Sally Snowman, The Last Lighthouse Keeper In The U.S., Has Officially Stepped Down

Published January 5, 2024
Updated January 8, 2024

Sally Snowman has been a lighthouse keeper at Boston Light Beacon on Little Brewster Island for the past two decades.

Sally Snowman

UPI / Alamy Stock PhotoSally Snowman, dressed in traditional clothing, poses for a photograph in front of Boston Light Beacon in 2007.

For over 300 years, the Boston Light Beacon lighthouse on Little Brewster Island in Boston guided ships to safety, helped by a succession of 70 lighthouse keepers. Now, its last lighthouse keeper, Sally Snowman, is stepping down as the lighthouse passes into private hands.

“Oh, I know I’ll miss it,” Snowman, who has been the lighthouse keeper at Boston Light Beacon since 2003, told CBS News.

As of New Year’s Eve, Sally Snowman has officially stepped down from her beloved post. The Boston Light Beacon, like other lighthouses across the country, has been sold by the Coast Guard as its utility has waned over the years.

But though Snowman has held her position at the lighthouse for just 21 years, her infatuation with it stretches back much further. As Snowman explained, she first visited the historic lighthouse as a girl and was dazzled.

“My first experience to Boston Light was when I was 10 years old,” Snowman said. “I stepped off to the beach and looked up at the light and said, ‘Daddy, when I grow up I want to get married out here’ and I did in 1994!”

Boston Light Beacon

National Park ServiceMuch of Boston Light Beacon is automated today, and the Coast Guard has been steadily selling off its supply of lighthouses.

After that visit, Sally Snowman began to dream of becoming a lighthouse keeper herself. In 2003, she achieved that dream when she became the 70th keeper at Boston Light Beacon lighthouse — and the first woman to hold the post — after working at the site for more than a decade.

“It’s sort of a metaphysical type of thing,” she remarked to NPR. “I felt something so deeply in my heart and in my cells and the space between the cells that it came into fruition. It’s a fairy tale come true.”

As CBS News reports, Snowman initially lived on Brewster Island for six months out of the year — joined by her husband, Jay, on weekends — where she tended to the lighthouse by cleaning and checking the mechanical equipment. The lighthouse continued to serve as a navigational aid to ships through its beacon and foghorn, though both are automated today.

Sally Snowman also relished the more romantic parts of the job, like sitting on the top of the tower and taking in the stunning 360-degree panorama.

“Seeing the far expanse of the universe, the sunrises, the sunsets — they are phenomenal,” Snowman told NPR. “To me, they were never the same twice. The sea was never the same twice. The cloud cover was never the same. It was like dying and go[ing] to heaven.”

Sally Snowman At Work

U.S. Coast GuardSally Snowman lowering the American flag at Boston Light Beacon lighthouse in 2016.

Along the way, Snowman also wrote three books about the lighthouse.

But her dream job had an end date. After Snowman had to stop living at the lighthouse in 2018 — Boston Light failed an inspection — she learned that she would have to retire at the end of 2023. Boston Light Beacon lighthouse, which had been first built in 1716 as the first lighthouse in North America, would be sold by the U.S. Coast Guard alongside other lighthouses.

The new owner of Boston Light will be required to preserve it, and though Sally Snowman is sad to step back from her dream job, she is eager to see how the lighthouse’s next chapter will unfold.

“My husband Jay and I — we didn’t have any kids,” Snowman told NPR. “We had a lighthouse. And it’s like the child going off to college — that you’re letting it go to have another experience and to find out who they truly are. Well, here it is. I’m letting loose Boston Light to see what its next journey is.”

After reading about Sally Snowman, the last official lighthouse keeper in the United States, delve into the Flannan Isle Mystery, when three lighthouse keepers inexplicably vanished in 1900. Or, look through these stunning images of some of the world’s most iconic lighthouses.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.