Friday, April 12, 2019

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Hatteras, North Carolina

Since 1803 there has been a lighthouse near Cape Hatteras warning mariners of the Diamond Shoals ~~ dangerous shifting sands just under the ocean surface upon which ships wrecked. For over 130 years, 82 known lighthouse keepers have kept the light shining to help guide ships to safe passage and save mariners' lives. The first lighthouse keeper of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse from 1803 to 1809 was Adam Gaskins; in 1809 Joseph Farrow took over. The last time the lighthouse had a keeper was in 1989.

There are two residences that served the keepers and their families at Cape Hatteras Light Station. 

This house was the Double Keepers' Quarters (1854) and was built for the staff of the first lighthouse.

This building is the Principal Keeper Quarters (1871), constructed from materials left over from the present day lighthouse. It accommodated the head lighthouse keeper and his family.

We did not climb the lighthouse because it was not open for climbing yet. The lighthouse has a 248 spiral-step staircase (see below), which is the equivalent of climbing the stairs of a 12-story building. There is no air conditioning, and it is hot, humid and dim inside. It could also be crowded as they allow two-way traffic on the staircase. They note: visitors with heart, respiratory or other medical conditions or have trouble climbing stairs should use their own discretion as to whether to climb the tower.

The first lighthouse of Hatteras was constructed of granite and brown sandstone, and proved a poor day marker since it did not contrast with the sandy beach on which it was built. To improve visibility of the original Hatteras tower, it was painted red over white in 1854 and increased in height to 150 feet. The 1870 lighthouse was originally painted red over white. The distinctive black and white stripes were ordered in 1873. The lighthouse and the houses were moved inland due to the encroaching sea which would eventually have claimed the artifacts.

1854 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse  Fresnel Lens
The 1854 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Fesnel Lens had vanished into the mists of time. Throughout the 20th Century, historians and writers often speculated on the fate of the artifact. Years of inquiry disclosed no clue as to what became of the lens. More than four decades later, Lighthouse Digest Magazine wrote: "Even to this day, the whereabouts of the first-order Fresnel lens taken from Cape Hatteras remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of American lighthouse history." But the lens was not lost ~~ only misplaced, misidentified, abused, broken, neglected and forgotten.

In 2002, after years of exploration, inquiry and research, Kevin Duffus, a North Carolina filmmaker and author, found the lost Hatteras lens, solved the mystery and revealed the astonishing story of its 148-year odyssey.  But on the eve of the Civil War, the lens was secretly removed to keep it out of the hands of Union forces. It was then hidden in numerous places, recovered and lost and recovered again, then shipped back and forth across the Atlantic before history finally lost track of its whereabouts.

When Mr. Duffus unraveled the mystery of its fate in a dusty room of the National Archives, the lens was thought to be gone forever. But after tracking the twists and turns of the lens’ travels, Mr. Duffus determined that it had been installed in the 1872 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which had replaced the 1803 beacon. For years it had been assumed that the lens was from a different lighthouse. As it turned out, Mr. Duffus discovered, the lens at the top of the Hatteras lighthouse that had been abandoned by the Coast Guard in 1936 in Buxton was the lens that everyone had been searching for since 1861. After an $85,000 restoration by The Lighthouse Consultant, the lens had been put on display in the museum lobby. The lens is on display at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.

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