Every time a storm approaches the coast, Robert “Bob” W. Gallagher braces himself as he looks out his window at Old Scituate Light. It’s not the wind or waves that bother him. He’s watching out for the daring curiosity-seekers who flock to the ocean near his home.
Gallagher, a 51-year-old schoolteacher and lifelong Scituate resident, has held the honorary title of lightkeeper since 2009, when he and his wife and daughter moved into the lightkeeper’s cottage.
Like many other Scituate natives, Gallagher is a veteran when it comes to storms. With 2,000 homes located on approximately 20 miles of coastline, Scituate has been flogged by storms of all sizes over the years, including two big ones — the “no-name storm” of 1991 and the Blizzard of 1978 — and countless smaller storms in between.
Old-timers try to keep a cool head, prepare in advance, and use common sense to stay out of harm’s way when Mother Nature turns fierce. When the storms are severe, the locals may have to clean up their property, pump out their basements, and move on.
But when storms aren’t so bad, the biggest nuisance is the throng of news crews and amateur photographers who descend on Scituate’s shores whenever the weather takes a turn for the worse.
“A lot of media focus on Scituate because they love to get those surf shots,” said David Ball, a 70-year-old Rebecca Road resident who counted four satellite trucks parked in a row near the lighthouse last week.
“The bottom line is, the media tries to catch the biggest and best wave,” said Ball, who thinks the coverage gives the false impression that Scituate is a storm-ravaged place. “It’s somewhat foolish, if you ask me. It’s the same thing over and over and over.”
As Hurricane Sandy approached last week, Gallagher also watched in frustration as young children, teens, and adults marched down to the shoreline for a close-up view of the churning ocean torrents and waves.
Gallagher took photos of these thrill-seeking visitors on Monday and posted them on his blog, oldscituatelight.blogspot.com, as an example of what not to do in a storm.
The spectators always come with cameras or smartphones in hand. “Everybody’s got a camera, and that seems to be what most of them do,” said Gallagher. “They want a photograph.”
Gallagher acknowledges that there’s nothing like the energy and sound of the sea before a storm hits.
“I understand the lure of it,” he said. “I understand the thrill; that’s why you want to live here. But I don’t understand the lack of common sense.”
Luckily, last week’s storm turned out to be relatively uneventful for the South Shore. Gallagher spent the next morning cleaning up strewn rocks, sand, and rubble with a metal rake and shovel. His daughter followed behind him with a broom. Three big stones were moved out of place in front of the lighthouse; besides that, everything was OK.
“We’re really fortunate.,” said Gallagher. “We’ve had much, much worse storms than this.”
Gallagher said one storm in 2009 wreaked havoc around the lighthouse. “Tons and tons of rubble was thrown around the tower,” he said. Then there was the nor’easter on Dec. 26, 2010, when storm surges broke through a sea wall. Last year, Tropical Storm Irene hit on Aug. 28 and knocked out power to many homes.
Gallagher said the worst storm in his memory was the Blizzard of ‘78 — “the granddaddy of them all.” Gallagher was living on Turner Road and was a senior in high school at the time.
“The blizzard was like no other storm,” said Gallagher. “The beaches were decimated. Houses along the water were reduced to chimneys and toilets. It was remarkable. The National Guard was here for days securing properties from falling down or getting looted.”
Ball, a lifelong Scituate resident who is president of the town’s historical society, agrees. He remembers how his basement was flooded with three feet of water during the Blizzard of ‘78. He also recalls how two residents — 5-year-old Amy Lanzikos and Scituate DPW employee Edward Hart — lost their lives.
Compared with previous storms, Sandy “was pretty much a non-event,” said Ball. “I didn’t even lose power.”
But he still believes the town needs to take precautions. “Every one of these storms are a little different. They behave a little differently,” said Ball, who serves on the town’s sea wall committee and is involved with the Scituate Coastal Coalition, a network of beach associations that work on flood mitigation and storm preparedness.
“One of the things I’m particularly worried about is that some of the sea walls in town are very old now,” said Ball, noting that some of Scituate’s sea walls date back to the early 1900s and need repairs.
Paula Elsmore, 55, lives on Marion Road with her husband, Gary. They bought the house in 1983. She remembers the “no-name” storm, which tore through town in October 1991, destroying 35 homes and damaging hundreds of others, and the Dec. 26 nor’easter two years ago, which filled their basement with water.
Elsmore listened to weather reports last week. She also looked outside and decided to plan for the worst, just in case.
“We did go down and look at the waves, and they were huge,” said Elsmore.
To prepare for Sandy’s arrival, the Elsmores did the usual drill: They secured their patio furniture and took everything off their deck. They sandbagged their bulkhead door.
Then it was all over. Their house was fine.
“We had no water anywhere. We never lost our lights. There was a lot of wind and rain, but that’s about it,” she said.
“We were really surprised . . . pleasantly surprised.”