At The Lighthouse: Installment 2 – You can’t rewrite history

As I rewrite the History of the Sheringham Point Lighthouse, I have started bumping up against a topic which I do not really know how to deal with: censorship.

Almost always, when it comes to censorship, unless you have a really good reason to censor something, you should tell it as it is and leave well enough alone. And that would definitely be my gut reaction to this situation I’m starting to find myself in. That said, the problems I’m facing are probably somewhat legitimate, namely, that the people were, as they used to say, no better than they ought to have been and did some questionable things, and while they’re dead and gone, their vocal descendants sure aren’t. In addition, the fact that I’m working with the Sheringham Point Lighthouse Preservation Society on this project is not helping matters because this is supposed to be a sort of promotional piece for them in the end, and having their lightkeepers dragged through the mud is not very high ranking on their agendas. But hey, what can you do when one of them had had five wives by the time he died, was addicted to barbiturates, abandoned his daughter in Toronto, and lied to army doctors to get out of WWI? Just saying.

It’s a fine line to walk, though, because while you have the pressure to produce something that is marketable and is not going to create backlash within the community where so-and-so feels their grandfather was slighted, you also have to consider just where too much polishing of the truth is too much. Frankly, I’m not particularly comfortable editing the truth just to ensure that people’s noses don’t get out of joint, but the flip side is that I feel personally attached to this lighthouse and wouldn’t want to be responsible for writing anything that could devalue it in the public’s eyes and jeopardize its future. That’s probably a little too dramatic and giving myself too much credit, but I think the sentiment is clear.

I haven’t decided how to tackle these ‘touchy subjects’ yet, but I guess time will tell how I manage to find that balance. At the moment, I’m of the opinion that I should just say something to the extent of “There is considerable controversy surrounding this individual…” and avoid any suggestion of my having an opinion on the matter. Seems like a safe bet, at least.


  1. Hi Rebecca! I can see how this would be an issue, since you don’t want to give the wrong impression but you also don’t want to hurt the lighthouse. I think your potential solution of just mentioning “controversy” is a good one. I know you like to humanize the people you write about, but for some of them I’m sure you could just not mention the sordid details (although they are very interesting!) That way you don’t have to pretend this lightkeeper was a great guy, but you don’t list his escapades either… It’s not an easy problem to solve, but I’ll be interested to see how it plays out!

  2. Emma Russell says:

    Hey, I completely can relate to this problem! I am doing research at a Museum and working there part time and recently the owner of the collection asked to read my research, but I am extremely hesitant. In my research I have been critical of the selection process that was used to decide which pieces to preserve because it has created a very upper class historic bias. I am not sure if I should remove this critique completely, give her an edited second version, or just let her read it in its entirety…. I would argue in your position you should most certainly produce two versions, one with an added addendum regarding the background of past light keepers for your Monroe, but a different version for the promotional version. I know it probably seems wrong, but part of promotions and marketing is knowing how to target an audience and what they want to hear.

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