When Owls Head Lighthouse Keeper Capt. Llewelyn Norwood died in April 1911, his body was supposed to be interred with the rest of his family in Hancock County.
But it was mud season.
With the roads impassable, Norwood’s remains were temporarily planted in a tiny cemetery not far from where he tended the light.
And there he stayed.
As spring turned into summer and the rest of the 20th century rolled on, Norwood’s provisional grave marker vanished and he was forgotten.
Thanks to dogged research, photographic sleuthing and old fashioned dowsing by a local group of volunteers Norwood’s final resting place has been found. This week, they placed a temporary marker on it again and are making plans to get the keeper’s grave a permanent stone. To do that will take a little maneuvering at this year’s town meeting but they say they’re expecting full support from townsfolk.
After all, Norwood kept the lights burning at Owls Head for 16 years — guiding uncounted ships, their cargoes and crew to safety. He deserves the dignified grave he never got, 112 years ago.
“He was important, so very important,” said Lea Carver, a member of the Owls Head Cemetery Committee and the lead researcher on the project. “Maintaining the light and the bell there was crucial for even small fishing boats, let alone the larger vessels.”
According to his April 24, 1911, obituary in the Bangor Daily News, Norwood was born at Seal Cove on Mount Desert Island on March 19, 1849. As a young man, he went to sea, along with his three brothers.
“Before retiring from the sea he had command of two coasting schooners, the Louise Boardman and Career,” the article reads, “covering thousands of miles and visiting many ports, he was never shipwrecked, but his lucky star guided him through many storms that had carried death and destructing in their wake.”
Norwood gave up the seafaring life at age 41 and entered the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1890. He first helped tend the lonely beacon on Matinicus Rock for five years before landing the head keeper’s job at Owls Head in 1896. There he stayed, until his death, a decade-and-a-half later.
According to his obituary, Norwood was a genial man and good at his job.
“Everything about the lighthouse was the acme of neatness,” it reported, “and hanging in the keeper’s room is a neatly framed communication which reads of the government’s praise and commendation for Capt. Norwood’s efficient services.”
The BDN story said the keeper had been sick all winter, before he died in his quarters on April 13, 1911 at the age of 62.
“Three weeks ago he experienced a serious ill-turn, which pressaged the end,” it reported, “Since then he had lingered between life and death suffering so intensely that he prayed for the final deliverance.”
Due to the atrocious road conditions that spring, Norwood was buried at the Merryman Family Cemetery a few days later. The graveyard is today sometimes called Lighthouse Cemetery and sits on the west side of the Owls Head Light State Park entrance road.
He wasn’t immediately forgotten. For a few years after his death, Norwood’s grave was tended by the daughter of the keeper who replaced him.
“Capt. Charles Chester was sent to take over duties,” reads a 1962 story in the Portland Press Herald. “Among his 10 children, Catherine, the youngest, then age 12, always kept flowers on Capt. Norwood’s grave.”
The story included a photo of Catherine, then about 62 years old, placing a bouquet next to a brand new — but still temporary — metal marker, indicating Norwood’s burial place.
However, sometime in the 60 years since the photo was taken, the marker vanished.
This is where the Owls Head Cemetery Committee enters the story.
An important part of cemetery conservation work is regular tombstone transcription and cataloging. This tells graveyard stewards, such as the committee, when stones go missing, become unreadable or, in the case of active cemeteries, when new stones are added.
Not long ago, armed with two previous transcription catalogs, Carver and fellow committee members Walter Guptil and Heather Almquist took a look at Merryman Cemetery. Right away, they noticed a discrepancy.
Norwood was on the old lists but no marker could be found.
Unfortunately, the previous catalogs did not give a location. Thus, the hunt was on to find out who Norwood was and where he was buried.
Guptill said Carver deserves much of the credit for unearthing Norwood’s biography and grave location. It’s something she does all the time.
“Lea is like a dog with a bone. She isn’t going to settle. She wants to know who is buried in those cemeteries,” he said. “She really dedicated herself to the research.”
Carver regularly consults old newspapers, funeral home documents and even records held by a local grave-digging family to find out what she wants to know. In Norwood’s case, recently digitized and searchable newspapers proved the most handy.
The 1960s photo of the keeper’s daughter at Norwood’s grave showed his small marker at the edge of the woods. This made sense to the committee. If it was temporary, he likely was not plunked down in the middle of the Merryman family graves, as Norwood was no relation to them.
But they still had to figure out which treeline he was buried along. Three additional things helped them locate the right spot.
First, most graves in any graveyard face the same direction.
“All the headstones in that cemetery face west,” Carver said. “Which means that people are buried there behind their stones, facing east. It’s a common, religious thing.”
Second, in the old black and white newspaper photo, they could make out a young spruce tree behind Norwood’s marker. When they looked, sure enough, a mature spruce stood in what they guessed was the right spot.
Still, there was one more thing the committee needed to do before they were sure.
Almquist dowsed for it.
Though not a scientific method, dowsing has been used for thousands of years to find things buried under the ground, and it’s a relatively common method used by researchers when searching for old graves.
“It’s not supernatural,” Almquist said. “It’s a pretty simple technique. You can use it to find places where soil has been disturbed.”
According to Almquist, dowsing is based on magnetic fields. Most naturally occurring particles in the earth, she said, are aligned with the planet’s magnetic poles and they get jumbled up when dirt is tossed around while digging graves.
Holding two bent, copper rods, one in each hand, Almquist can detect where the formerly aligned particles lay under the ground. When she finds the right spot, the rods will cross, of their own accord, she said.
“You can even determine, or guesstimate, the age of the individual — whether it was an infant or a youth or an adult person — by the length of the disturbed area,” Almquist said. “But you’re not really detecting graves or bodies, just disturbed soil.”
After Almquist and her dowsing rods did their thing, the committee was satisfied it had the correct spot. Walker Hutchins of Burpee, Carpenter and Hutchins Funeral Home in Rockland donated a small, temporary bronze marker and Carver, Guptill and Almquist once again marked Norwood’s grave with it on Wednesday.
But their job isn’t finished yet.
“The Owls Head Cemetery Committee is in the final stages of identifying Merryman Cemetery as an abandoned cemetery under state statute,” Guptill said. “We anticipate that this will be accomplished, and the town of Owls Head will take control of the cemetery at the town meeting in August.”
When that happens, the now private cemetery will fall under the town’s purview and the committee will be legally able to get Norwood the permanent gravestone he never had.
Carver said she’s not sure where the money will come from but she’s confident it can be found.
“I think people will get behind this,” she said. “People love lighthouses and this is kind of a neat story.”