Sunday, January 20, 2008

The little red lighthouse, the great gray bridge, the brave blue vigilante and the ghoulish green grave-robber

In January 9th's Nightwing #140, Dick "Nightwing" Grayson stakes out The Cloisters museum in New York City in an attempt to stop a group of serial museum theives. They do show up, with their sights set on the body of a French knight there, and Nightwing manages to foil them.

He wasn't expecting them to receive reinforcements in the form of a winged monster, however, and it swoops in, scoops up the body and flies away. Nightwing snags its ankle with a grappling line, and is soon dangling from the creature, like so:

After smashing Nightwing into the top of the light house, the creature escapes into the night.

Later, Nightwing and Robin are chatting about the events on the roof of The Cloisters...

What's this book they're talking about?

Let's find out together, shall we?

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge (This is America, Tomasi; we spell our gray with an a!) is a classic children's picture book originally published in 1942. It was written by the late Hildegarde H. Swift, best known for Newbery Honor cited The Railroad to Freedom, and illustrated by the late Lynd Ward, a Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator with over 200 books to his name.

It's a true-ish story...or is at least inspired by a true events. Swift watched the George Washington Bridge being built beaside a little red lighthouse, and anthropomorphized the structures and boats to come up with a story that apparently delighted Dick Grayson, Tim Drake and their dads.

Here's the lighthouse, as envisioned in watercolor by Ward:

Please note the face on it. This lighthouse was stationed on the Hudson River, and, in addition to being round, fat, red and jolly, it was, Swift writes in all caps, "VERY, VERY PROUD." All the passing anthrpomorphic boats were kind to it, and would always say hello. And at night, a man would come tend to it, and turn its light on.

This would warn ships away from the rocks, and keep them from running aground. When it was foggy, there would also be a bell.

Not only was the lightouse VERY, VERY PROUD, it also thought of itself as, get this, "MASTER OF THE RIVER."

Then one day, he was given reason to rethink his place in the world, when some workmen set to work behind him.

Before long, he wasn't so big anymore.

Now, instead of being VERY, VERY PROUD, he felt "very, very small."

He was already beginning to wonder what the point of his existence was now that there was a gigantic bridge behind him, and then one night a nasty fog rolled in, and his man failed to show up to turn him on. Unable to flash his light and unable to ring his bell, a tug boat crashed into the rocks.

Now he was, "VERY, VERY SAD."

How sad?

Well, it cried about it. (Just imagine how very sad he was when Nightwing smashed open his glass skull the other night).

But, it turns out, the man was just running late, and does come in to turn on his light and bell. The great gray bridge pointed out that his beam of light was to warn away airplanes, while the lighthouses was there to warn away ships. They were really a team. And this, of course, made the lighthouse VERY, VERY PROUD again.

Swift's tale ends with the words, "And every day the people who go up Riverside Dive in New York City turn to look at it. For there they both are—the great gray bridge and the little red lighthouse. If you don't believe it, go see for yourselves!"

I believe it, although I haven't seen it myself. Hopefully it is indeed still there, and Nightwing hasn't completely destroyed it.


Patrick C said...

It's still there! But it was decommissioned shortly after the book was written. According to that site, it was set to be torn down, but because of the popularity of that book a letter-writing campaign started and the lighthouse was saved.

I've never seen it myself, or at least never noticed it, but I'm going to make a point of going by it next time I'm driving through NYC.

John Foley said...

I'm glad that Nightwing busted in when he did. I have a feeling those guys were trying to make Serpentor.

Greg said...

I love that little red lighthouse--it IS still there, but hard to see from driving. The best chance for a nice glimpse of it is the Metro North train headed for Connecticut.

I always loved that book.

Chance said...

Neat! How great that you made this connection. I love seeing stuff like this, when media references other media in clever ways.