From the Jan. 2, 1970 edition of the Gazette:
Until 1912, the street lights in Edgartown were handsomely finialed lanterns holding oil lamps, and it was the duty of one Martin Van Buren Norton, as lamplighter, to go around the streets with his horse and dray every evening with a collection of cleaned and newly lit lamps, stopping at each lantern to remove the used-up lamp of the night before and replace it with a fresh one. There came a time, of course, when Mr. Norton’s horse died, and he had to make the rounds with a ladder, which, it has been remembered, he would set down at each lamppost with the conditioned command, “Whoa!”
The first of the lanterns was placed on the corner by the Edgartown National Bank by Daniel Fisher 100 years ago last February. Learning of its impending installation, the Gazette forecast that “its rays will guide the pedestrian during dark evenings,” and the following issue, overjoyed by the illumination, was urging that the purchase of more lanterns be a topic of action at the next town meeting.
The lanterns served the town for 44 years until the town, suffused with the glory of the 20th Century, took them all down so the Cape and Vineyard could install its incandescent bulbs. Many of those graceful old lanterns, which had been manufactured on Union street in Boston, eventually found their way to ignominy in the town dump, but by no means all of them. Even the promised conveniences and efficiencies of the 20th Century could not completely vanquish the pack-rat instinct of New Englanders. A number of the lanterns survived, in attics, cellars and barns along with other discards, until the days someone got the notion to rig one up on a post to light his own dooryard and found himself the envy of his neighbors. Others followed suit, and soon the Edgartown houses that could boast the now-prized lanterns were imbued with a rare distinction. That’s where the matter stood until two and a half years ago when fate, in its notably mysterious way, moved to set off a chain of events that were at first painfully tragic but soon developed into a story of unusual warmth. In the summer of 1967, Hollis Fisher of Edgartown was driving on the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road when a motorist coming from the opposite direction suddenly found himself faced with two bicyclists riding abreast directly in front of him. He had the choice of hitting the cyclists or risking a collision with Mr. Fisher’s car and he chose the latter course. The two vehicles collided, and although the other driver received only minor injuries, Mr. Fisher was severely hurt, and his injuries included a crushed leg.
He was treated at the hospital from August until October, when he was able to return home to begin a long and painful recuperation, and to face the likelihood that he would never be able to do the work he once did as an electrical contractor for the Frank Norton Jr. firm.
During those first weeks and months at home, there were plenty of occasions for thought, and one of the places he chose to think in was his cellar workshop, a marvelous compact area, with an old ice cream parlor table from Bill Mendance’s in the center and a small bookkeeper’s stool just the right height for his injured leg to be comfortable.
“I used to come down here and sit for a couple of hours,” he said the other day in his workshop. It was during those sessions of reflection that the idea of reproducing the old Edgartown street lanterns was born. Through the years, Mr. Fisher had repaired and restored some of the original ones and he owned one himself, but the notion of trying to make one from scratch did not come until after H. Williamson Ghriskey had attempted to buy his original street lantern, which was set out in front of the Fisher home on School street.
What began then as therapy has now become an extraordinarily satisfying small business, supported by the enthusiasm of his wife, the former Estena Norton, daughter of Frank Norton Jr.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Fisher have developed a renewed interest in antiques, particularly lanterns, and their combined interests have led Mr. Fisher to expand his craft beyond that of old Edgartown street lanterns to reproductions of old barn lanterns, elegantly topped by spread-winged brass eagles, old ship’s lanterns and an intriguingly triangle-shaped lantern, the model for which was found in Pennsylvania but which turned out to be a type of lantern used on taverns all along the Eastern Seaboard in days long gone by.
Both the Fishers are amused and appreciative of the strange quirk of history that has, by an admittedly circuitous routing, become a century-old family affair. The family trees’ branchings are full of vagaries, but after all, it was a Fisher who introduced the original lanterns to Edgartown, and it was a Norton who, with or without his horse, kept them lit.
Compiled by Hilary Wallcox firstname.lastname@example.org