vital entity in Rockland today,” said Doug Erickson, the president of the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Some planned fundraisers include a nautical-themed auction and a citywide lighthouse celebration, with fiberglass lighthouses painted by local, or even national, artists, which will be auctioned off later.

“We’re also going to have some small lighthouse banks and put them in different stores,” said Ed Komalsky, who is spearheading a fundraising group. “It’s a very interesting collection, and lighthouses in general have a lure to them.”

The museum should not close, said Tim Harrison of the American Lighthouse Foundation and editor of Lighthouse Digest Magazine.

“It would be a travesty to the lifetime dedication that its founder and others put into saving some of the most rare and invaluable artifacts in America’s glorious lighthouse history,” he said.

Dot Black badly wants to find a light that will pull the museum through its financial straits. She remembered that when the museum needed an air conditioner 20 years ago, $5,000 in donations came in through the mail.

“This place was my husband’s dream,” she said. “He worked hard collecting this mass of beautiful lighthouse lenses and Coast Guard memorabilia.”

Donations to the Maine Lighthouse Museum can be sent to 1 Park Drive, P.O. Box 1116, Rockland 04841. For more information, call 594-3302 or visit the Web site www.mainelighthousemuseum.com.

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