Updated: Jan 26, 2019
Lighthouses are woven into the fabric of our country. They stand as visual reminders of the spirit of exploration that has marked the history of our nation. The ships they have guided have been integral to the commerce that has propelled our national fortune. Whether for New England whalers, Gloucester fishermen, Great Lakes ore freighter captains or recreational boaters, there has been no more welcome sight than the lighthouse guiding safe passage. Lighthouses sounded warnings on starless,foggy nights of treacherous reefs and shoals that could swallow up such ships if not navigated with care. From the windswept beaches of the outer banks of North Carolina to the sheer rock cliffs of Lake Superior, the lighthouses standing watch along our thousands of miles of navigable coastline have always held a strong fascination for me.
I suppose this fascination began at my first hearing, courtesy of Bob Keeshan’s Captain Kangaroo, of Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward’s childrens book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge – the story of the building of the George Washington Bridge over the little red Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse on the Hudson River in New York City.
Since first hearing that story in the early 60’s, I have slowly but surely been visiting
many of the remaining lighthouses standing watch along our shores. Some of the first lighthouses I remember visiting were on Cape Cod. These sturdy structures had to withstand not only the harsh elements of wind, waves, salt and sand they also have been witness to some of the most cruel winter storms that battered New England. Twice I vacationed under the glow of the Chatham light being lulled to sleep by both its rotating flashes and the low moan of its foghorn.
Nantucket Island is one of those places you need to see. It oozes New England charm and it does not take much imagination to place yourself back into the days when its ports hosted whaling ships. Brant Point Light is the first glimpse you have of the island as you approach on the Ferry and it is easy to imagine wives and mothers on the rooftop widows porches straining to see if the approaching ship is that of their loved one returning from the sea. Our Christmas tree has many ornaments commemorating our travels. An ornament of Brant Point Light purchased in 1983 hangs every year evoking memories of a 4-month pregnant Kyle bicycling over the cobblestones as we left the port for town.
Kyle and I took our first vacation together to the Carolinas. I had never been to the Outer Banks and there were two “must sees” on my list. First was Kitty Hawk where the Wright Brothers took flight, but the second was the famous lighthouse at Cape Hatteras with it’s well known spirals of black and white- probably the most well known and recognizable of east coast lighthouses. From there we continued south to Ocracoke Island, one of the hideouts of Blackbeard the Pirate,
where another light warned of the shifting sandy shallows so typical of the outer banks.
Later vacations with the boys added two other iconic lighthouses in the south. By this time fishing had become an important element of most vacations. Along the barrier islands of Assateague and Chincoteague, on the advice of a salty old surf fisherman I had encountered, I used belly strips from croaker I caught to successfully beach a large number of sea trout. I also added the distinctive red and white Assateague
Light to my growing list of lighthouses.
The outer banks just farinto the Atlantic. Its shifting sands and treacherous shoals have sunk Spanish galleons leaving horses and their wild decendents on its shores. They have given safe harbor to pirates in the 18th Century. Commercial shipping targets were shelled by Nazi U-boats. The furthest north of the NC lights is the stately red brick Currituck Lighthouse. We saw this tall guardian while vacationing in Corolla where I caught croaker, summer flounder and a number of big eyed needle fish in the surf.