December 12, 2019

Vinalhaven lighthouse to greet Bowl fans

When she got the call from an ABC Sports film crew wanting to talk to her about the Super Bowl, Sue Lessard’s first thought was, “To place a bet, or what?”

But that didn’t make any sense. Lessard isn’t some big-time gambler. She’s the town manager of Vinalhaven, an island of 1,100 people located about 13 miles off Rockland in Penobscot Bay. So what could her little island possibly have to do with a Super Bowl game that was going to be played in Miami between two football teams from California?

It turns out that Peter Henning, a cinematographer hired by ABC Sports, wanted to film a New England lighthouse as part of a lead-in segment for the big game on Jan. 29. Not just any lighthouse would do, however. Henning needed one that was still being lived in, and those were scarce.

So about a week before New Year’s, he called a lighthouse specialist at the Island Institute in Rockland, who told him to call Lessard.

Lessard lives in a three-bedroom cape attached to Brown’s Head Light, at the northernmost tip of the island. The house, which the town leases from the Coast Guard, came with the town manager’s job. It sits high on the rocks, with a spectacular view and a beach 60 feet below — exactly what Henning was looking for.

Lessard sent Henning everything he might need to film on Vinalhaven: a postcard of Brown’s Head Light, a tide calendar to shoot by, and a ferry schedule to get him there from Rockland. The only other thing he needed from Lessard was a local lobsterman — a salty looking character with a weathered face — and a friendly dog to trot beside him.

The day before Henning was to arrive on the island, Lessard had a potluck supper at her house for a few friends. One of them was Walter Day, a salty looking character in his 40s with a weathered face whose family has been fishing for lobsters on Vinalhaven for generations.

“So, Walter,” Lessard asked, “what are you doing tomorrow?”

Benjie, a golden retriever owned by an islander named Bodine Ames, was cast that night in the role of the friendly pooch “Blue.” Benjie and Day knew each other, which would be a big help in the obedience department. If not, Day could always carry a few pretzels, which Benjie loves.

The next day, Henning caught the first ferry out to Vinalhaven and scouted around. By late afternoon, with the tall beacon beaming and Lessard’s kitchen lights glowing romantically in the dusk, Henning shot the following scene:

A typical Maine lobsterman, wearing an oilskin, is on a rocky beach with his trusted dog. The lobsterman says, “C’mon, Blue, it’s time to go home.” The two walk up the rocks to the house, which looks warm and cozy.

Cut to interior, where the lobsterman is sitting in a bentwood rocker. Blue, the dog, is lying at his master’s feet, and an oil lamp sits on a nearby table. The lobsterman turns on the TV. A picture of crowded, noisy Joe Robbie Stadium emerges.”

After several takes, Henning had what he came for. The scene, which lasts about 15 seconds, will be one of eight in a segment showing people from around the country settling in to watch the Super Bowl. San Diego and San Francisco residents will be featured, as well as a Wyoming cowboy who will mosey on home to the ranch for the kickoff.

The introductory piece will air 6 p.m. Jan. 29.

Although no one on Vinalhaven got paid for the filming, Lessard said having her house — furniture and all — seen by nearly 45 million people is thanks enough. And considering that a 30-second TV ad during the Super Bowl costs $1 million, Maine’s tourism department couldn’t have dreamt of a more cost-effective way to promote the state’s scenic beauty nationwide.

As for Day, life probably won’t change much after the Super Bowl. Since taking his boat out of the water for the season, he spends a lot of time in his workshop with his brothers, fixing his lobster gear and listening to the radio. The only evidence of his flirtation with show biz is the gold star someone put on the shop wall and the occasional teasing from islanders who want to know when he’s leaving for Hollywood.

One thing’s for sure, though. Just about everyone on Vinalhaven is going to watch the Super Bowl this year. Maybe even Benjie, as long as someone remembers to put out the pretzels.

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